Creating Vibrant Spaces

Designers want their end results to be loved and used!  It isn’t enough to make a place look great or have the latest in sustainable features.  What creates a vibrant public place?  Beautiful spaces with rich detailing draw people into a place.  But what keeps them coming back?  It is often the interactions that take place in a park and the sense of ownership that keeps people coming back.

A beloved site takes on life beyond what was anticipated during design.  As humans, when we feel a connection, we want to be involved in a place. When a group has this attachment to a park, a street end, or an open space and then maintains it or plans activities there, it is a lovely outcome to the design process. We can provide a design that incorporates the elements a community requests during the public process; but attachment cannot be designed. A designer can only provide the foundation for connections.

The sites we work with are not static.  The day construction finishes is only day one in the life of the design. Like living things, public spaces need care and upkeep.  The intent is that communities and or special interest groups take ownership of the places we’ve worked on and help the spaces evolve and thrive. This public stewardship makes for lasting, beloved places.


Salmon Bay Natural Area

The Salmon Bay Natural Area overlook is an example of community effort resulting in a loved space. Groundswell NW led the effort to preserve the wooded bank along the Salmon Bay waterway. The viewpoint gives views and educational opportunities while native plants help buffer the parking lot and enhance habitat.  In addition to conducting the design process for this site, Groundswell NW still organizes work parties to maintain the habitat and preserve the work done during installation.

Salmon Bay Natural Area Viewpoint

During design we structured the site design so that an art piece could be added at a later date.  The community came together to add an art element after construction of the overlook.  Groundswell NW hired artist Marvin Oliver to create the Salish Welcome sculpture honoring the salmon and local indigenous cultures, creating a signature focal point for the site.  The figure is eye-catching from the Burke-Gilman trail and draws people down to the site to enjoy the view or to learn about restoration efforts.

Salmon Bay Natural Area Sculpture

Cayton Corner Park

Cayton Corner Concept Sketch

The commitment of the Friends of 19th and Madison group to the future Cayton Corner Park is an example of community taking ownership and creating a new public space in a dense urban environment. The park springs from the desire of the neighborhood to make a park from a vacant lot. The Friends pursued Department of Neighborhood grants to fund the design for new Seattle park space that will become a living room for this part of the Central District.  Even before the park’s development, neighbors are making connections to the place and to each other.  Chalkboard paint on an existing wall, a little library, and regular cleanup days are all evidence of care.  Through future park elements like amphitheater steps, an embankment slide, musical play, and a sensory garden, an open space will be created that serves as a signature space for the neighborhood.


Increase Public Outreach Success with an Online Survey

jabrennan blog

SurveyMonkey is an easy to use tool that helped our project reach a lot of interested people. While the public meetings had 30-50 attendees, the online poll gathered over 1,000 responses in just 6 weeks!

Jim Brennan discussing Wayne Golf Course vision as part of public outreach

J.A. Brennan and our colleagues at MAKERS and Tetra Tech recently had the opportunity to work on a fantastic project with the City of Bothell. The Wayne Golf Course Open Space stretches across 86 acres and has been called “one of the last large, private undeveloped acreages anywhere in the central Puget Sound metropolitan area.” The property features over half a mile of Sammamish River frontage, a historic apple orchard, and acres of woods in close proximity to Blyth Park and the Burke Gilman and Tolt River trails.

Our office helped the City of Bothell and partners King County, OneBothell, Forterra, and the State of Washington conduct a community visioning process for the Wayne Golf Course from April through June, 2016. Public outreach was a key component to the visioning process as we met with stakeholders, neighbors, and the greater community to ask, “What is your vision for this place?”

Setting up for Success

In addition to in-person public meetings, we collected feedback through a short online survey using The five-question poll asked the public for feedback on potential program activities and services that could be developed at the Wayne Golf Course property. When the survey closed after 6 weeks, there were 1,067 responses. Links to the survey were promoted through OneBothell’s Facebook page, Forterra’s newsletter, the City of Bothell’s Facebook page, and the City’s Bothell Bridge newsletter mailed to every resident of Bothell each month. A graphic summary of the number of responses received each day shows spikes of activity that correspond with the online postings in May and the newsletter mailing in June.


Responses by Day on

Analyzing Results

The survey introduction provided background information about the property ownership and funding strategy. The public was reminded that acquisition of the Wayne Golf Course is a unique opportunity for Bothell and the region for potential salmon recovery, open space preservation, site restoration, trails, and recreation. As you can see in the summary graphics, most survey respondents spend time in parks on a weekly basis.  While there, the most popular activities include: enjoying nature, spending time with family/friends, and simple relaxation.

Lessons Learned

You can check out the vision plan on the City’s website and consider utilizing an online survey with your next open space planning and design project. The survey was an easy way to expand the exposure of the project and solicit more diverse community input. We were able to create the survey in 5 hours including a draft and final survey. We shared the survey results in the public meeting to help voice some concerns that were not present at the public meeting. The depth of response is expected to help with grant proposal success.

Culturally Sensitive Design

by Jim Brennan

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Taiwan’s scenic east coast again and present at a symposium.  I have been involved with tourism planning for the East Coast Tourism Bureau for the past 15 years and previously worked on development of the Green Island Master Plan.

The S.E. Coast of Taiwan is experiencing increased visitation of tourists from mainland China.  The rapid growth in tourism and resulting encroachments on tribal lands and traditional use areas is creating negative impacts to Taiwan’s aboriginal community.  At the symposium, I presented concepts for culturally sensitive design and discussed processes to involve the native community.  I worked with Joe Lee of ECG International, a partner firm, to explore and present case study projects that successfully express cultural identity.

As the first discussion, the symposium served as a starting point for the long-term goal, which is to find common ground that leads to mutually beneficial solutions for the government, tribes, and developers.

Jim and Joe Lee.
Jim and Joe Lee.

There will be lots of hard work to get to a win / win outcome.  The director of the East Coast Scenic Area was impressed with the progress made during the meeting.  We expect that the plan resulting from this process will protect tribal interests and improve Taiwan’s scenic east coast for all visitors.


Appreciating My Local Greenbelt

By Drew Coombs, Landscape Architect

kids on trail 2

I live in the Shorewood neighborhood, on the southwest edge of Seattle at the Burien border.  We are fortunate that we have two or three locations within walking distance where we are able to access a peaceful natural forest setting.

Experiencing the Greenbelt

One of my favorite walks is down Seola Beach Drive and through Seola Park.  This a loop walk through the neighborhood and offers a variety of experiences, from a rural street condition to a nature trail through the forest canopy.  The trail provides framed views to the water and leads up to a small neighborhood park at the top of the ravine, perfect for picnicking or exploring a wonderful eucalyptus tree.


As the two lane street descends towards the Puget Sound, it follows the bottom of a tree-covered ravine.  The canopy is primarily comprised of second growth alder, big leaf maple, madrona, and some conifers.   A seasonal stream runs along the edge of one side of the street.  At the low point of the ravine the sound of water flowing and gurgling is evident during the wet season, which adds to the special character of this setting.  There is a sense of being in a natural riparian corridor as one travels towards the water.


The rim of the ravine is lined with single family homes.  The landscape in the ravine is plagued with invasive plants.   The usual suspects: ivy, clematis, and blackberries are the invasive culprits.  These aggressive vines climb many of the trees, robbing them of nutrients and light, which can kill them.    wheelbarrow

Positive Changes

In recent walks we have started to notice positive changes in the health of the understory. The ivy is slowly being removed, and pockets of newly planted native species, mulched with bark, have popped up.  It’s apparent that action is being taken to reclaim the greenbelt.

Ava and James at work
Ava and James at work


Green Seattle Partnership

I have volunteered my time on a couple occasions to assist Seattle Parks and the Green Seattle Partnership with restoration work in the Seola corridor.  Most recently, I assisted our local forest steward by placing bark mulch in the pocket park at the top of the ravine.  In the Fall I helped plant native plants.

Teaching Green Values to My Kids

I have taken my kids (3 and 6) to help out during these volunteer projects.  At each event, they first have a high interest in assisting, but after an hour and a half, boredom does set in.  Of course, my productivity is impacted, but the tradeoff is acceptable to me.   The idea of instilling community service values and showing the kids firsthand how to preserve and enhance an urban forest is important to me as a landscape architect and a parent.

forest steward

I want to acknowledge the efforts of Seattle’s forest stewards.  Without them, Seattle would be a less green place.



Bike to Work Month Summary

photo 2ps

We had fun riding with the rest of Seattle’s bicyclists in May to complete the Bike to Work Commute Challenge.

Our team of five completed a total of 637.2 miles through the month.  Bikers rode to Pioneer Square from White Center, the Central District, Ravenna, Wallingford, and Greenwood.

Thanks to the JAB Slugs for all your efforts AND for logging your miles.  Thanks also to the Cascade Bicycle Club for organizing this event in the Seattle Area.

We’ll keep biking on.

industry scenepsmeterps

Biking to Work…

The crew at JAB is at it!  Our office of 8 has joined the 2014 Cascade Commute Challenge.  We have a 63% participation rate, five staff members are actively involved in the bike to work month of May (and most other months too). We are almost at the halfway point of bike to work and have accumulated a total of 260 miles.



photo 2aps

Drew’s wonderfully sunny homeward bound commute across the Duwamish River yesterday!  Industry and wildflowers mix it up on the East Channel crossing.

The Beauty in My Garden

This is what it looks like when all is going and growing perfectly…

by Tanja Wilcox, Senior Associate, Landscape Architect

Creating, Nurturing, and Watching Things Grow

As landscape architects, we all come to our profession for a multitude of reasons, but one of the reasons that I am drawn to landscape architecture is due to a shear love of creating, nurturing and watching things grow.  At home I get to play this out in my own vegetable garden!  The miracle of tiny seeds planted in the cool and rainy days of spring that sprout up to create big heads of lettuce, giant Swiss chard, black dinosaur kale, and green bean stalks that curl and twine far above my head!  We go from having to run off to the grocery store for every bit of vegetable to frantically doing research on new ways to use the incredible bounty of produce springing forth in the back yard.


Solving Challenges
Landscape architects enjoy a challenge, a chance to experiment and to problem solve…Being an urban farmer provides me with ample challenges, such as when my carefully tended 200 square foot garden plot is attacked by a prowling neighborhood cat eager to dig up my lettuce starts, or the pill bugs multiply madly and come up from their hiding spot along the garden borders to eat all my freshly sprouted peas (again!), or when the cabbage worms hide in plain sight as I wonder what could possibly have made my perfect kale leaves look so holy!  Armed with sets of new, bigger, lettuce starts, a slew of sticks, Sluggo, and gardening gloves, I go on the attack!  The sticks, planted firmly in amusing patterns give us something to look at while we wait for the lettuce to grow and simultaneously create a simple way to keep the naughty kitty at bay.  My be-gloved fingers go after and mercilessly squash the unsuspecting cabbage worms, and the Sluggo Plus sprinkled about, guards the delicate plants from pill bugs and slugs when I’m away. 


As a landscape architect, I love natural beauty, especially when I’ve had a hand in shaping it.  There is beauty in the sunflowers that attract bumble bees, mason bees, honey bees and later nuthatches and chickadees.  There is beauty in the purple bean flowers and later, the long green bean pods tossed together with bright red cherry tomatoes.  Landscape architects enjoy being a small part of “the solution.”  I practice that at home by planting a garden and reducing the carbon footprint of our food.  By planting flowering plants we’re providing much-needed habitat for beleaguered butterflies, bees, and many other pollinators.  In the process, there’s a chance that our efforts will be contagious, infecting our friends and neighbors with the same bug!

Salad Nicoiseps
Salad Nicoise