Seattle neighborhood turns to community to help pay for tiny park

SEATTLE - Neighbors and business owners in Seattle's Chinatown-International District have a vision for the no-parking zone at Sixth Avenue South and South Weller Street. They see the empty, 24-foot-long space as the perfect place for the neighborhood's first public "parklet," but they need others to agree and -- more importantly - to help pay.

"We want to activate a corner of the community that's kind of dead right now," said Don Blakeney, executive director of the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA). "We want to turn it into place where 15 to 20 people can hang out."

To make the neighborhood's parklet dream a reality, CIDBIA recently launched a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of raising $12,000 for the project. The historic neighborhood is one of three local communities participating in a city-wide pilot program designed to bring more parklets and public open spaces to Seattle. But unlike some other pilot projects in the city, this program requires each neighborhood to come up with their own money for their tiny park.

"The city's role is really as a facilitator in the process," said Jennifer Wieland with the Seattle Department of Transportation. "We help provide the opportunity for businesses and community groups interested in doing this, but it's entirely privately funded. The sponsors pay for the design, construction costs and on-going maintenance."

The other two Seattle-area parklets -- one on Capitol Hill, the other in Belltown -- are independently sponsored and paid for by a hostel and a bar. Wieland said the parklet planned in Chinatown-International District is the first to take to crowd-funding to try and raise the money it needs.

But, Blakeney said they've seen cities like San Francisco run similar campaigns with huge success.

"We did some research about the program down there and found out they had done several Kickstarter campaigns," Blakeney said. "It fits into trying to improve the community and create more public space."

The majority of parklets are created by taking existing street parking or unused right-of-way space and transforming it into an open public space for residents and visitors to enjoy.

Not only is Chinatown-International District a little different in how it's trying to raise money for the project, Blakeney said they also didn't want to lose any on-street parking for their parklet, so they pitched a plan to use the no-parking zone along Sixth Avenue South between South Weller Street and South King Street.

"There is a lot of dead space that's not usable for on-street parking, so we thought, 'Why don't we start with that and see if we can convert it into a parklet,'" he said. "And, the city was very responsive."

More than a month remains for people to contribute to CIDBIA's Kickstarter campaign. The goal is to start construction of the parklet soon after.

The parklet on Capitol Hill was installed in September. The one in Belltown has finished with the design and permitting process, and Wieland said construction should began in the next month or so.

The city plans to extend its pilot parklet program by another year in order to have more time to evaluate the project and the process. SDOT will put out another call for neighborhoods to join the program and create their own parklets by the first part of next year.