Counterbalance park: Fail

Counterbalance Park
Counterbalance Park design prototype

Counterbalance Park, Seattle’s newest park, located in lower Queen Anne, aka Uptown, sucks. It’s an incredible Fail. An unmitigated disaster.

The city calls this ode to concrete an “urban oasis.” I am not kidding — its official name is, “Counterbalance Park: An Urban Oasis.”

I knew it’d be terrible when I heard its name. Because when an official body extravagantly claims something, you can safely assume their claim isn’t true. If you think that’s too cynical, I submit the following evidence:

  • Exhibit A: A company frequently claiming to be “transparent,” isn’t
  • Exhibit B: A sentence beginning with, “Let me be candid…,” isn’t
  • Exhibit C: A Bible-thumping crusader who says, “You should never…,” does
  • Exhibit D: “Counterbalance Park: An Urban Oasis,” isn’t

I rest my case.

Counterbalance Park Landscape designer
Murase Associates landscape designer

Murase Associates belched up this design turd. They ripped off worked for the Seattle Parks Department, and the Seattle Design Commission approved it. I congratulate all of them for being completely dead from the neck up. It’s Night of the Living Dead time for Seattle park design.

Concrete, rocks, metal, and scraggly trees. Yum, I want to go there to sip a mocha and take in the view. I love the way sunlight dances on the gravel in the early evening. There’s a nice concrete slab for the wife and me to put down a blanket and have a picnic. I can also toss a frisbee with my dog by the concrete wall. Maybe we can organize a daily neighborhood yoga class there, which would be the only yoga class in the world where Band-Aids were required equipment. I would feel connected to my environment, knowing I was in a park with an industrial green design.

Yes, nothing says “oasis” like concrete and gravel.

Genius landscaping
Genius landscaping

Seattlest described it well:

“If parking lots designed parks they would all look like the new Counterbalance pit…[It] looks like a half-baked development abandoned before the walls were put up. It’s basically 12,000 square feet of nothing…There’s nothing to do there except maintain perfect posture and inhale fumes. The benches are the institutional kind with divider bars designed to repel homeless squatters, so you can’t slouch while enjoying the park’s zero amenities. Welcome to the place where minimalism meets worthlessness…Counterbalance Park doesn’t condone any perching of any sort. You aren’t meant to stay. It’s as if the city designed the public area with the sole function of being inhospitable to actual humans.”

This gravel pit park is cold, barren, and unwelcoming. Everything is gray. The trees are alive, but are quite scraggly, so the overall impression is one of sickliness and death. Man, I get reminded of sickliness and death every time I turn on the TV. I don’t look for or appreciate it in a park.

Goats would starve here
Goats would starve here

Maybe I shouldn’t be so negative about this design belch urban oasis. It did make one positive contribution to city life: A way for pedestrians to cut the corner as they turn left from Queen Anne Ave N on to Roy St.

But that’s its sole positive contribution. It’s not a meeting place, gathering place, socializing place, or any other kind of place. What it is, is a crap place.

A Fail Odyssey
2008: A Fail Odyssey
The picnic slab
The picnic slab

I’ve heard some excuses for this design. Like, the designers didn’t have a lot to work with, it’s a small lot at the intersection of two busy streets, etc. Cry me a river. Landscape architects and designers command high prices for a reason — they’re supposed to not have their heads up their ass. Eh, I could have come up with this design.

I’ll guess at the conversation that produced this rock pit’s park’s imposition on addition to our city life:

“Fred, I’ve got it! Instead of plants, running water, interesting boulders, or other natural objects, why don’t we cover up the land with gravel, poured concrete, and a big flat expanse of wood planking! It’ll be flat, hard, gray, and uninviting! And we can use uncomfortable benches! And some of those cheap crappy trees we like to use for low-income housing.”

It is dreary, uninviting, dusty, meager, depressing, and ugly. I’ve passed it twice a day on most days since it’s opened, and I’ve seen only a couple of occasional homeless guys sitting on the benches, staring into space. But that’s fine, because that’s all you can do there. Just sit and stare. Then get up and leave when your back starts aching.

Break up all the concrete, blow it up, and start over. An unmaintained field of wildflowers would be better than this.

7 thoughts on “Counterbalance park: Fail

  1. Out of curiosity, do you know anything about the public process or working with the City?

    I’ll agree with you that the place is pretty barren right now – and well, not what it was meant to be. But saying that the designers had their heads up their rears is a little much. There are a lot of things that go wrong in the process of designing and building a public park, the least of which is having to compromise more of the design than you’d like. Don’t know if you’ve noticed since you wrote this, but the lights are finally up (albeit I think they seem to be oddly programmed). They are actually quite stunning. As for the trees, it’s quite expensive for the city to purchase fully grown ones. That’s why you get the little dinky trees that don’t look like anything yet – it’s not really a design choice.

    And just for the record, much of the money that got spent on this park came from neighborhood fund raising efforts. The neighborhood association had as much say in it as the city or the designers.

  2. Yeah, I know about working with the City of Seattle, and municipal governments in general. I also know about flat hard concrete surfaces that don’t breath, disco lights that are Ice Capades rejects, and foreboding Stalinesque spaces. If you think those lights are stunning, then I have a 50W flashlight I’d like to shine in your eyes.

  3. Yeah, I saw that. The red lights under the bench are hideously garish. There’s a difference between being an attraction, and being attractive, and those lights are the former. Another Fail for this park.

  4. As far as I understand it they’re supposed to be more like that James Turrell installation at UW where the colors change from one to the other very slowly. That is, if they ever figure out how to program it.

    Judging from all the people taking pictures and hanging out there at night now I’d say they disagree with you.

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