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American Society of Landscape Architects


October 2006 Issue

Born Again in Seattle
A neighborhood hangout for drug users has been converted into a well-loved park.

By Mark Hinshaw

Born Again in Seattle Benjamin Benshneider

Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood is one of the city’s quirkiest. Located several blocks east of downtown, the district is the epicenter of “alternative” lifestyles. Gay and lesbian couples stroll hand in hand along Broadway, which serves as the neighborhood’s main street. But they are just one part of the diverse population, which includes hip singles, many of whom sport amazing hairstyles, tattoos, and body piercings. All manner of homegrown shops, espresso bars, cafés, and nightspots line the street, which bustles day and night.

The district is filled with a rich array of artistic enterprises. In addition to art galleries, the district hosts the annual Seattle International Film Festival, which packs hundreds of films into three weeks. The Fringe Theatre Festival is also popular, with venues tucked into lofts and former warehouses. The immense Gay Pride Parade is frequently led by the mayor and the police chief.

Until a few years ago, a few hundred feet east of Broadway at the south end of the district, an open-air water reservoir consumed half of a city block. Surrounded by chain-link fencing topped with barbed wire, it was the first holding pond built by the city to draw potable water from a river many miles away. The other half of the block held a clutch of playfields and a public restroom.

Though not especially elegant or distinguished, the block had a provenance. Early in the twentieth century it had been designed by the Olmsted brothers and dubbed Lincoln Park. By the end of the century, it was a troubled place. Drug users and dealers had virtually taken it over; the restroom was vandalized and covered in graffiti. Few residents thought of the place as a neighborhood amenity. As if to add insult to injury, even its name had been stripped away and assigned to another park elsewhere in the city.

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