On Nov. 17, the DJC published this article I wrote about Sound Transit’s Northgate light rail station. The Northgate station is one of three that will be part of Sound Transit’s North Link light rail extension, running from the University District to Northgate Mall. The Northgate station is the only one that it above ground. Because of this, and a number of other factors, it is also the most complex of the three. It is designed by Hewitt.
The article centered on the station’s design, and was based off a Seattle Light Rail Review Panel meeting I attended. The panel, which reviews the station’s design, had a lot of criticism that is detailed in the story. Their main point was that the structure wasn’t living up to its responsibility in helping to transform the neighborhood.
This is from the story:
Julie Parrett, who is on the review panel and the Design Commission, said this station is unique because the area around it is going through a transformation. Northgate was built for cars and a more suburban lifestyle, but today there is a city-wide effort to make it a place that works for pedestrians, residents and the surrounding community.
Thornton Place, she said, has helped set a standard for new development and the station can reinforce that. She said she doesn’t view the current design as helping shape a new Northgate.
“These are buildings and projects that are going to last for 50 to 100 years and we can’t forget that,” she said. “They do have a civic responsibility and right now, I feel like this building is really turning itself inward and not reaching out and not thinking in a conceptual way what its role (is) as a precedent or precursor in this area.”
After publication, Ian Hernandez, a friend of mine, posted this comment on my personal Facebook page:
“Speaking of, great article on the North Link Northgate station the other day! Some of those panel comments crack me up – it’s like they think that Thornton Place somehow turned that area into a shining jewel of urban transition, when it’s really still just a bunch of crapshacks bordered by a giant movie theater and ugly parking garage.”
Big, boxy Thornton Place certainly isn’t perfect but it’s better than the empty parking lot that used to be there. At least the space now offers movies and a few retail and eating options. Whether you like it or not, it’s there. The question is what happens next and what is the light rail station’s responsibility in helping to guide that change?
When I went to the last Northgate station open house, the audience members seemed generally pleased with the station design and some even commended Sound Transit for its work. The Light Rail Review Panel was quite critical, but it looks at the project with the eyes of people who have a responsibility of curating the city’s future through projects and urban development.
Here’s what’s sure: The Northgate area is changing and light rail will be transformative, no matter what it looks like. Given these two things, how much does the station’s design really matter? Does it need to serve as a bridge to the future or does it just need to be there? In a perfect world, what would you like to see the station look like?
Also, as a sidenote, this station will have restrooms unlike the ones at Brooklyn or Roosevelt.
Also, if you’re really intersted in this topic, go to this open house on Dec. 8 at Aljoya Senior Apartments (a part of Thornton Place). Sound Transit says it has drawn up a “few options that show future urban design and development possibilities for this area south of the mall.”