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American Society of Landscape Architects


November 2005 Issue

Icon Tact
A closer look at Seattle’s Freeway Park suggests lessons for other cities.

By Iain M. Robertson, ASLA, and Susanne K. Friedman

Icon Tact
David Perry

Freeway Park is at a crossroads. The city for which the park was designed is a different place from the city of today, but with the exception of tree growth and two expansions of the park, the core of Freeway Park remains relatively intact—a static landscape amid dynamic physical and social changes.

Seattle today is a very different place from the city of 1976, when Freeway Park was built. Traffic volumes on Interstate 5 have increased severalfold, resulting in higher noise levels in the park and more congested city streets surrounding it. Larger and taller buildings are located closer to the park’s perimeter; while these provide more "eyes on the park," their size and proximity cast shadows that make the park significantly cooler, especially in winter when sun angles are low. Any conversation about Freeway Park must acknowledge these physical and environmental changes.

In 1976, few would have predicted the extent to which urban parks would become last-resort facilities for the homeless. Equally unanticipated was the need for park maintenance staff to be wary of drug users’ needles for fear of diseases unknown when the park was developed. These stubborn problems confront not only Freeway Park but also parks in cities throughout the country. City budget cycles put pressure on park maintenance, and in recent years the effects on Seattle Parks and Recreation budgets have been exacerbated by dramatic increases in energy costs. These factors have led to significant reductions in water volumes in Freeway Park’s signature fountains and cascades.

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