Seattleites invited to help prioritize improvements at Freeway Park

Desperately Seeking Input

Seattleites invited to help prioritize improvements at Freeway Park

A view of Cielo Tower from Freeway Park in Seattle (Peter Alfred Hess/ Flickr)

Today marks the final day of a nearly month-long “online open house” in which Seattle residents have been invited to virtually weigh in on how $10 million should be spent on repairing and enhancing the city’s iconic Lawrence Halprin and Angela Danadjieva–designed Freeway Park.

Opened to the public in 1976 and subsequently expanded over the decades, the ahead-of-its-time urban green space, complete with a monumental Brutalist water feature, was the first freeway-capping park project in the United States and has since been emulated in other cities. Over 40 years after its opening, Freeway Park, at 5.2 acres, remains the largest public park in Seattle’s downtown core. The Cultural Landscape Foundation has referred to the park, a beguiling amalgamation of concrete forms and lush greenery, as “one of the most compelling treatises on postwar landscape architecture.”

The funding bestowed to Seattle Parks and Recreation, which manages the park, comes from a larger community benefits package attached to the over $1 billion expansion of the park-adjacent Washington State Convention Center, which is one the largest and most costly construction projects in Seattle history. (In addition to the park itself, the convention center also acts as a lid over Interstate 5 as it passes through downtown Seattle.) Of the $10 million Freeway Park budget, $9,250,000 is reserved for capital improvement projects—$6 million of that being for construction activities—while the remaining funds are for activities within the park to be overseen by the nonprofit Freeway Park Association (FPA).

fountain freeway park
Children play in Freeway Park’s large fountain in this 1990 photo. (Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr)

This latest, public opinion–tapping engagement initiative of the Freeway Park Improvements Project “will address the most important challenges and opportunities facing Freeway Park today,” reads the project website. The online open house, which takes the form of a user-friendly survey, was launched with the intention of inviting the park’s users—and everyday Seattleites—to “learn more about this project, what needs improvement, and how the park can evolve” while allowing them to voice what elements of a future park overhaul, slated to start construction in 2022, matter the most to them.

Following a first project phase that kicked off in early 2017, preliminary analysis/design work, which included in-person and online open houses, commenced during the summer of 2019 and wrapped up earlier this year. A project advisory committee, the Seattle Design Commission, and the general public/park users, including park users experiencing homelessness, all provided input during the preliminary design stages. In December 2019, amid a flurry of improvement-minded design activity, the park was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The survey-based section of the FPA-hosted online open house is divided into three main sections: Priorities, Park-Wide Improvements, and Park Improvement Areas. Users are able to see how others in the community have responded to the survey questions after their own responses have been submitted. For example, the Priorities section allows the public to vote on which previously proposed improvements are most important—and least—important to them, choosing from areas including new lighting, new directional/informational signage, irrigation/drainage repairs, planting improvements, and more.

The next two survey sections zero in further on specific park-wide upgrades and on improvements to specific areas and features of the park including the Upper Lawns, Seneca Plaza, and the Pigott Corridor, a sloping, meandering pathway that was a later addition to the park and links the First Hill neighborhood with the lower section of the park and downtown Seattle. (The Stranger went into further detail regarding the current, often not-so-great state of some of these key areas.)

Taking input gleaned from this latest public engagement effort into consideration, the design phase is expected to wrap up next summer.

If you have an opinion on what areas of Freeway Park need the most attention, head on over to the Freeway Park Improvement Project homepage to ensure that your voice is heard.