White Center is an unincorporated area in the King County, surrounded by the cities of Seattle and Burien. The neighborhood is one of the most culturally diverse in the region with growing immigrant populations from Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. The neighborhood’s cultural diversity coupled with social and economic stresses in the community have drawn growing attention from various government agencies and non-profit organizations. A significant number of studies have been done to identify the unique characteristics and needs of the community. Building on the previous studies, this studio was part of a coordinated effort by White Center Community Development Association, University of Washington and other community partners to develop a comprehensive plan to meet the multiple challenges facing the community, ranging from community building, social service, economic development, education, and public safety to improvements of open space and streetscapes.
While focusing on the design and planning of open space, the studio also addressed the broader concerns for community development. The result of a recent community visioning exercise in particular raised important questions concerning the relationship between physical improvements and community revitalization and empowerment. Although consistently highlighted in meetings and reports, the issues of open space received the lowest ranking compared with the issues of jobs and businesses, arts and culture, public safety, housing, and education. Does the issue of open space improvements necessarily take a back seat in a community facing social and economic stress? Or, have the connections between open space improvements and broader prospects of community developments been overlooked?
To address these questions, the studio engaged in a critical re-examination of open space and streetscape improvements as a part of the repertoire for community development in White Center. Working with the White Center Community Development Association, the King County Parks and Recreation, and other community stakeholders, the students at the University of Washington have developed six alternative plans for improving one of the neighborhood parks in the area – the White Center Heights Park. The alternatives address diverse issues and needs as identified in two community meetings and workshops conducted with the Southwest Boys and Girls Club and students and teachers from the White Center Heights Elementary. The design of the park was implemented through a design/build studio led by Prof. Daniel Winterbottom in the following quarter.
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