• John M Feit

The Audacity of Volunteers

Updated: Jun 16, 2018

Tuesday, June 5th saw the second gathering of the faithful for the Central Hills Triangle Collaborative (CHTC), a partnership between PPUNC (the Pike|Pine Urban Neighborhood Council) and Lid I-5. An all-volunteer effort, the goal of the CHTC is to provide visionary urban designs to inspire Seattleites to advocate for covering Interstate 5 with parks, housing, and neighborhood centers. While no public agency has committed to our vision, Lid I-5 was recently successful in securing a $1.5M grant for the City of Seattle to begin a year-long feasibility study. In addition, Lid I-5 continues to have promising discussions with civic leaders and WSDOT and we have been invited by the DOT to a work group that is studying I-5's future in the Puget Sound Region. With the CHTC’s results in hand we are confident we can capture the public's imagination and convince leaders to transform Seattle by re-imagining its largest publicly-owned asset.

Spirits were high and the results of the seven teams' efforts were remarkable. Beginning with the Connections Team (infrastructure, mobility, and branding) and progressing through the South (recreation), Central (commerce), and North (housing) Teams, it was apparent that each team was excited in presenting their work and in the work of their fellow designers. Scott B, Sony P, and I were excited too, not only by the goodwill and cheer exuded by the teams but also by our recent success in the $1.5M grant. The work of the CHTC will help the city visualize and define the scope of work for their RFQ scheduled for later this year.

It's not all about parks and buildings: a lid can help address infrastructure demands, too (image: Annie Alsheimer)

The evening's event was held at the Summit on Pike, a spacious and affordable venue with good A/V and plenty of room to stretch our legs. Its ample storefront along Pike fulfilled its role, encouraging a few curious passersby to drop in, tempted as they were by seeing the work through the expanses of glass. Once inside, both guests and participants were availed to a wide range of design possibilities, concepts, and graphics. The evening's most satisfy take-away was the depth to which teams, comprised of both designers (architects, landscape architects, and planners) and clients (volunteer experts from the professional, public, and private spheres), showed a knowledge of and sensitivity to the opportunities of their immediate site as well as the larger context. The teams presented in a methodical, unhurried, and engaging way that invited audience members to both question and applaud their proposals.

Ours is a long campaign whose efforts will bear fruit in 10 or even 20 years. Thanks to our volunteers, the drawings from the evening's Collab (one additional Collab and the final presentation remain) will help others to visualize what has until now been only discussed. Even though the teams are limited to designing only within the interstate right-of-way, their work clearly shows the potential to provide new parks and buildings as well as to dramatically improve the existing open spaces and streets that crisscross I-5.

All of the evening's presenters are volunteers, lending their talents during the biggest building boom in Seattle's history. I dare say that more than one young architect, landscape architect, or client was up all night June 4th and even more worked the prior weekend, balancing their professional responsibilities with their desire to have a hand in shaping Seattle's future. If even one idea were to bear fruit and carry forward in the upcoming years that would set a positive trend. Whether short or long- lived their proposals will ignite others, firing our collective imagination about what the future should be. Through the efforts of the CHTC we propose, discuss, and develop a variety of ideas that can be applied up and down the I-5 corridor. The CHTC allows us to recruit new advocates with new ideas from ever expanding concentric rings issuing from our city center. We educate one another and in turn inspire others to act. This is the way movements are built and success is charted.

Now, onto the goods.

The centerpiece of the two South teams' approach is the nation's first interstate lid, Freeway Park. Both teams' approaches are grounded in the reasoned notion that improving our existing assets such as the Park is the first step in any credible strategy. The remarkable similarity between their two schemes revealed that our city's only downtown park would benefit from readily apparent improvements. Both teams displayed a keen awareness of the opportunities and challenges at hand, and they illustrated that design is at its best when it not only inspires but also solves problems, leverages latent potential, and reflects our everyday experiences.

The two Central teams provided a wider contrast in approaches. Not benefiting from having Freeway Park on their site - and challenged by the increasing difference in elevations between the east and west boundaries of Interstate 5 - they nonetheless offered compelling images of what a lidded Pike to Olive corridor could be. Both teams exploited changes in grade to provide both intimate, sheltered spaces, as well as prospects to the central city and the Olympics. The Central site's program emphasis on commerce builds on other current urban design projects such as the Pike|Pine Renaissance.

The most audacious schemes of the evening had the most difficult site. Both North teams face the unenviable task of providing new building sites for affordable and market rate housing on very challenging terrain. The difference in elevation between the east and west sides of I- 5 north of Olive can be as great as 50 feet. Undaunted, team N1 proposed designs inspired by and named for evocative precedents: cave, crag, arch, and hoodoo. Team N2's challenge was perhaps greater yet. Sarah Bonser, the sole remaining member of the team, politely declined offers to carry on her efforts by joining another team. Our most dedicated lidder to date (this is her fourth effort in two years), she produced all of the design work and graphics. Should you want to lend her a hand, l (and she!) would be happy to put you in touch.

Team N2 (Sarah Bonser) embracing the slope

June 5th marked a little past halfway in the CHTC's efforts. The teams finished the evening more inspired than ever and those of us leading the effort eager for our next Collab event. There remains much to do both during the CHTC and over the coming years. Our next get together in August 1, 6:00 pm, at the Washington State Convention Center's Room 2AB. We encourage you to show up and be inspired by our dedicated volunteers and their designs for Seattle's future. Please contact me if you want to know more. To see all the work presented at Collab 2 click here.

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