With First Hill pavement parks success, city planning more in 2016 including one on Capitol Hill

If you climbed First Hill at University, Union, and Boylston last summer, you might have been surprised by the sudden appearance of a colorful Mediterranean-style plaza that had replaced a dingy and utterly confusing semi-triangular intersection. This is “UUB,” the pavement park put together by the First Hill Improvement Association and the City of Seattle. It was soon dotted with local residents who looked comfortably at home. Who wouldn’t want to hang out at this sunny space with its turquoise-painted pavement, café tables, and lime-green umbrellas reflecting up at the surrounding buildings?

UUB is one of two Pavement to Parks projects piloted over the summer under the city’s Adaptive Streets program. The other is the similarly turquoise pavement park at 9th and University. Their August openings were part of a summer of “tactical urbanism” around Central Seattle that included a lukewarm response to a new “streatery” opportunity and a test of a Pike/Pine pedestrian zone that rankled some area business interests while providing some fantastic photographic opportunities.

With space for parks in the neighborhoods around Capitol Hill requiring more and more creative solutions (see also: 12th Ave Square Park), reception for the First Hill parks has been more positive. In 2016, in fact, City Hall will move forward with similar projects in four more locations — including Capitol Hill.

Susan McLaughlin, urban design and transport strategic adviser to SDOT, summarized the feedback from residents. “We found that the success of the space was just the ability to sit in a safe open public space,” she said. “This is an area where the older apartment buildings don’t always have an open space of their own.” Continue reading

Seattle gains a woonerf: 12th Ave Square Park now open

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(Images: CHS)

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Newly completed 12th Ave Square Park is the kind of open space you need to create in a tightly packed, Central Seattle neighborhood. Where once was an empty, 7,322-square-foot, gravel-covered lot, now is a paved plaza with native plantings, raised pedestals, and a rubber coated mound that answers the cross-neighborhood call of Cal Anderson’s Teletubby Hill. Above it all floats a sculpture by artist Ellen Sollod.

All that and you can drive through it thanks to the James Ct woonerf that runs softly (and one way, only) through the edge of the new public space. Continue reading

Lid I-5: The Movie

lidI-5Last week, Seattle’s only newspaper finally jumped on the I-5 lid bandwagon. “The time Is right to fix the I-5 disaster,” they say. The grand — Big Lid — vision for an I-5 cap from Patano Architects the Stranger focused on is one vision for how to address the project. We featured the big, shiny, 45-acre vision on CHS back in September.

The Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council is open to the big vision — but it is also taking small steps to add a planning process for a new lid over I-5 to the development of the Washington State Convention Center expansion.

In December, CHS reported on PPUNC’s efforts to include a study for a new I-5 lid in the planning process for the expansion as part of the convention center’s “public benefits” for the project. This week, PPUNC’s chair John Feit shared a 15-point update on the group’s push for lidding I-5 and opening the possibility for creating room for housing and commercial development, park space, and restoring the connection between Capitol Hill, First Hill and downtown. Get ready for a big meeting in February, a fundraising campaign, and a community design charrette:

  1. We will start crowd sourcing soon so we can hire a project manager
  2. Seattle Parks Foundation will be our fiscal agent
  3. We will also be directly soliciting donors (developers, property owners, and the like)
  4. We are also applying for a DON small and simple grant
  5. Capitol Hill Housing is lending a hand with logistical support Continue reading

Vote for First Hill’s pavement parks

20150808_120116In 2015, First Hill community groups and the City of Seattle worked to solve a neighborhood puzzle: how to create more open space in the densely packed neighborhood. The result was two prototype “pavement to parks” projects. The First Hill Improvement Association is now stumping for support for the project in a vote recognizing the best “urban street transformation of 2015″ —

The two pavement parks along University Street are up for StreetsBlog USA’s Best Urban Street Transformation of 2015! Please take a moment to vote in favor of our neighborhood’s creative adaptation of an unsafe intersection into a community gathering place!

The First Hill neighborhood is a dense urban community home to high rise residential building, major medical institutions, educational, and commercial uses — and a scarcity of public open space. Rising land values and development pressures have made acquiring traditional space for a new park difficult. So, in 2014, the First Hill Improvement Association partnered with three city agencies — SDOT, DPD, and Parks- to explore a concept sweeping the country: repurposing land in the public right of way from pavement (especially awkward public intersections or overly broad streets) into new uses as community gathering areas — pavement parks!

Through the First Hill Public Realm Action Plan, two pilot pavement parks were created on First Hill: one at University Street and 9th Avenue, the other at the intersection of University, Union, and Boylston (UUB). The first of their kind in Seattle, these pavement parks have been embraced by the First Hill community, and function as a public living room for many residents. Particularly at UUB site, it’s common to see small gatherings of people sitting, talking, eating, and enjoying themselves outdoors in what had formerly been an unsafe five leg intersection.

These spaces accomplish the two fold mission to improve vehicular and pedestrian safety, and to provide community gathering spaces!

We’re not going to lie. The First Hill project has its work cut out for it — it stands in a distant fourth place as of this posting. It’s difficult to argue against the current top vote getter: a project to redesign 1.3 miles of Queens Boulevard in NYC to be safer for drivers, bikers, and pedestrians.

RIP, Cal Anderson wading pool plum tree

Tree split and downed probably by pre-dawn lightening

A casualty of recent storms bringing wet soil and wind, the old plum tree that shaded the area around the Cal Anderson wading pool near the park’s pumphouse was cut up to be hauled away this week.

A parks department arborist confirmed the storm-related death Tuesday. No, the old tree wasn’t struck by lightning though that would have been a cool way to go out.

Instead, the plum’s roots lost their grip in Cal Anderson’t soggy soil. There are currently no plans to replace the tree — especially as Seattle Parks looks at trimming the greenspace’s foliage further back and considers a $780,000 lighting plan to improve safety in the park.

Study recommends $780K+ investment to improve Cal Anderson Park lighting

Cal Anderson Park

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 12.10.11 PMNight time lighting at Cal Anderson Park has been a bit of a Goldilocks dilemma for Capitol Hill. Too little creates the potential for more crime and the perception the park is unsafe, while too much may actually have a similar effect and has been a nuisance for neighbors in the past.

To help guide the way, the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce commissioned a grant-funded study earlier this year to analyze the current lighting situation and recommend improvements. The report from dark | light design released Monday recommends $780,000 to $960,000 worth of lighting improvements to make the park safer by making it more inviting.

CHCC executive director Sierra Hansen said getting more people to cross through the park at night is a top priority. “We want to use lighting to create more movement,” Hansen said.

Among the recommendations is an idea to mount LED lights on the park’s gatehouse to “softly illuminate the architecture of the gatehouse without creating an overwhelming visual element.” The study notes that the high contrast light around the shelter house plaza should be reduced by fully illuminating the plaza’s columns. The study also warns against over-lighting, especially with omnidirectional globes that shield views of the night sky.

Other recommendations include:Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 11.23.35 AM

  • Increase lighting along 11th Ave
  • Increase lighting on paths while decreasing visual glare
  • Light plants and trees throughout the park
  • Enhance park entrance lighting

Now the CHCC and groups like the Cal Anderson Park Alliance have to come up with the money to fund the plan. Hansen said the CHCC will lead an effort to seek a combination of private and public funding. Beyond lighting, the CHCC is also exploring improvements to the park’s landscaping to create a safer environment.

“There are some real challenging areas,” Hansen said. “Lighting can help, but it’s not going to be the silver bullet.”

Cal Anderson Park Lighting Study

Group makes case for lidding I-5 to connect Capitol Hill to downtown with greenspace, housing

“Their convention center would be much nicer if it was next to some ground instead of an interstate highway.”

Proponents of lidding I-5 at the base of Capitol Hill are getting serious: They have a logo.

As part of its ongoing efforts to inject community priorities into the massive $1.4 billion Washington State Convention Center expansion, members of the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council have been pushing forward the idea of lidding I-5. PPUNC and a group of designers are now preparing to make their first public pitch before City Council members during a Wednesday afternoon “lunch and learn” at City Hall.

PPUNC chair and Capitol Hill architect John Feit sketched out a handful of lid ideas for the meeting, which range from *simply* reconnecting the street grid at Minor and Terry, to a 7-acre park over I-5 between Olive Way and Pike, to a mix of park space and development. The new publicly owned property could also open the opportunity for building public housing, Feit said, perhaps even for some of the hundreds of service industry workers the WSCC plans to employ.

Leveraging “public benefits” required of the developers as part of the convention center expansion will be key to getting PPUNC’s proposal off the ground. The benefits typically include improvements to the streetscape like canopies, planting, and lighting.

While the Pine Street Group has dismissed suggestions that a lid could be part of the public benefits provides as part of the project, Feit is hoping the developers would be open to funding a crucial feasibility study to establish real lid proposals.

“I think its reasonable to get the Convention Center to pay for that,” he said, estimating a study could cost anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million. “Their convention center would be much nicer if it was next to some ground instead of an interstate highway.” Continue reading

New I-5 lid could be a ‘public benefit’ of convention center expansion

See? We already have one (Image: City of Seattle)

See? We already have one (Image: City of Seattle)

If you thought CHS was sensationalizing the connection between the $1.4 billion plan to expand the Washington State Convention Center and the fantastical schemes to build a lid over I-5 to connect Capitol Hill to downtown and South Lake Union, you may have been correct. But a little Capitol Hill bias hasn’t stopped City of Seattle officials from beginning to look at the I-5 lid as a real opportunity.

“This concept is a continuation of our city history,” City Council transportation committee chair Tom Rasmussen said during a pre-Thanksgiving session to discuss early planning for the project. “Ever since I-5 was first planned in the 1950s, people were very concerned about what I-5 would do to downtown Seattle, cutting off neighborhoods, basically obliterating parts of the International District.”

It’s not just Rasmussen saying something nice for the Capitol Hill constituency as he prepares to leave the council. Sally Bagshaw, who will lead downtown’s District 7 starting in 2016, said at the committee meeting she is prepared to help push for the creation of the important “connector” and is looking for a community organization to take the lead like Allied Arts did for the Seattle Waterfront project.

The most likely community leader at this point is the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council that has been advocating for better pedestrian connections as part of the planning of the downtown convention center expansion. “CM Bagshaw was a leader in Allied Arts’s efforts. The lid would be in CM Baghsaw’s district, and she will be a strong voice for us moving forward — but we must lead the effort,” a PPUNC update following last week’s meeting read. Continue reading

A new use for Capitol Hill parks: preschools

Outdoor preschool? In muddy public parks across rainy Seattle? It seems like that’s going to be a preschool option for local parents in 2016. Tiny Trees, a budding local start-up outdoor preschool, received a letter this fall from the Seattle Parks and Recreation Superintendent Jesús Aguirre confirming that the department would permit the nonprofit to run six outdoor preschool programs in city parks as a pilot project by September 2016.

Tiny Trees CEO Andrew Jay was, of course, thrilled at the news. After winning a $15,000 grant in 2014 through the Social Venture Partner’s Fast Pitch Competition for Best Non-Profit Start-Up and pitching the concept to superintendent Aguirre back in September, the Scandinavian model of outdoor preschool could soon come to city parks across Seattle. There is already one outdoor preschool operating out of the University of Washington Arboretum called Fiddleheads, which Jay says is one “inspiration” for Tiny Trees.

The touted upsides of outdoor preschool range from its cost savings — not having to pay for a facility saves a chunk of change — allowing for more investment in preschool teachers and discounts for middle and low income families, in addition to benefits of holding play and nature-based classes in stimulating outdoor green space. Continue reading

$1.9 million in grants, plus new park projects coming to Capitol Hill and District 3

We do have money for this E John enhancement, though

We do have money for this E John enhancement, though

We don't have money for this right now

We don’t have money for this right now

Last week, CHS shared the most recent vision for the audacious idea to lid I-5 with a park to better connect Capitol Hill with downtown and South Lake Union. There’s zero dollars to pay for it.

But the good news is there are more than zero dollars to pay for plenty of other parks and community projects around Capitol Hill and District 3. Here are some projects ready do dig in or already in progress around the Hill and Central Seattle plus news on new grants to help pay for more.

Summit Slope Park E John Enhancement
E John next off E Olive Way will be “enhanced” starting this winter, Seattle Parks says. The plans to “pedestrianize” E John adjacent Summit Slope Park next to the E Olive Way Starbucks were mostly finalized way back in fall of 2013 but the end product will be a $150,000 compromise version. The effort to transform the street was part of the original plans for the park as ideas coalesced in 2009 but had to be put off in early planning and construction due to costs. The plan will reconfigure sidewalks and trees along the street and eliminate parking on E John as well as close off access to the street from E Olive Way. Starbucks customers, however, will still be allowed to exit the cafe’s parking lot onto John to Summit. UPDATE: Awesome planning and development site The Urbanist has more information about the E John changes:

With the removal of parking lanes, the sidewalk will extend into John Street, with room for a bioswale, new p-patches, and even two new tables for seating.

12th Avenue Square and Broadway Hill Park
12th Avenue Square on 12th at E James Ct and Broadway Hill Park at Federal and Republican were both under construction this fall. 12th Avenue Square, with its woonerf and giant hanging sculpture, is close to wrapping up though the official opening party will probably be held in 2016. Also lined up for a 2016 opening is the long awaited Broadway Hill Park on land purchased for $2 million five years ago.

New grants
Meanwhile, $464,823 in Neighborhood Matching Fund grants were announced in the latest wave of awards for organizations across the city. With the advent of Seattle’s new district system, the Department of Neighborhoods provided this year’s roster of grants organized by district. Your home district did well — D3 raked in more than $160,000 of the funds made available in this round.

District 3

  • $25,000 to Gay City Arts to organize events exploring the experiences of three marginalized groups within LGBT communities: people of color, transgender and genderqueer people, and people over 40. The free events will include classes in visual, literary and performing arts, along with community dialogues and performances. (Community match: $33,404) Continue reading