Pike Place Market is one of Seattle’s most iconic landmarks, and is most favorable for tourist activity. While today no one doubts its importance and historic value, in the past planners had proposed to replace the market and revitalize the area with new development; even a hockey arena. Nowadays, it is difficult to think why such a thing might ever be considered. Pike Place serves as a model for contemporary design in many ways. It is an example for developers, planners, and architects that economic centers don’t only have to be practical; they can be interesting too.
Inconvenience is no barrier to popularity.
If you proposed Pike Place to be built in today’s world of automobiles, you might not be taken seriously. The market is designed for pedestrians. Chain stores are not allowed; instead, you will find hundreds of local farmers, artisans, and small businesses. Unfortunately, there is no directory, so you might get lost downstairs looking for an antique, or have to rely on your sense of smell for the gyro you’re craving. However, the crowded and unique shopping experience is something people find desirable. People enjoy shopping that is not focused on presentation, but rather on the experience of buying goods directly from local producers. The market attracts ten million people annually, proving that the character of Pike Place far outweighs the inconvenience.
Surely, Pike Place’s popularity is largely due to its history. The market is home to the first ever Starbucks, as well as Seattle’s famous fish markets where salmon three-feet long are enthusiastically tossed in front of spectators . However, it is not merely a relic of the past, but an unconventional model for future projects. It shows that an economic center can be unique, possibly a little chaotic, and value pedestrians over automobiles. While crowded and disjointed places may seem undesirable, they are good for cities, and should have a place in economic development strategies. Here is where culture, commerce, and community can thrive when traditional planning practices fall short.
Pike Place is not a product of modern day planning, and maybe that is why it is an authentic interaction between people and their urban environment. However, I would argue that such “placemaking” is still possible, and that this is the challenge of environmental design today. It is difficult to see how this could be done without it seeming contrived, but it is possible with innovative thinking. Projects should incorporate pedestrian-only streets and historic charm. Policies that encourage local business and smaller-scale entrepreneurs can also work. It’s important to remember that not everything needs to be neatly packaged. Healthy communities need markets that reflect the identity and character of their city.
Do you think it is possible to recreate the vibrancy of Pike Place Market in modern urban development?
Credits: Images by Mckenna Paddock. Data linked to sources.