Research: Seattle's future may be in its past

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by ALISON MORROW / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @AlisonMorrowTV

KING5.com

Posted on May 30, 2014 at 10:04 PM

Updated Saturday, May 31 at 2:13 AM

Seattle may be the fastest growing city in America, but new research shows all the new development may be deeply connected to the old.

Preservation Green Lab, a Seattle-based arm of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, started the research over a year ago. They began with the hypothesis that neighborhoods filled with smaller and older buildings tend to produce higher social and economic activity.

"No one had actually really tested that in any comprehensive way," explained Senior Research Manager Michael Powe.

They created several maps using complex algorithms to show how building size and age relates to social and economic activity.

Turns out, areas with older, smaller buildings tend to have higher cell phone use at 10pm on Friday nights, implying active nightlife. They also had more pictures uploaded to Flickr and younger people working, living and spending money.

"It shows that these are places people want to be and businesses really are prone to locate," Powe said.

The only drawback, all of the new growth challenges the history that brought it about.

"There's the danger that these places can become victims of their own popularity and success," Powe explained.

It’s the situation facing Café Pettirosso on Capitol Hill. Its building dates back to 1915 as an old auto showroom, and its façade is virtually untouched.

Except, its neighbors are rapidly changing with new projects next door and across the street.

"It's odd. I'm curious to see what the neighborhoods going to look like in a year," owner Miki Sodos said. "People do appreciate the old architecture of this neighborhood."

The historic feel is the reason Harvey Grad stopped for a glass of wine Friday night. He talks about the café as if the walls know him.

"There's a sense of intimacy," Grad said. "It's not sterile. It's not cold."

Keeping that sense of intimacy continues to drive debate over public policy, and Powe hopes their research will influence that discussion in the direction of preserving history.

"We need to find a way to bring the old and new together," he said.

Click here to read more about the study.

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