Community Open Space Strategies

White Center is a community in transition. The area is one of the most diverse in the region in terms of ethnicity and culture. More than 40 languages are spoken in the community as a result of the rich background of immigrant residents. A significant number of improvement projects, including the HOPE VI project of Greenbridge as well as proposed new community center and schools, are also making the area a more attractive place to live. How can open space become an active and positive component in the transformation of White Center?

Open spaces (streetscape, park and trails, green space and other community gathering places) can become an active part of the overall community development and revitalization in White Center. Specifically, open space improvements can deter crimes and increase public safety. They can encourage outdoor activities and enhance health of local residents. With the potential to attract more residents and visitors, improvements of open space can benefit businesses and economic development in the area. The engagement of residents and community stakeholders in the planning, design and development of open space improvements also helps strengthen the capacity of the community to address its own needs and issues.

The strategies outlined below are based on inputs from community meetings as well as on-site observations and analysis undertaken by students in the design studio over a 2-week period of time. They address the unique opportunities as well as common issues facing the area as a whole. The strategies are meant to inform current and future investments in the community in both overall plans and individual projects. As a working document, we welcome further inputs on the strategies. Please send your comments and suggestions to

Making the Business District a Community Common

White Center currently has a number of facilities that function as places for large community events, such as the Log Cabin, the sports fields in the White Center Park, and various school auditoriums and gyms. However, these facilities are used only occasionally and do not necessarily provide opportunities for daily gatherings and interactions.

To encourage social interactions particularly in a diverse and multiethnic community, a “community common” would be a desirable element to have in White Center. But rather than a typical park or large plaza, the “community common” may take on different forms specifically in response to the limitations as well as opportunities in the neighborhood. Given the intensity of existing activities in the business district along the 16th Avenue and in an effort to promote local businesses, one possibility is to transform the business district into a “community common” through improvements in streetscape, residual spaces, storefronts, and signage, as well as temporary events.
By transforming the Business District a community common, the investments in physical improvements can be tied with efforts for local economic development. The improvements can also build on the unique characters and activities associated with the diverse businesses already in place along the 16th Avenue and around the Business District. The unique blend of business activities and community gathering will make the Business District and White Center a dynamic place to visit, live and work.

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Shared Use & Co-location

In urban communities the amount of open space can be limited and land itself is extremely valuable. Many well-established communities have found the value of using space for multiple uses. Spaces such as parking lots and school yards, while having very specific uses, can also be practically used during hours when these spaces are not being used for their intended purposes. By activating these spaces and providing extra uses after hours, these spaces become beneficial to the community economically and socially.

A good example of share-use spaces are farmers markets found all over Seattle. These markets have become very popular in Seattle neighborhoods and most often utilize parking lots of banks or community centers. Businesses that close for weekends have parking lots that become ideal for shared use while improving the image of the business as being connected to he community. There are many parking lots in White Center that could be used for more than just providing a space for cars to park a small percentage of the week.

Currently, the White Center Community has a shared use program with many of the schools, which is sponsored by the Community School Partners of Highline School District. These groups volunteer to provide after hours programs for the students and their families as well. One group provides cultural enrichment classes about Ethiopian culture and GED programs as well. These programs are an important asset to the community and could be expanded and encouraged throughout White Center.
Shared use of space can help save resources as people utilize already existing facilities for a variety of uses. The taco truck at the corner of 98th Street and 15th Ave SW is a good example of shared use that uses the end of a parking lot for a public market. It is a win-win situation as the proprietor makes money, the community gains the tax revenues, and the residents get great tacos as they pick up produce.

Shared use of public space can be a highly successful and productive way of integrating many uses in the same space over different times of the day.

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Programming is one of the most important elements of design. Site programming essentially is used to determine how the space will function. Often, programming can be overlooked because it is commonly taken for granted as something that will naturally develop once a design is implemented. This however, is not true. A site can have an aesthetically successful design, but a lack of conscientious programming will inevitably lead to a dead space. This is when a site becomes neglected and overrun with undesirable activities.

Good programming is a result of a thorough site analysis with consideration to the users, scale of the project, context, and opportunities and constraints of the site. By using these different aspects, it is possible to create a multi functioning space that accommodates a wider range of people and activities.  By taking programming into account in the earliest stages of design, it is possible to incorporate the functions a site will provide and make them an integral part of the design.

Currently, White Center does not lack in the amount of parks and open space in general. There is however, a lack of programming in these spaces. Thus, the open space system of White Center is quite underutilized and neglected by the community, which has opened up the spaces for ill behavior. This is not to say that the community is at fault for the lack of use in these parks, instead it simply shows that these spaces do not currently meet the needs of those who live in White Center.  If these spaces were programmed according to the desires and needs of the residents, they would be much more successful. 

Programming is an important part of the design process; White Center has not included this portion of design into their parks system. They have the space, now it is a matter of going back and finding what type of features and functions their community members want their parks to accomplish.

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There is a great need for improvement in signage and visibility in White Center. Addressing both of these issues will dramatically improve pedestrian and vehicular way-finding. Currently, without the aid of a detailed map, it is difficult for the average person to locate and make use of White Center’s amenities. Similarly, there is a lack of necessary distinction between vacant land and precious habitat.

One of this studio’s recommendations is to provide signs at each public open space in easily seen locations. Legibility is important as well as size. The signs need clear labels, describing the space and what uses are programmed (e.g. weekend market, skate park, dog park), and what time of day it can be used. It is also recommended that signs with arrows (locating in which direction the nearest park lies) be present at major intersections surrounding the public open spaces.

The second set of signs should be in the form of a kiosk with a map of White Center. The map should highlight the park which the user is presently at, show all the other parks in White Center, and display streets that connect the parks. Ideally, there should be connective pedestrian trails between each park that are highlighted as well.

The last form of signage that needs to be put in place can be in kiosk form also. White Center is rich in valuable wildlife habitat, and this should be embraced, celebrated, and utilized. Educating the community about the abundance of wildlife and habitat in White Center will foster a stronger sense of place and understanding and forge a more involved relationship with the community’s surroundings. Usually, this has the affect of forming a supportive network of individuals who help maintain and improve public open space.

Lastly, it is highly recommended that all public open space be visible from outside as well as inside the space. This is important not just for way finding but for the perception of safety. Likewise, being able to see into a public open space (i.e., passive recreation park, wildlife habitat, and active recreation park) adds an aesthetically pleasing element to the overall environment.

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Diversity & Equity

In any community process it is important to represent the diversity within the given community.  Diversity comes in many forms.  There is diversity of opinion and style.  And there is also diversity of gender, age and ethnicity.  White Center is fortunate to have a wide range in both types of diversity.  The challenge is to foster an environment that allows for diversity to be celebrated. 

Open space provides a venue to express and support the diversity in White Center. The programming of existing and new open spaces must consider the diverse cultural uses by different social and ethnic groups. The spaces include not only designated parks and green spaces but also streetscapes and urban fabric that support diverse cultural activities. The design of the open spaces themselves also provides opportunities for cultural expression.

Supporting and reflecting the diversity of the White Center community in the development of open space also means making open space accessible to all, including different age, gender and cultural groups. This requires specific measures that consider issues of safety, accessibility and cultural needs and nuances.

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Walkability & Access

Walkability and access are two terms that go hand-in-hand, or better yet, foot-to-foot.  The demand of walkable communities has continued to escalate as prospective homeowners and residents realize the benefits of a close-knit, easily traversable, accessible community atmosphere. Walkable communities have been found to promote good health amongst residents, improve economic vitality, decrease social isolation and raise interaction amongst the populace, reduce transportation externalities, and increase tourism.  The benefits of walkable communities will continue to elevate as reliability on the automobile reduces and denser housing developments proliferate.

The White Center street network’s grid arrangement lays the foundation of connectivity between blocks.  It is not difficult to maneuver from street to street as the grid layout is basic and easily navigable.  The opportunity for improvement, however, is still great.  Pedestrian accommodation is lacking on many of the major east/west streets, crisscrossing into the heart of downtown White Center.  The east/west grid provides access for many housing developments, schools, and park locations.  The problem is that the majority of these connections are limited because of a lack of pedestrian focus.  The absence of raised sidewalks, appropriate lighting, bike lanes, and clearly demarcated crossings weakens walkability and discourages residents from choosing pedestrian forms of travel.  Increasing walkability would in turn, increase accessibility to many of the special destinations that reside in White Center. 

The downtown area of White Center is rich with diverse small-businesses, ethnic restaurants, and open markets, creating an atmosphere that people are attracted to. The basic foundations of interest, uniqueness, and close proximity already exist within downtown core.  Elevating the walkability of the downtown sector in combination with residential corridors could drastically improve access, accommodation, and atmosphere.  Sidewalks already exist on many of the streets within the downtown core, but pedestrian movement is distracted by the presence of angled parking.  Crowded automobile parking also reduces the potential for business activity to permeate into the streetscape.  Concentration of parking locations to certain areas offers the possibility to begin to unravel the street to the pedestrian and open more avenues of accessibility.

Street vegetation within the downtown core is currently lacking.  Vegetation and street trees aid in unifying the streetscape, increasing aesthetics, providing shade, softening hard edges, and improving environmental conditions, ultimately, encouraging people to walk the streetscape more often.  Improving walkability within White Center would increase accessibility, encourage more frequent use, and improve connectivity.  Shifting focus on the street towards the pedestrian has the tremendous ability to encourage visitors to stay longer, street activity to increase, and community interaction to elevate.

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Ecology & Habitats

Habitat restoration, water quality, connection, safety…what does this have to do with open space strategies? In looking at the opportunities for habitat restoration in White Center it is the wetlands that provide the perfect forum to enhance the water and habitat quality in the community.  “Wetlands combine both the beauty of aesthetic form and ecological function in a way that few other landforms can match…” (France). Restoration also brings additional funding resources to improve the physical environment in the community. With volunteer efforts, restoration also helps build a community.

A healthy habitat can be defined as one that is diverse, dynamic, and unpolluted; the same can be said for a healthy community.  The creation and restoration of habitat areas in the White Center community is imperative to the success of their overall open space strategy.  Clean habitat areas not only enrich the diversity of native plant and animal species but also provide opportunities for restorative environments, recreation, gathering places, and the possibility of environmental education for the human community. 

Clearing away invasive plants gives native species a chance for survival and creates safer spaces once the view corridors are opened.  The work done for cell one and two of the White Center Greenway is a highly successful example of how projects like this can also bring together the community.  King County Parks held several volunteer planting events that allowed the community to participate thus creating a sense of ownership in this left-over space.   As a result, the community has seen an enormous reduction in crime on the site and it has remained fairly clean since.  Although the primary task of cleaning up the White Center Greenway was stormwater detention the end result was the creation of a ‘place’. 

Stormwater detention is a critical way to improve the water quality of the basin.  As water soaks into the three different cells, sediments and other contaminants are able to soak into the natural peat filter before the water is sent into pipes.  Currently, there are excessive amounts of contaminates in local ponds, lakes, and wetlands caused by ducks and geese.  If addressed properly, cleaner water will ultimately create a higher level of overall watershed health, safety, and an increase in viable habitat.

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Community Engagement

Engagement of the White Center community in the development and improvement of open space in the area is critical to a successful outcome. Active engagement can ensure that the planning and design of open space address the needs and desire of the community. The development and improvement of open space has the potential for building community which in turn engages the residents and stakeholders in the ongoing development and programming of the space.

Engaging local residents and community stakeholders in White in the process of open space planning and development can be a particularly challenging task. Limitations of time along with linguistic and cultural barriers in the diverse community require additional efforts beyond the standard community meetings and open house. Effective engagement in the multicultural community requires both formal and informal venues as well as creative approaches to overcome the existing barriers. Ensuring the involvement of all groups in the community process is necessary to produce plans and designs that reflect the needs of the diverse com

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1. Making the Business District a Community Common

2. Shared Use & Co-location

3. (Re)programming

4. Visibility

5. Diversity & Equity

6. Walkability & Access

7. Ecology & Habitats

8. Community Engagement