15th Ave E Community Design Workshop
The Past and Present of 15th Avenue East, Seattle
Capitol Hill’s 15th Avenue East has been home to a commercial district for nearly a century, with early businesses such as grocery stores and book shops mirroring some current uses. Right in the heart of the 15th Ave. business district is historic Fire Station 7, built in 1920. The Seattle Fire Department operated it as an active firehouse until 1970; soon after, Environmental Works' student founders moved in.
Fast-forward over 45 years. Nowadays, 15th Avenue East still hops with an eclectic mix of locally owned businesses, restaurants, and retail.
In the fall of 2017, architect Jeff Pelletier at Board & Vellum, another architecture firm on 15th, approached EW to discuss the impending sale of the Hilltop Service Station property at 15th and Mercer, and other imminent changes on the street: the QFC block is slated to be the site of new development, and Kaiser Permanente is planning to carry out $400 million in improvements on its sizable lot. Jeff noted that the people who live and work on 15th have lacked a means to contribute to plans for its future. EW and Board & Vellum decided to engage the neighborhood in a conversation about community hopes and dreams for 15th.
15th Avenue East Workshop
This conversation blossomed into a two-hour community event hosted by EW and Board & Vellum on April 28, 2018, at The Summit on Pike, which was attended by approximately 85 people who live or work around 15th. EW staff applied their Pomegranate Method training to facilitate an inclusive, collaborative event. EW’s Shannon Carrico laid out the ground rules for a productive conversation, including reminding people to focus on how to make the inevitable changes to 15th positive; speaking short and simply; listening; respecting other people’s ideas; and focusing on the goal of the highest good.
For the initial visioning exercise, attendees considered the question “What are your best ideas for the future of 15th Avenue East?” They wrote their three best ideas on three separate notecards, which were all gathered and posted according to themes that included safety, green space, preserving small businesses, and supporting job development and thoughtful density. A collaborative discussion followed, in which facilitators strove to identify all ideas presented in order to compile them for future reference by developers, city officials, and other interested community members.
Next, attendees participated in an interactive design exercise. Street view elevations and aerial views of both sides of 15th from Denny to Mercer were posted on parallel rows of tables. Attendees used markers, tracing paper, and cutouts of items such as P Patches and benches to mark up the elevations, and convey their ideas for a better future 15th. Neighbors’ ideas ranged from adding affordable housing above existing retail, to a farmers’ market, to underground parking. As in the visioning exercise, common themes included retaining affordable spaces for local independent retail, eyes on the street, and pedestrian friendliness.
Our hats are off to you, our neighbors, for contributing your visions for 15th’s future!