Sustainable Cities™

Seattle: Water as an urban space maker

Seattle, United States, is in need of public open spaces that make the city livable, walkable and sustainable. Officially implemented in 2002, the "Blue Ring" method is a 100-year-old vision and 10-year-long strategy for addressing this issue. The project aims to join the open spaces in the central part of the city with green pathways in a manner that makes use of the bodies of water that geographically define Seattle and addresses the nature of its rainy climate.

Seattle, iStock

An enhanced network of open walking space is an integral element of the future sustainable city.  Seattle has recently been working to create such a network that will provide a pedestrian-oriented environment with numerous gathering areas, green streets and accessible shorelines.  Not only will such a network help reduce the city's CO² emissions, but it will also relive some of its car traffic problems by encouraging alternative transportation methods. Furthermore, an increase in urban greenery and permeable ground surfaces will relieve the city's water management system through increased infiltration of rain into the ground and increased transpiration of it from plants.

Today, there are many obstacles to creating large urban parks such as those developed in the 19th and 20th century. High real estate values and policies such as the zoning of historical landmarks make it difficult to assemble large tracts of land for public use. The "Blue Ring" strategy addresses these issues by working with existing open spaces and linking them together in a manner that respects existing infrastructure.  Of the open spaces joined, three important ones are the shoreline parks by the city's three watersheds: Lake Union, Lake Washington and the Elliott Bay (connected to the Puget Sound and, ultimately, the Pacific Ocean).

The strategy incorporates and manages a large number of private developments in addition to the obvious capital improvement projects.  Primarily, the "Blue Ring" focuses on such development and projects around streets of regional importance in a manner similar to Seattle's "Green Ring" developed by the American landscape architect John Charles Olmsted in 1903.

 Blue ring, courtesy of Mithun Architects.

The most costly challenges of the project involve the burying of portions of the city's Interstate 5 highway and the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which presently create large physical gaps between the city's neighbourhoods and separate the center city from its shore. In this way, the "Blue Ring" will help revive many of the city's areas and will bridge the gap between the city residents and their beautiful waterfront.  Additionally, shoreline improvements to two key parts of the Blue Ring (the Elliott Bay waterfront and South Lake Union Park) will help draw citizens out of their homes and into the public realm of their city.

In December 2004, the City of Seattle, the State of Washington, and the Federal Highway Administration weighed a number of options for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct and determined that a tunnel would be the optimal course of action. According to Seattle's 2006 Central Waterfront Concept Plan and its subsequent detailed master plan, the construction of the tunnel is presently the main objective of the city's planning efforts moving forward.

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014