Ross: Seattle’s next mayor promises a drier downtown experience

Nov 24, 2021, 5:30 AM | Updated: 9:50 am
downtown seattle...
Downtown streets in Seattle, Washington. (File photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
(File photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Seattle’s mayor-elect Bruce Harrell says he owns the homelessness issue, and he’s sticking with his promise of a visible difference within one year.

But when I asked him for his message for downtown businesses, hundreds of which have been struggling or have closed forever, he went beyond removing the tents and the graffiti and cleaning up the streets:

“A lot of the brick and mortar institutions had thin margins to begin with — many of them were fragile,” he described. “So now, what will our new downtown look like? Will we have more open space? Will we have music? Can we build more shelters, such that people can walk downtown without an umbrella?”

It went by pretty fast but I immediately picked up on the words, “walk downtown without an umbrella.” He’s saying this in the middle of November! I wasn’t sure that he was serious, but he is.

“There’s data that suggests that in Seattle, some people will walk in a sheltered mall because they don’t want to carry their umbrella everywhere,” he noted. “If you walk downtown right now, there are many awning structures that recognize that, that’s why they are there. So people will come downtown to shop as opposed to a mall often because of the experience, so the question becomes, how do we make that experience more joyful and drier?”

I’d never considered that. But it’s so obvious! Yes, people want to be safe downtown, but they would also like to be able to go from store to store in November and December without getting soaked.

And I believe Bruce Harrell is the first Seattle politician to dare to say it.

I realize, once upon a time, walking without an umbrella in Seattle in a cold rain proved you were a true native, but I think a downtown where you can walk freely without dodging tents and stay dry – all the way home, even in November without an umbrella – would be packed with happy shoppers.

I think it would attract tons of shoppers and create so much tax revenue that homeless programs could be funded without additional legally-questionable taxes.

And then, once it’s dry, we could work on making it a few degrees warmer too – although that might happen all on its own.

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Ross: Seattle’s next mayor promises a drier downtown experience