March 8, 2012

UW professor and students help redesign International Childrens Park (slide show)

Playing around has led to redesign of the International Childrens Park in downtown Seattle.

Jeff Hou, chairman of the Department of Landscape Architecture, and 18 of his students collaborated with several citizen groups on the new park, which was dedicated March 3.

Located on the northeast corner of Seventh Avenue and South Lane streets in the Chinatown-International District, the park is small – about one-fifth of an acre — but in a key spot.

Vegetation had grown up around the periphery of the 30-year-old park, obscuring views and raising concerns about safety. There were few amenities for adults who bring kids to the park, and no accommodations for people with disabilities. A rock mound posed a hazard, and during the winter, the grass was often soggy.

Cultural and language differences were also part of the landscape, making decisions about the park complicated.

But renewal made sense because the neighborhood has seen increasing residential and commercial development, leading to  more active community places such as the Wing Luke Asian Museum and a branch of the Seattle Public Library.

To involve stakeholders young and old, Hous group, along with the city and several neighborhood groups, held an intergenerational design workshop in 2007.

“I think the most difficult challenge was to incorporate as much of the feedback we got from the community while still allowing the park to have a clear and concise design,” said student Patrick Keegan.

Engaging multiple generations of users was the most interesting part of the redesign, said Joyce Pisnanont, manager of IDEA Space, which promotes and develops the Chinatown­-International District. Desires were consistent across age groups, she said, and the adults “really wanted to ensure that the park was fun for kids to play in.”

The final design by landscape architect Karen Kiest includes an expanded childrens area with a play structure big enough for a dozen kids, a dragon sculpture restored by artist Gerard Tsutakawa, a stainless steel pagoda with seats for grown-ups and a three-level rockery that serves as both gathering space and a climbing area.

Public art by Stuart Nakamira includes a brushed stainless steel top the size of a typical 4-year-old.

In a Lane Street corner, pink viburnum are budding, surrounded by circles of black mondo grass.

The total cost of the project was $750,000 provided by the Parks and Green Spaces Levy, Neighborhood Matching Funds, King County and private donors. According to Hou, the Childrens Park is also the first park in the International District to receive extensive community involvement in its design.

The group effort worked so well, Hou said, that its led to other things such as a community design center, designs for an expanded Hing Hay Park nearby and land to be acquired in the Little Saigon neighborhood for a new park.

“The work goes on,” said Hou. “We dont just end up with a park but also more community infrastructure and more social capital.”

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