Search Results for: kick-ass playground

The Dream of a Really Kick-Ass Playground Still Lives!

Yeah, yeah, I agree with the Seattle Times that we need to build a downtown elementary school to keep the downtown core family friendly (you know, like a real city). But what really jumped out at me from their editorial was this:

But opening a downtown school is also an implicit contract that Seattle will do better to make its core safe and accommodating for families. That means more vigorous attention to obvious disorder and open-air drug markets, as well as downtown playspace for children.

I have been advocating for years to build a Really Kick-Ass Playground™ in downtown Seattle. Could the editors of our city’s paper of record finally be willing to lend their voice towards this much needed civic improvement?

Imagine a kick-ass playground

Imagine on a beautiful day like today, taking your kids to play in an amazing playground like the one highlighted above. Or, imagine taking your kids to a glass museum.

You choose.

Oh, and by the way, NYC’s Imagination Playground also serves to illustrate how ridiculous and unfair the Seattle Center’s “process” really is. The Chihuly proposers had a year and a half to put together the details of their project, while every else had just a few weeks. The Imagination Playground took five years from conception to completion.

The kick-ass playground as an economic development tool

As the Seattle Center prepares to sell off a chunk of precious open space to a for-profit, paid-admission Chihuly gallery/gift shop/catering hall, purely for financial reasons, the city might want to take a look at what’s happening in New York City, where in the midst of the Great Recession the city is building a series of innovative, kick-ass playgrounds… as economic development tools!

NPR’s Planet Money has a piece up on NYC’s new Imagination Playground, a $7 million project that reimagines urban play spaces from the cookie-cutter collection of slides, sandboxes and jungle gyms with which we’re all familiar, into a space where kids can use their imaginations to play in a less structured way. And according to NPR, playgrounds like this are popping up all over the city, despite falling tax revenues and tight budgets.

Why? Because when you build family friendly amenities like this, it attracts families with children, raising surrounding property values and drawing customers to nearby businesses. And isn’t that what the Seattle Center is really looking for? More repeat business for its existing tenants to help finance its operations?

Take a few minutes to watch the video above and listen to the Planet Money report below, and then try to tell me that something like this wouldn’t be a more valuable addition to both the city and the Center than the Chihuly proposal. In other words, you know… use your imagination.

The Really Kick-Ass Playground Levy

Imagine, say, a Tom Douglas restaurant/cafe nestled within a

Imagine, say, a Tom Douglas run family cafe, nestled within a "rainbow nest dome" like the one at the Takino Hillside Park in Sapporo-shi, Japan. That's the kinda creative thinking I'm advocating.

In fighting the proposed Chihuly Museum Chihuly-branded glass art gallery, gift shop, cafe and Space Needle-affiliated catering hall on 1.5 acres of Seattle Center land currently occupied by the Fun Forest, it is important to make it clear that we don’t just oppose the proposal, but that we support an alternative that better meets the needs of all Seattleites.

Of course I’m talking about the really kick-ass playground that I’ve proposed here. And here. And here, here, here, here and here.

While many have derided the Fun Forest as a rundown, cheesy, underused eyesore, few would argue a downtown with no grade school, no playgrounds, no ball fields and no basketball court, needs even fewer amenities for young families than we already have. But the pro-Chihuly crowd is quick to argue that there is no money available to build alternative proposals, while the Wright family is prepared to commit $15 million to their for-profit venture, including as much as $500,000 a year in rent.

It’s this or nothing the glassoholics warn us, and thus the city would be crazy to turn down such a “gift.”

But there is money available to build the proposed children’s garden and water feature/skate rink on the north end of the site, as well as the really kick-ass playground I’ve proposed for the south end. All we need to do is ask.

Of course, I’m referring to Seattle taxpayers, who have long been generous with their dollars when its going to something they support, and whom I’m guessing would be more than willing to fork over a few dollars a year each if pitched the kinda family oriented redevelopment I envision.

Now, I’m not talking about a full blown Seattle Center Levy; that might be too expensive and too complicated and too much of a temptation for political mischief to make it to the ballot and past voters in a timely manner. No, I’m talking about a very limited levy aimed solely at redeveloping the Fun Forest into an admission-free, world-class, family-friendly attraction filled with amenities for both children and their parents.

For example, in 2008, 59-percent of Seattle voters approved the Parks and Green Spaces Levy, raising $146 million, and costing the average Seattle homeowner an additional $80.78 per year over the six-year life of the levy. I doubt most voters even understood the specifics of what the levy would pay for; we just like the notion of “parks” and “green space,” and so we voted yes.

Now imagine a Really Kick-Ass Playground Levy that would raise maybe only a tenth of that money. Only 8 bucks a year to build something really, really cool that your kids and your grandkids will use again and again, instead of some elitist, $15 admission “museum” you might visit maybe once, but that would lock up and enclose an acre and a half of precious open space for generations.

I don’t think it would take much to sell this levy to voters.

I know there is a majority of council members who aren’t too enthralled with the Chihuly proposal, if not downright opposed, but nobody’s pitched a way to fund an alternative. Until now.

Another kick-ass playground idea

If the Wright family really wants to improve the Seattle Center, perhaps they should attach a couple of these wicked cool sliding tubes from the Skyline level of the Space Needle? Now that would be fun.

If the Wright family really wants to improve the Seattle Center, perhaps they should attach a couple of these wicked cool sliding tubes from the Skyline level of the Space Needle? How fun would that be?

The Wright family, the people who constructed and own the Space Needle, want to build a private, pay-per-view Chihuly Museum at the foot of the Needle on public land where the Fun Forest used to be. Personally, I can think of some much better uses for a couple acres of land the Seattle Center master plan had envisioned as open space.

Another kick-ass playground

Think I'm thinking too big? Yerba Gardens features 130,000 sq ft of outdoor space, including a playground, amphitheater, carousel, skating rink and water feature... all on a rooftop in San Francisco.

Think I'm thinking too big? Yerba Gardens features 130,000 sq ft of outdoor space, including a playground, amphitheater, carousel, skating rink and water feature... all on a rooftop in San Francisco.

Yeah, I suppose we could just plop a pay-per-view Chihuly Museum and Gift Shop in the space where the Fun Forest used to be, and maybe extract a few extra bucks from tourists who stray too far from the cruise ship terminal. Or, we could build our kids a really kick-ass playground our region’s families would use again and again and again.

Again, nothing against Chihuly in particular, or museums in general, but Seattle needs more family-friendly attractions, not less, and a glass museum just doesn’t fit that bill.

More really kick-ass playgrounds

Check out the the rainbow nest dome at the Takino Hillside Park in Sapporo-shi, Japan. How cool would it be to climb through that?

Check out the rainbow nest dome at the Takino Hillside Park in Sapporo-shi, Japan. How cool would it be to climb through that?

The Seattle Center’s Fun Forest was a virtually unique family amenity: an outdoor amusement park near the center of a modern American city. And our children deserve to have it replaced with something just as unique, and just as entertaining, instead of yet another pay-for-view museum.

So if you were designing a really kick-ass playground, what might it look like?

Really kick-ass playgrounds

The Fruit and Scent Playground, Liljeholmen, Sweden, proves that innovative playgrounds and public art aren't mutually exclusive.

The Fruit and Scent Playground, Liljeholmen, Sweden, proves that innovative playgrounds and public art aren't mutually exclusive.

When I talk about replacing the Seattle Center’s Fun Forest with a really kick-ass playground, I want to be clear that I’m not just talking about a teeter-totter and a couple of climbing toys… the type of installations you find at schoolyards and parks throughout the rest of the city. No, I’m talking about creating the kinda nowhere-else-on-earth one-of-a-kind destination that could be just as much a work of art as that pay-to-view Chihuly museum the grownups propose to be built in its place.

So come on, Seattle… let’s use our collective imagination and make our kids the envy of children worldwide.

There’s no need to rush replacing the Fun Forest

I suppose I should take some satisfaction in the Wright family’s revised proposal for their Chihuly-themed gallery/gift-shop/catering-space in the old Fun Forest site:

As part of the deal, the Wright family proposes spending $2 million to fund and maintain an “Art Playground” somewhere else on the Seattle Center campus. They would invite local artists to design playground equipment inspired by Seattle Center or the 1962 World’s Fair that was held there. They would select four or five winners, build their designs and maintain the structures for 20 years, according to the proposal.

If that’s not a concession to my calls for a Really Kick-Ass Playground, I don’t know what is, and it’s certainly a smart PR move. The Wrights get their for-profit, paid-admission extension to their Space Needle catering facility, and the city gets a new playground… you know… somewhere else. Not that $2 million buys you an awful lot of playground these days, but it’s a concession nonetheless.

Still, my general response to this and the other Fun Forest proposals can be summed up in three words: What’s the rush?

There is a lot to criticize about the way the Seattle Center first introduced the Chihuly proposal as an all but done deal, and then went about hurriedly soliciting additional proposals in response to the initial public uproar, but the most significant problem with the process is the way that it institutionalizes the frame that the Fun Forest redevelopment is something that absolutely has to happen now.

Yes, I know they’d like to have something in place by the Center’s 5oth anniversary in 2012, but it’s hard to justify such a major, long term development for the sake of a symbolic gesture. Likewise, Center staff have argued that they need the income from the property to help subsidize other attractions, but we’re hardly talking about a massive infusion of cash. The new Chihuly proposal promises at least $350,000 a year rent, but the local, family-run business currently operating amusements on the site has repeatedly offered to pay $250,000 a year on a year-to-year lease.

An additional $100,000 a year in rent… that’s all the Center would sacrifice for the sake of giving the city some breathing room to really think through whether yet another private, paid-admission “museum” is the best use of a couple acres of scarce public park land. Yeah, times are tough right now, and revenue is hard to come by, but that makes this exactly the wrong time to rush through this decision.

The Wrights had a year or more to work behind closed doors to come up with their initial proposal, and then still had to go back to the drawing board to respond to public outcry, yet their competitors for the Fun Forest space only had a few weeks to start from scratch. That’s hardly a fair or efficient process, and if, as expected, the Chihuly project is the ultimate winner, this whole exercise can’t help but come of as anything but a sham.

So my advice to the Seattle Center and the City Council is that this is one case where the “Seattle Way” is the best way toward determining the best use of scarce in-city open space. There’s no rush to clear cut this last remaining swath of the Fun Forest, and no compelling reason to push through this privatization of public land at the depths of an economic crisis. If the Chihuly proposal makes sense now, it will still make sense a year from now; in fact, given another year of feedback and push-back, the proposal might even get better.

So please, let’s take the time to do this thing right.

In Defense of Fun

Say what you want about the Fun Forest — call it seedy, call it run-down, call it a “tired” relic as former Mayor Greg Nickels once derided it — but there’s no disputing that this five acre amusement park at the foot of the Space Needle was a nearly unique urban amenity, and one of downtown Seattle’s rare, family-friendly attractions for almost half a century. And that is why I insist that any plan to replace the Fun Forest must both honor that tradition, and recognize the very real loss its closure represents to the young families who have frequented it for generations.

Backers of a paid-admission Chihuly “museum” conveniently present empty asphalt as the status quo, but the public land they seek to enclose — nearly two-fifths of the Fun Forest site — has been dedicated to amusing children since 1962, and thus their proposal represents a dramatic shift in land use that would upset the balance of the attractions at the Seattle Center, while forever changing its perceived character. I mean, honestly, can one get any more antithetical to an amusement park than a museum of glass, or as my daughter and I have taken to calling it, the “Look, Don’t Touch Museum.”

Chihuly backers argue that there are plenty of other family-friendly attractions at the Center — the Children’s Museum, the Children’s Theater, the Science Center and the various events and festivals that take place there throughout the year — but this myopic accounting fails to see the fun forest for the trees. My daughter and I and our friends didn’t frequent the Center for any one attraction, but for the entire ecosystem of available activities, flitting from one to another as befitted the season and the attention span of our children at whatever particular age.

No, we never went to the Seattle Center for the Fun Forest, but we almost never left without blowing a few bucks on a ride or three. Likewise, we never went just to splash in the International Fountain, or just to run through the same tired, old exhibits at the Children’s Museum, or just to wade through the crowds at the Bite of Seattle. We went for the entire experience, of which the Fun Forest was almost always an important part. And I can assure you that without the Fun Forest, or some comparable, fun, family-friendly attraction, we would have visited the Seattle Center (and spent our money there) less often.

And that’s a bit of math the Chihuly backers ignore when they tally up the revenue their gallery/cafe/gift shop would supposedly generate for the Center and the city. The Fun Forest was an attraction that could be visited again and again and again, while the typical Seattle family might pay the hefty admission fees to drag their kids through a glass museum maybe once if that. Afterwards it becomes just another building to walk by on the way to something more interesting and fun… as useful to the typical Center visitor as the empty asphalt the “museum’s” boosters insist is the only alternative.

What almost nobody in this debate is willing to acknowledge is that we are losing something in the closing of the Fun Forest, and while I’m not so quixotic as to fight for retaining the site as is, I’ll fight until the end to save the spirit of what the Fun Forest represents, and to convince the powers that be that we need more public space dedicated toward amusing children, not less. From a child’s perspective, the closure of the Fun Forest, as seedy, run-down, tired and déclassé as it might be, leaves a huge gaping hole in our urban landscape… a void that the proposed glass “museum” simply cannot fill.

So when I tout my proposal for a Really Kick-Ass Playground and the targeted Really Kick-Ass Playground Levy to fund it, this is the spirit in which it is offered. Not a spirit that rejects cultural and art — for as many of the examples I have cited prove, a playground can be just as much a showcase for art as any museum — but a spirit that embraces the notion of play.

We have an opportunity to remake the Fun Forest into the most unique, innovative and fun urban “playground” in the nation… a vision that should not be limited to the usual images evoked by the word I loosely place in quotes. Or, we could decide we want a Seattle Center that’s notably less fun and less family friendly than it has been since its inception, and just get out of the Wright family’s way.

Put to the ballot, even at the cost of a eight or nine bucks a year, I’m pretty damn sure I know which way Seattle would vote.

Chihuly roundup

Last week I constructively proposed three alternate locations that might be better suited to a Chihuly museum than a couple acres of public land designated as open space, and in the comment thread HA readers offered several additional suggestions. But according to The Stranger’s Cienna Madrid, such reasonable conversation is apparently a nonstarter:

[Space Needle CEO Ron] Sevart insists that the Space Needle has not, and will not, consider another location for the project (although the Wright family could certainly afford it).

That’s because far from the “gift” to the city many Chihuly backers claim it to be, this project is first a foremost a for-profit venture, and there is undeniable synergy between the existing Space Needle businesses and what they are describing as “Chihuly at The Needle.”

As I’ve mentioned before, in addition to the overpriced/undercheffed restaurant at the top, the Wrights operate a bustling catering business out of the Skyline banquet facility, and the proposed Chihuly “museum” would instantly become one of the hottest catering halls in the city. But I’m sure the prospect of offering a “discounted” joint admission fee to both the Space Needle and the Chihuly museum would be lucrative as well. Rather than paying $17 for the Needle and $15 for Chihuly, $25 might get you in to see them both… and the Wrights up their average ticket by nearly 50% over what they’re getting now.


Meanwhile, Cienna and I aren’t the only “journalists” weighing in against the project, with Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat bucking his own editorial board, and calling out the proposed Chihuly “museum” for what it really is:

See the problem here, Seattle Center? Your Chihuly gallery is the anti-fireworks. It’s exclusive. The campaign for it is canned.

If we’re going to have a museum, can we at least broaden it beyond the overexposed Chihuly? And with a money-raising effort, make it free to enter, a la the Olympic Sculpture Park?

Or how about, instead, putting in a giant playground? Or even just trees and grass?

A giant playground! Or maybe even a giant, kick-ass one! What a great idea! Now that’s a proposal I could get behind.

Why? Because Seattle is a city desperately in need of more family-friendly amenities, something, apart from Danny, the Seattle Times doesn’t seem to recognize, but which, apparently, the New York Times does:

The Kids and Families Congress is to take place at the Seattle Center, the site of the Space Needle and the 1962 World’s Fair. The center itself has become a topic of debate, over the future of five acres of asphalt at the foot of the needle that for decades has been home to the Fun Forest, an aging amusement park.

The Fun Forest is set to close for good at summer’s end and the site’s private owners have proposed replacing it with a private museum featuring the work of Dale Chihuly, the Northwest glass artist. Critics say that sends a wrong signal about Seattle’s priorities. A private glass museum, some argue, would not necessarily be regarded as family friendly.

“It’s not just symbolic,” said Sally Bagshaw, who is chairwoman of the City Council parks committee. “It’s very much at the heart of what I’m talking about: how do we keep families here? We want to make Seattle a place where people come because it is the best place in the world for your kids.”

And ask any kid what they’d rather visit, a really kick-ass playground or a museum of glass, and I’m guessing most would choose the former.

Reimagining the Fun Forest

The Clemyjontri Park playground fills a 2 acre site in Fairfax VA, and features four outdoor "rooms" surrounding a central carousel

The Clemyjontri Park playground fills a 2 acre site in Fairfax VA, and features four outdoor "rooms" surrounding a central carousel. Surely, Seattle can top Fairfax VA.

Nothing against Dale Chihuly, or museums in general, but I was deadly serious the other day when I proposed a kick-ass playground to replace the Seattle Center’s soon to be closed Fun Forest, instead of the lovely, respectable, and inevitably kid-unfriendly look-don’t-touch museum that appears to be the favorite of city planners. And I sure do hope that council members and civic leaders take my proposal seriously.

The Seattle Center has long been the number one family destination in a downtown that, let’s be honest, isn’t exactly family-friendly. There are no K-12 schools in downtown Seattle, no athletic fields or basketball courts or other youth-oriented amenities. And little in the way of playgrounds, kick-ass or otherwise.

And yet if we want to build the kind of downtown urban density necessary for our region to grow sustainably into the 21st century and beyond, then we’re going to have to do something to keep couples from moving out into the suburbs the minute they pop a bun in oven. And, well, replacing a virtually unique, downtown amusement park with a pay-to-view glass museum doesn’t exactly strike me as a move in the right direction.

A playground on the other hand — a really kick-ass playground — would not only provide a desperately needed family amenity, but would be entirely in keeping with the spirit and heritage of the Seattle Center, which from its very inception has always been a destination for families seeking diversion and amusement.

And don’t be so limited in the scope of your imagination to believe that a mere playground can’t be as much of a tourist attraction as a Chihuly museum. I’m not talking about a couple of jungle gyms and a seesaw here; think of it as a one-acre canvas for showcasing the inventiveness, creativity and yes, playfulness of our city… perhaps a gigantic, multi-level Rube Goldberg contraption filled with running, joyful children.  I mean hell, if something as inherently boring as a library, for chrisakes, can be reimagined into an instant architectural landmark and cultural icon, then so can a playground. You know, a really, really kick-ass one.

Seattle’s civic leaders should stop trying to prove how grown-up we are by matching older, East Coast cities museum for stodgy museum. A) We’ll never do it; and B) being a grown-up is way overrated. Instead, let’s unleash the inner child in all of us and build something that no other downtown in America has: the most amazing, jaw-dropping, joy-inspiring, kick-ass public playground any child or adult has ever seen.

Throwing stones at glass houses

Honestly, I’m as much of a cultural elitist as the next guy, but is this really the best use of Seattle Center’s precious open space?

A plan to turn part of the Seattle Center grounds into exhibit space for glass artist Dale Chihuly is generating controversy after gliding along quietly for months.

The plan would use the Center’s existing Fun Forest arcade building, plus much of the open space where kiddie rides now stand, to create 44,000 square feet of exhibit space for Chihuly’s work. Patrons would have to pay to enter the building, but some works would be installed outside, where the public could view them for free. The site would include an “art garden” and “glass house” separate from the building, as well as a gift shop and café inside.

As a divorced father with a young child, the Seattle Center was a bit of a mecca for us. Between the Children’s Museum and the Science Center and the various rotating events at the Center House and elsewhere, there was a several year span when my daughter and I probably visited the Seattle Center at least once a month. And yes, the Fun Forest was a regular part of our outings, and, in fact, often the highlight for my adrenaline-addicted, roller-coaster-loving little girl.

Personally, my preference would be to keep the Fun Forest, as tacky and cheesy and déclassé as it might be. But if the economics don’t support it, do we really have to convert the space into yet another hangout for latte-sipping yuppies? I mean, Chihuly is great and all that, but he already has a fantastic museum in nearby Tacoma, plus several excellent public installations throughout Seattle. But what we don’t have in our city, as evidenced by the hordes of young families who already crowd the Center in good and bad weather alike, are enough great spaces for children to be children.

So here’s a rather simple idea: rather than converting the Fun Forest into yet another high-priced museum (for the cost of our combined tickets to the EMP, for example, my daughter could have gone on 15 rides), why not convert the space into the nation’s most kick-ass public playground?

Think about it: climbing toys, ball pits, zip lines, slides, swings and fun stuff like that, part open to the sky and part covered (it sometimes rains in Seattle, you know) and all of it attached to an indoor/outdoor cafe where parents can keep an eye on their kids while relaxing with a cup of coffee or a civilized glass of wine. A destination where families can hang out together, instead of yet another place to just, you know, look at art, if you’re willing and able to pay the price of admission.

Seattle’s a great city, but it isn’t exactly family-friendly, and we sure as hell don’t make it any family-friendlier by replacing an amusement park with yet another museum. A kick-ass playground is what this city really needs — a huge, outrageous, jaw-dropping, eye-popping, whimsical, indoor/outdoor play zone. And the Seattle Center’s dingy old Fun Forest is the perfect place to build it.

Is it Kick Ass?

Even though I’m a curmudgeonly urban dweller who doesn’t want kids, I’m glad the city put in a playground in Westlake Park.

The year-round play area will include a soft, rubber-like surfacing and a Geode by Goric. This large, netted spherical structure and a collection of large domes will be surrounded by a fence with bench seating in some areas. The design and elements involved were selected specifically with sightlines and function in mind, as the structures do not obstruct views to the retail spaces and through the park. The Geode is designed to be used by children up to 12 years old.

As long time readers of this blog know, when the Fun Forest left Goldy agitated for it to be replaced with a kick ass playground. And while Seattle got the Chihuly museum, well, the reasons to support more playgrounds and more amenities for children are generally true. Making the city more accommodating to all sorts of people, not just those of us who are young and childless, is a worthwhile goal.