Turn the Viaduct into a Park

By Christopher Werner September 21, 2011 Published in the October 2011 issue of Seattle Met

LOCAL COLUMNISTS HAVE FLOATED the idea for years: Salvage part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and convert it into public green space, a la New York City’s High Line.

The High Line is Manhattan’s urban wonder park. The nearly mile-and-a-half-long rehabbed railroad winds through Chelsea, the Meatpacking District, and Hell’s Kitchen. Since opening in the summer of 2009, with a second section debuting this past June, the elevated promenade has triggered restaurant, retail, and condo activity, and played host to dance workshops, public art, farmers markets, and festivals. More than five million visitors have strolled the concrete paths lined with naturalistic plantings.

James Corner Field Operations, the architectural firm behind the High Line, is spearheading the revamp of Seattle’s waterfront. It’s a convenient coincidence for those columnists—’s David Brewster, The Seattle Times’s Danny Westneat—who say taking down the viaduct means doing away with some of the city’s most stunning panoramas.

Could the James Corner crew preserve the views by recreating the High Line?

Fat chance, says Chad Schuster of the Washington Department of Transportation: The creaky Viaduct is beyond repair. And while the High Line did require upgrades—the frame dates from the 1930s—renovating even a portion of our wobbly roadway would necessitate repairs so substantial that it would cost as much as constructing an elevated park from scratch, adds Seattle Department of Transportation spokesperson Rick Sheridan.

And though the setups seem similar, the Viaduct is actually twice the height of the not-so-high High Line. A virtue of New York’s elevated esplanade is the way it connects to the surrounding buildings. To wit, the Standard Hotel straddles it. The Viaduct, 55 feet at its highest, doesn’t afford the same seamless integration. Or easy pedestrian access.

Filed under
Show Comments