NYC Lessons Learned for Seattle Public Spaces

By Kris Richey Curtis

New York offers great examples for how great public places catalyze great real estate investment and development. On a recent trip, I had a chance to experience some amazing public spaces while reflecting on the models they provide for Seattle:

In Manhattan’s Bryant Park, Dan Biederman turned what had been New York’s most dangerous park in the 1970s and 1980s into a national model for public space activation. In turn, the buildings adjacent to the park have far outpaced market values in nearby areas. This symbiotic relationship illustrates how great public space management and real estate investment can feed off of one another.

Similarly, new park development can drive new real estate development, as seen in the story of the High Line project. From renovation of older buildings (the former R. C. Williams Company was turned into the Avenues World School in 2012), cutting edge new buildings (Neil Denari’s HL23 project is a great example), to the massive Hudson Yards development (construction and delivery of the first stages of the massive Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project on the Far West Side. 27-28 acre mixed-use development by Related Companies and Oxford Properties. 12.7 M commercial space), it’s hard to argue that this amazing public space hasn’t motivated real estate developers and investors to think big.

As compelling as these spaces are, it’s clear the upfront investment needs to be matched my ongoing maintenance, something Seattle hasn’t been good at in the past. The passage of the Metropolitan Parks District last year was encouraging, as is the Downtown Seattle Association’s budding efforts in Westlake and Occidental Parks to actively manage and program these neglected spaces (using Dan Biederman’s model from Bryant Park). As our city looks to a build world-class waterfront (designed by the Highline’s landscape architect, James Corner), it’s essential we figure out how to best leverage public dollars to spur real estate investment and supports and enhances these great public spaces.