chapter  5
20 Pages

Urban Waterfront Transformation as a Politics of Mobility: Lessons from Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct Debate


Urban waterfronts are key sites in struggles over economic and cultural transformation in cities. As urban leaders search for ways to increase their city’s competitiveness for increasingly mobile jobs, skilled workers, and capital investment in a globalizing economy, formerly industrial or maritime-oriented waterfronts are assigned new economic value as spectacular opportunities for spurring urban renewal (Bunce and Desfor 2007; Hagerman 2007). However, despite the striking homogeneity of downtown waterfront revitalization schemes (such as the tourist-and retail-oriented ‘festival markets’ fi rst developed in Boston and Baltimore and then exported to cities around the world), waterfronts are not blank slates waiting for inspired new urban designs. Rather, they are the product of historic fi xities and fl ows that connect the city to globalizing networks of capital, goods, people, and ideas. As such, waterfront revitalization is more than simply a matter of rezoning parcels, building new public attractions, and enticing developers. Rather, efforts to redevelop these waterfront spaces must always negotiate the patterns of urban social and economic life that have developed around the legacy of infrastructure that already connects and traverses waterfront spaces. Consequently, the politics of waterfront transformation do not merely concern how and by whom waterfront land is used. Rather, waterfront transformations reconfi gure urban space in ways that often require surrounding residents and businesses to adopt new patterns of social and economic activity while letting go of old ones.