Urban Parks Activation Partnership
On a sunny weekday in May, strains of classical piano music drift across Occidental Park in Pioneer Square. A group of elderly women sips coffee at bright blue tables while a man practices tai chi under the shade of maple trees. Tourists snap photos in front of the neighborhood’s trademark ivy-covered brick buildings, and two chess players study their moves while laborers sit and chat during their lunch break. Smokers on the periphery of the park watch a ping-pong game, and local professionals pass through on their way to nearby food trucks. Artists sit sketching and carving, while children build towers of oversize foam blocks and play foosball. There is scarcely an empty seat in the park.
The park activation plan unfolding here, mirrored at Westlake Park to the north, is the result of the Urban Parks Partnership, a public-private collaboration involving the Downtown Seattle Association, Metropolitan Improvement District, Seattle Parks and Recreation, Alliance for Pioneer Square, Friends of Waterfront Seattle, and Seattle Parks Foundation. The Downtown Seattle Association—in a groundbreaking agreement with the City of Seattle—provides management role of these public spaces. All partners are engaged in private sector fundraising to support this work.
To better fulfill the potential for Westlake and Occidental parks, the Seattle Parks Foundation commissioned Dan Biederman, president of Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, to build a strategy for consistently activating these parks. Biederman led the effort to transform Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan in the early 1990s, making it a model for private management of public parks. A number of Biederman’s principles of successful activation and measurement for success are being applied to Westlake and Occidental parks.
By making the parks more functional for a diverse population of park patrons, the partnership is creating a vital and welcoming space. “Programming is critical in city spaces that are not scenic wonders,” said Biederman during a 2014 presentation at the Downtown Economic Forum sponsored by Downtown Seattle Association. “The idea is to spread this activity throughout the park, which then creates an environment that people feel comfortable in. We might make very subtle changes, but when you add them up, they make for incredible improvements that elevate the value of the surrounding area and make the city a better place to live.”