On Saturday morning, Capitol Hill’s 12th Ave Arts was buzzing with a different type of creative energy as local architects, designers, and urban planners, as well as interested neighborhood residents sketched out their visions for what a lidded I-5 would look like.
“Look at all these designers go!” John Feit, chair of the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council, architect, and a key organizer within the Lid I-5 campaign, happily quipped as he moved amongst the work groups observing their discussions.
Powered by coffee and sweet and savory pastries from High 5 Pie, and armed with markers, tracing paper, and maps of central I-5, eight groups of around six people tossed around ideas and sketched out concept designs for several hours on Saturday morning. Feit said that there were around fifty attendees (which was more than they had originally hoped for), a third of whom didn’t come from professional architecture or design backgrounds.
The eight work groups’ visions were big and ambitious. All shared the baseline and assumed goal of creating a large, winding green space atop I-5, accessible to pedestrians, cyclists and cars alike with bike paths, fixed recreational equipment and trees.
The event, organized by the Lid I-5 campaign — the group that has been advocating for lidding the central portion of I-5 that separates Capitol Hill from downtown to reconnect the two neighborhoods and create a new green space in the city’s urban core — was dubbed the “lid I-5 design charrette,” and served as a chance for both the public to weigh in on the potential project and for the campaign to showcase the general public’s interest in the idea.
‘A lid that extended all the way from Olive Way down to Yesler Way’
Most groups chose to conceptualize a lid that extended all the way from Olive Way down to Yesler Way, while some shorted the lid length to keep it closer to the Pike/Pine connection. The majority also opted to keep the existing grid of streets that cross over I-5 in their concept designs to continue those downtown-Capitol Hill connections for general traffic (though there were some thoughts about how to activate those streets for pedestrians such as sidewalk markets for nearby shops). Some floated the idea of building a elementary school and a school recreation field at the southern end of the lid—citing downtown Seattle’s lack of elementary schools—and many included some sort of amphitheater or arts space in the center of the lid for public programming like concerts and dance performances. One group opted for a centralized water feature.
Including affordable housing and mix-use development was also a common theme throughout the workgroups. Many opted to incorporate affordable housing and mixed-use projects throughout the length of the I-5 lid. The groups allocated land to residential and commercial developments in varying degrees if close proximity to one another, some opting to keep the lid more as a long urban park while others chose to design it more as a dynamic green neighborhood that could be both easily navigated and lived in.
Former City Council member Tom Rassmusen, who has supported the concept of lidding I-5 during his tenure on the council, made an appearance towards the end of the charrette, telling the crowd he was excited to see what they came up with. Former Mayor Norm Rice also visited the proceedings. Donovan Rivers, candidate to represent the 43rd Legislative District, arrived at the same time and endorsed the charette’s undertaking as well.
The Lid I-5 campaign, has been angling for the city to require that the Washington State Convention Center — which is working to purchase the property housing the King County Metro Convention Place station to allow for its massive $1.4 billion planned expansion — pay for a feasibility study of lidding I-5 as part of the “public benefits” that the city could require the developer include in their project as a component of its approval.
The campaign plans to present the concept designs from Saturday’s charrette to the Seattle Design Commission ahead of it’s June 7th meeting where the public benefits of the Washington State Convention Center expansion will be talked over.
“The idea is to show the design commission is that there is a public desire and what the range of benefits could be along the I-5 corridor,” said Feit.
You can learn more at facebook.com/PPUNC.