A rapidly transforming city gains an elegant civic space.
By Mark Hinshaw
For several decades, Bellevue, Washington, was a typical
bedroom suburb. Located 10 miles east of Seattle, it was little more than
sprawling subdivisions, strip malls, and low-slung office parks. Its downtown
was essentially a large shopping mall surrounded by the usual suburban detritus
of single-story boxes amid seas of asphalt.
In the 1980s the city began to take a very different
direction. Outlying commercial development was suppressed through tight
regulations, and most new development was directed into the downtown district.
The city made a number of strategic investments: a 17-acre downtown park, a
transit center, a new regional library, a conference center, and an art
museum—all within a compact, walkable area. A number of major streets were
reconstructed to include wider sidewalks.
The results have been nothing short of breathtaking.
Numerous high-rise office and hotel towers have been built, the shopping center
has been completely made over with multiple stories, and its perimeter has been
retrofitted with street-facing storefronts. More than 4,000 people live
downtown in structures ranging from town houses to 20-story towers.
One element was glaring in its omission from the city
center: the city hall. For 20 years, city hall occupied a mediocre office
building across the freeway from downtown. The site exhibited no sense of civic
import; nothing in its architecture suggested government, public assembly, or
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