A few years from now, the intersection of 12th and Jackson at the heart of Little Saigon will look and feel completely different. Many of the one- and two-story retail buildings with parking lots in front will give way to multi-story apartment buildings, ground floor retail and underground parking.
The southwest corner will also be transformed, but in a different way. A 400-square-foot public open space will beckon area residents, employees and visitors to sit outside, visit together, and enjoy bubble tea or a take-out meal from a local Southeast Asian restaurant.
This is a rare opportunity to use privately-owned land as public open space. Asian Pacific Properties, which owns the parking lot and adjacent retail building, is making this land available at no cost for the good of the neighborhood. The retail tenants are willing to help maintain the park.
An Huynh, Public Space & Community Coordinator for Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority and project manager for the park, noted that the idea for the park came out of a long-standing community concern that Little Saigon has almost no public open space and very few trees or patches of green. “While Little Saigon’s cultural character is expressed by all the Vietnamese businesses clustered around 12th and Jackson, the streets and sidewalks could be anywhere,” said Huynh. “This park will show private property owners and developers and the City, as owner of the right of way, how the area’s Vietnamese heritage can contribute to its livability.”
For two days in September, the site was transformed into a temporary park, as part of worldwide PARK(ing) Day, with around 50 sites in Seattle. In March, at an open house at Summit School, community members responded to a variety of design options. A $5,000 grant from Yesler Community Collaborative early in 2016 assisted the community in implementing its vision.
For Huynh the process of designing the park has been rewarding. She has enjoyed getting to know the local business people and appreciates their design ideas, “The couple that owns Bubble Tea Fresh Fruit suggested tiles because they are colorful and remind them of home,” she said, “or a tall tree because the neighborhood doesn’t have any shade. From these points of feedback, you get into a conversation about what it means to have a business in Little Saigon. Now I walk in and we pick up where we left off. We’ve established a relationship from this little project.”
Designer Mackenzie Waller of Framework, a multidisciplinary design firm, is using the community input to shape a welcoming and safe community space made of long-lasting materials. The intent is to create as space that celebrates those who live and work in Little Saigon. Huynh expects construction of the park late this summer, along with installation of painted crosswalks at 12th and Jackson.