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Bell Street Park Meeting Stuff!

I’m pretty far behind on putting together all the write-ups for the community-related meetings I’ve been covering, but I just got back from the last Bell Street Park planning meeting. Here’s a synopsis of what the design team covered tonight.

The design team had some pretty cool visuals and a nice Google SketchUp “virtual tour” through their design. I asked and I’ll be working with one of the team members to get that available here. A lot of stuff should be made available online soon. I’ll share it with you here when I find it.

I shot a quick video on my phone as the design team gave us a brief recap of the last two meetings. Again, the quality isn’t meant to be great, but hopefully this is some form of entertaining media since there is a whole lot of text to follow:

[Note, YouTube may still be processing the video. If it doesn’t work, come back and check it out later]

Center City Parks Task Force Update
Christopher Williams (Acting Superintendent, Seattle Parks and Recreation) was first up to speak. He first made it clear that the project has the support of the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department.

He explained the project originally had a budget of $2.5 million, but the proposed scope may require an additional $1 million to complete it. He is working with his capital planning staff to draft a proposal to secure the additional funds. It is important to see this park through to completion so that it doesn’t become a big fail, so it is good to hear that lots of valuable groups are getting involved.

He also reminded us of the Belltown Community Center project. Apparently, this was a plan put together back in 2000—way before my time in Belltown—that hasn’t really materialized into anything. There was $1.8 million in funds secured at the time. Mr. Williams shared with us that he had plans to reconvene the group that is driving this project to determine the needs of the community and determine realistic expectations and possibilities within the available budget.

Project Introduction

Patrick Donohu, Senior Project Coordinator from Seattle Parks Planning and Development, moved the meeting into the actual park discussion. He pointed out the Public Involvement Overview document that was handed out at the meeting, and he especially highlighted the section that explains “How decisions are made.” I gather the point was to remind the public that their input is valuable to the direction of the project, and is to be taken into consideration by the Design Team. Another interesting part of the document is “How ‘majority’ opinions will figure into the decisions” section. The following is taken from the document.


  • Because design will be led by the Design Team, Parks will not be seeking majority opinions
  • In all cases, all opinions are advisory to the Parks decision making process that includes internal technical review…where Park policies, procedures and standards are considered
  • Additionally, this project will be reviewed by the Seattle Design Commission that may provide non-binding project direction
  • The Board of Park Commmissioners will hold a public hearing and make a recommendation to the Parks Superintendent
  • The Parks Superintendent has the final decision on this project

These are just excerpts from the materials provided at the meeting. If you really think you need more, shoot me or anybody listed here a note and we’ll see what we can do. I think this will all be made available publicly somewhere on the Internet—I don’t know where yet, though.

New Plan–“Reclaim, Elevate, Mix”

The new plan put together after receiving all the feedback can be summed up at a high-level in these three words:

  • Reclaim the streets for the people and the community
  • Elevate the streets and breaking down the paradigm of cars being separate from pedestrians is going to be important
  • Mix the elements of sidewalks and boundaries and flow them into the street. There should be a homogeneous “one park” feeling from end to end

The rest of the meeting went block by block, but the design team interspersed major topics throughout the presentation.

4th to 5th Avenue

The the North side of the street will be a 30′ section that is basically a anything-but-car space. The sidewalk space will be increased an the roads will “feel” narrower. On the South side, the sidewalk will meander in width at a minimum of 12′. All parallel parking will be on the South side of Bell Street.


 We heard concepts of “down” and “up gardens” that would help manage rain flow. Since Seattle has a combined sewer system—that is, overflow storm water flows into the sound—the gardens serve to help control some of the flow into the Metro water system. There are ideas to apply some flow to the roads to direct water into gardens that would serve both an aesthetic and functional purpose. There is a lot of flexibility into how these rain gardens could work, so there is potential to do a lot with this.

The up gardens also have a potential to work as Silva Cells Silva Cells which are good structures for trees since they allow the roots to expand without damaging the roads.


Between 5th and 3rd, Bell Street has Flowering Pear trees. These trees were originally selected given the pretty terrible ecological conditions presented by the urban environment that is Belltown. These are hardy, unobtrusive trees.

From 3rd to 1st, the city planted Hedge Maple trees, which are compact and durable, and best described as “stumpy.”

Some of the proposed alternatives for the park’s new tree selections would be “civic” types of trees on the South side of the street. These trees would offer the “majestic canopy” feel. Examples include elms, poplars, london planes, and horse chestnuts. I don’t know anything about trees, but that’s what my notes say.

The North side of the street would probably get grove types of trees like aspens and amelanchiers. These kinds of trees would offer more light down in the pedestrian level which would help with the goals of activating the North side with lots of activity and vibrancy.

There are plans to gradually trade out the existing trees with the new ones over a period of a number of years. There would have to be specific instructions and guidance on how to do this over generations to actually pull that off. The idea is to have the old and new trees work together while the new ones grow into their roles. They would likely start by removing the trees at the ends of each block while leaving the existing trees in the interior. There would be about 1/3 of the existing trees remaining at time of construction.

The lower vegetation would serve to add some texture and would include plants like lumens and high lines. Again, I know nothing about this stuff, so try looking things up on Google or something if you want to see what they look like.

3rd to 4th Avenue

Here the highlight was on pedestrian safety and lighting.


The lighting goals seek to improve lighting at night. Compared to other neighborhoods and basic standards, Bell Street drastically under-lit. There were three kinds of lighting solutions suggested:

  • Pedestrian scale poles—These would stand at 12′ to 15′ and provide even lighting. The fixtures would likely be “curvy” and “organic” shapes, and they would be well-shielded to prevent too much upward light pollution.
  • Bollards—These are street-level light fixtures that would help light the walking paths.
  • Catenary lighting—This is suspended-lighting. Think of a web of lights strung up across the street. The current plans are to have them in a grid arrangement above alleyways.

There would also be additional lighting ideas in water fixtures, on art, and possibly on a stage area as well. Finally, the design team is talking to building owners to do lighting on building facades to minimize dark buildings within the park.


The typical block would have the pedestrian walking plane level with the street. The alleyways are going to be made more noticeable as pedestrians negotiate that space. Finally, the street would be made more of a shared space. Think of how things go down in Pike Place market where people and cars just kind of go everywhere.

2nd to 3rd Avenue

This area would be much different from the rest of the blocks and serves as the focal point of the project. Most of the planned street life would happen here. There were ideas of transitioning the flat condition of the park into sloops and places to stop and get up above the road. There would also be more water features and community tables. Note the community tables—both fixed and the kind that could be brought in—were new ideas first introduced at this meeting. This would also be the community meeting space and would be the area where things like farmers’ markets, performances, a stage, and other community events would occur.


This is going to be an accessible space that is authentic to Belltown. Words like “activation”, “memories”, and “stories” were thrown around. I just wrote down this is supposed to be the place to chill. Things like food trucks, climbing spaces, gathering areas, and other community-inspiring structures would be made most prominent here. They also mentioned they wanted to make the structural edges more informal. This means kids would be invited to interact with the structure more and could be able to climb on things. There would also be design elements in things like benches to discourage people from sleeping or otherwise loitering in the space.

1st to 2nd Avenue

The last block would offer opportunities to “perch”–not linger too long—and enjoy the sunset and the view of the sound as the street starts to head downhill. This is also a place to reinforce the sluicing idea.

Park Art

Sheila Klein is the artist for the park project. She lived in Belltown in the 80’s and seems to be pretty excited about the project. She took the opportunity to introduce herself and explained some of her work. I’ll briefly describe things here, and I think I got this all right based on my notes. She has over 25 years of experience in both art and architecture and seems pretty passionate about bringing that experience to the project. I apologize to Miss Klein if I screwed any of this up. Please check out her site if you really want to know more:

  • “Interior”
    A project for Raison d’etre.
  • “Roosevennavelt”
    This was a project done around 65th and Roosevelt that sought to give life and shape to boring, familiar road structures. She used white dots on poles to bring more light in, and other artistic elements to give life and shape to otherwise lifeless structures.
  • Sky Within
    This is a project for the Mt. Baker transit station in the Rainier Vally. It sought to be a sky within the arcade of the transit area
  • “Comfort Zone”
    This project was an effort to dress up the Harbor View medical center. She used some pretty cool techniques and materials to apply a permanent textile to the facade of the building.
  • “City Yard”
    This project at the Milwaukee Convention Center is pretty applicable to the Bell Street Park project. She applied her work to a small urban park in a reclaimed alley. She retook some of the existing artifacts from the site to create sloops and eating spaces within the area.

She seems to like the idea of putting soft mounds and green spaces rising up from the pedestrian area in the park to create sloops for eating and hanging out. She doesn’t have a defined vision yet for the park because she is waiting to see how the design and the project evolves and how she will be able to best apply her talent.

Questions, Answers, and Comments

At this point, I stopped taking super-detailed notes, so I’ll just summarize major points that came out of this

  • Safety, as always, is a huge issue and the crowd overwhelmingly urged the design team to keep that as a primary focus
  • Lighting will increase by about 300% (I think…don’t quote me here. It will just be brighter, ok?
    Catenary lighting had to be scaled back to an alley focus based on some considerations:
  •     Cost
  •     Maintaining access for the fire department to do its job
  •     Ways to hold it up (building mounts vs. poles)
  • One individual thought the design was a bit too busy
  • There are reasons for replacing the trees gradually instead of ripping them all out now
    •     Provide longevity
    •     Give the new trees a chance to catch up and provide their full function
    •     Leverage the existing performance of the current trees
  • The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program is a coming 4 year program that will have a focus in Belltown. It seeks to increase presence and monitoring in the area, and provide non-jail alternatives to deterring crime and resolving root-issues to some of the problems we face today.
  • There will be a need for citizen stewardship. We as a community need to step up and really engage this park and our neighborhood for this to work. I’m pretty sure we at BelltownPeople are all pretty jazzed to be a part of that, so hopefully we can find ways to help you do that too
  • Elizabeth Campbell—-a really cool lady that helps out with Sustainable Belltown—-helped explain how some of the proposed tree choices would help out with some of the camouflage issues some of the existing trees have. Tulip Poplar trees are very tall trees. Though they have a broad canopy, they are tall enough that they don’t afford hiding spots for drug dealers or their wares. Plus, I don’t want to meet the crack dealer who can still hide stuff in such a tall tree.

Next Steps

  • Internal design and technical review
  • Parks commission will present the design to Seattle Design Commission within 60 days
  • Board of Park Commissioners will hold a public hearing in the Board Room at 100 Dexter Avenue (date is TBD)

We are looking at seeing construction start in Late Fall and the project may go through 2011.

Well, that’s it! I hope that wasn’t too boring.

The next Belltown Community Council meeting will be in June at the Matt Talbot Center on 3rd Avenue instead of the PACCAR pavilion.


Oh yeah: PICTURES! I didn’t take a ton, but here are a few so now you can tell your friends I’m not making this up:

Richard Nordstrom, Belltown Community Council President & Fearless Leader

The proposed design

Wrapping up the meeting


4 Comments on "Bell Street Park Meeting Stuff!"

  1. There are horse chesnut trees along Fairview Ave N if you want to see some, and there’s an amazing elm planted 1923 on UW campus:

    Any mention of kids and bikes? We’ve met a couple at Cascade Park but it would be great to have a safe place to learn to ride in Belltown.

  2. I wasn’t able to make it last night, so I really appreciate being able to catch up on some of what was discussed.

    Regarding the trees: the South side trees are the sorts of things you see in big parks in old cities – think of London’s parks if you’ve ever been. As Elizabeth Campbell said, when they’re mature they have nice big canopies that offer some shade and shelter from light rain, but the canopy starts high enough to leave clear lines of sight at pedestrian level. If they’re on the narrower sidewalk, they’ll probably shade over the street, which might help reduce the visual distinction between “street” and “park”.

    It sounds like the North side trees are going to be ones that grow in a much more compact, vertical form – a way to have some foliage while leaving a lot more of the space on that side open and exposed to the sun.

  3. There was some mention of both. The bike rack elements they talked about were mostly ideas for now. They showed a few example images of bike racks they could use, but they want to avoid anything that would harm the natural elements in the park. One of the designs I saw that I thought was cool was an in-ground, recessed groove for a bike tire instead of the poles sticking up in the air we are used to seeing. In the SketchUp animation–which I hope to get soon–the designers pointed out that bike traffic is going to be a key part of making this work.

    With regards to kids, the designers alluded to things like informal urban edges, the soft sloops/mounds and traffic slowing elements, and other considerations that would be kid-friendly. As long as they don’t fall in in any of the rain gardens.

    There was no specific mention of kids AND bikes in the same sentence. My general impression is that traffic would be slowed enough and the sidewalks wide enough that you could probably take a kid down the street. The wider meandering sidewalks would give kids enough mess-up room to figure things out and hopefully enough soft places to crash. And then there is always our sculpture park which might also be conducive to that kind of thing the more I think about it. I think I learned to ride a bike in a parking lot, so there’s always that option 🙂

  4. I love that the street will be elevated, or curbless – streets for people, people in the street, fantastic! The green stormwater features that slow, retain and treat stormwater from the street are very exciting, and I hope these are proven successful and can be used elsewhere (those rain gardens planned for Denny Way would have benefited). The “down” gardens may be preferable to the “up” gardens, though – we don’t need anything resembling berms here. The lighting ideas are wonderful, and I love the catenaries crossing at the alleys. This gives a rythmic repetition that helps the overall plan. The use of reclaimed granite for bollards and elsewhere is wonderful – these are historic granite curbs that the city stockpiles when they remove them for major street work.

    That said, the overall plan was very disappointing. I was a fan of the Measured Movement concept, admittedly – but this plan has none of the excitement of either of the first concepts. Because Bell Street has issues with safety, real and perceived, a simpler, more clear and legible plan would be better than the “fractured” plan presented. This design will go through more iterations and refinement, hopefully for the better. If this plan is what the Design Commission recommended they should walk the street at night for a few months. Overall, though, great work, glad there will be more funding, and exciting to have a Belltown street park.

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