BAYVIEW SKY PARK

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INTRODUCTION
MANIFESTO
DESIGN STRATEGIES
WATER STORAGE/IRRIGATION
SOLAR POWER
PLANTS/ PEA-PATCHES/ TREES
SECURITY AND ACCESS
DECK DRAINAGE/LANDSCAPING
SIGNAGE
TOOL STORAGE, COMPOSTING, GARBAGE
ART CAR, SCULPTURE
CONSTRUCTION/WORK PARTIES/INSTALLATION
RIOT CONTROL
RETURN ON INVESTMENT
CONTACT INFORMATION
NOTES/REFERENCES
EXAMPLES OF EXISTING GARAGE GARDENS

Introduction

The following is a draft proposal I submitted broadly to the City of Bellingham and its residents in June 2012. The summary premise is to convert the top floor of the Downtown Bellingham Parkade (a parking garage) into a public park, public viewing area, roughly 30 pea-patch gardening plots, possibly some truck food or coffee vendors, and, finally, to include various “green” educational, solar, and Low Impact Development (stormwater mitigating) elements of infrastructure into the landscaping design.

If you are curious to read a less girthy iteration of this proposal, or just want to know my personal history with this building, then please check out this Cascadia Weekly article link for a story I wrote on the topic.

Despite being a fairly easy and cost-effective route for providing public open space in Bellingham’s Central Business District, an area which currently has no such spaces worthy of serious mention, this proposal will likely be roundly ignored for being “too crazy” and “too far-out.”

Among the handicaps that currently weigh against it are the following: 1) Society still believes publicly financed parking lots are critical assets that should not be tampered with and this is true even in a city as progressive as Bellingham, WA., and even for a parking lot, such as this one, which is a documented failure, 2) America is uninformed and unimpressed with the radical evolution of technologies associated with green roofs, often believing they are dangerous, stupid, or simply something that only Europe is goofy or lucky enough to try, 3) Access and security issues, along with the previous two lines of thought, make support from COB staff highly unlikely despite the fact that no current access restrictions are in place in the building, 4) Nobody, except for a few car drivers, a few curious citizens, and a whole mess of juvenile delinquents, has actually been to this top floor and considered its potential. 5) The engineered structural loads for this building — despite the fact cars drive on it — are only double that of a typical rooftop, meaning some thought and engineering will be required for this project. Because of these reasons, this space and this sort of proposal currently has few advocates or informed consensus to allow for serious motivation or civic debate.

All of these handicaps, however, are beginning to change. People are starting to wrap their heads around the idea and, 18 years after the top floor of the Parkade was installed, they are now pondering if this vacant lot in the center of Bellingham’s CBD is being utilized to maximum public benefit. As proof of this shifting mind-set, I am slowly amassing a phalanx of supporting quotes, most supplied by people directly responsible for this building and its maintenance, which I will post in some near future.

On that note, I want to acknowledge something very important:

While I am perhaps the most vocal and openly obsessed proponent of this sort of Parkade conversion, I am not claiming exclusive ownership of the phenomenal intelligence that it entails. As I have been flogging this proposal in recent weeks it has become clear to me that other people — citizens far smarter and far less socially repugnant than myself — have been fermenting this very same idea for years.

“The fifth floor was added to the existing Parkade and the Downtown Parking Commission was created in 1994.” — Bellingham City Center Master Plan, 2002

Bayview Sky Park: A Manifesto

Why converting the top floor of the Downtown Bellingham Parkade to a Public Park is both feasible and good

Built in 1969, the Downtown Bellingham Parkade has now served its purpose as a parking structure for over 42 years in Bellingham’s Central Business District. Despite being long in the tooth for a parking garage, a structural analysis was completed earlier this year, by KPFF, a sub-contractor for Transpo Group, and it reported that the building was in good structural shape but would need several hundred thousand dollars in fairly routine cosmetic and safety upgrades. As of this year, 2012, the building has been paid off. A bond repayment of $134,000 per-year is no longer due and the City of Bellingham finally has total ownership of the building.

This should mean that the “Parking Budget,” which usually has this deficit weighing against it, will be freed up for acquiring other parking resources downtown or can repurpose this money in some other way. For several years, the Parking Fund budget has stood at roughly $1.2 million and is frequently dipped into to buy or upgrade new meters, increase parking-related staff, or improve or repair parking facilities throughout the city.

This liberated $134,000 implies that parking infrastructure in Bellingham is not going to starve – the city has resources and opportunities to do something with that money, for parking, if they choose to do so.

This becomes important because one of the many flying daggers this proposal will need to dodge is the obvious loss of revenues that it demands from the City. Ignoring that nobody actually uses the top floor, it still represents 104 stalls of leasable parking, at $616 per-year, per-space, translating to a $62,000 hole blown into the budget.

It would matter, as a point of debate, except for the fact that the top level of the Parkade is not ever used to capacity. Even during those “boom” years where people or businesses paid for every stall in the facility, photographic documentation and the testimony of Parkade staff proves that, at most, “15 to 20 cars” will park up there. The lot is a moonscape of unused concrete. It always has been. It always will be.

Free parking during Christmas shopping season had little effect. Full occupancy of the nearby Federal Building did not seem to matter. Vacating the leased spaces in front of the IronGate building and converting them to public access –  ibid — no effect, still a moonscape.

The reasons for this become technical and boring fairly quickly, but let’s suffer through them anyway.

The baseline requirements that most municipalities decide are needed for parking infrastructure are defined by very few documents that act as the design bibles for cities. One of these templates for parking comes from the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and their publication of the Trip Generation and Parking Generation handbook. Inflicted on the world in the 1980s, this useful guide is likely the reason why most municipalities have fully 1/3 of their available landmass devoted to spaces to park vehicles. While the information in parking science is not useless, neither is it infallible and the result is that many places are blighted with an over-abundance of surface parking lots and, yes, parking garages, that must be mitigated against for being unattractive and spiritually hostile eyesores of empty concrete.

Whether or not an exact inventory of the CBD has ever been done to calculate the actual parking demand for the Parkade’s spaces seems irrelevant at this point: The building, by the shear example of its 42 years of usage, never fills up. Fancy models and projections hardly matter because, well, the facts don’t lie and the moonscape remains, despite the City’s best efforts, uninhabitable.

A summary for a theory explaining why nobody will park on the top floor of the Parkade building might look like this: Nobody wants to go to the top level – and especially in a car — because getting to there and leaving from there is a hair-blistering nightmare from Hell.

In order to access this top floor, a driver needs to enter the building, traverse the full length of the building eight times, and then park his or her vehicle outside in the beating sun or pounding rain. This travel distance, incidentally, amounts to 2,200 linear feet or roughly the same as driving five city blocks (the long way, since Bellingham’s “blocks” are actually rectangles.) The driver, after rescuing their abused vehicle at the end of their work day or after their brief shopping spree, now has an even more daunting, although faster, journey to get safely back to street level. Leaving the top floor means successfully navigating the ominously tight corkscrew roundabout that spirals downward, back into the abyss, before sluicing through a gutter of narrow walls and – somewhere – avoiding the lurking tire gate that waits to shred the traction off of the wheels. For most non-medicated drivers, the experience is going to be simultaneously too nerve-jangling and too overly exciting for the simple promise of free or reserved parking.

Because of this design, and to say nothing of having to wait for an elevator (only one) or traipse five flights up and down stairs, most sane people will agree that parking on the top floor of the Parkade is more headache than it is worth.

The other reason the Parkade never fills up is because there is plenty of parking downtown.

Downtown residents and business owners will bleat incessantly that they need to have more parking in order to survive. This is a real issue – it shouldn’t be made fun of – but it is an issue of perception and not of reality. There are, now, plenty of spaces for parking.

An inventory of parking in the CBD, done in 1997 by Rich Associates, estimated that there were 3,800 parking spaces available in downtown Bellingham. This is possibly true, but no real assessment has been done since then. What has been done is on-the-ground inventories of actual usage and availability. Last done in 2011, by Transpo Group, these surveys found that Fairhaven’s core business district was slightly worse off than Bellingham’s as far as finding parking is concerned. Fairhaven’s shopping district, however, commands higher rents than downtown. Because of its inherent charm and character, Fairhaven is a wildly popular destination for both tourists and locals alike. Nobody is going out of business there, not yet, for lack of parking. People want to be there and, unlike downtown, the parking is free.

If we followed this line of logic, as business owners correctly do, then it seems only reasonable to suspect that Bellis Fair, which has acres of limitless and free parking, would be on top of the real estate and retail kingdom, which, actually, it is.

The mall commands rents as much as three times higher than even the elevated rates of Fairhaven. While Bellis Fair is doing fine, this is not a direct result of providing enough parking tarmac to access international flights. The fact is – and this is frequently true if a popular movie is showing – a busy day at the mall requires as much actual walking distance from a parked vehicle as a person who has to park a block away from their destination downtown. A WalMart shopper, likewise, can expect to walk even further as their lot depth maxes out at 620’ whereas an average city block is more like 450’ in downtown and, interestingly, a mere 220’ in Fairhaven*.

Again, perception is not translate-able into reality and modeling for perceived inconvenience can lead to a landscape literally paved over with abundant and, very often, empty parking spaces. If, for example, the City of Bellingham had followed the recommendation of that 1997 Rich Associates study, then 1,000 additional spaces — or more than double the capacity of the 395 stalls available at the Parkade — would have been added to the CBD. The City did not do this, however, and perhaps it is just as well since a follow-up survey, done by Walker Parking Consultants in 2000, suggested that a little tweaking of policy would likely suffice to resolve this month’s “parking crisis” in the CBD. A few years later, apparently in a renewed state of sweaty panic, the 2002 Bellingham City Center Master Plan had this to say: “The question for the community (now) becomes not so much IF new off street inventory is added but rather when it will be provided, where, and how it is to be paid for.” The answer for how it would be paid for, most likely, is another 42-year public bond and the ensuing psychic debt of staring at a newer, better slab of empty parking spaces.

(For a laughable example of how following parking models can go horrifically awry, the Port of Bellingham still seriously maintains that over 14,000 spaces will be needed for the build-out of the waterfront, an area roughly equal to that of the currently developed downtown business core. These spaces, using a modest baseline of 200 square feet per-stall, would represent no less than 2.8 million square feet of space or roughly 64 acres of paved real estate.)

Many business owners downtown, as well as some City of Bellingham staff, ardently believe that Bellingham’s CBD is dying due to competition from Bellis Fair Mall. This debate may be true to some extent, and it has been a valid argument since Bellis Fair’s inception 25 years ago, but the problem is not directly and solely related to parking.

The real problem is that the sort of people who shop at malls are not the same as those who want to shop in dense urban areas. This is a cultural divide, literally two separate types of people, and it is not a thing that can be resolved by paving every level surface in sight.

The people who want to shop in downtown do so for the experience – they want to see the diverse architecture, the creative storefronts, the sidewalks with suited businessmen or high-heeled women mixed with, yes, noisy dogs, skateboarders, bearded wierdos riding bikes, and, yes, even that creepy dude with tattoos on his face. A downtown shopper or tourist wants to see the city and experience all of the surprises and diversity that it can offer. A mall shopper, by contrast, wants a very predictable, pre-packaged, homogenized, sterilized, perfectly-scented, and temperature-controlled environment.

The bar set by businesses in the CBD seems to imply that – once the damn parking problem is solved – a canopy of sunlamps is next on the agenda which, obviously, will be needed since “more shoppers come out when it is sunny.”

Most law abiding citizens, through voting with the quarters kicking around in their car ashtray, seem to believe that paying for an hour of parking is worth the bargain for the experience of spending time in downtown Bellingham. The problem with downtown, then, is not lack of parking but lack of interest. Fixing the Parkade, with this “Perk-Up” proposal, fixes the problem.

The Bellingham Farmer’s Market used to be located on a parking lot. Today, if you asked any downtown business owner their opinion of the space and the thumping economic engine that it has become, they would likely tell you to go sod yourself if you proposed converting it back to parking. Seething swarms of people pile into the Farmer’s Market and many of them, and their wallets, spill out after shopping for carrots and cheese to spend even more time in the downtown core. In the lexicon of “Place-making” it is definitely a place that anchors downtown Bellingham as an attractive and bustling alternative to the mall experience.

But the CBD has no park. There is no place – none – where a person can simply sit and relax downtown. While cluttering every sidewalk with outdoor dining might seem a snug plug for this gaping hole, the illusion blows apart the minute a harried waitress reminds you what the rules of the arrangement actually entail.

Even the mall, with not a single atom of unmolested oxygen available to its visitors, offers this option by providing a large, courtyard-styled gathering space for harried consumers to sit down for awhile and … just … try … to breathe.

This proposal suggests that the current wasteland of the Parkade’s top floor be utilized for just this purpose. It is centrally located. It is quiet up there, elevated far above the bustle of Holly Street. It has the best views in the entire city, hands down, with no possible or even allowable argument. It is structurally capable of accepting this conversion – if it can safely handle the weight of cars, it surely can handle some plants and small trees – and it will be another anchor, like the Farmer’s Market, that can draw locals and tourists into downtown. Even if there is some mincing disagreement on the location of this new park, then surely the price for acquisition will trounce the debate since, as noted earlier, the city already owns the property and even the wildest conjecture on development costs for this project could not possibly be more than the acquisition price of purchasing new park acreage in downtown … if any existed, which, incidentally, it does not.

The nearly 32,000 available square feet of the Parkade’s top level could be turned into a world-class attraction, it could create outright media delirium for its civic daring and originality (although Seattle beat us to it earlier this year), and it would be a jaw-dropping slice of beauty and cultural interest rammed right into the beating core of our downtown shopping district. All of this, plus the added benefit of simply having a place to picnic, would leave the “draw” of free parking at Bellis Fair a penniless wager for the vapidity of implying the two places are remotely equals.

Yes, if it is as popular as just advertised there most certainly will be “parking problems” as more people find more good reasons to visit downtown Bellingham.

So what?

Do we not, right now, have 140 acres of dead-level parking available on the waterfront? Can’t a few acres of dirt be scratched with some lines of parking down there until the Port lobotomizes it properly with their paved versions?

The proposal detailed on the next dozen pages explains exactly how this “Parkade Perk-Up” can be accomplished. In the realm of triple-bottom lines, this proposal aims to be a triple home-run and, as lengthy as the details are, most every option or objection seems addressable to produce a winning, crowd-pleasing, outcome.

All it requires is some political courage, some heavy lifting by City of Bellingham staff, and the community’s willingness to believe that the myth of abundant parking is not a unicorn worth chasing, for another 42 years, all the way to the top floor of the Downtown Bellingham Parkade.

All it requires, really, is a chance … and “a lot” of soil and trees.


Parkade Perk-Up: a Public Park and Garden proposal

Design strategies, philosophies, security, maintenance, repurposing, etc.

It may be the case that the City of Bellingham is so committed to the idea of having parking on the top level of the Downtown Bellingham Parkade that the only park/garden proposals it will consider will be temporary year-by–year “leases” of the space. This is not a problem.

Due to the design of this structure, it will not be possible or beneficial to do anything less than vacate the entire top floor to meet the goals of this proposal. Cars need to traverse the full length of the building to enter and exit and this means that allowing even one space for car parking will automatically require the preservation of travel lanes throughout the entire area. In any case, it is highly improbable that the engineered weight loads would allow for both plants as well as for the weight of cars.

This is an all-or-nothing proposal for a public park and garden space for many other reasons, as well. The safety concerns related to trying to mix cars with people who are gardening or enjoying a picnic with kids are too numerous to list and would likely require an abundance of ugly infrastructure to accomplish. The more obvious impacts to the overall aesthetics and “feel” of the City’s effort to enhance this space would be readily apparent if, somehow, only a minor corner of the space or a limp viewing patio were all that were proscribed for this remodeling effort. The visitor, in this bleak case, would be resigned to the opinion that he or she was an afterthought in the design and was now being invited to relax on the equivalent of a planting strip of an abandoned lot.

A half-effort will be a failed effort in this scenario and will make a mockery of the overall space and its mighty potential as a serious public park.

To make this space a draw for tourists and locals, for shoppers and vendors, and for long-term gardeners or people curious to pop up and enjoy the view, only a full build-out of the top floor will be able to generate real and lasting interest.

This means, of course, that a lot of lip-twitching will ensue over the costs for such a proposal. “What is the Return on Investment (ROI) and what happens if we have to tear it all down in order to satisfy the future demands of our Fantasy Major Downtown Business Tenant?”

The following are attempts to answer these questions and they are inspired by the notion that the City of Bellingham staff will, in either case, be concerned about the maintenance of the new infrastructure installed or — if only a temporary commitment is made to designating the area as public open space — they will want to consider the repurposing or ultimate uses of that newly installed infrastructure.

I have broken the items of concern or design considerations into categories. For simplicity’s sake, I will hereafter be referring to the park/garden open space option as Bayview Sky Park rather than stumbling on the ugly literary iterations of “park space” vs. “parking spaces” in every sentence.

Water Storage and Park Irrigation

A large cistern – perhaps 500 gallons or more — should be installed in the basement of the Parkade which will capture and store the bulk of the rainwater runoff from the building. The weight loads allowable on other floors would prohibit other locations for such a large basin.

A strong pump, or a few decently-sized pumps installed as sub-stations, would be needed to get the water to the top floor. As is the case already with such installed systems, all hose-bibs and access to this water would be clearly marked to advertise that this is non-potable graywater and is only suitable for irrigation. The water would then be used for all irrigation needs around and above the building.

The pump, which would likely demand a large amount of energy, could be solar powered.

The possibility of acquiring grant funding for the installation of this system, such as an Art of Stormwater Management grant or financing from the Puget Sound Partnership , could help to alleviate the cost of its installation. Grants of this sort, indeed, could be applicable for many of the aspects of converting this space to Bayview Sky Park and should always be considered as viable options before blanching at the prospects of doing something big, important, and interesting as compared to doing a “Parkade Perk-Up” that amounts to little more than a publicity stunt and a bucket of paint.

If the Park were dismantled and returned to cars, the investment of installing the water cistern and pump could still serve a purpose in the CBD through using trucks or golfcarts to refill at this centrally-located “station” and then disperse to their watering tasks in the non-plumbed areas of downtown.

The restroom facilities on-site have been noted in the recent KPFF evaluation of the Parkade building and by Public Works staff as being areas that are due for improvement. Undoubtedly, the creation of Bayview Sky Park would increase the need and usage for such facilities and it may be appropriate, during an evaluation of the remodels, to plumb this reclaimed graywater for usage by all the toilets in the facility.

By effectively removing the rainwater runoff from 32,000 square-feet of impermeable surface area in the CBD, this capture/storage/reuse model would automatically reduce the stress and maintenance of the ASB vault established on the waterfront and could alleviate the threat of overflows during climax rain events. As a Low Impact Development (LID) feature, the basin itself and the obvious recycling of the otherwise polluting or publicly managed stormwater would be the centerpiece of a public education effort for how individuals as well as municipalities are rethinking water uses and water pollution.

As a far smaller but more “hands-on” iteration of this theme, a working model of the system could be duplicated on the top floor, at the Park, by installing a bicycle-powered pump station connected to a 50-gallon or 100-gallon storage cistern on the floor below. Used in Africa for locations that have access to water wells but not to power supplies, these systems have already been engineered and could be duplicated at the Parkade to create an interactive demonstration project that directly exemplifies the principles behind LID strategies.

It should be noted that currently there are no installed hose-bibs on the top floor of the Parkade.

It may be worth exploring the benefits, both long-term and as it relates to converting the top floor to Bayview Sky Park, of installing municipal (potable) water to the top floor or, for that matter, to every floor in the building. (A fire standpipe is already established in the roundabout tower, and in the stairwells, but there may be some code legalities that prohibit coupling these sources to either irrigation or to drinking water since “brown metal” pipes tend to be filthy. On that note, it may be worth enquiring with 20/20 Engineering – local experts on LID and water management – if they have ever heard of using a fire standpipe, and the pressure within, to somehow act as a vertical pump for rainwater. )

During the install of the storage and irrigation system described above it may make sense, if there is a benefit to having municipal water on these floors, to piggy-back the plumbing of both systems simultaneously to reduce the costs of having separate construction projects. If pressure-washing or other maintenance of the facility merits having a dedicated water supply available, this would seem the right time to consider installing it.

Solar Power

A series of dispersed banks of solar PV panels, perhaps covering as many as ten parking spaces or roughly 2,000 square feet, would provide many benefits to the Park, to the Parkade, and to the visitors and tax-payers using the facility. Installed in appropriate locations, these solar panels would provide shade opportunity for gardeners or rain shelter in seating or view enclaves. As mentioned above, the energy generated could possibly offset the voltage demands of pumping irrigation water to the top floor. Either way, as is well known, the generation of solar power has the ability to make the building more efficient – there are good reasons why PV systems are being installed on other city-owned properties and is becoming increasingly popular in new or remodel construction nation-wide.

As the Parkade rooftop has %100 unrestricted access to solar generation, any system installed there will operate at maximum efficiency. The possible uses of the power generated at Bayview Sky Park are numerous but may include the following; ambient or safety lighting for the park during dusk or twilight hours, general lighting on other (constantly lit) floors, power for rooftop vendors selling food or coffee or ice-cream, electric car charging stations, exterior lighting, nighttime tree lighting, sign lighting, etc. ad nauseum. It goes without saying that whatever excess power is generated through these solar banks – the energy not immediately used by the demands of the envisioned Linville Park and its infrastructure – could be used elsewhere or sold back to Puget Sound Energy and, in either case, would help reduce the City of Bellingham’s electrical bills. An educational opportunity, based on or near one of these solar panel banks, could define the amount of power being generated and the year-by-year savings.

If the park is later dismantled and returned to cars, these solar panels would stay in place and continue to serve their good purpose. Charging stations for electric cars already exist as pre-built and ready-to-install solar products and may be able to serve dual-duty as shade structures for picnic tables until changing gears to become future car-ports. In either scenario (whether the top floor is a park, or parking) providing shelter from the elements is a net benefit and increases the prospect that either gardeners or car-owners would find the space attractive enough to use regularly.

Unlike many of the other features described in the Park scenario, the installation of solar panels will require unavoidable penetrations of the concrete decking; the support for any solar facilities will demand bolting down the panels to protect against wind shear. If the locations of the panels and selection of materials are carefully thought out during the design phase, this will represent a one-time cost and should not adversely affect the long-term strategies or structural safety of the Parkade.

Plants, Pea-Patches, and Trees

Larger planter boxes will be required for trees and for perimeter shrubs in Bayview Sky Park. These should be built off-site and designed to be both durable and portable. If design is based on the maneuverability of a small forklift and each planter is “palletized” with slots to accept the machine, then installation and decommissioning should be fairly straight-forward and uncomplicated.

The other advantage of using this system is that it would protect the concrete decking from direct and sustained contact with the planters – moisture would be able to dry out or drain quickly and, in the event of inspections or routine maintenance, the planters could be moved and the deck surface would be freely accessible.

Trees will grow over time and others will die. Replacement and culling of over-sized trees might be nullified by an annual Christmas tree “swap” whereby citizens can defray the cost of upgrades or maintenance by bringing their smaller, live trees to the site in return for either a cut tree or a live tree that has out-grown its planter. Beyond that example, there are abundant possibilities for turning this park and its plants into a horticultural educational opportunity for visitors or to provide direct interaction with this public park to the public that it will serve. Individual trees or planters, for example, could have a small plaque defining which individual or business donated them. Local landscape architects might have an area of Bayview Sky Park devoted to them and showcasing their designs – perhaps a three-year rotation of winning designs could help both promote these businesses and, as these folks would likely want to control the plant installations professionally themselves, their contributions could help reduce the landscaping costs to the City of Bellingham for overall site maintenance and appearance.

The broad use of sedums, a plant variety of ground-covering succulents which require thin soil, minimal watering, and are generally a very hardy species, would also be useful to help describe their usage on green roofs and the benefits of water filtration and storage that such rooftop plants can provide.  Likewise, a section devoted to xeriscaping, the use of drought resistant plants to reduce the use of water for irrigation, would be especially appropriate in this setting both as an overall LID strategy and as an effort to use less of the site’s stored water (and less of its pump-related energy) on the top floor. In any case, the plant selection for Bayview will need to be carefully and professionally considered since the soil will be specific (engineered to drain quickly and to be lightweight) and the exposed and occasionally harsh environment of the rooftop will demand selecting species which enjoy and thrive living through such elemental hardships.

Both of the stair towers should be readily capable of handling the weight of a green roof, a factor which would add expense but could dramatically improve aesthetics. The elevator shaft tower would need to remain clear, however, in order to access mechanicals.

The public garden plots – the reserved spaces devoted primarily for growing food – will be an excellent opportunity for residents living in the CBD to lease space that their apartment or retirement home cannot provide for them. An increasingly popular national trend, the ability to garden and grow one’s own food as either a hobby or a personal philosophy will be an easy magnet for many prospective garden plot tenants and their visiting friends. (The National Gardeners Association and other surveys conducted between 2008-2009 suggest that between 31%-38% of American households are now actively participating in some form of food gardening on their properties. According to “Food Forward,” a new PBS show devoted to urban gardening, the cities of America now represent the only place where agricultural acreage is increasing.) As the City of Bellingham already has these “pea-patches” in other locations, the pricing schedule and policies (such as no pesticides) should be easy to meld into the existing city programs. As an overall attraction to the park space, the creativity and individual design strategies of each plot should add a lot of visual interest to a visit to Linville Park not to mention offering ready examples of “food security,” “nutrition independence,” or “eating locally” as fly-by classrooms .

Another benefit of rooftop agriculture is that blown-in weeds are significantly reduced and the lowered threat of invasive species makes gardening much easier for the farmer or maintenance crew.

It goes without saying, but the need to install deer fencing in Bayview Sky Park is fairly minimal.

If the Park needs to be decommissioned, then the soil and plants can easily go elsewhere.

Site Security and Access

If the existing railings and perimeter walls are not currently up to code, then the facility should be closed immediately and the problem fixed.

In our society there is an abundance of fear that reduces all liability and risk to the levels of the dumbest and most violent among us. Today, right now, an idiot could be placing his toddler’s occupied car seat on the railing of the Parkade or a social deviant could be lobbing beer bottles off the top floor.

These things happen. It would be pointless to engineer our world against every threat since, due to their nature, idiots and imbeciles always find a way to thwart the defenses with something profoundly dumber or more destructive than most normal people will bother to think up. Beyond a protective layer of paint, the railings should continue to do what they have done for the last 42 years.

The design implied for Bayview Sky Park showcases the perimeter as being the best likely spot for plants and trees and shrubs and, as a result, the access to the existing railings will be significantly diminished. Putting plants along the perimeter also serves the dual purposes of being the most likely spot for safely transferring the dead loads of heavy planters as well as providing clear aesthetic improvements to the building from street level.

This proposal is for a courtyard-style park, an area dense with landscaping but not conducive to established lawns or areas where people could tromp around on the greenery or flop down a beach towel. As such, occasional signage would remind people to stay off the landscaped portions and stay on those paved areas which, more obviously, are designed for the use of people and their seating areas.

More details on this design strategy, under the sub-head of “Landscaping and Deck Drainage,” are noted below. For now, however, the primary security issue that needs addressing is the question of whether a rogue child might scamper away from a family picnic and decide to climb up onto the planter boxes. Wouldn’t this child, in such an elevated position, be precariously close to toppling over the railings? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is one which resolves that obvious safety concern and it would have to come from the final design of either the landscaping (placing the planters far enough from the edges that this threat is removed) or from the design of the planter-boxes themselves (making them un-climbable or otherwise creating hostile edges to forbid the idea of climbing them.) This proposal acknowledges the concern, but rebukes the notion that this is such an overwhelming threat that no engineered solution can, eventually, be thought up to resolve it.

The top floor of the Parkade already has installed cameras and, it would seem, the addition of a loudspeaker PA system would be an easy addition. At dusk, as the Parkade building’s parking attendant is preparing for his or her rounds, a simple announcement of “15 minutes until closing” could be made to allow gardeners or visitors time to vacate. No nighttime access (except perhaps for small wedding ceremonies or other special lease arrangements) will be allowed as a routine part of Park operations. This restriction of access should, by default, help to reduce the property destruction and general foolishness that currently occurs on the top floor with sad regularity.

The elevators can be programmed to restrict access. Lockable gates (or one-way doorknobs?) can be installed in stairwells. Folding or rolling access gates can be installed on the auto ramps where, in the case of occasional maintenance or for deliveries to vendor’s trucks, pre-scheduled access can be permitted for forklifts, golf-carts, or other small vehicles or carts. An emergency phone, hard-wired to Parkade staff or perhaps to 911, could be installed to ensure that no straggler needs to spend the night in the Park to await their liberation.

Staff are already devoted to the Parkade building and its operation. Providing public access will undoubtedly increase their workload. With a modest level of security improvements, however, this burden will not be overly cumbersome and it should, automatically, reduce the headaches that they suffer today as a result of the unrestrained access which currently exists in their building.

The gleeful abundance of inebriates, drug dealers, and mid-level shilpits that have taken over several sections of the CBD will be a massive problem for Bayview and, likely, will remain the number one reason why this park – or indeed any attempt at establishing green space or open areas – should never be attempted in downtown Bellingham.

Still, the City’s failure to mitigate against the plague of criminality and public drunkenness that infests other portions of town should not be an automatic denial for considering this proposal. The nighttime restriction of access and, perhaps, some actual enforcement efforts against open containers or the public usage of hypodermic drugs should discourage the more persistent and intractable among Bellingham’s addiction community. Through their example, word will quickly get out that Bayview is a “bummer place” for the recreational vomiting, urination, or overdosing that usually occupies this group’s time. If it can be accepted that ANY park is going to be a magnet for the marginalized in our society, then it should be equally easy to acknowledge the clear advantages of having a park, such as this, with the built-in ability to close at night or monitor during the day. The fact that there is nowhere to run, also, should provide some discouragement for the more intelligent drug dealers.

If the Park were decommissioned, the PA system, various lockable gates, and the option of using an accessible emergency phone would remain as assets to the Parkade building and its security.

Landscaping and Deck Drainage

Green roof designs are typically defined by two categories.  An “extensive” green roof is one where the plants and growing media (soil) are broadcast throughout the entire area of the roof and acts as a single blanketing layer. These extensive roofs can allow for occasional footpaths or walkways, but their primary task is to serve LID functions for the building and provide the other list of benefits that green roofs offer. An “intensive” green roof, by contrast, is typically one where sustained human activity is expected and these design paradigms almost always end up looking like a heavily- landscaped courtyard. Soil depths for intensive green roofs are far deeper than for extensive ones and the difference allows for a far broader range of planting options, a desirable goal for Bayview Sky Park.

Every green roof requires a drainage layer – a way for the water to move away once it hits the impermeable waterproof layer of concrete, thermoplastic, or rubber applied on the roof deck – and Bayview Sky Park will need a drainage layer as well.

This drainage material, although common and readily accessible, will likely be the most expensive part of any finalized landscaping plan for this park.

Once drainage and root protection is installed, soil of various depths can quickly follow. Planters, as noted earlier, will not need to be set upon these layers and will still serve very efficiently as LID multipliers in their ability to retain or use rainwater. Soil depth defines the efficiency of green roofs in their ability to accomplish LID goals and, while both an extensive and intensive green roof performs well, the soil depth recommended for the Pacific Northwest suggests that no less than 5 inches of growing media should be used if maximizing the reduction of stormwater run-off is a priority. Nothing of much use will grow in 2 inches or less.

This proposal suggests maintaining the existing concrete roof deck, perhaps painted but otherwise un-improved, as the established foot pathways or seating areas for the Park. Keeping the soil out of these corridors will add design complications, but they are not impossible to resolve. The other option is to install pavers over the drainage field and, therefore, resolve the problem of curbing soil migration into footpaths or seating areas. This option would create a hybrid of both extensive and intensive green roof paradigms, but this prospect is not freakishly uncommon for modern green roofs where, by necessity, a lot of HVAC infrastructure and maintenance access are required on the rooftop.

This debate over materials would need further consideration during a design phase and cost analysis. Either way, the technology and knowledge for installing these sorts of systems are readily available and, as can be seen by the rooftop courtyard installed at Lincoln Square in 2011, the end result is attractive and functional.

“Hills” can be formed in rooftop landscaping by layering soil and root barrier cloth over the top of Styrofoam piles, thus creating more interesting landscaping options. Seattle’s UpGarden, installed on a similar garage structure built in 1962, allowed for either 18 inches of soil in the gardening beds OR eight inches of soil broadcast throughout the park. Like this example, Bayview Sky Park will need a thorough engineering analysis to describe exactly where the larger weight loads are most appropriate, both for planters and for those areas where deeper soil is desired.

Green roofs, by their nature, provide a dense insulating layer which protects the waterproofing or structural elements of the roof against the constant bombardment of solar UV rays, freeze and thaw cycles, and pounding rain or hail. As the concrete decking on the Parkade building’s top floor appears to be a victim of such weathering, the installation of this system should provide significant improvement to the longevity of the roof deck and will reduce rather than increase the persistent need for maintenance.

Many green roof systems – and unfortunately the most costly of all options – suggest a segmented design of interlocking squares or rectangles. These vegetated “tiles” can come with drainage layers, root barrier, and soil and plants pre-packaged. They also have opportunities to connect with pre-installed irrigation systems. The advantage of this expensive option is that it readily allows for decommissioning, replacement, or occasional inspection of the structural deck.

The field drainage option (using large sheets of drain curtains) and broadcasting of soil that this proposal envisions will be cheaper, but it would not be as flexible as these engineered tiles in the event of frequent inspection or maintenance regimes. In either scenario, the materials finally selected could easily be recycled or used on other green roof projects if decommissioning of Bayview Sky Park were required.

Signage and Advertising

People who are unfamiliar with the site or are tourists will need some clearly marked signs to guide them to the entrances or they will assume this is a privately-owned building and will remain forever curious about why someone planted trees on its rooftop.

Currently, on the top floor, the elevator tower has two signs mounted on it which – at one point – were wired with electricity and capable of being illuminated. Both of the signs, in letters approximately 2’ tall, say “PARKING.” Both of the signs are completely invisible to anyone in the city except for those brave souls who have already driven the 1,800 linear feet into, up, up, and through a building which they are, hopefully, smart enough to identify as being a parking facility.

Repurpose these currently useless signs. Put them in prominent locations – one on Holly St., the other on Commercial – to clearly announce that there is a public park awaiting exploration on this site.

Tool Storage, Composting and Garbage

Tool storage for gardeners and for regular site maintenance can be easily managed. The ReStore, for example, regularly has school lockers for sale which are lockable and should be adequately sized for the needs of a small garden plot. These lockers could be snuggled along the lee side of the East stair tower where, due to shade, nothing would grow very well anyway. (The UpGarden, in Seattle, opted to devote an Airstream trailer for its tool storage area, an extravagance which reflects the larger size of their public gardening plots.)

Any food or coffee vendors in Bayview Sky Park should be encouraged to use only compostable cups and plates. Unlike other restaurants in the CBD, there is an educational opportunity here to showcase exactly how the use of these biodegradable materials benefits the environment. Creation of some sort of easy-to-follow display, at a nearby composting station, could easily define the decomposition process through proceeding weeks or months while a similarly contained pile of conventional plates and cups, by comparison, advertises the woeful fate of this material as timeless landfill.

Garbage, of course, will still be an issue anywhere that food sales and people mix. As with any restaurant, it should be the responsibility of vendors to haul their trash out and, in this setting, it is appropriate that any garbage cans maintained on site should be their collective duty to monitor rather than a ritual burden of a City of Bellingham employee. Yes, people will bring bagged lunches to the site. Yes, the time spent hauling garbage will eat into profits. This stipulation to keep the park clean, perhaps also spread to those leasing public garden plots, will simply be written into the covenants of use and the City of Bellingham may choose to provide a dumpster for such purposes located in the alleyway and paid for with proceeds from the leased vendor or garden spaces.

Art Car and Sculptures – general design philosophy

A Volkswagen “beetle,” completely smothered and consumed by plants, would be an appropriate tongue-in-cheek reminder of what this space was formerly used for. Many examples of this idea exist and I, personally, could duplicate it and donate the art car to the site.

Other sculptures would add significant interest and contribute to the unique definition and experience of being in a park setting within a busy downtown core. The philosophy behind this idea of adding sculptures, murals, or oddly-shaped topiary is rooted in the fact that there is no way that Bayview Sky Park can create an illusion of “being in nature.” Since this area will clearly be a city park sitting above a building in an American downtown core, it seems best to not try to force it to be anything other than a pleasant and fun place to visit rather than lamely attempting to replicate a forest ecosystem or cramming playgrounds or mini-golf areas onto the site. The best way to enhance the differences of the noisy streets below seems to be by making this small park space busy with interesting and attractive distractions and hope that this theme amplifies, rather than contrasts with, the settings a visitor will find when he or she returns to ground level.

The roundabout tower, where cars now exit, is likely the stoutest part of the building if not the whole County of Whatcom. A massive sculpture could go there and it may be a way to rally the community, or the Arts Commission, to push for something big, iconic, and highly visible.

Another option, which has arisen only mid-2012, is to simply relocate the Big Rock Sculpture Park to this location. While this author is the only one currently advocating this level of deviancy, the opinion is not as absurd as it appears: That popular park — a tourist attraction by any definition — is located in a residential neighborhood and is destined to create parking, traffic, and maintenance conflicts with nearby residents beyond those already experienced. The City is currently in discussions with Big Rock’s advocates and “curators” to figure out if a public/private partnership is the only and best way to remedy the maintenance costs associated with this unique park. The City of Bellingham, however, owns the sculptures. Why not, then, just relocate the whole template to this more centrally located spot — where parking, restaurants, shopping, and other tourist hubs already exist — and allow the artwork to bolster Bellingham’s reputation as a serious international Mecca for sculpture while, simultaneously, acting as an economic multiplier rather than as a maintenance-heavy outpost crammed into an obscure neighborhood?

Construction, Work Parties, and Installation

The creation of Bayview Sky Park will be a community-building enterprise which will bring together a broad range of people, interests and skills. Businesses in the CBD may want to actively participate by sponsoring projects such as building planter boxes or commissioning a sculpture. Individuals may want to offer construction space or volunteer their skills. Local garden nurseries and gardeners might want to donate plants or (as a notion that — just now — should be newly added to this roster) they might provide materials or technical support for building a modest greenhouse.

Many of these people or businesses will likely hope for or expect some sort of recognition for their efforts: a modest plaque with names or the prospect of some free advertising through the City of Bellingham Web site. Many more, however, will simply do it because they want to be part of this project. They will do it because they want to see a park born out of the desolate waste of this moonscape of vacant parking spaces. They will like the idea and will want to participate in any way that the City of Bellingham will allow.

This is not theory. Countless examples of volunteer work devoted to creating these sorts of parks, from around the nation, can be found and documented. Seattle’s UpGarden was a dervish of volunteer work which hammered a vacant parking garage into a functional pea-patch by organizing weekend work parties. Due to the enthusiasm for their project, it took only two months before plants were in the soil.

The City of Bellingham will have to designate a staff project manager who can sausage out the schedule details and provide funding resources for materials. If the project follows the design suggestions listed above in this proposal, then contractors will be needed for certain elements of the installations and bids will have to be solicited. As with the volunteers noted above, I suspect that the COB staff associated with this sort of project will find welcome relief in being distracted from their regular duties in designing sewer mains, checking parking meters, or working on any number of other mundane (but essential!) tasks during their regular 9-to-5 job. Because the project is interesting and fun, they will likely want to do this work and will find creative ways to make the end result something they can be proud of showing off to their children or friends.

Someone with organizing skills in the community will need to be the designated liaison between volunteers and COB staff. This person would translate the legalities (a bomb-proof liability waiver could be drawn up) of doing volunteer work on the site and the critical aspects of meeting construction schedules. As momentum builds for this project, this person will step into or be nominated for the post and it is likely that committee meetings and design brainstorms will evolve quickly after the coherent formation of a core group of like-minded people. While this intimate overlap between city staff and occasionally over-zealous volunteers will likely be messy, there is no doubt that the headaches suffered will save several thousands of dollars in labor and materials before the ribbon cutting ceremony begins at Bayview. The inherent brain-trust built into such local organizations as Sustainable Connections, Transition Whatcom, or ReSources should be utterly filthy with individuals who would be skilled enough and willing enough to tackle this project and use it to fluff out their resume’.

Riot Control and Fire Suppression

Fire, actually, is a very minor threat on green roofs. As compared to the serious conflagrations possible for gasoline-filled vehicles, the installation of plants and dirt are a vast safety improvement. (Nonetheless, the fire extinguishers that are repeatedly abused by midnight vandals on the Parkade site should remain in place.)

Riot control, on the other hand, is a very real hazard that comes pre-impregnated within this proposal.

If a very popular public park is established on this site, if the space becomes a cherished and iconic asset within the CBD, if converting this unused parking lot into green space becomes the coolest thing the city has ever done, then it is fair to say that any future effort to vacate the space and return it to parking will encourage revolts against any movement deranged enough to seriously suggest the option. In a city where citizens have three times voted to tax themselves in order to acquire more and better park and open spaces, riots will surely ensue.

To control the bloodletting and brawls, the City of Bellingham should first acknowledge two things which are already a reality and are, in their weird own way, already a riot of dissonance. The first acknowledgement is that the number one priority of those who participated in the myDowntown survey was a request for more park and open spaces in the woefully under-served CBD. Second, the number two priority listed in that same survey was related to a broad list of “parking issues” in the same CBD.

We cannot have both and, therefore, the riot apparently has already begun. (It is worth noting that the MyDowntown Plaza Brainstorm survey, a COB activity held in August 2012, looked exclusively at street level parking lots as a viable option for acquiring future public open space. If this Parkade proposal seems odious to parking advocates, then someone needs to answer the obvious question of how deleting easily-accessible parking — with undeniably significant acquisition costs — is going to be any less offensive for retail and business tenants downtown.)

To try to quell the fears and nail-biting that this proposal implies by robbing parking to pay parks, the third and most important acknowledgement needed in this consideration is just this; any Fantasy Major Business Tenant who may materialize in the future will not be needing or expecting parking facilities on a week’s notice. No corporation literally swoops into towns in this wildcat fashion with hundreds of new employees and their offices awaiting immediate occupancy. It doesn’t happen. It never has. It never will.

If a serious tenant actually inquires about the lack of parking in the CBD, then the City of Bellingham will have ample opportunity to provide a decent response; “The top floor of the Downtown Bellingham Parkade had 104 parking spaces which are no longer available because we turned the entire area into a public park which has, apparently, made this city interesting enough to be worthy of your investment and consideration. We can, however, find a viable parking alternative that can work for you and your employees within the 8-10 months that you suspect you will be staffed up and ready to open your offices. Would you like us to do that?”

We can do that.

We can do anything.

If they dared to doubt our confidence, all we’d have to do is point a finger toward Bayview Sky Park.

We can do anything.

If, in some equally fantasy future scenario, we decide that the usefulness of the Park has served its purpose, it can be decommissioned and a proper, street-level park can be used to fill the void in green space.  We can do that. It would take a month or two to gut the place and return it to parking, but it can be done.

Return on Investment



This proposal cannot claim to have detailed answers for each and every possibility. It may be the case that Bayview Sky Park becomes a monstrous failure, or that the economy tanks even further in the next year, or that every plant in the park dies of some mysterious bio-disease that attacks the flora of the CBD.

Much is unknown and unknowable in this world, and the people who will eventually decide how best to spend money on a “Perk-Up” of the Parkade will know this in their bones. Any alternative has risks.

The alternative that is known – the do nothing alternative – has proven itself over the past 18 years.

Given that Seattle’s UpGarden is an almost identical endeavor as far as vegetated space and baseline materials are concerned, it seems fair to simply double their budget as an estimate for what Bayview would need to be truly exceptional. Due to the inclusion of LID-based storage and reuse of stormwater, and to this proposal’s desire to install serious solar power capacity on-site, our budget would need to be larger to reflect these more ambitious goals. The UpGarden budget, if they acquire the additional $50,000 they hope for to complete the cosmetic aspects of their park, will be roughly $200,000.

By that loose metric, if $400,000 dollars were carved out and dedicated to this sort of extensive “Perk-Up” proposal, Bellingham could have a world-class park in its downtown core instead of having a parking structure that is constantly being mitigated against as a security, maintenance, and aesthetic liability.

Only a very technical analysis (one costing, perhaps, $400,000?) could explain what this new park space would be “worth” to the City of Bellingham or how it “pays off.” If the ROI is truly going to be a concern for this proposal, then some gravity might be needed in order to get us back firmly on Earth. The best way to do that is to look at what this community, right now, seems willing to spend its money on.

The Bellingham Public Development Authority proposes to use public money, from the proceeds of the sale of 1100 Cornwall Ave., a City-owned parking lot, in order to chase minotaurs, centaurs, winged faeries, and a list of other mythical beasts that may want to build and inhabit the agency’s project at Army Street.  No citizen, so far, has listed building a 130’-tall hotel in Old Town, or eviscerating well-established retail businesses, as a priority on myDowntown surveys. Still, all signs seem to point to $500,000 being approved for the Army St. Plaza/Hotel concept and the creation of more lovely design charettes which, one hopes, will travel far to decorate an exciting calendar of lunches.

Unlike their proposal, this Parkade Perk-Up can be done without threatening to crush or irritate an entire neighborhood. Unlike the BPDA’s gimmick of throwing real money down an imaginary pipe-drain, this proposal can actually be built and used by the public within months and, immediately, it will be an asset for downtown Bellingham. Taxpayers in this city have paid $100,000 to ensure that traffic light cameras – which nobody asked for – will not be installed. Taxpayers also paid an equal amount to search for, hire, and summarily fire a Port of Bellingham Director who, by most accounts, was doing what the public asked of him. Unlike these examples of the use of public money or public property, this project and this proposal is purely a unicorn dressed in unicorn’s clothing: Build a Park.

The long list of “triple-bottom line” amenities that could – and should – be available if the rough path of this proposal is followed will help to soften the economic trauma of implementation. Even the loss of parking for this cause is a reflection of right priorities since encouraging alternative transportation was codified in the previous Parking Commission’s preamble and is still a tenet of the Transportation Commission which has absorbed their duties. (This nefarious plot seems to be working; according to the Whatcom Council of Governments /Socialdata surveys, Bellingham, Washington, has one of the highest – if not the highest – rate of bicycle and walking trips per-capita in the nation.) Also, if the example set by Bellingham Public Works means anything, and if that agency’s multiple awards for pursuing innovative LID strategies means anything, then this project merits serious consideration simply for reducing stormwater flows in the CBD. It may be an inconvenient time for this author to be rooting for the 36 parking spaces that Public Works will be vacating, in the CBD, for this cause, but — jeepers — why not do it for 100 spaces that are unused and, significantly, not at street level?

As for solar power, well, it cannot be any more expensive or imperfect than the absurdity of lighting a parking garage 24 hours a day. If wind power seems more attractive, then let’s do that, too.

The educational opportunities presented by Bayview Sky Park, as outlined above, would be force multipliers throughout the city. Here people can see close-up examples of these strategies and technologies, in a place they want to be and can visit anytime, without having to sign up for seminars or register for tours of private property. This park could be a showcase of damn-near everything that the citizens of Bellingham have been working for over the past few decades and it would advertise to the world, very distinctly, this city’s commitment to creating a functional, sustainable, and beautiful downtown.

There will be a lot of uncertainty associated with doing something this bold and unusual. The only real promise is that converting this under-used parking lot to Bayview Sky Park will fill a need currently expressed by the public for more open space in the CBD.

To refresh your memory as to what that need is, and as to why this plan excels in its blindingly brilliant simplicity, then please take the time re-read the introductory section of this proposal labeled “Bayview Sky Park: A Manifesto.”

Thank you, in advance, for your serious consideration of this proposal,

Alex McLean

June, 2012

CV and Contact Information

Alex McLean is a current member of the COB Transportation Commission and of the Greenways Advisory Committee. He studied journalism, sustainable design, and environmental science at Huxley College of the Environment. As the founder of Bellingham Green Roofs – apparently a non-profit business – he is also the creator of its associated educational/evangelical Web site at: www.bellinghamgreenroofs.com

It should be STRENUOUSLY noted, as I have tried to do in all of my departmental e-mails with COB staff and officials, that this specific proposal is entirely the brainchild of my own deranged mind. Despite my current membership on advisory committees, THIS PROPOSAL IS NOT IN ANY OFFICIAL WAY ENDORSED BY EITHER GREENWAYS OR THE TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION. While I hope the idea someday grows legs and toddles its way through the decision-making process, at this stage it is nothing more than an oddball notion I’ve lobbed into the shark tank of public consumption.

Any inquiries related to this proposal are most welcome.

e-mail: felixian@comcast.net

cell: (360) 303-6640

Notes and Reference Materials

“Miracle Above Manhattan”National Geographic Magazine, re-purposing empty space on the HiLine by making a wildly successful park

www.upgarden.org (on-site visit and interviews with lead design principals and volunteers)

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/james_howard_kunstler_dissects_suburbia.html — the importance of Place (some profanity)

http://www.kaisergarden.com/ — the most famous garage in the world … so far

http://www.pbs.org/food/shows/food-forward/ — “Food Forward: Urban Agriculture Across America,” pilot documentary

http://crosscut.com/2012/06/01/agriculture/108968/mercer-upgarden-turns-parking-spots-garden-beds/ — “Mercer UpGarden turns parking spots into garden beds,” more details on the Seattle project and an example of some of the voluminous media attention the project has received

“Rethinking A Lot – The Design and Culture of Parking,” Eran Ben-Joseph, MIT Press, 2012

“Downtown Bellingham Parking Management Strategy” Transpo Group, COB, 2004

“Phase I Community Engagement Report – myDowntown,” COB, March 2012

“The Surprising Story of Travel Behavior in Bellingham, Washington,” Whatcom Council of Governments/Socialdata, May 2012

Personal interviews or e-mail correspondence with the following COB/Public Works staff: Ted Carlson, Opal Mahoney, Clark Williams, Mike “the meter tech,” Tim Wahl, Darby Galligan and various Parkade staff or fellow trespassers on the Parkade site. (It is worth noting that I had the chance to pester two users of this top floor as they sat in or were leaving their vehicles. “Why,” I asked, “did you choose to park on this floor? Weren’t there abundant spaces, which I saw, on the floors below?” Yes, these two admitted, but this floor has the best views!) Also, interviews with the original promoter of the Downtown Bellingham Parkade, Brian Griffin, the original architect, John Stewart, and the original structural engineer for the added fifth floor, Kris Hamilton.

Although not cited in the above manifesto, the results of the COB-sponsored citizen survey and walk-through of the site, the “Parkade Perk-Up” event of June 21, 2012, have since been published and, in regard to a visit to the top floor, the following question and answers were supplied by the public attendees. (Although present, I did not participate in the actual survey.)

“What suggestions do you have for improving this space?”
1)    Remove 5 spaces and have potted trees
2)    Nothing needed
3)    It is empty with lots of room. Oversell it. More noticeable cameras throughout.
4)    Events. Foliage on roof, tree wells.
5)    Mid-week farmer’s market on rooftop!
6)    Cameras.
7)    Picnic tables and art.
8)    Paint the concrete structures for stairs and elevator. Fence looks sturdy but could use a face lift.
9)    Plans, greenroof, vendors, no parking.
10)  Pressure-wash it
11)  Clean concrete. New fireproofing cement.
12)  None
13)  Figure out a way to add vertical planting along/up the pillars/supports that have the asbestos looking stuff falling off. Redo outside of elevator shaft simply to be more attractive and keep birds out. Paint fire extinguisher boxes with art. Green roofs?
14)  Add a couple benches. I’d walk up there just to sit. Plant rooftop garden. It seems a shame to use such a beautiful vantage point for parking.
15)  Repurpose?
16)  Remove ugly pigeon netting on tower.
17)  Green roof!

Lastly, my inventory of Google Earth satellite imagery reveals the following evidence that this top floor has a long, bleak history of under-utilization:

image date                                         # of vehicles (104 possible)

7/15/1998   (Weds)                          15-20

7/31/2005   (Sun)                             unknown (blurred image)

4/29/2006   (Sat)                               8

8/17/2006   (Thurs)                          5

9/6/2006   (Weds)                            13

5/30/2009   (Sat)                              0

9/10/2009   (Thurs)                          0

11/3/2011   (Thurs)                           3

8/25/2011   (Thurs)                          2

* The moral to this brain-melting diversion seems to be that the more free parking you have, the higher your rents will be. It is an existential debate, in these examples, because Fairhaven has its own “Parking District” which, in effect, means that the developers, past and future, will get to choose how many spaces they want to build rather than anyone at the COB Planning Dept. (How many will they choose to build? A parking space costs anywhere from $4,000 to build on surface lots to $20,000 for above grade structured spaces and $30-40,000 for below grade spaces. Doing the math on what a developer will want to provide quickly depends less upon dynamic “float” and “load” parking models than on one’s own, equally dynamic, interpretation of human history. It seems to me rather more than a bit disingenuous for property owners, management companies, and other versions of lease operators to acknowledge that it is standard business practice to inflate rents to imply high demand — if the prospective tenant perceives a desperately low lease rate, the theory goes, then they know a business cannot succeed in that location. Raising the rates, even in a depressed market such as Bellingham’s CBD, is therefore acceptable and viewed as a net benefit to the vitality of an area. On the other hand, however, these same proxies will demand that city governments, and taxpayers, subsidize parking inventories in gross abundance to attend to the supposed psychology of the shoppers and visitors to their district. It is true that parking is an absolute necessity, but it is also true that a lack of parking indicates success — people will come to a place, and, perhaps, struggle a bit to find parking, if there is any GOOD REASON to go there. By this metric, the developers and property owners are putting one amenity on a pedestal while deleting options for a community to define itself with as few empty parking lots, and their empty costs, as possible. Parking, as an amenity, comes at the expense of being able to provide visitors with any other GOOD REASON for coming to the district, such as, perhaps, an unusual park located atop a formerly derelict public parking garage. While some property owners are educated in the language of “Place Making” and New Urbanism, there are many hold-outs who are entrenched in the philosophy that parking is sacrosanct, an entitlement of their power, and the only GOOD REASON for a business’ success or failure. Although increasingly proven wrong when prophesizing such impending doom and decay, their logic and invective seems powerful when supplied through the trained voices of those who have never bothered to say anything different for the past 50 years.)

Examples of Existing Parking Garage Parks/Gardens

In the interest of proving that this can be done, here are some examples. Some of these spaces are as-builts and others are retrofits — either way, all of them are on top of parking garages. In lieu of details, clicking on each photo will connect with the original link.

Houston, Texas

Denver, Colorado

Oakland, California, Kaiser Center Roof Garden

Seattle, UpGarden

Boston, Massachusetts

Nashville, Tennessee

Caracas, Venezuela

Seattle, Gates Foundation (green roof over parking garage)

Singapore

Miami Beach, Florida

Everett, Washington

Hong Kong, China

Fairfax, Virginia

Vancouver, BC

— RETURN TO TOP —

1 Response to “BAYVIEW SKY PARK”


  • This is exactly the kind of hare-brained, cockamamie scheme that makes America great. The only thing you overlooked is how attractive it will be for all those parents who have few good reasons to bring their kids downtown. Linville Park will make the play center at Bellis Fair seem totally uncool to the under-8 set.

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