This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Seattle Commons

Seattle Commons, Courtesy UW's HIT Lab

One last comment about this post on STB: it seems to have generated quite a comment thread discussing Seattle’s parks and whether or not we have any “real” urban parks.

There’s a lot of discussion in the thread about whether Seattle in fact has any urban parks, what counts as an urban park, etc. etc.  The various merits of Chicago’s Millennium Park and Seattle’s Discovery Park are discussed, along with ample digressions regarding their proximity to the city center.

I think what people are groping for here is a the idea of a park where many of the city’s residents can walk out of their apartments and go for a long walk or jog.  That’s what makes urban parks so special, that cognitive dissonance.  One minute, you’re in a multi-story residential apartment building, the next, you’re lost in a jungle for a while.  Sure, you can drive from your 1950s rambler in Crown Hill to Discovery Park, but you don’t get quite the same cognitive dissonance.  And you don’t get the same energy of all these other people enjoying the park with you.

Seattle will never have a large, forested urban park that’s walking distance from downtown.  That ship has sailed.  We had one last chance in 1995 with the Seattle Commons, and we voted it down.  C’est la vie. The closest thing we have that fits the leave-your-apartment-and-go-for-a-jog criteria is Myrtle Edwards (Capitol Hill parks are too small for jogging, and there aren’t enough apartments near the other parks to really qualify).

However, Seattle does have plenty of great parks, it’s just that few of them were constructed in that particular 19th Century era of Olmstead “City Beautiful” parks, where you try to showcase nature but at the same time tame it.  For example, we have Green Lake, with more and more apartments being constructed around it all the time.  Visit Green Lake on a nice summer day (remember those?) and it truly does have the energy of an urban park.  It seems far from downtown now, but in 50 years it will be less so.  We also have real urban parks that aren’t very big, like Cal Anderson.  You can’t jog there, but it does have the energy of a city park.  The more we try and enjoy the parks we have for what they are, the happier we’ll be.

3 Replies to “Park City”

  1. The waterfront near Fremont probably counts under this broader definition. And Gasworks. Maybe even Freeway Park, if you ignore the concrete. Some day South Lake Union will count (once the trees grow up). And broadening the definition further to “nice place to jog with lots of trees” would include the Queen Anne Boulevard and, for that matter, most of the Olmstead boulevards.

  2. Sure, I guess I’m still hung up on the definition of apartment buildings abutting the park to call it an urban park in the sense that people usually mean.

  3. Frank is very close to the mark here. If you live in an apartment, the park is where you go when you want to be outside for free, to bicycle, hike, sit on a bench, look at larger plants or birds and the sky, play sports, hold festivals…..many many different things, but all alike in being outside of the cramped existence of an apartment.

    Streets and sidewalks, of course, are free, but generally so unpleasant due to vehicle traffic that they drive us inside. Libraries are free, but not outside. In general, though, if you want to get outside your apartment, and outside your car, you go to some sort of park.

    With this definition, the park becomes ‘urban’. People who live in houses in Seattle with yards and gardens simply don’t feel the inside-outside dichotomy in the same way.

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