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American Society of Landscape Architects


November 2007 Issue

Government Garden
A rapidly transforming city gains an elegant civic space.

By Mark Hinshaw

Government Garden

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 public services.

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