A Waterfront Writers Park

On Monday, March 5th, I will participate in a public forum hosted by the Central Waterfront Committee at Seattle’s Town Hall titled “Setting the Stage: How do we create vibrant spaces for arts, culture and entertainment”? It will run from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Seattle Waterfront's Railroad Ave, North from University St. 1935.

The Central Waterfront Committee is a volunteer group of community leaders and representatives established in early 2011 by Seattle City Council resolution 31264. Their role is to engage the public and to advise the City on the waterfront project, including providing broad oversight of its design, financing, pubic engagement and long-term operations and maintenance.

Recently, I pulled together a small group to explore one particular approach for creating vibrant spaces for arts & culture along the waterfront: a writers park. The group included Councilmember Sally Bagshaw; Marshall Foster, Planning Director for the City’s Department of Planning & Development; Patrick Gordon of Zimmer of Gunsul Frasca Architects, LLP and Co-Chair of the Seattle Central Waterfront Committee Design Oversight Committee; Chance Hunt, Director of Public Programming & Partnerships for the Seattle Public Library; Marie McCaffrey, President of the Seattle Public Library Board of Trustees; Sarah Kohut, Board Member of Friends of the Seattle Public Library; Brian McGuigan, Director of Programs and Marketing, Richard Hugo House; Daemond Arrindell, poet and educator; Norm Schwab, Seattle City Council Central Staff lead on the waterfront design project; and my legislative aide Frank Video.

Ideas the group explored for celebrating writers and the art of reading and writing are listed below. I encourage you to join me in discussing these and other ideas people may come up with during the March 5th forum.

1) An outdoor park recognizing past and current authors, poets, and lyricists through plaques or sculptures;

2) Signage at each of the major intersections along the waterfront that would serve as way finders while at the same time incorporating prose and poetry – “poetry polls.”

3) Outdoor video screens could display information on writers as well as showcase readings, writer biographies and other literary programming.

4) A free volunteer-run outdoor waterside library allowing visitors to relax, sit and read while enjoying water views. It would be sponsored by local businesses, such as bookstores or coffee houses, and its reading materials supplied by publishers or the Seattle Public Library.

A great example of this sort of outdoor library can be found in New York City’s Bryant Park. It’s called The Reading Room.  Many of its books and services are donated by publishers and corporate sponsors. Advantages of siting such an outdoor library along Seattle’s waterfront include its low capital cost, its attractiveness to private sponsors, offering potential connections to small businesses and providing a desirable low-key, contemplative activity along the waterfront.

Seattle boasts a number of notable literary figures. Writers Terry Brooks, Octavia Butler and Frank Herbert, playwright August Wilson, poets Richard Hugo, Denise Levertov, and Theodore Roethke, along with many others.

Outdoor public art celebrating literary arts, such as a writer’s park, is fairly rare. The only official writer’s park I have found is in Senj, Croatia, a sea-side park containing busts and statues celebrating some of that city’s greatest cultural figures, such as Ritter-Vitezović, Silvije Strahimir Kranjčević and novelist Vjenceslav Novak.

By late summer, the Central Waterfront Committee is expected to present its strategic plan. This Monday’s waterfront design forum and their March 14th forum titled “Uniquely Seattle” provide once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for the public to influence the design of Seattle’s waterfront. I urge you to participate.

For an overview of the project, check out the Waterfront Seattle Brochure. Here is their Project Timeline, which illustrates relationships between the waterfront design project, the seawall replacement and the proposed SR99 Bored Tunnel project. And if you have questions, you might find answers in their Frequently Asked Questions.

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