Seattle Center open space – public vs private use

According to the Seattle Times over 400 people attended a community meeting to discuss plans for the 5 acres next to the iconic Space Needle. The site was formerly the Fun Forest amusements  and the land was recently returned to the public. Bids where called for north area and the Seattle Center is entertaining the possibility of a children’s garden that was proposed by the Seattle Children’s Museum’s.

The current proposal for the south area is to allocate 1.5 acres of the land to a new 44,000 square foot Dale Chihuly glass-art exhibit proposed by the Wright Family who own the Space Needle. This proposal according to Seattle Times reports was popular with the attending crowd.  However, there was some opposition in the crowd including Iain Robertson noted by Seattle Times as ‘landscape architect’ but I think it may also be the same Iain Robertson who is Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington and on the Board of Directors of the Seattle Parks Foundation who was quoted in the Seattle Times as saying

…..Seattle Center is not the right location for a glass exhibit and that the city would be foolish to give up nearly 2 acres of open space.

“For us as a city to replace that [open space] in the future would cost an enormous amount of money,” he said. “You just don’t get a chance at this much open space in the center of the city.”

Also cited in the Seattle Times article was the Director of the Seattle Center Robert Nellams who said

there must be a balance between creating more open space — which is what was envisioned in the Center’s 2008 master plan — and generating revenue.

The Seattle Center Century 21 Master Plan was adopted in August, 2008 with an estimate of $567 million which was to be funded by a levy.

It seems as though this proposal will make the residents and stakeholders of Seattle have to deal with all too common question in these recent hard economic times of public versus private use of public land.

The current proposal brings into question the goals of the Seattle Center Master Plan and its vision. Master Plans are often well thought out documents produced over a long period of public consultation by the city and consultants to develop a vision for the next 20-100 years. To make a decision based on economics and adjacent properties owners assertions alone seems foolish.

The current proposal for Dale Chihuly glass-art exhibit seems at odds with the Seattle Center Master Plan which states

A combined ten acres at the Fun Forest and Memorial Stadium, currently paved over or walled off, is opened up, connecting the people and activities that were once isolated at its edges. The carnival rides that sit empty most months of the year are replaced with landscaping, performance spaces and play areas that invite people in to create their own active experiences.
Master plan Overview – Seattle Center Century 21 Masterplan(Page 21)  – (link to pdf)

The use of public space in key landmark locations needs to treated with the utmost respect as decisions made now can change the way a space is used for decades. I am not against the use of public land for private use if it generates revenue for the city and provides for the community but it must be in keeping with the long-term goals of the city.  We all know as designers that there are too many white elephants dotting the landscape across the world to remind us that bad decisions can haunt a city in the future.

By Damian Holmes

[SOURCE: Seattle Times - What to do with Seattle Center parcel draws a big crowd]
[SOURCE: Seattle Times - Goodbye to grand plan for Seattle Center?]

[SOURCE: Seattle Center Century 21 Master Plan] Link to pdf