An image from one of the student’s projects on Little Saigon. In this depiction, tall light posts with hung lanterns help frame a cultural park with a dragon motif.
An image from one of the student’s projects on Little Saigon. In this depiction, tall light posts with hung lanterns help frame a cultural park with a dragon motif.

On Dec. 3, in an open house to the community, students from the University of Washington Architecture School of Design presented their design proposals for a green space in Seattle’s Little Saigon.

Funds have been allocated by the Seattle Pro Parks Levy, which was approved by the voters about three years ago, to purchase a plot of land, destined to be a Little Saigon park. The City of Seattle’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation is tasked with doing the land acquisition. A formal design proposal and funding for the park development itself has yet to be formulated. These student proposals, displayed for a day in a vacant retail space on Jackson Street in the Chinatown/ID, served to cultivate ideas for a park design, invited feedback from community members, and stimulated dialogue about the development and future of Little Saigon.

Quang Nguyen, an Economic Development Specialist at the Seattle Chinatown/International District Preservation Development Authority (SCIDPDA) attended the presentation and said, “I hope this will spark more dialogue as to what we want to see and how to strengthen our culture in the neighborhood.”

Nin Truong is a lecturer in the UW Department of Landscape Architecture and served as the students’ instructor. He required that students, prior to developing their plans, speak with Little Saigon business owners to better understand the community’s needs and preferences in regards to a park. Many businesses asked, “Why do we need a park?” or “How would you make it safe?” These are legitimate concerns and ones that the Chinatown/ID addresses continually.

Other business owners expressed a desire to preserve and highlight the Vietnamese heritage or were concerned for public safety if a park is developed in the neighborhood. A location for a park was left up to the students to select. Some chose to leverage the future re-development of the Yesler Terrace complex, just north of Little Saigon’s core, by creating a park in between Yesler Terrace and Little Saigon’s business district, thus providing a link or gateway between the neighborhood’s points of interest. Other proposals preferred a streamlined sculptural playground design in an under-utilized area of the neighborhood; while others were ambitious and frankly, fanciful — planning for a neighborhood amphitheater and rice paddies.

Nguyen said he preferred designs that focused on economic activation of the neighborhood – such as a space for a Pike Place-style outdoor market.

“That’s the heart and soul of the neighborhood — a market,” he said.

The students’ designs didn’t take into account whether those locations they chose are plausible sites for a park nor did they have to consider the complexities of the Vietnamese American community in Seattle and where it’s headed.

“Designing for the future of the neighborhood is tough because it’s uncertain,” said Jeff Hou, the chair of the UW Dept. of Landscape Architecture.

But while the future of the neighborhood is hard to speculate, lecturer Truong believes a park project offers an opportunity to preserve the Vietnamese heritage.

“This initial park may be a catalyst to develop the whole neighborhood.”

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