Reclaiming the Afterthoughts of Urban Development

I-5 surface view
Photo by Larry Workman

Constructed in the 1960’s, Interstate 5 provided freeway access through Seattle between Tacoma and Everett.  Unfortunately, this added convenience for the outlying communities was a new and significant barrier between the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill and Eastlake.  The eleven-plus lane, elevated freeway also created an inhospitable, overgrown, pseudo-subterranean environment called the I-5 Open Space.

In 2005, the City of Seattle dedicated the first phase of a 7.5 acre park designed to reclaim the space and reconnect the divided neighborhoods, with subsequent phases of I-5 Colonnade Park opening in 2007.  In the soaring spaces created by the concrete deck and pillars of the highway, picnic areas have been located to take advantage of the panoramic view of Lake Union; an off-leash dog area allows visitors to freely run their pets; new pedestrian, bike, and running trails extend and connect popular neighborhood routes; a new pedestrian spine provides easy through-access; an urban mountain bike trail system, designed for users of all abilities, winds its way through the columns; and a public art installation symbolically recreates the landscape of the corridor before the freeway was built. View a slide show of the Mountain Bike Park.

The multitude of uses allows the unlikely space to feel lively and safe, and the volunteer effort that built portions of the park engenders ownership and pride.  The park is an example of a city and grass-roots groups creatively seeking out and making places for people within the existing urban fabric where land is at a premium…an idea that has been more broadly contemplated in three parts over at Pruned.

As land planning and sustainably-minded development focuses more and more on urban renewal and revitalization, population density and close proximities to daily needs, finding opportunities to provide quality open space will go a long way towards keeping these urban areas livable and vibrant.

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4 Comments

  1. I’m particularly drawn into the last two pictures, showing shallow steps off the trail for relaxing and enjoying…. quite an achievement.

  2. In creating a “park” like this as an afterthought, do you know if major engineering efforts had to be undertaken to assure the integrity of the concrete pillars, etc?

  3. Judy – None of the accounts that I found included a discussion of the technical challenges of building the park; it would be interesting to know…

  4. I really believe that every infrastructure project needs to include a broader community component. Highways are one infrastructure element that have been so heavily aimed at just moving as many cars as fast as possible, but the impacts are massive and we have lots of work to do to reconnect neighborhoods and provide for other less impactful modes of transportation.

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