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A PLANNING

RESPONSE

TO THE 

KING COUNTY

COURTHOUSE

ENVIRONS

URBDP 507 Spring 2020

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THIS STUDIO

This work stemmed from the growing level of violence and insecurity in downtown Seattle, culminating in a random, violent attack that forced King County to close the Third Avenue entrance to their courthouse facility. This deterioration is threatening public safety and exacerbating existing issues in the neighborhood.

The study area is defined to encompass major elements that contribute to the complicated nature of such interconnected problems. Notably, it includes Seattle’s Civic Campus, three DESC low-income housing buildings, and major bus and light rail connections on the Third Avenue corridor.

For more information on the existing conditions within the study area, view the Initial Conditions Report.

 

FROM PAST TO PRESENT

A "City Beautiful"
Historically, the King County Courthouse served as a keystone figure in a neighborhood filled with tall and immaculate buildings that attracted tourists, lawyers, and businesspeople alike. City Hall Park served as a great front lawn for the courthouse, bringing lively action into an activated greenspace.

Source: historylink.org.

Shifting Winds

In the 1960s, the closure of the courthouse’s entrance plaza disconnected City Hall Park and fundamentally changed how it interacts with the surrounding area. What once served as a cheery gathering spot now abutted a loading dock and engagement slowly declined.

Source: courthousehistory.com.

New Neighbors

As the area fell into decline, high end businesses and accommodations like the Frye Hotel began to withdraw. This attracted several social service providers into the area, taking advantage of cheap land and vacant properties. The Frye Hotel became low-income apartments and the Morrison Hotel was converted into an overnight emergency shelter.

Source: The Seattle Times.

A Vortex of Problems

In today’s City Hall Park, it is common to see society’s most vulnerable living their lives in public. Many live with addiction or other mental health conditions and are prone to deviant behavior that has eroded the perception of public safety in the space.

Source: Joe Mabel on Flickr.

WHAT ARE THE CURRENT PROBLEMS

The situation has developed into a complicated, interconnected web of issues. No single approach can fully address the scope of the problem.

WHO DOES THIS IMPACT?

Based on published low-income housing capacities and homelessness incident counts from the 2019 All Home Point-in-Time Count, there are an estimated

vulnerable residents within the study area

  • Low- or no-income tenants of permanent supportive housing like DESC’s Morrison Hotel or the Frye Hotel, operated by the Low Income Housing Institute. 36% 36%
  • Homeless individuals (i.e. those in temporary shelters or sleeping in areas not meant for human occupation) 64% 64%

Because of the abundance of social services, this area attracts a disproportionate number of individuals experiencing homelessness who rely on these organizations for survival. 

%

experience psychiatric or emotional conditions

%

are living with drug or alcohol addiction

%

are actively looking for work

Breakfast

Bread of Life Mission

Union Gospel Mission

Lunch

Bread of Life Mission

Union Gospel Mission

Chief Seattle Club

Dinner

Bread of Life Mission

Union Gospel Mission

Chief Seattle Club

Restrooms

Union Gospel

DESC

Shower

Bread of Life Mission

Compass Housing

Chief Seattle Club

Computer Use

Bread of Life Mission

Television

Bread of Life Mission

Metro Bus Passes

Bread of Life Mission

 

Dental Services

Union Gospel

Medical Services

DESC

Chief Seattle Club

Mental Health

Services

Union Gospel

DESC

Shelter

Union Gospel

DESC

Compass Housing

Job Assistance

Union Gospel

DESC

Housing Case

Management

Chief Seattle Club

Legal Services

Union Gospel

Laundry

Compass Housing

High rates of mental health conditions translate to an increased amount of deviant behavior that creates a perceived, and sometime realized, threat to public safety. However, a significant proportion of the homeless population is medically stable and actively seeking employment. 

These populations have distinct needs that cannot be addressed with a blanket approach.

While these vulnerable populations face the most pressing problems, no solution is complete without addressing the needs of all people in the neighborhood. 3rd Avenue serves as the busiest bus corridor in the United States and Canada with 290 buses per hour shuttling thousands of people through the heart of downtown Seattle every day. Many of these commuters are government employees who work on Seattle’s Civic Campus. Their presence brings money into the neighborhood, providing a broad customer base for retail investments but also highlighting the class divide between the haves and the have-nots. 

WHAT ARE THEIR NEEDS?
  • Comprehensive mental health rehabilitation to provide dedicated care at different levels of intensity to most effectively meet the needs of each individual.
  • Dedicated supportive housing that provides long-term behavioral health support to aid quicker and safer recoveries.
HOW ARE THEY BEING MET?
  • UW Medicine is building a new 150-bed behavioral health center with dedicated support for voluntary and involuntary committment, and geropsychiatry.
  • Harborview Medical has plans to expand their behavioral health services, including $79 million dollars for a new building on their downtown campus.
WHAT IS MISSING?
  • Effective mental health interventions provide a continuum of care, including a crucial transition from inpatient treatment to more independent living. We propose additional new long-term rehabilitation capacity to provide complementary care for those exiting hospitalization.

 

WHAT ARE THEIR NEEDS?
  • Supportive housing under the Housing First model, as emphasized by DESC Executive Director Daniel Malone and Dr. Seema Clifasefi, co-director of the Harm Reduction Research and Treatment Center at Harborview Medical.
  • Opportunities to earn wages in low-barrier environments that accept people with minimal education, criminal records, or histories of addiction.
HOW ARE THEY BEING MET?
  • Organizations like DESC and Plymouth Housing have partnered with the city to bring more than 800 supportive housing units online in the next four years.
  • FareStart has been a successful model for providing chef training and job pairing in Seattle for the past 30 years.
WHAT IS MISSING?
  • The demand for job assistance far outstrips supply. We propose a new facility, with the capacity to train 120 people per year.
  • The city and county must double down on their supportive housing efforts to meet the estimated demand of more than 8,000 beds in King County.

 

WHAT ARE THEIR NEEDS?
  • Invigorating, activated streetscapes with local destinations and opportunities to engage with the community.
  • Safely designed communal spaces with proper lighting and sightlines to discourage criminal activity.
HOW ARE THEY BEING MET?
  • Local residents have access to a considerable amount of public open space, including City Hall Park and Prefontaine Place.
  • A combination of older, historic buildings and new architecture provides a visually interesting space for pedestrians.
WHAT IS MISSING?
  • Additional parks programming would enable deeper and more positive engagement with the existing open space.
  • Improvements to the Third Avenue transit corridor would reduce noise pollution and expand pedestrian right-of-way.

 

WHAT ARE THEIR NEEDS?
  • The general public needs to feel safe on the streets around the King County Courthouse, the Morrison Hotel and surrounding areas.
  • Streets that prioritize options for people to feel comfortable and actively enjoy the landscape through accessible green space, seating, etc.
HOW ARE THEY BEING MET?
  • The built environment currently does not offer significant solutions to these needs. Although there are public spaces and general seating areas, they are not designed in a way that promotes safety of the public or ensures comfort.
WHAT IS MISSING?
  • An integrated and robust redesign of several important built environment structures and areas to create consistent design language and narrative.
  • Design interventions that ensure the safety and comfort of all users of the street, parks, light rail stations, and building.

HOW DOES IT CHANGE

We identified five interventions that tackle the most pressing issues facing those using the space. Click below to learn more.

Expanded mental health options

DESC shelter dispersion

New job training opportunities

Market-rate investments

Reinvigorated public spaces