In June of 2012 The Great Wheel opened on Seattle’s waterfront. This was seen as a daring move in a city susectable to earthquakes which was also planning on major renovations to its sea wall.
Downtown Seattle is separated from the waterfront by the route 99 viaduct which gives a certain amount of visual breathing room between the skyscrapes of Seattle’s central business district and its scrappy tourist and transit oriented waterfront. At 175 feet in height it towers over all other structures on the waterfront and its location at the end of Pier 57 ensures it makes up a distinct visual presence when approaching Seattle from the water.
Growing up in Southern California waterfront property was always the most valuable and most attractive. It seemed obvious to me that development along the water would be tourist and recreation oriented. Then I moved first to Ohio where the Cuyahoga was so badly polluted it was a black scar running through the state and then NYC where the waterfront had been associated with industry rather than pleasure from the time of the very first European settlements. When I left NYC the city was well on its way to transforming the waterfront along the Hudson and East rivers towards use by the general public.
While Seattle still relies on its port as a major part of its economy it suffers from the same legacy of city planning that NYC is stuck with, a highway right next to the waterfront. In NYC the FDR and West Side Highway restrict open access to the shoreline. I’m sure at the time it made sense, nice people didn’t hang around the docks at any time of day or night so might as well drop a multi-lane high speed road around the island’s perimeter. In Seattle the Viaduct runs along the waterfront cutting it off from downtown both visually and by creating a massive traffic snarl.
With the viaduct coming down in 2015-2016 it will be interesting to see if the downtown facing waterfront develops any further than a short stretch of cheesy tourist attractions book ended by the commuter ferry terminal on the south (with the actual port operations immediately south of the ferry) and the Seattle Aquarium on the north.
What does this have to do with pictures of a ferris wheel?
Once the viaduct is taken down it will dominate the visual landscape of the waterfront. Either downtown will creep the rest of the way down to the waterfront and shadow it or the city will retain a buffer zone and allow it to dominate. Either it becomes a landmark or an afterthought.