NW sightseeing

Seeing as I’m leaving for there in a few hours, thought it would be useful to post something I wrote in July in response to a request for a sightseeing itinerary along the Cascadian coast.

All three cities have new “instant neighborhoods,” light-industrial areas near downtown that are rapidly becoming mixed commercial-residential. It’s quite interesting to compare the varying approaches between and within the cities. Here’s an interesting “Seattle Times article”:http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/pacificnw/2003/0202/cover.html
on the three.

* Portland downtown, generally (what districts or buildings?)
* Orenco Station

A light rail tour of Portland is quite doable. A quick overview of what’s “around the east-west MAX stations”:http://world.nycsubway.org/us/portland/max-blue.html and a “quick restaurant guide”:http://www.extramsg.com/uploaded_misc/portland_tipsheet.html are both online.

Most of the new neighborhoods surrounding downtown can be covered using “the Portland Streetcar”:http://www.portlandstreetcar.org/map.php. Several gentrifying neighborhoods (like Hawthorne on the east side) aren’t on either line, but are easily reached using the “Frequent Bus”:http://www.trimet.org/bus/frequentservice.htm network. (I prefer MSP’s name: [Say Hi to] “Hi Frequency Service”:http://www.metrotransit.org/serviceInfo/hi-frequency.asp)

* Vancouver, downtown, residential towers

Vancouver’s downtown peninsula is very small and incredibly walkable. Most of the new towers are on or toward the waterfront, particularly along the downtown peninsula’s south edge (facing False Creek). There’s a bike rental place on Marinaside Crescent; I’d suggest renting a bicycle and taking it for a trip around the entire peninsula. Just inland is Yaletown, with some of the newest towers and (in fact) new mid-rises. Another, less successful clump of new high-rises is around Coal Harbour, on the northwest corner of downtown right by Stanley Park. Many of the suburban municipalities have also encouraged similar development around their transit nodes, so it’s worth taking SkyTrain, SeaBus, and the B-Line rapid buses out to sites like Metrotown, Lonsdale Quay, and Richmond Centre to see how other jurisdictions have done things differently. (Richmond Centre is also more like Hong Kong than Hong Kong, which is amusing.)

South of False Creek are a set of neighborhoods also worth investigating. Granville Slopes, on the south bank of False Creek, was state of the art in the 1980s — feels like a leafy suburban PUD — and shows what would’ve happened to the rest of downtown Vancouver had the city not discovered New Urbanism. Kitsilano is a yuppie area to the southwest; around Arbutus & 11th is a new low- and mid-rise, mixed-use neighborhood built on a former brewery site in the ’90s. Granville Island is a kitschy but still interesting take on a festival marketplace — less tourist-focused than the usual US version.

The city has a helpful set of publications outlining areas they view as “urban design achievements”:http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/currentplanning/urbandesign .

In Seattle, the hot new urban neighborhoods are Belltown (between Pike Place and Seattle Center) and South Lake Union (up Westlake from downtown). There’s interesting stuff, but as the Seattle Times article makes clear, the story’s much bigger in Portland and Vancouver.