The crowd present for the first Saturday at a just-opened public park in Seattle was about what you’d expect. For one, bike parking was in high demand as my fiancée and I rolled our Radwagon ebikes up to Fritz Hedges Waterway Park on Seattle’s Portage Bay. Ours were third and fourth Radwagons—a Subaru Outback in bicycle form—inside about a 25-foot radius.
“This is really nice,” an older man in flannel shirt said to his significant other as they strode out the metal dock overhanging the water.
“We need more of these,” she responded.
This may be the dorkiest thing I’ve ever typed in my life but the people there—and there were a lot for a park that isn’t that big—were buzzing about the newest addition to the neighborhood. Nearly every person present was talking about their surroundings, how the park came to be and how nice it turned out.
For background, the park stands on land that was most recently occupied by the University of Washington’s police department. The finer points of how, specifically, the land was returned to the public aren’t completely clear, but here are the basics:
In 2013, UW transferred the property to the City of Seattle as part of a series of transactions among the UW, the City and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) in connection with WSDOT’s SR 520 Program. WSDOT provided funds to the UW to facilitate the property transfer to Seattle Parks and Recreation so the property could be developed into a park as mitigation for the SR 520 Program’s impacts to the Washington Park Arboretum and East Montlake Park. WSDOT also provided funding for the development of the park.
It should be noted, as it can’t be underscored enough, that this is stolen Duwamish land. The area was initially criss-crossed with Native American trails, with the land around University of Washington, like this, used for hunting and berry growing. It was taken up and divided into townships by the federal government in 1855, per the site’s Historic Resources Addendum from the University of Washington.
According to that document, a lumber mill occupied the location as early as 1912.
From the late-’20s until the property was acquired by the University of Washington around 1970, it was a marina.
As wild as it is, the view you see there—of the relatively-new University Bridge, is about what you get today, and it’s spectacular.
The park faces south, so it receives sunlight all day long, much like Seattle’s iconic Gas Works Park. But what makes this oddly special is just how unique the view is—and it being a view that’s newly-available to the public.
While not quite the same, its view of the neighboring bridges give it the vibe of a modern, Seattle version of NYC’s Brooklyn Bridge Park.
You can make your way down the tiers of lawn and onto the beach or walk your way out the metal dock, looking through the grating into the bay below. There are bright-yellow metal Adirondack chairs throughout the park, perfect for a moment—or 45 minutes—of zen.
In case it wasn’t clear before the pandemic, it should be now: quality public spaces are vital.
And to introduce the usual dash of politics, this is what the progressive movement is about—not specifically parks, though they play a large part, but the idea that the government should serve the interests of the people. That’s the whole point of government, to be a service by and for the people.
And it makes sense for us to give ourselves nice things.
Thousands upon thousands of people—over decades, if not longer—will enjoy this park. Proposals will happen here. School outings. Work breaks. A whole hell of a lot of pit-stops on bike rides along the Burke-Gilman. Probably, in the short term, a handful of awkward socially-distanced first dates.
Describing the park’s namesake, longtime Parks Department employee Frederick “Fritz” Hedges, colleague and friend Kevin Stoops said in Fritz’s 2004 obituary that “He truly believed in the value of parks as a public good.”
Parks are a public good, an immensely valuable one at that.
And in an era where society is continuously more stratified, with the “goods” increasingly private and held by fewer and fewer people, the lady I overheard at the park yesterday was right.
We do need more of these.