Ballard and New Urbanism

Two and a half years ago I moved to Ballard from a small town in Connecticut. I was pleased to find an apartment within an easy walk to the Chittenden Locks and English Botanical Gardens, a walkable distance to the library and drugstore in downtown commercial Ballard, and a nearby bus line up Sunset Hill to visit the younger generations of my family.

Since then, I was forced to move out by developers who took over Lockhaven Apartments and evicted the residents in order to renovate and raise rents beyond affordability. Downtown commercial Ballard is invaded by other developers seeking higher rents by building much larger and taller (and uglier) apartment buildings. One under construction has forced the drugstore beyond my walkability. Nearby two more are going up, pushing against cared-for houses and their gardens. For sale signs and vacant lots portend disruption. Trees disappear. Demolition and rubble follow; concrete replaces earth. Four townhouses are crowding into formerly single house lot. The bus to my children and grandchild disappeared. Would Sunset Hill disappear, too?

I began trying to find out what the heck is going on. I have been informed that the Seattle Department of Planning and Development is fostering further “development” of Ballard in the name of “Smart Growth” and “New Urbanism.”

These concepts, promulgated by architects Andres Duany and others in the 1980s, were intended to prevent the continued sprawl of suburbs into the countryside, which was putting wide-spaced look-alike houses with garages onto curving automobile-friendly roads that ended in cul-de-sacs. New Urbanism was intended to conserve farm land and open space by creating new towns with traditional street grids, houses close together on streets that were straight and intersected at right angles: pedestrian-friendly and neighborly.

Guess what? Ballard was long ago laid out on streets that are straight and intersect at right angles. The houses are already smaller and closer together than those in sprawling suburbs. Garages are already fewer than in those suburbs. The Ballard I came to thirty months ago was a town that offered pleasant, tree-shaded streets for families living in houses of diverse architecture. It was a town that had grown, without the imposition of a misapplied theory of planning, into something those 1980s New Urbanists had in mind when they spoke with approbation, with commendation, of traditional neighborhood design harking back to the 1920s. They did not envision replacing extant traditional neighborhoods with huge apartment houses.

Living in Ballard these last thirty months has made me suspicious of developers. They have hoodwinked Seattle urban planners into doing what will benefit the developers, not the people who live here. This is not New Urbanism; it is Old Vandalism.

-Carolyn Cooper

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.