By Alec Dietz, UW News Lab/Special to CHS
When Interstate 5 was built more than 50 years ago, many didn’t consider the problems associated with a massive highway splitting up the University District from Wallingford, Capitol Hill from downtown, and First Hill from the International District in the Seattle area.
But, a small group of architects, engineers, and community members met at the 12th Ave Arts building on Capitol Hill Sunday to discuss ways that they could heal those divides, and fix lids that had already been built in Seattle, at a Lid I-5 Kickoff Charrette gathering led by co-chairs and architects John Feit and Scott Bonjukian.
“Freeway Park is a beautiful design, but it didn’t work,” Feit said of one of the lids Seattle had tried already. “People are acknowledging that it is a beautiful design, but that it doesn’t work, and we want to make it better. That’s just something the city struggled with for decades.”
In a room full of close to 50 community members, engineers, and architects, Feit led a discussion on how lids — a bridge-like structure that spans over the gap of a sunken freeway — over freeways could be a way to potentially create affordable housing and reconnect old neighborhoods.
The charrette — a meeting in which stakeholders in a project work to map a set of solutions — was also focused on adding a few civic amenities for the greater Seattle community.
The volunteers were a group of community members with varying levels of engineering and architecture experience. Some groups included experts in the field that have had careers in architecture, but others were volunteering as average architectures, but were important for the project nevertheless.
The end goal for the group is September, when all their ideas will be finalized into a presentation and put on display for leaders in the Seattle area. That will hopefully include Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, and various representatives in the city.
Thomas Pitchford, a member of the steering committee, and a former candidate for 43rd District representative, was excited about how the kickoff charrette went.
“That’s why we have these community events,” Pitchford said, “because we can get all of this input from folks all across the community, and then we can have their involvement.”
The participants were put into seven groups: two groups responsible for the south site (Freeway Park), two groups responsible for a central site (Washington State Convention Center), two groups for a north site (Between East Thomas St. and Olive Way), and one group responsible for connecting the three sites.
Each of the groups discussed building schools, parks, and various other amenities to their specific site, but the central group had an idea that really stuck out, due to the site’s proximity to the Paramount Theater.
“I’ve always liked the idea of leveraging the performance of the Paramount, to some outdoor theater,” Feit said. “I always thought that was intriguing. I don’t know how it would work with our weather and their operations, but that’s a fun idea.”
Feit was also proud of how the group wanted to use the space, and that they had plenty of ideas on how to drive people to these potential community areas.
“They recognized that open spaces need to be active to be successful,” Feit said. “That can come through adjacent uses, with buildings and whatever their functions are, but it can also go through them. That you can funnel traffic through them.”
Participants also discussed how to deal with Seattle’s uneven topography, which remains a big challenge for the city to institute lids over I-5.
“There was a lot of talk about connectivity and dealing with the topography,” Bonjukian said. “If you look at lids in other cities, a lot of them are built where it’s pretty flat, but Seattle is hilly, so that seemed to be a constant theme people were talking about. So, how we can take advantage of that and be creative.”
For example, in Dallas, Texas, Klyde Warren Park is one of the shining examples for cities that have implemented lids over their highways. The park is responsible for helping bridge the gap between districts, and creating new residential and commercial life in the city.
In Seattle, various community members are attempting to do the same thing, bringing the community together to create change, and coming up with good ideas to use these lidded spaces in the best ways that the city of Seattle can.
Next for the Lid I-5 group is another meeting at Optimism Brewing in March that will allow them to further hone their ideas and insights in a few weeks. After that, they’ll hold two more events before their big showcase in September.
Central Hills Triangle Collaborative – 30% Design
Thursday, March 15
Optimism Brewing, 1158 Broadway
Central Hills Triangle Collaborative – 60% Design
Thursday, May 15
The Summit on Pike, 420 E Pike Street
Central Hills Triangle Collaborative – 90% Design
Wednesday, July 18
Washington State Convention Center, 705 Pike Street, Room 2AB
Ultimately, Feit, Bonjukian, and Pitchford’s goals are the same, they said. They all want to seal the rift that I-5 created.
“This is newly created land, and it’s healing the scar of I-5,” Pitchford said. “We need to make this idea a part of the city’s master plan.”
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