SAF / AIA Central Waterfront Tour

6 02 2010

Thank you all who came out this past weekend for the Central Waterfront Tour! We had around 35 guests who braved the cold and learned about the future of the Seattle waterfront.

The map above shows our stops. We started at Pioneer Square, headed north, and ended up at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Here is a brief summary of our adventure:

Pioneer Square is the birth of Seattle and its commercial district and rightfully it should have a new vibrant connection to the central waterfront, perhaps by the revitalization of the WA Boat Terminal and Pier 48.

Lee Copeland introduced our tour with 5 general issues that architects have been looking at for the past several years:

  1. Seawall and the relationship of built environment to marine habitat: supporting marine biology and structural complexity of habitat
  2. Cross Section between seawall and buildings needs to be looked at. The distance between the water and the edge of the buildings is 210’; 70’ of that will be taken up by a 4 lane road with parking, the rest needs to be developed in a thoughtful manner
  3. Connection of waterfront to downtown with meaningful streets
  4. Seattle is blessed with a variety of waterfront environments. From Alki to Greenlake to Golden Gardens, there is an abundance of natural environments. The urban waterfront has an opportunity to make a new type of waterfront environment related to the city
  5. Downtown should be active, feel safe, and become a place, not just to sell fish and chips, not just for tourists, but for locals as well

At Pier 48, Heather Trim from the People for Puget Sound described their goals for the waterfront:

  1. To revitalize 30% of habitat along the waterfront to support life coming out of the Duwamish River
  2. To have a continuous fish migration corridor for the 20 million juvenile salmon by re-evaluating under pier lighting. The shallowest bathymetry along the waterfront is at Pier 48, then Pier 61-62 and Myrtle Edwards. There is an opportunity to have shallow water development, such as this in those areas:

Dennis Haskell then described the issues with Pier 48: it is owned by the state and condemned because of unsafe pilings. Currently, the Ferry Terminal is not in compliance with zoning that required them to offset the amount of parking concrete apron with public space. The plan would be for the Terminal to use a demolished Pier 48 as over water coverage they eliminated. The Terminal had gone through several plans of what it will become and will be a major project as the waterfront develops.

Also, it is interesting that at Pier 48 is the only spot that is actually fill near the water, which means it could be designated as a new mixed-use development for downtown.

Politically, the viaduct had gone through it all. Since the 2001 earthquake, there have been infinite proposals, ending last year when the deep-bored tunnel was approved. Since the new mayor has been instituted, a new development has come about with the want to speed up the process in replacing the central seawall. McGinn wants to have the public vote to raise property taxes by $50/year to provide  242.8 million funding for the seawall to be built ahead of schedule and separate from the viaduct project. The vote would have to pass by 60%.

We stopped quickly at Mithun to explain the historic piers. Lee was able to show a waterfront concept plan that was created before the Nisqually Earthquake imagining what the waterfront could be without the viaduct:

We also talked about the missed opportunity of the historic piers, specifically at the water end. The piers are publicly owned and do not promote pedestrians movement around them. What could the piers be if the owners were given tax incentives to allow more public access along the waterfront to make the connection to the water more dynamic (i.e. Sydney Harbour)?

The Harbor Steps is a great example of private-public partnership. Harbor Steps used to be University Way that dead ended in a 40’ grade change. The city sold the street to the private developer in exchange for a civic space, that is now the steps. It has become a focal point of the city and a great connection to the water. Here is an example of how the connection could extend to the water:

Contrasting the Harbor Steps is the connection down from the Four Seasons. The connection is a steel stair with dumpsters and loading docks that do not invite the pedestrian down to the water: How will the connection be rethought and reconnected to the waterfront park?

At the Waterfront Park, we heard from Jeff Cordell, lead research scientist  from the UW who is working with the City of Seattle by studying seawall habitat enhancement test panels. Here is Jeff talking about juvenile salmon 101:

We then walked to the Pier 52 where we were able to check out the tops of the seawall test panels. Maureen Goff, also a research scientist at the UW, has been monitoring the seawall test panels along the waterfront for 2 years. Pier 52 is one of three sites where the city installed habitat enhancement test panels. Here is some info on their studies:

  • They focused on an intertidal zone between 0′ and 7’ above sea level
  • Two different sampling methods were used: Monitoring juvenile salmon prey species by sucking them up and identifying them in the lab to gauge the density of what salmon would like to eat and how much they have increased with different surfaces and slopes. Other data collected were algae and other invertebrates – they would like to integrate with a variety of different habitats to provide a broader range of organisms, which will in turn provide habitat for salmon
  • They’ve been finding some mussels, which is a good sign in waterfront communities. They increase diversity and provide food habitat to other species as well as filter water and trap sediment
  • They used 3 designs (flat, stepped and sloped fins) with two different surfaces treatments (smooth and cobbled)
  • Control sections of the original seawall was power washed to provide a point zero for comparisons
  •  Panels were reinforced precast concrete made with form liners. They will have to cast the concrete anyways so why not reuse a mold that will create habitat?

We then headed north and stopped briefly at the Marina where we discussed the study I did this last November in Australia researching their environmentally friendly seawalls in urban areas. I will be documenting my research and what has been done in Australia at an exhibit to be shown at AIA Seattle in March-April of this year (more details to come).

We briefly stopped at Edgewater:

The Olympic Sculpture Park is a great partnership between city, museum, and private donors. It has created a public space and restored the natural habitat with rain gardens, non-invasive species use, storm water management, etc.

Jeff Cordell and his team have been monitoring the OSP with funding from the salmon recovery funding board and the city.

3 things that were provided for habitat enhancement:

  1. Horizontal rock bench that runs along the seawall that provides shallow water development
  2. Armored pocket beaches that provides a natural shoreline
  3. Upland planting with native vegetation that provides insect food resources for salmon. This is a big issue in urban development where upland planting is harder to provide
  4. Monitoring by sampling before the development happened to provide a baseline. Then they have been sampling fish to see their diet (by “barfing” them) to compare what they feed here to what a salmon would feed on in a natural environment. They also monitor by pumping smaller organisms from the pocket beaches and the rock bench.

They have found: 

  • Insect densities were higher as compared to reference sites due to upland planting
  • Small crustaceans that salmon feed on increased in number and species diversity
  • Samples of sediment show density of fauna at the sea floor
  • They’ve also snorkeled and followed the behavior and movements of fish. There is not a lot of information on how fish behaviorally respond to these new environments.

 Of course, there was an ample amount of information that there is just not enough room on this blog to provide! SAF (Seattle Architecture Foundation) is planning on making this tour a regular on their schedule so check our their website!

I want to give a HUGE thank you to SAF for helping put on this event.

Also, thank you to the expert guides – the tour was great thanks to you:

  • Lee Copeland, Architect and Urban Designer, Mithun
  • Dennis Haskell, Architect and Urban Designer, SRG
  • Jeff Cordell, Principal Research Biologist, Aquatic & Fishery Sciences, UW
  • Maureen Goff, Research Biologist, Aquatic & Fishery Sciences, UW
  • Heather Trim, Urban Bays & Toxics Program Manager for People For Puget Sound
  • Please stay tuned for more details on my AIA Travel Scholarship Seawall Presentation due to open on March 4th, 2010 at AIA Seattle.

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