First Hill initiative seeks to re-imagine ‘parks’ in dense neighborhoods

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 11.13.00 AMFirst Hill community representatives say the neighborhood is in desperate need of more public park space and for ten years Seattle Parks and Recreation has been trying to acquire land to build it. In 2000 and 2008 voters approved levies to fund land acquisitions for new parks on First Hill, but affordable properties are almost non-existent in one of the densest neighborhoods in the state.

Last year Parks reached out to the First Hill Improvement Association and the neighborhood’s burgeoning cadre of civically active residents to talk about alternatives. What the city came up with was the First Hill Public Realm Action Plan.

The plan gathers representatives from the city’s Department of Transportation, Department of Planning and Development, and Parks to explore using parks levy funds to carve out public space from the city’s existing assets — primarily streets, sidewalks, and parking.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 10.41.00 AMA consultant hired by the city is due to release a report in the coming weeks that will further analyze opportunities on First Hill to create these types of public spaces. The city has already identified six areas that could potentially be activated for better public use.

The idea isn’t earth shattering, but it represents a significant departure in tactics for Parks, which spends most of its energy acquiring and maintaing traditional grass-and-tree spaces.

“The scarcity for land for parks as the city develops means we have to be more careful how we spend resources,” said DPD urban designer Lyle Bicknell. “It’s new thinking about what parks are and how we can use city property.”

First Hill’s recent “street Scrabble” was a prototype of the sort of project that could become more common around the neighborhood. In fact, the spacious E Union and University intersection could be the first permanent public space created under the new framework, said Bicknell.


Bell Street Park (Image: City of Seattle)

This sort of space “activation” wouldn’t be the first time Parks has used acquisition money for development, though it’s never been done on a scale greater than one-off projects. The recently completed Bell Street Park in Belltown and an upcoming project on 14th Ave NW in Ballard are two examples the city could replicate on First Hill.

Parks must get City Council approval each time it uses levy funds to develop parks on existing public spaces. Nevertheless, Parks officials and those who champion traditional parks are understandably cautious about the significance of the First Hill experiment.

“When people approved this money, it was for a park … not painted pavement,” said Donald Harris, property and acquisition service manager for Seattle Parks.

While parks of the traditional variety are more plentiful on Capitol Hill, the city is still seeking to expand its “parklets” program, in which SDOT transfers street side parking into privately developed public space.

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8 thoughts on “First Hill initiative seeks to re-imagine ‘parks’ in dense neighborhoods

  1. What about a park of several acres created by lidding I5 over Seneca, Madison and Marion. At about $20M per acre it wouldn’t be much more expensive than acquiring First Hill land and would have the added benefits of creating a better link with downtown as well as reducing noise and air pollution on First Hill. Feel free to check out for more information about this.

  2. I live on First Hill and this intersection would be a PERFECT spot for a little parklet. This intersection is a nightmare for pedestrians (there are NO crosswalks) and I’ve even seen cars stopped in the middle of the triangle because no one seems to know what way you’re actually suppose to go or do there.

    I don’t need grass, per say, as Donald Harris seems to think only grass defines a park. A little public space would do just fine with benches and planters with green items. Something like what Pine street used to be prior to the Nordstrom move downtown. Also, a little coffee shop in the area would be amazing. We need neighborhood engagement, and First Hill really has no place for it. There are actually a great many areas on First Hill (which has abnormally wide sidewalks in some spots with vegetation plantings) that could be transformed into a little more of a public space. Maybe micro p-patch spots. There isn’t a p-patch on First Hill and there are many areas I’ve walked by that I think, why isn’t this a planter box? First Hill is ripe for this type of improvement and also more investment by small business in the neighborhood parts. Other than Madison and the nightmare that is the Harborview complex, there isn’t a lot of pop-in community shops like a patisserie or coffee shop. Maybe we’re not zoned, I don’t know. But a coffee shop outside my door would be a thing of wonder.

    • It’s not a meth clinic, it’s a Methadone clinic which is used to treat addiction to Heroin. Not meth. And get over it.

      • You’re right, but there sure are a lot of sketchy people in the blocks close to the clinic….especially in the morning when they are there to get their fix…..oh, excuse me, their medicine! Methadone is just substituting one drug addiction for another, in my opinion.

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  5. What a terrible location for a park. The neighbors every day have to clean needles, and every weekend, there’s in influx of loud weekend drunks. The city has done absolutely no studies of the implications of closing the street—nor why there’s a need for a park two blocks from the underused First Hill Park.

    Planters and seats would merely attract more junkies and drunks.

    Agreed, there’s a need to calm the traffic,. but that can easily be done with a green traffic circle like the one two blocks away—at First Hill Park.