Artist rendering shows diaphanous half-embodied spirits haunting proposed playground at Seattles Westlake Park.
  • Downtown Seattle Association
  • Artist rendering shows diaphanous half-embodied spirits haunting proposed playground at Seattle's downtown Westlake Park. (Click image to enlarge.)

Anybody who followed my skeptical coverage at the time Ye Olde Chihuly Gift Shoppe & Catering Hall was proposed, knows that I'm a passionate advocate for making Seattle more family-friendly. Far from a glass "museum," I insisted, what Seattle truly needs is a Really Kick-Ass Playground™.

Eventually, in a belated acknowledgment that clear-cutting the Fun Forest (and replacing it with a building made of and filled with breakable objects) would be a net loss to families with children, Chihuly's backers sweetened the deal by kicking in $2 million to build and maintain an "art playground" elsewhere on the Seattle Center campus. That's something, I guess, though it's not nearly enough to build a Really Kick-Ass Playground™ along the lines of the "rainbow nest dome" at Takino Hillside Park in Sapporo-shi, Japan, or the 130,000 square foot rooftop playground, amphitheater, carousel, skating rink and water feature at Yerba Gardens in San Francisco.

So I'm thrilled to see the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) take up the charge in advocating for a children's play space within the downtown core... if not exactly thrilled with their anemic proposal: an 800 square foot playground in the middle of Westlake Park.

The creepy ghost-filled artist rendering aside, the DSA is merely proposing a couple of temporary climbing toys in a fenced-off padded ring across from See's Candies. At an estimated cost of only $125,000 over a two-year trial period, we're really just talking about the playground equivalent of an inflatable backyard swimming pool.

Sure, that's better than a kick in the teeth. Unless, of course, you're suspicious of DSA's choice of locations, Westlake Park, our city's primary gathering point for protests, marches, rallies, and other public events, both permitted and spontaneous. This is "a transparent ploy to eliminate the democratic protests and the messy sight of homelessness from Seattle's main public plaza," Slog-tipper Ivana suggests, inferring an ulterior motive from DSA's agenda. I mean, it's hard to have an Occupy Seattle protest at Westlake if the park is already occupied by a children's playground.

"If that's what it's all about then we're doing a terrible job at it," responds DSA's advocacy and economic development VP Jon Scholes. "If we're going for that we would have proposed a much bigger scale."

Maybe. And they should. (If not at that exact location; we need to keep Westlake Park open to First Amendment activities.)

For while I welcome the DSA's advocacy for more family-friendly amenities in the downtown core and surrounding neighborhoods, my message to them is that Seattle can and must think bigger. Other cities are using urban playgrounds as economic development tools with astounding success, and given the downtown's dearth of kid-focused amenities, an outdoor, indoor, and/or rooftop Really Kick-Ass Playground™ may be exactly the kick our downtown retail district needs.