Shoreline's Future

By Dan Bertolet June 21, 2010

Following a trend in many second-tier cities in the region, Shoreline---the city, population 52,000, that lies just north of Seattle---recently completed an iconic new City Hall, located on 175th St, a block east of Aurora Ave (pictured above).

I like it---simple forms, clean lines, balanced proportions.

Designed by LMN Architects, Shoreline's City Hall was just awarded LEED® Gold status by the U.S. Green Building Council. One of the most prominent green features of the project is the photovoltaic (PV) solar panel array that serves a dual purpose as a parking lot shade, as shown in the photo below.

The PV array is rated at 20 kilowatts, and is expected to generate 2.5 percent of the building's energy demand (by cost). In the local climate, that array should produce about 20,000 kWh of energy annually---about enough to supply the total needs of one typical household (see this post for reference).

While the City Hall is an impressive demonstration of sustainable design for a single, isolated building, the surrounding car-oriented environment is a severe impediment to its sustainable performance in the larger urban system. City planners hope the Shoreline City Hall will not only serve as a landmark for the city, but will also act as a catalyst for focused development that will eventually create a compact, walkable town center.

For now though, it's another example of the awkward transitional stage between drivable suburbanism and walkable urbanism.

But here's the thing: If Shoreline's leaders truly want substantial renewal and transformation for their downtown core along Aurora Ave, there is an extraordinary opportunity that they ought not (literally) let pass them by:  light rail.

The tentative route for Sound Transit's planned light rail line through Shoreline is along I-5. As discussed here and here, if at all possible, high-capacity transit stations should not be sited next to freeways, because, in short, freeways are awful places for transit-oriented communities.

I'm looking forward to a robust debate on this question of the light rail alignment through Shoreline. We're talking about a multi-billion-dollar investment that will shape the evolution of our urban areas for the next hundred years or more. And though the process may be painful, it's worth taking the time to get it right when there's so much at stake.

Picture how cool it would be to see a Sound Transit light rail train gliding by in front of that new City Hall. Now that's placemaking.
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