Charles R. Wolfe

An estimated 700,000—more than the city's population of 635,000—welcomed the Seahawks home, without major incident.

Professional efforts to create great urban places have a lot to learn from unifying regional events that cut across silos of culture, age, income, or neighborhood. Such events need not be limited to rebuilding after a superstorm or earthquake—they can be as simple and spontaneous as one city's celebration of its first-ever Super Bowl championship.

In Seattle on Wednesday, I learned some surprising lessons along a four-mile parade route downtown. An estimated 700,000—more than the city's population of 635,000—welcomed the Seahawks home, without major incident. The event created imagery of a successful, shared community, worthy of any city-makers' dream.

1.  Spontaneous, authentic "placemaking" with a purpose is often best. Attendees along the route waited through a late parade start in subfreezing temperatures. Spirited, orderly demonstrations were rampant, all rooted in a shared anticipation of the team's appearance, which united the crowd.
 


2.  A robust, multimodal transportation network is key. From before dawn, it was clear that this was not a normal day. Buses, light rail, ferries, and cars all had varying degrees of trouble getting to and from downtown. Those who could walked to viewpoints from adjoining neighborhoods. It was not perfect, but the lesson is simple: without regional transit in place, attendance by much of the team's suburban fan base would have faltered in the face of limited parking.
 


3.  A varied crowd of all ages makes a difference and can enhance a downtown core experience. Officially, most regional school districts did not allow for a holiday. In Seattle, attendance policy issues were delegated to individual school principals. Across the region, some schools reported illness call-ins—for both students and teachers—as high as 25 percent. Accordingly, the crowd composition was remarkably diverse, and projected the remarkable aura of a potential once-in-lifetime experience.
 
 
4.  One-time events can help crystallize potential alternative uses of urban spaces. From remade intersections and elevated vantage points to a suddenly walkable, segmented parade route, Seattleites were granted substantial insights into how existing spaces might be remade, without significant infrastructure expense. Traffic lights appeared obsolete above assembled crowds at key cross-streets. Temporary play spaces opened up in gaps within lines of spectators. Sales surged in adjacent and nearby local business. Rare downtown visitors were given an alternative glimpse of downtown potential.
 
 
5.  We are more convertible than we think, and can avoid the politics and process that often inhibits great ideas. Finally, while curmudgeons might complain about traffic delays, impacts to parking, long lines and certain business disruptions, the celebration was largely free of major incidents, injury, or crime. A center-city environment shared its spaces in the optimal fashion often sought by urban businesses, politicians, and residents, all without any of the usual endless debate and delay. For a day, I saw almost everyone happy, excited and with a common focus. Even if it was about professional football, that's really what good "urbanism" means.
 
 
All photos by Charles R. Wolfe
 

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    You Can’t Design Bike-Friendly Cities Without Considering Race and Class

    Bike equity is a powerful tool for reducing inequality. Too often, cycling infrastructure is tailored only to wealthy white cyclists.

  2. a photo of a used needle in a park in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
    Equity

    Why the Rural Opioid Crisis Is Different From the Urban One

    As deaths from heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioids soar in the U.S., a new study looks at the geographic factors driving the drug overdose epidemic.

  3. Transportation

    With Trains Like Schwebebahn, No Wonder Germans Love Public Transit

    Infrastructure like this makes it clear why Germany continues to produce enthusiasm for public transit, generation after generation.

  4. Amazon HQ2

    Without Amazon HQ2, What Happens to Housing in Queens?

    The arrival of the tech company’s new headquarters was set to shake up the borough’s real estate market, driving up rents and spurring displacement. Now what?

  5. Amazon HQ2

    New York’s Ejection of Amazon Is the Start of a Movement

    NYC lawmakers who led a resistance campaign against HQ2 are declaring victory. And already, they have plans to escalate their opposition to tax incentives.