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A Rant Against the City’s “Collaborative Blitzkrieg”

I am still disappointed from last night’s Seattle Waterfront Redesign meeting. I believe that the city has done another great job at pulling the wool over the public’s eyes. The meeting was hailed as a positive step in terms of encouraging public discourse and collaboration. However, I’ve yet to find a single noteworthy piece of actual news from the entire three hours of presentations.

Yes, there were absolutely gobs of allusions to concepts. However, all four of the presentations were thick with meaningless buzzwords and allegories of a utopian collaborative process that was obviously not happening even in the present tense.

This isn’t the first time the city has used the “collaborative blitzkrieg” process to distract  the public’s attention from a destination they already had in mind. The trick is simple. It’s a method that’s used by manipulative parents who want to avoid conflict with rotten toddlers. “Jimmy, do you want to wear the blue shirt or the red shirt today”? “The RED SHIRT”! “Gooooooood Jimmy!”. The parent has successfully patronized the small child by soliciting their participation in the decision making process, all the while steamrolling the primary objective of clothing their knee high barbarian.

The city is doing the same thing with these imaginary “design” meetings.

Please take a look for yourself. The powerpoints that the four internationally recognized teams have put together total a monumental one hundred megabytes of sheer design vapidity. Are there any renderings of these visionary’s ideas for a new Seattle waterfront? Disappointingly, No. It appears that the presenters were muzzled into selecting a series of inspirational images. Furthermore, instead of attempting to address measurable goals for a redesigned waterfront, the teams appear to have all coalesced into the muck of motivational messaging.

Instead of judging capabilities of design based upon a patronizing list of abstract free association, the public should have been presented with a concrete set of real ideas which would enlighten us to what these talented individuals could envision.

This same process of distraction happened during the Bell St. Park design meetings. The designers presented a plan A, plan B, then their final predictable plan of plan A &B mixed together. Public input was limited to vocal feedback. It was overtly obvious that the design was fixed out of the gate and that public interaction was merely a hoop to jump through.

If the city wants to get serious about involving the public in the decision making design process, then the patronization needs to stop and new systems need to be developed to consume public opinion. Show actual designs if you’d like feedback. Provide scantrons to the audience and poll them on their impressions and thoughts. Trust the public to actually see the schematics that we’re supposedly judging. Poll the public on what design aspects are most important to them and then show how those desires were exceeded during the creative design process.

Seattle’s citizens deserve more than child rearing methods of inclusion.


4 Comments on "A Rant Against the City’s “Collaborative Blitzkrieg”"

  1. Jesse, I think you’re a little harsh here. This presentation wasn’t yet about what we actually want on the waterfront, is what about the approach we should take to the process of that design. Unlike the library or the emp, this will not be a singular project designed by a starchitect or a world-reknown design firm, it will be a blueprint that incorporates many elements including a seawall, a transportation corridor, open space, a working waterfront, environmental restoration, and a whole lot more. It involves an incredibly complex number of stakeholders, not to mention it is a hugely public project for not just Seattle, but the entire Puget Sound region.

    Last night’s presentation was to inform the public about the history of these four teams, and how they would run their design process. Presumably a team could have come out and said, “here’s our idea” and shown some pretty renderings, but I think that would have come off as arrogant and very disrespectful to the profile of the project, and I guarantee they wouldn’t have won the project. Instead, they all were trying to show that they will be very engaged with the public and understand the local needs as they begin to design the project (which will take a very long time and involved many different sub-projects and elements all of which will be implemented at various times with various funding sources and departments and private financiers).

    In that respect I think GGN, the locals were by far the most informed about the history and opportunity of site and I really hope they get selected.

  2. Justin Bowers | September 16, 2010 at 2:53 pm |


  3. Jesse-

    I think you pretty much figured out the shell game.

    Vague win-win concepts are rhetorically floated at an event and that counts as both public process and participation.

    Meanwhile the real decisions are made behind the scene and off the record.

    It really seems sometimes that City Hall thinks its main responsibility is to be a sort of works program for consultants.

  4. angrybelltown | October 2, 2010 at 11:41 am |

    For me? aw…your sweet

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