Support Crosscut

Ideas for Seattle’s waterfront: arts and play

What Blanchard Street underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct looks like now Credit: Waterfront Program, City of Seattle

If Bertha ever gets back to work and the tunnel gets bored and the viaduct is razed and the money – $420 million – is found, then Seattle will get 26 city blocks worth of new public space along the waterfront.

And what should be included in that space?

Well, how about something that invites the public to play.

Something in the spirit of this music video from 1974.

It’s the song “Sisters and Brothers”  — fast forward to 2:29 to get past Marlo Thomas and the kids – and you’ll see a bunch of adults scampering and climbing and grooving without a care in the world.

This is the toe-tapping video that launched the Saturday portion of a two-day, city-sponsored “Art, Design and Play” conference at City Hall.

Ain’t we lucky? Ain’t we happy? are some of the song’s lyrics.

“That’s the kind of city we want to make here, right?” asked Eric Fredericksen, the city’s waterfront program art manager.

This was an “ideas” conference and Fredericksen, in his introductory remarks, used the video as an example of a vibe — not the actual design specifics — of what an engaging waterfront park could look like.

What Blanchard Street underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct looks like now/Waterfront program, City of Seattle

The city wants the waterfront to offer a lot: You should be able to stroll; you should be able to stick your toes in the water; you should be able to gaze at the mountains beyond.

But as it embarks on a design for the park — the latest schematics were unveiled this week — the city is also figuring out how art could play a role in this space.

And what Blanchard Street could look like after, in theory. /Waterfront program, City of Seattle

On March 26, officials plan to announce the artist who will oversee the $1 million public art project on the waterfront. That project will be funded by the city’s “1% for Art” program; the money comes from the reconstruction of the Elliott Bay Seawall.

Later this month, the city will also be putting out an additional call for an artist, an artist who will be commissioned to come up with something focusing on play.

Explained Fredericksen: “We’re going to say ‘Work with us, the design team and kids and then tell us what should happen.’ ” He didn’t know what the budget for the commission would be.

According to Fredericksen, there are 3,000 children who live downtown. And unlike what’s happening in other cities, Fredericksen said the number of young families and children is actually increasing year after year.

He also cited how Seattle ranks in terms of its ParkScore, an index measured by the Trust for Public Lands that looks at a city’s investment in parks, how much land there is and how well the parks are located. Seattle ranks high: 10th among the country’s 50 largest cities.

But when it comes to the number of playgrounds, the city’s rate is poor. There are 2.1 playgrounds per every 10,000 people, according to ParkScore.

So here’s a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to remake a chunk of the city, city officials said at the conference. Architects and designers then spoke about various collaborations around the world that created innovative and interactive spaces, including the use of “play sculptures,” like a giant egg you could climb into or a slide that spirals around.

Piaget, Plato and Nietzsche were quoted. The latter’s quote: In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play.

And then before the lunch break, a downtown dad asked the morning panel whether a dedicated playground would be featured at the waterfront.

A playground is different than a play space. A playground is fenced in and secure.

“I hope that’s being considered,” the man said.

Said panelist Michael Gotkin, a New York City landscape architect: When I was working in Central Park that was probably the hottest issue.

Parents want fences; designers typically do not.

The entire design plan for the waterfront is anticipated to be completed next year. 

Read more about:

Support Crosscut