By Erin Fox
The question has been brought up whether millennials (those born from the early 1980’s to the early 2000’s), who have typically flocked to urban living, will stay in their urban dwellings to raise a family or move outward into more suburban/rural areas. As a millennial myself living in downtown Seattle for 10 years, after growing up in the country, I think the cityscape is missing one thing which will be a deciding factor in how long people will stay and if they have families in this environment, and that is green spaces.
Nearly 58,000 people call downtown Seattle home. The area has a density of over 20,000 people per square mile (downtownseattle.com). Downtown also has the fastest growing population of the city. Conversely, there are only 220 p-patch plots in the downtown area - one plot per 264 people. Along with this rapid growth, and construction, large, mature trees are being cut down and replaced with much younger, weaker ones. This takes a toll on the “feel” of downtown. The mature trees provide shelter from the ever persistent drizzle, shade in the increasingly sunny summers, natural beauty, and a very real reminder of our roots.
As we grow older and contemplate having a family, community, connection, and quality of life becoming increasingly important. We need to ask ourselves: is there community in downtown Seattle, is there connection? The downtown is becoming rapidly gentrified, the rich isolated in clusters of luxury condos, our front and back yards sterilized with pavement. There is no community, no connection. The quality of life is not sustainable for the long term and is poor on many fronts.
First, I would like to address the need for more p-patches in the downtown area. P-patches are small areas of refuge against the bustle of the city. Even if you don’t have a plot in the garden you can wander through the small trails and enjoy the flowers. Growing your own food has become significant for living a more sustainable, healthy life, but also for connection with the land, pride, and an indispensable educational experience for children. Because p-patches are but small patches on a larger piece of land, you are working alongside neighbors, breaking down the solitude and isolation often associated with apartment living and connecting within a community.
Second, because there is such limited space for ground gardens, many will need to “grow up” with our expansion. Build up, not out as the saying goes in development and this rings true for green spaces. There should be a law requiring all new residential buildings to have a certain amount of garden space dedicated to the residents, be it on the roof or on large common patios. Tops of stand-alone parking garages should become p-patches and green spaces. Ultimately, a mid/high rise building should be dedicated to growing food, a new-style urban park, and a year round farmers market at street level. This may seem radical at first glance, but only because it has yet to be done. If future generations are going to be living in urban environments, our city needs to be sustainable, and foster strong community and connection. We can address these needs by replicating the development of the city itself.
To create a greener downtown we also need to address the issue of transportation. Downtown car traffic is a commuter headache, incredibly expensive, time consuming, loud, and one of the largest contributors to pollution in the city. A unified train system should run through downtown to the outlying neighborhoods and popular destinations. Public transit should be the main mode of city transportation. This would free up other streets for safer bike and pedestrian commuting and more green spaces. The lesser-used streets could be turned into one way roads providing more potential green and gardening space, as has been done on Terry Ave and Bell Street. Again, to push this further in the interest of urban families, sustainability, community, and a higher quality of life: portions of downtown should be car free, bike/pedestrian only.
Finally, vertical gardens and ivy should be considered for covering up the newer "lego" buildings which have recently exploded at the expense of neighborhood aesthetic. These and other flora solutions can be used to roll back the sterile look and feel of our neighborhoods, especially downtown. For example, large hanging baskets have been used to beautify dingy alleyways in Pioneer Square, enticing people to meander the neighborhood and admire its history.
Nature brings people out and it brings people together. To get people to stay in urban environments and start a family we need these things. Not everyone can own a property out in the country, in fact, most of us can't. So we need to incorporate the country into our cities. We need quieter, safer streets. We need options to grow our own food, easy access to public transportation and prevalent green spaces. We need our cities to be sustainable.