From the issue feature, "Living by Design in the Pacific Northwest." 
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Seattle Waterfront Rendering

Rendering of the Seattle waterfront's new design. Courtesy of the City of Seattle and James Corner Field Operations

The below is adapted from a talk given at a PechaKucha Night Seattle event, Designing Leadership, which was hosted in collaboration with Design in Public for their Seattle Design Festival. —ARCADE


“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”—Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

The waterfront project is reshaping Seattle. The creation of this amazing new public space will change the way we relate to each other and to the city. It is only natural that the community leads and inspires the project’s design.

Seattle’s extraordinary central shoreline is one of the reasons why this city is so special. With the urgent need to replace failing critical infrastructure, the seawall and the viaduct, the community has seized the opportunity to reimagine the waterfront by creating a destination park that is accessible to everyone in the city and the region. With community leadership, we are reclaiming Seattle’s civic identity as a waterfront city and reuniting the urban center with its soul.

Elected and civic leaders, city officials, volunteers, friends and neighbors throughout the city have collaborated to ensure the design is inspired and led by the community, resulting in a vision that puts more people on the waterfront doing more things. To build a waterfront for all, over the last five years, thousands of people have given time, energy and ideas to create a plan that embraces Seattle’s waterfront history, its future aspirations and the values of its citizens.

Seattle Waterfront

Rendering of the new park design for the Seattle waterfront. Courtesy of the City of Seattle and James Corner Field Operations

Through the leadership of the community, expressed in the design, the waterfront is being reimagined as a place for people to come together. Community input guided the design principles: allow people to touch the water; create open, democratic public spaces where people encounter fun and engaging activities; and embrace and protect the natural beauty of the shoreline. The park will provide places for spending time with family and friends, sticking a foot (or an oar) in the water, having a conversation with a stranger or enjoying the local music scene amid stunning natural scenery. The community-inspired design will allow us to continually imagine and reimagine events and programming for the area that only a true waterfront city could enjoy. Spaces designed for flexible uses will provide thriving, welcoming, vibrant and dynamic gathering places.

The community-led design of this park envisions more activity along the waterfront throughout the year and challenges assumptions about the way we use the area. As buildings begin to face the waterfront, loading docks can become sidewalk cafes, creating lively pedestrian spaces with street-level retail and food.

Seattle waterfront input

Photos courtesy of the City of Seattle and James Corner Field Operations

Through the leadership of the community, the park’s design appreciates what the waterfront has been, what it is now and its future potential. Despite the presence of aging and failing infrastructure, the waterfront’s history and character are key parts of Seattle’s identity. Through the design, many memorable elements will be cast in a new light, making the old feel fresh yet still intimate and familiar.

Big civic projects like Seattle’s new waterfront park are no small feat. They require the strength of the community to maintain the integrity of the design, tenacity in leadership and resiliency in long-term stewardship. Community collaboration also provides new perspectives about how we use and manage our public spaces in Seattle and the community’s role in the park’s stewardship over time.

The waterfront park is ultimately about creating a destination to share—a beautiful, vibrant, sustainable area for all. It’s about reconnecting with each other and with the spirit of the city, giving both visitors and residents yet another wonderful reason to fall in love with Seattle all over again.