A:BC Foreword by Fred Bassetti

Action: Better City and Urban Advocacy
Source: HistoryLink.org: Fred Bassetti (1917-2013)
The program Action: Better City had one point of origin in a 1965 presentation to the AIA Seattle membership by urban planning visionary Constantinos Doxiadis (1913-1975) of Greece, known for his urban theory of Ekistics with its principal tenet that planners must find ways to restore human scale to large cities. Doxiadis’s observations inspired Fred Bassetti to involve himself in AIA Seattle leadership (President 1967), and to work with others in the organization to convene a group of architects and designers who over the course of a year of workshops developed visions for Seattle’s major neighborhoods.
Fred Bassetti developed extensive external support for the program and the presentation of its results at a major public gathering in 1967, with visions documented in a 64-page booklet, a 16mm film What is so great about Seattle?, and an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. Bassetti recalls, “Dr. Fuller [Museum founder Richard E. Fuller, 1897-1976] donated most of the money -- $15,000, I think -- and I guess I dug up $10,000 more somewhere” (Bassetti, “AIA Memories”); see further recollections and segments from "What is so great about Seattle?" here. A second film, "Downtowns for People," followed.

In his introduction to the Action: Better City publication (also appearing in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer May 26, 1968), Bassetti offers broad cultural and social perspectives on the shaping of the city and also speaks to a critical moment in Seattle history:

“Seattle, a favored spot, haunted by memories of an Indian past, a lumbering past, a fishing past, by the ton of gold, by fire, remembering corruption and zeal of reformers, remembering Chinese riots, vigilantes and strikers, the town with guts enough to build two World’s Fairs, the airplane place, with two kinds of water, with hills and trees; Seattle, the place in the upper left-hand corner, is your place.

“What becomes of it depends on you. How do you want it to be? Are you satisfied with it now? Organizations such as Forward Thrust, Allied Arts, the Central Association, the Municipal League and the Citizens Planning Council are not. They work with public agencies such as the City Planning Commission to improve it. In support of such groups a band of some fifty architects and planners joined together a year ago for a volunteer effort. They decided to look closely at their city, to search out the roots of its joy and despair.

“This book is a progress report on that activity. We hope that it infects you with a touch of the city madness we contracted during a long, hot summer. We think that it will take a fair measure of such madness on the part of a number of citizens to insure this city’s development as a congenial place for friends and lovers.

“Much about Seattle is right, but an equal amount is wrong -- who can rest until the balance is improved? What follows is intended to draw attention to these problems, to help public and professional agree more closely on their city’s purpose before it is too late.

“The focus here is on several problem areas with planning suggestions offered, not as final and definite proposals, but as ideas. The areas of study were: Lake Union/Wallingford, Pioneer Square, the Downtown, Elliott Bay, Denny Regrade, and In-City Living.

“In each case we examined the existing condition and made an attempt to find ways of bringing back to these areas economic health and public joy. We have not attempted to prepare a city plan. This is the rightful province of the City Planning Commission.

“We have tried to find a few modest ways in which the city might serve man rather than the reverse. The hunting society is past, the food-gathering society is past, the agricultural society is past. What we have now is a different society in which the average man is adrift. All the former ways of life contained within them a process, a natural order leading almost inevitably to individual and group well being, psychological as well as physical. Today’s urban condition -- which cannot and perhaps should not be reversed -- does not naturally lead to such a reasonable balance. It is our task to discover ways of reestablishing that necessary equilibrium within the context of today’s and tomorrow’s form of social organization.

“In a small way this volunteer effort may help point the direction. It will take the most penetrating thought, the most complete and sympathetic commitment from us all to find our way again.

“One final word must be said about the problem that makes all of the above seem trivial: the explosive problem of race relations and minority housing. Why should we bother to plant roses when our cities are being burned? It is because we see a correlation between the quality of our communities and the mood of our neighbors. As one of our members has pointed out, 'Ugly streets, neighborhoods, and communities form an excellent backdrop for ugly behavior.' The nearer we approach a truly human city, the nearer we may come to truly civilized behavior.”

Fred Bassetti
Chairman, Action: Better City
Many credit the civic conversation that Action: Better City helped ignite as a major influence in their thoughts about the city and the plans and buildings that shape it, beginning then and continuing for several decades.   Bassetti enumerates these areas as among those positively affected by public investment stimulated by Action: Better City: Westlake Square, Pioneer Square, the Denny Regrade, Gas Works Park, and the Burke Gilman Trail.