September 5, 2008

Nature-made: Bradner Gardens Park

“Usually gardens are one thing or the other: all food or all something else,” I said to Joyce Moty, artist and garden organizer at Bradner Gardens Park . Bradner is a "mixed-use park" and was designed to address the diversity of the community, replied Moty. Jeff Hou, professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington, when responding to my query for "nature-made sites" suggested Bradner Gardens Parks, noting that it was not entirely nature-made. I was still interested in the decision to include a design for ecosystem services.

Bradner Gardens Park is a city park on 1.6 acres in the Mount Baker neighborhood of Seattle. One of the first things I noticed when I visited the park was the spectacular view of downtown Seattle. This view was one of the factors in the city's zoning of the parcel for high-end residential development. In response to this designation - this would have removed public park land from the city’s portfolio - neighbors organized to not only prevent development, but to propose a park design for the parcel.

In the mid-1990s, the parcel did not look like a park. It had been leased to Social Services and the School Department for 14 years. There was a basketball court, school buildings on top of asphalt, and a concrete lavatory. Moty noted that it would have been easy for the city to sell the parcel, except for the neighbor who heard about the proposal for the parcel. At the same time that the city was proposing to build housing on the Mt. Baker parcel, it was planning a park in the downtown. The basketball is still there though it has been renovated. Children who used the court were invited to the community design charette facilitated by landscape architect, John Barker. At the time of the charette, the basketball court was the only recreational space for children in the neighborhood. Other participants included Southeast Asian gardeners (the neighborhood is one-third Asian, mostly Laotians, one-third African-American, and one-third Caucasian); neighborhoods, Master and organic gardeners. Bradner remains a “collaboration of volunteers from the Mount Baker community, King County Master Gardeners, Seattle P-Patch Program, Seattle Tilth Association, and Washington Native Plant Society.”

Ten concept plans were generated during the charette and “the best one” was taken to the Mayor and the City Council. Joyce Moty recalled that the group did not have a “track record with the city.” In addition, the then mayor hoping to be appointed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), advocated for housing on the site. Fortunately, the park group collaborated with a retired city attorney with expertise in park properties.

With their experience of the threat of sale of park land, the park group and its supporters gathered 24,000 signatures for citizen Initiative #42 Protect Our Parks prohibiting the sale of park land. In 1997, the initiative was adopted as Seattle Ordinance #118477. The parcel on which Bradner sits was one of many parcels purchased by the city for the proposed Bay Freeway in the 1960s. In the same period, approximately 20 parcels were purchased with Model City funds and designated as pocket parks. In 2000, a $198.2 million parks bill – the Pro Parks Levy – passed and funding was directed towards Bradner to construct the park’s main building.

One half of the building’s roof is outfitted with solar panels. The panels generate 5.6 kilowatts and the park uses one-third of what it generates; the rest is sold to Seattle Power. Another building in the park is the lavatory. Joyce Moty is an artist. She and other volunteers created a surprisingly beautiful interior for the public restroom. It took 10 weeks to build the restroom and it “takes people unaware,” Moty smilingly commented.

In addition to the view, the other thing I noticed in the park was the windmill which is used to pump water from a pond filled by winter rains to a dry creek that curves through the children's garden and play areas. The windmill definitely contributes to the “backyard feeling” that the park’s friends were striving for. Other features include the individual garden plots (or P-Patches), the demonstration gardens (including butterfly and hummingbird habitat, xeriscape landscaping, and northwest natives), and short stature trees to maintain the views of downtown and into the park.

Bradner is a multi-use and user park: it has food plots, basketball and other play areas, paths, demonstration gardens, a dry creek, and the wildlife habitat to the rear of the park. The latter is definitely wild. I came to Bradner because of the habitat spaces, but learned that there is a huge demand for P-Patches, not for the demonstration gardens. However, it is the native landscape demonstration gardens that have influenced yard planting in the neighborhood.

The park has been a catalyst for community action: there is a block watch and neighbors are landscaping the traffic circles. At the end of our walk through the park (we would continue our conversation through the neighborhood and a nearby Olmsted-designed park), in response to my questions about lessons learned, Joyce Moty said, “it’s possible.” The beautiful public restroom, raising kids expectations of public play spaces, the three year process to rebuild the soil, and the even longer process (10 years) to construct the park attest to this sentiment.

This profile was originally posted here. Read more about Bradner Gardens Park at the Seattle Parks and Recreation website.

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