Imagine the Seattle Center with a really kick-ass playground like the 'rainbow nest dome' at the Takino Hillside Park in Sapporo-shi, Japan.
  • Imagine the Seattle Center with a really kick-ass playground like the 'rainbow nest dome' at the Takino Hillside Park in Sapporo-shi, Japan.

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I'm not generally a big fan of proper ledes, so let me just get it out of the way by saying that $1 million is not nearly enough money to build a Really Kick-Ass Playground, so if Mayor Mike McGinn wants to truly earn the praise the Seattle Times just lavished on him for his Seattle Center plan, he'll find a way to dramatically multiply those proposed playground dollars through additional public and private funds.

See, despite Meinert's relentless contention in the comment threads that all those who oppose Ye Olde Chihuly Shoppe know zip about the Seattle Center, and have zero appreciation for either art or commerce, my opposition, from my very first post on the matter, has always been rooted in my dismay at replacing one of Seattle's uniquely family-friendly amenities with one that most definitely is not:

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.
  • 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.

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?

... 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.

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

That's what I envision for the Seattle Center, and frankly, a million dollars just won't buy it.

So while I'm somewhat gratified that a playground made it's way into the mayor's proposal, I'm not about to give up the fight for the playground: the Really Kick-Ass Playground that ultimately would prove a bigger amenity (and bigger attraction) for Seattle families than a paid-admission glass exhibit ever could.

One million dollars for construction and another for maintenance is a good start, and it's the least the Wright family can do in exchange for enclosing an acre and a half of public park land for private gain. But while it's not nearly enough to build anything more than your typical neighborhood playground (that's about what the new Seward Park playground cost), it is enough of a start to attract matching grants from prominent Seattle-area businesses and civic leaders. Indeed, if the Seattle Times thinks a playground is such a good idea, perhaps they could join me in cheerleading the effort... maybe even kick in a sizable contribution of their own?

For whatever you think of the Fun Forest or Chihuly, there's no getting around that the mayor's plan, as-is, represents a net loss for families with young children, in a city that already sports one of the lowest rates of households with children in the nation.

Im not even sure what this space is, but it sure does look fun.
  • I'm not even sure what this space is, but it sure does look fun.

This is an opportunity to build something special—something at least as much a work of art and imagination as anything that comes out of Chihuly's workshop—something that's not just some climbing toys, a see-saw and a slide or two, but a destination. And if the Chihuly "museum" backers can't see that, then I'd say they're the ones lacking an appreciation for art and commerce.