Commentary: A viaduct eyesore in creative Edmonds?

published January 24, 2019 in


There are three interesting developments in the Edmonds viaduct saga.

First, as Seattle is tearing down its viaduct, Edmonds is seeking to build one. We are supposed to be living in a learning society. Companies learn from each other, individuals learn from each other and even governments do. Welcome to the Edmonds exceptionalism. The city’s motto should be changed to: Thou shalt not learn from the experience of 15 miles south.

Second, Mike Nelson has announced that his candidacy for the position of the Mayor. Strictly from the perspective of political theory, this is good news because contested elections are essential for democracy. Since as a Council member, he voted against the Viaduct, I suggest Mr. Nelson outlines a plan on how he will seek to reverse the most ill-advised plan to construct the viaduct?

Finally, it is terrific that Edmonds has been named as the first creative district in the state of Washington. This plays to the strengths and emerging character of our beautiful town. But do not get too excited …. we will have the viaduct. I suppose we need to build ugly, expensive, and dysfunctional structures to highlight the beauty of creative Edmonds!

The viaduct does not address any demonstrable need. Further, there are cheaper alternatives to provide medical help to individuals on the west side of the railway tracks. So why does the creative Edmonds want to construct the viaduct that will destroy the aesthetics of the Sunset Boulevard and the Brackett landing beach?

But its destructive potential does not stop here. Bridges attract all sorts of unwanted activity — peek under any I-5 exit. As a contribution to the aesthetics of Edmonds, the viaduct will bring graffiti, garbage, and maybe even social problems like drugs. Families would probably not feel safe taking their children to the Brackett landing beach.

Robert Moses is considered as one of the most important figures of urban architecture of the 1950s and ’60s. In New York where he served in important governmental positions, Moses built huge structures, including bridges, that would devastate neighborhoods, assault aesthetics, and destroy the character of the place. Of course, four decades after the death of Robert Moses, very few urban architects embrace his architectural vision — except for Edmonds.

Imagine you lived in Edmonds before the viaduct was constructed. And you return after 20 years accompanied by your children or grandchildren. You take them to the Sunset Avenue and then to the beach (stopping for coffee, of course). But instead of peace and beauty of the boulevard, you find an ugly bridge which is covered with graffiti and wrapped in a rusted chain linked fence. You see joggers gingerly avoiding needles and other garbage. And then you will take a deep breath and say, I miss my Edmonds kind of day.

Postscript: in the year 2040, Edmonds City Council voted unanimously to tear down the Edmonds viaduct. The Mayor noted in her speech that the city is committed to reclaiming the beauty of Edmonds. She said that about 20 years ago, while the city resisted the call to pave the marsh, somehow it did not have the wisdom to imaginatively address the issue of responding to health emergencies on the west side of the tracks. She wryly noted that it is not surprising that along with Alaska, Edmonds has the distinction of constructing a viaduct to nowhere. As she ended her speech, she declared that Edmonds has learned from its mistakes and is committed to reclaiming its natural beauty.

— By Aseem Prakash

Aseem Prakash is a professor of political science, the Walker Family Professor for the College of Arts and Sciences and the director of the Center for Environmental Politics at the University of Washington.



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