Business Signage Control in Seattle's Chinatown International District, Pursuing Healthy Balance of Preservation and Commercial Vitalization in a Historic Commercial Districts
Cartier, Misa Murohashi
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Chinatown International District (Chinatown-ID) is a historic commercial neighborhood in the City of Seattle (the City). The neighborhood is characterized with historic mixed-use buildings from the early 20th century, and appearances of small Asian ethnic businesses. International Special Review District (ISRD) is established as one of the City’s historic districts with purposes to preserve historic buildings and community character in Chinatown-ID. This thesis studies business signage control in Chinatown-ID under ISRD’s administration. Through the study, it is questioned if the ISRD’s signage control is functioning properly in order to enhance the community character by benefiting both preservation of historic buildings and vitalization of small business activities. The first half of this thesis assesses ISRD’s design review program on business signs, as the program is the currently adopted implementation of signage control. The assessment reveals problems around the ISRD’s design review program. Problems are caused by absence of objective rules, as well as by separation of ISRD administration away from the city’s planning departments. The thesis argues for legislation of objective rules that clearly state size and frequency standards, and for structural improvements of ISRD’s administration so that its design review procedures are able to receive supports and evaluations by multiple planning and design professionals. The latter half studies history and the current context of Chinatown-ID’s commercial community. Through the history study, it is clarified that the image of diverse business signs is a part of Chinatown-ID’s historical characteristics. An intention of design reviews that pursues compatibility of signage design does not align with enhancement of Chinatown-ID’s historic character. The neighborhood context study argues that ISRD embraces both Chinatown-ID’s historic core where historic buildings are concentrated, and the area outside where historic buildings are sporadic and low density automobile-oriented uses are more prevailing. While design reviews may be necessary in the historic core purposed to prevent signs from damaging historic buildings, that rational of design reviews is not adaptable in the area outside of the historic core. Finally, the thesis argues for the potential of business signs that may be strategically used in order to enhance the Chinatown-ID’s community character. Diverse expressions of signage designs by individual businesses should be encouraged under objective rules, instead of being restrained by the design review program.
- Urban planning