Greening the Streets



Seattle’s pretty fortunate when it come to our collection of parks and green spaces. We’re blessed with a system many covet and it provides us with a public resource that makes us one of the world’s most livable cities. Over a century ago, Seattle’s civic leaders had the wisdom to hire the Olmsted Brothers and their influence surrounds us still today. It’s pretty clear that the value we place on these verdant amenities hasn’t shifted over time.

Over the last decade, generous voters have passed two parks levies that have been used to acquire new park property. The secondary benefit provided by these levies is the Opportunity Fund, encouraging neighborhoods to work together to create and implement their own visions in terms of community park space. There’s no doubt we’ve benefited from such generosity, but can this model be sustainable? Can we continue to depend on the generosity of our voters, or more importantly, should we?

Parks are a basic element to our infrastructure and perhaps it’s time we started thinking that way. Instead of considering these spaces a luxury, they should be considered fundamental. When we talk about sidewalks and utilities, let’s start talking about incorporating parks into that discussion. Instead of wide swaths of greenery, let’s expand the definition and broaden the vision. How about linear parks? How about greening our streets? Instead of focusing on acquiring property and developing standard-definition park spaces, let’s look at using our existing right-of-way and creating connections to the parks we have today. It’s a vision that John Charles Olmsted had back in 1903.

We’re starting to do this and the Bell Street Improvement project is a perfect example. Belltown’s a highly dense area and in desperate need of open space and some greenery. Unfortunately, availability and cost of real estate limit the options. We’re not abandoning the notion, only looking outside of the box. Rather than looking to purchase real property, we’re instead looking at the land that’s before us, namely Bell Street itself between 1st and 5th Avenues.

Last week it was announced that Seattle Parks and Recreation was able to secure the last $1M needed for this street’s transformation. Sidewalks will be expanded, trees will be planted, and gathering spaces will be formed. Bell Street will still serve traffic, but it will also be more inviting to pedestrians and will connect Belltown to other parts of the city through green.

Just last week, I read about the Seattle Sheraton’s plans for a ‘Garden Walk’ project. The hotel’s investment of $2 million will create a landscaped pedestrian walkway along Seventh Avenue. Vine-covered walls, large mirrors, and a kinetic water feature will help shape this urban oasis, and it will become both an important connector between the hotel and the Convention Center as well as a notable entry way to the downtown core. Construction starts this week and is expected to be finished next spring.

These green connections have been a century in the making. Bring on the green streets!

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