When is a 'village commons' not a village commons?
The City’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) says that “University Playground” (at NE 50th Street and 9th Ave.) satisfies the 20-year Comprehensive Plan’s goal for a “village commons”. In so declaring in their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) produced for DPD’s proposed upzone of many blocks around the light rail station at Brooklyn and NE 43rd, the City is essentially saying that there is no further need to plan for a central public open space for the up zone or the light rail station! Incredible!!
Let’s recognize reality... University Playground is just that. A playground! It is a nice place to take the dog for a walk, or the family for a picnic, or play tennis or softball, or watch your child enjoy the play equipment. It is a space that enhances the mostly single-family residential area nearby. It is in no way a “village commons” in the sense of a public urban village commons. It is also located far away from the main pedestrian core and heartbeat of the U-District and the light rail station now under construction. So remote is this playground space that many people using the business core of the U-District would probably not even know that it existed!
The functions for a viable and vibrant Urban Village Commons, or central public square and park, that we of University District Advocates (UDA) would like to see are far different from a playfield. We would like to see a public square of a size appropriate to accommodate and include such activities as: farmers‘ markets, art shows and exhibits, dance programs, lunch-time musical performances, small concerts, special event celebrations, product demonstrations, sidewalk cafe dining, etc. etc. or to just enjoy having coffee and watching the hubbub of typical work day goings-on.
All of these types of activities will help provide a focus to the U-District and a resultant identity that currently it sorely lacks! In addition to the above functions and by being located above or directly adjacent to the light rail station, the central public square will also serve as a good “surge space” to receive and accommodate the anticipated 12,000 commuters per day that will be coming and going from the Brooklyn Station.
It should also be noted that the Parks Plan of 2006-2007 identified the need for a large central public open space and this need was also very recently identified as the top priority of the U-District participants in the Public Space Forums facilitated by John Owen of Makers Architecture and Milenko Matanovic of Pomegranate Center.
Please help us in convincing the Seattle City Council, both those currently serving as well as those running for office, that the U-District needs a sizable central public square at or directly adjacent to the light rail station at Brooklyn and NE 43rd. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of us to have a hand in forever changing the public face and growth equation for the University District. Make your voice be heard for a more exciting and livable U-District!
- John Bennett, Architect, AIA