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

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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.

Entiat Park is Open!

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Entiat Park, along the banks of the Columbia River, opened to camping on Memorial Day weekend. The grand-opening ceremony took place on May 16.

The park features a boat launch, multi-use shoreline trail, swimming beach, dock, picnic areas, restroom with showers, and a playground.

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Entiat Park_Grand Opening_DSC_0210_05162015

Creative Approaches to Implementing Public Access Amenities


by Mike Perfetti

J.A. Brennan has had the pleasure to work with the staff of the City of Seattle Shoreline Street Ends Program, a Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) group, which turns lost, derelict, and often utility-laden street ends into shoreline pocket parks.  The goal of the program is to enable greater access to our water bodies, to create a shoreline environment where people can spend some time enjoying the water, and to improve shoreline habitat conditions.  Communities play an important part in this program as well, getting involved with project initiation, the design process, and in street end maintenance.

We’re in the midst of designing nine street ends on shorelines throughout the city and on several water bodies including the Duwamish River, the Ship Canal, Portage Bay, Lake Union and Lake Washington.  The first two projects, both on Lake Washington, are due to be completed this week –51st Ave. NE in Laurelhurst and South Willow St. in Seward Park.  The work is being done by the Seattle Conservation Corps (SCC).

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This program receives revenue from street end use permit fees.  One of the challenges is to make the most out of a relatively small purse, creating designs that enable the City’s funding to be allocated appropriately among each of the nine street ends.  The designs need to meet City and community goals, be appropriate to the sites, and match maintenance capabilities.  The project cost estimates range from about $10,000 to $50,000.  Here are three ways in which we worked creatively to steward funds:


One of the ways is to look comprehensively at the effects of permitting on project implantation and to provide the City with design pathways that avoid extensive permitting where possible, which enables faster implementation.  Being shoreline sites, many of the street end projects face timing and cost challenges with shoreline and in-water work permitting.  The project goals and site conditions at some sites make applying for these permits inevitable.  For other sites, we presented design solutions that avoided or minimized permit costs and delays, which is the case at both 51st and Willow.

51st 3


Secondly, we established a design–build relationship with the SCC.  On the two completed sites, where we lacked solid survey information, we developed our own base mapping and provided 30% to 50% design documents, enough for the SCC to put a price to.  We coordinated with the construction crew through construction to make field adjustments and finesse design detailing.  The adjustments in the field produced cost-saving, site-responsive results.

Creative Use of On-site Materials

Thirdly, we focused our designs and adjustments during the construction process to save costs through the creative use of on-site materials.  At the S. Willow St., a large rock seawall was refashioned into a rock stairway to the beach; at 51st, wood guardrail posts were reused as beach access stairs.

Ready to Enjoy

The Willow Street End is open to the public and the 51st Street End is nearly open. The plan is to build three more access sites in 2015, and four in 2016. Artist Sam Trout will create unique place-making art elements and new shoreline access signs for the sites.

Dune Fencing: Practical and Beachy

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Protective dune fencing at Odlin Park

by Mike Perfetti, Senior Associate, Landscape Architect

One challenge we face on many public park projects is protecting newly installed plants from being trampled by park users.  (Another challenge is preventing plants from being devoured by wildlife!)  Recently we worked with Davido Consulting Group at San Juan County’s Odlin Park to design renovations to an extremely popular waterfront campground.

Odlin Park - Rendered plan
The design relocates the campground road away from the beach and creates walk-in campsites in areas that were once pull-in (car) sites.

Previously, the beach sites were strung together, tents, and portable shelters packed in against one another.  Cars parked in all sorts of configurations within the sites.  Though patches of dune grass prevailed around user trails, the grass was unable to expand, limited by the expansive human footprint.

Walk in site_IMG_2814

With the renovations, we used native shoreline plants to create more privacy between the beach sites.  The restored vegetation on the shoreline also enhances habitat and reduces erosion.  The beach sites don’t have irrigation and budget was an issue during design, so it was important to take a restoration approach, using smaller plant material.

It will take some time for the smaller plants to become established and substantial enough to achieve their desired effect.  In anticipation of this time lag, we designed a pattern of dune fencing to protect the plants and delineate use zones.  After one jam-packed camping season and record-breaking heat, the shoreline planting areas are doing well.

kayakers_Odlin Park - Rendered plan

Shore pines, Nootka Rose and Dune grass will eventually form thickets of semi-shady beach plantings, their scent mixing with the salt air and helping to break the wind as campers stoke the beach fires.


In the meantime, the dune fencing will provide some of that function, creating an aura that is distinctly beachy, a welcome improvement from the cluster of vehicles and the unabated camp stuff that used to sprawl across the shoreline at Odlin Park.

Facilities and Parks Spotlight Award

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The Washington Recreation & Park Association (WRPA) recently awarded Don Morse Park in Chelan a Facilities and Parks Spotlight Award.

“Spotlight Awards highlight excellence and achievements in the field of parks and recreation by honoring the amazing efforts of public agencies.  Facilities & Parks Awards recognize the highest standards in design, development and renovation of park and recreation areas.” – WRPA

J.A. Brennan congratulates the City of Chelan and Parks and Recreation Director Charles Sablan.  We are proud to have helped Chelan restore its premier waterfront park and swimming beach.

J.A. Brennan served as prime consultant.  The design team included Reid Middleton, Coast & Harbor Engineering, The Watershed Company, SWCA, Budinger & Associates, Shannon & Wilson, Cascade Interpretive Design, Sparling, Erlandsen Inc., and Nelson Geotechnical Consultants.

For more information:


Fuzhou Pavilion during the moon festival at Tacoma Chinese Reconciliation Park, © J.A. Brennan Associates

Good civic spaces provide communities with vital places for congregation and celebration and can augment, if not define, the spirit of a neighborhood and city. Part of the design process for public spaces involves pinpointing and expressing significant and unique character traits and culture in the resulting forms. Through creative collaboration with the community, designers can assist groups in interpreting their identity and the specific needs for public spaces. As landscape architects we synthesize our physical understanding of a site and its history with our creative ideas to establish placemaking features into a space.

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Focal point at the end of F Street in Eureka, California, © J.A. Brennan

Over the next several weeks the JABLOG will explore processes and design techniques that invigorate civic life and articulate a neighborhood’s character within the public realm. We will discuss how history, people, landscape interpretation, art, and architecture are translated through the design process to create bold or subtle statements about a community’s identity.


A component of developing successful civic spaces includes establishing placemaking features and/or iconic focal points in collaboration with the people who use the space and who it represents. This is a process of exploring a community’s understanding of itself.

Inherent in designing is the task of finding common ground and working towards a common purpose, distilling a vision from many voices. An inclusive public process brings people together to express and hear diverse ideas, bonding the participants.

How does it happen?

Understanding -> Vision -> Design


Artist Smoker Marchand's installation at Beebe Spring's Natural Area, © J.A. Brennan
Artist Smoker Marchand’s installation at Beebe Spring’s Natural Area, © J.A. Brennan

The importance and history of a site are known to those around it.  As designers we work with the public to understand and articulate a community’s core values and its culture. Some have a clear vision of how to express their identity. Others look to the landscape architect to facilitate the process of synthesizing the ingredients they have gathered to make a bold statement. Ultimately, good placemaking expresses the core of a community in the design.


The designer distills what is learned about the site and uses forms, materials, colors, and natural elements to design placemaking features.

Bitter Lake Reservoir Open Space Expanding Waterdrop Plaza
Bitter Lake Reservoir Open Space’s Expanding Water Drop Plaza, © J.A. Brennan

There is the satisfying moment of finding the perfect expression of a place.

Will it be…

  • A gateway marker?
  • A view?
  • A pattern in the wall?
  • A signature structure?
  • A fountain?
  • A sculpture?
  • A story told in the landscape?

Iconic placemaking elements ultimately enhance gathering places, enrich relationships with the landscape, and improve wayfinding and navigation within the geographic setting.

A good process results in an iconic placemaking element and spirit of place that is embraced by the community.