Monday, October 26, 2009
Bell Street Park: Two Possible Outcomes
It's been several months now since the Bell Street Park Project was announced. Next month, the first public meeting will take place about it. In the city's own words, this is what's going to happen:
"The project converts one traffic lane and reconfigures parking to create a park-like corridor through the heart of Belltown. The four block area will be improved with landscaping, better lighting, and more open space. Sidewalks on the north side of Bell Street will be widened to nearly 30 feet with landscaping, lighting and space for children's play areas and other recreational activities. Natural landscaping and swales - vegetation in the right-of-way that collects and cleans rainwater - will be added."
Basically, they're building a park on an extended sidewalk that stretches from 1st Ave. to 5th Ave. The cost will be $2.5 million, which, compared to other projects such as the proposed tunnel, doesn't cause much gnashing of teeth. I've had a chance to think about this new park and I see one of two things happening:
1. It will be a cool urban oasis where people can relax amid well-maintained greenery and children can frolic on the super-fun playground equipment.
2. It will immediately be overrun by bums, crazy people and drug addicts.
Based on my 19 years in Belltown, I think that the second scenario is more likely, but the park can still be an asset to the neighborhood.
If you look at two of the parks closest to Belltown (Steinbrueck and Denny), you can get a good idea of what Bell Street Park will be like. At Steinbrueck, people hang out on the benches and panhandle passersby and at Denny, around a dozen people are generally sacked out under the trees. weather permitting. Bell Street Park may well be a combination of these two groups. I don't think it'll be anywhere near as bad as Regrade Park back when it was commonly known as "Crack Park." That was a different time and much of that element has moved on. Believe me, if Belltown was anywhere as bad as it was 10 years ago, they wouldn't even be proposing this park.
But this isn't merely a matter of sending bums packing on sight. The new park doesn't have to be a police state. It's more about giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy the park, from those who live in condo penthouses to those less fortunate. One public place that seems to have Belltown's inherent problems under control is the green space next to the 4th & Blanchard Building, also known as Darth Vader Gardens. You can go there anytime during the day and hang out without being hassled by panhandlers or crazy people. The grounds are nicely looked after and there are only very minor problems with trash and graffiti. I'm not sure how they achieve that balance, but if they could transfer it to the new park, it might be to everyone's benefit. It could be the proliferation of "PRIVATE PROPERTY" signs that put people on notice to be on their best behavior or it might be the actual pristine condition of the space. When something is well cared for, people naturally are less inclined to mess it up.
No matter what comes at this soon-to-be-convened public meeting, the park will be go. The city really wants it to be built. In fact, the reason why Bell Street has been such a godawful mess for the last four months is that they're making all these drainage modifications in anticipation of the park. Here are some shots of the work:
Construction is due to begin this spring, to be completed by winter 2010. I really hope that it does turn out to be an urban oasis, but I'm afraid that the reality of Belltown might not allow that.
Read more Hideous Belltown!