Overlooked: Balancing Habitat and Access in Seattle's Shoreline Street Ends
Boyd, Evan P.
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With rapidly increasing density, increasingly wealthier residents that prefer waterfront real estate and state laws allowing privatization of the shorelines, rights of way and water access are two critically important facets in the future of Seattle’s public open space. The City of Seattle’s Shoreline Street Ends Program holds 142 shorelines rights of way in perpetuity as public access points to Seattle’s numerous bodies of water. With minimal funding for improvements and maintenance, the City relies on community members to maintain these sites once they’ve been improved. Improvements to vacant shoreline street ends must abide by the Shoreline Management Plan which requires native plantings and encourage salmon-friendly plantings. While this sounds nice, the reality is that many improved shoreline street ends appear overgrown, claustrophobic and unwelcoming to many, implying that public access and improved habitat have conflicting resting states; ie the lawn versus the thicket. A second conclusion is that stewards are not effectively engaging with their local street ends, which due to perceptions of danger in overgrown spaces, creates a self-perpetuating cycle of disinterest, plant growth and associations with crime. Then can future shoreline street end improvements more intentionally address each site’s future maintenance through design, so that stewardship becomes more likely? Through analyzing three improved street ends, the results show designs that were well-considered but were altered at the last minute or over time, and lacking in documentation. In addition, plant placement, material choice, and maintenance decisions combined to create less than ideal conditions for stewards to engage with their sites. Guidelines culled from a literature review and the results of three case studies were applied to three unimproved street ends, in an attempt to test the flexibility of the guidelines and showcase the diversity in sites that program coordinators must contend with. The results were three street end designs that interweave wildlife habitat and public access to the water while keeping separate enough so as to not negatively impact one another. Cumitively, this suggests that rights-of-way programs such as shoreline street ends, have potential to positively impact humans and wildlife populations however steps must be taken to reduce the maintenance burden on volunteer stewards. Without designing for these people, our underfunded public spaces will continue to deteriorate.