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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.

Seattle Parks and Recreation and the 12th Avenue Stewards are excited to announce the opening of 12th Avenue Square Park located at E. James Court and 12th Avenue between Ba Bar and Cherry Street Coffee House in the Squire Park neighborhood,” the Seattle Parks announcement reads.

The project, designed by Hewitt Architects and Sollod with input from the community, got started about six years ago but its genesis goes further back.

Here’s what Squire Park neighborhood advocate Bill Zosel had to say about the project:

The park is the result of a decade of advocacy by 12th Avenue Stewards a neighborhood group, including residents, business owners and institutions, formed in the 1990s to champion the redevelopment of 12th Avenue. Twenty years later, 12th Avenue Stewards continues to be an active neighborhood partner working with the City, local businesses and nonprofits, to advance the 12th Avenue Urban Village as a neighborhood corridor of vibrant businesses, restaurants, arts organizations, and institutions.

Seattle Parks strikes a diplomatic tone regarding the park’s location. “Situated between the Central Area and Capitol Hill, the 7,332 square-foot park is considered part of both communities,” the announcement reads. “The park space will be used to strengthen community ties through programming local events and offering a great gathering place.”

The park is one of a handful of smaller projects underway around Capitol Hill including Broadway Hill Park.

The 12th Ave project was allocated $500,000 from the 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy, $490,000 from the Pro Parks Levy, and the Seattle Parks Foundation also pitched in $70,000. SDOT also picked up part of the bill for the woonerf.

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Though only the width of one block, Seattle Parks says the woonerf “provides pedestrians and cyclists priority on the street,” and say the “technique of shared spaces, traffic calming, and low speed limits contribute to improved pedestrian, bicycle, and automobile safety.”

Solod’s sculpture is called the Cloud Veil:

The artistic sculptural canopy structure called “Cloud Veil” that hovers over a rounded “pillow” and the wavy concrete paving design grew out of the Hewitt and Sollod collaboration. Several other smaller pillows for seating are sprinkled through the space. The park’s unique design also includes rain gardens to extend the feeling of open space for the entire block on E. James Court, a single east-bound lane.

While the park is now open for wandering through and hanging out (there is also a giant table), Parks is planning a grand opening celebration for Thursday, April 14, 2016, from 5 to 7:30 PM in conjunction with the monthly Capitol Hill Art Walk. You can learn more at


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25 thoughts on “Seattle gains a woonerf: 12th Ave Square Park now open

  1. It’s nice. And, parks are great. And, I get budgets. But, in the midst of a fucking homeless crisis that’s been brewing for many years, this definitely suggests where are priorities lie. But, it’s a nice park. Oh, but, I remember that time when the mayor and the Seattle Parks Department chased “them” out of the downtown parks, and effectively banned many of “them” from all parks with the asinine parks’ smoking ban. Maybe we’ll get to chase “them” out of this park too. But wait, we continue to prioritize park levies over levies/funding/political will for homeless encampments, affordable housing and rent stabilization initiatives. I have an idea, maybe this homeless crisis didn’t just “happen.” Maybe we manufactured it.

    • The money for this project could not be spent on homelessness. We the People approved a Parks and Green space levy back in 2008. This project was given $500,000 to complete. To spend that money on anything but a park would be deemed a misappropriation of funds.
      Last night one of our local homeless alcoholics – Steve, did sleep in the park on the bench. He also threw up right next to the trash cans. So, you see, the homeless use the park too.
      ** Before you get up on the Sawant pulpit** I’ve known Steve for years. Steve does not want services or to quit drinking. To quote him “I’m a free man.” Say Hi to him if you see him. He likes books if you have any to spare.

      • SeattleCarol, tell Steve to head down to the downtown urban rest stop on 9th and Virginia. He probably knows it already. Friends of SPL sends books over there for readers.

      • “Steve” is exactly why many of us have lost empathy for the homeless….he prefers to remain a street alcoholic and defiantly resists any kind of social services which might help him, and all the while he vomits (and probably pisses and defecates and camps and litters) all over our public spaces.

        I realize there are other types of homeless people, but there are alot of Steves out there too.

      • SeattleCarol, perhaps you missed the point or the words in my post. Yes, I understand the levy and the binding nature of a budget. However, this “crisis” has been years in the making. In 2008, or before, we could have pushed for more funds to be directed to mitigating the problem of housing affordability and homelessness.

        And, you know, keep whining about the bums barfing in your parks and your subsequent lack of “empathy.” That’s fucking ridiculous and you’re terrible people. Addiction is a disease. Learn about it. And if you’re already there and still feel the way you do… good job. Lots of hope in humanity. You’re a classy person and I looooove calling you my fucking neighbor. Peace out suckas.

  2. I’m not at all sure what a “woonerf” is, as opposed to a “park,” but I really like the sculpture, and the dramatic lighting. Well done!

    • I had to look that one up too! From Wikipedia:
      A woonerf is a living street, as originally implemented in the Netherlands and in Flanders. Techniques include shared space, traffic calming, and low speed limits. Under Article 44 of the Dutch traffic code, motorised traffic in a woonerf or “recreation area” is restricted to walking pace.

  3. All those poor neighbors… skateboards aren’t the quietest things in the world. You wouldn’t think so, but I’m 12 floors up where I’m at and I can hear skateboards easily through closed windows.

    • I live only 3 floors up and also hear skateboards clacking by at all hours. I love the sounds of the city as that is why I live here. Once in a while any of the many city sounds can be annoying but overall its a nice reminder that we live in a vibrant neighborhood.

      • I’m just saying that above the sounds of traffic and all the other city noises…skateboards are pretty easily isolated. And having a skateboard park. right. there. would likely be enough to drive someone mad.

    • It’s not a skateboard park, and the city actually designed it with efforts to keep skateboarders off. So its no fault of the city.. but skateboarders are creative, and if you put a nicely lit area right there in front of us? We’re gonna use it like the rest of the neighborhood :)

  4. It looks nice and I’m looking forward to checking it out in person soon, but where are all the plants? Seems like a big missed opportunity on green space, native plants and grasses, more trees, etc. There’s so much concrete! Maybe in the spring and summer we can get some things that bloom?

    • There are some very young trees which have been planted. They might pick up some visibility points against all the concrete in 30 years.

  5. I’m very happy about this park and glad it is ready for springtime. I’ve been walking by it for a while and the sculpture is fascinating. Looking forward to getting the full experience!

    I do wish residents/commenters would not complain about unrelated issues, for example our homeless problem, every time an aesthetic project is completed. Money is allocated for different projects; the city cannot spend money on homelessness (or insert your issue of preference) that the public has allocated for parks. This is basic Civics 101.

    • I do with that residents/commenters understood that we “the people” help decide how that money is prioritized when we vote on those levies and initiatives. Maybe that’s… Civics 102? Did you get that far?

      So, it’s a matter of priorities, and how we the people decide to monetize those priorities. In this case, at some point in time, we decided to put money into an anesthetic project or set of projects. Subsequently, we have a nice park simultaneous to a housing affordability/homeless crisis. I’m sorry if you don’t see a correlation. But it’s there.

  6. Despite what your real estate agent, Seattle University, or even the “diplomatic” Seattle Parks announcement may try to tell you, this isn’t located in Capitol Hill. It’s the Central District.

      • Actually the park, as the article rightly states, is in the Squire Park neighborhood…. Just because something is reported on the Capitol Hill blog doesn’t mean that the author thinks it happened there. We don’t live in tiny neighborhood bubbles and never go out of them after all. What happens near us is important, whether or not it happens to fall within certain made up lines..

  7. I’ll be curious if pedestrians are truly free to stroll across the traffic lane in this woonerf, i.e. free to use it as a real park. The Parks Department built a somewhat similar park downtown on Bell Street, but the Police Department enforces jaywalking laws on it. The only legal way to cross the Bell Street woonerf is to walk to an intersection and wait for the Walk light. I hope that’s not the case here on E. James Ct.

  8. I’m blown away at how expensive this park was. Did the land have to be purchased? Does anyone know what that cost? I’m pretty bummed. It looks like a parking lot more than a garden.