Courtesy of Swift Company
A child plays with an interactive fountain in the cement plaza at Ballard Commons Park, where Ballardites of all backgrounds can enjoy an open space together in "graceful cohabitation."

After years of planning, Ballard Commons a community treasure

On any given day in Ballard, even a workday, a diverse array of people can be seen at the Ballard Commons Park.

It’s a success story that won an award for the designers of the park, Seattle-based Swift Company. At the end of May, they received the 2012 Special Mention Award for Design from the Washington Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, a well-respected organization in the field.

“They don’t give awards lightly. They’re a pretty tough group,” said Barbara Swift, principal of Swift Company. “We were thrilled by their observations and their giving of the award.”

The young and the elderly alike share the park, which is split up in three main sections. In the cement plaza across from the library, toddlers can be seen tromping around interactive fountains, or people can be seen gathering for small events. Adjacent to them, teenagers and young 20-somethings test their skills in the skate bowl. And everyone can enjoy the slightly sloping grass amphitheater, which is perfect for relaxing, having picnics and soaking in the sun.

No one section dominates the rest, Swift said. They all work in cohesion to serve a number of purposes and people. It is a gathering place, literally a “commons.” Not even people who are homeless are excluded or bothered, she said.

Wide sidewalks and criss-crossing paths reduce conflict, allowing people to avoid each other and to live in “graceful cohabitation,” Swift said.

Trees lining the border of the park, though small and young now, are expected to flourish in the next fifteen years, providing shade and a more natural, rustic look to the park.

The park was the result of a large, long community effort driven by Groundswell NW and Ballard Open Space Committee, both who wanted to see more parks and open spaces in the Ballard area. Community members and various special interest groups, including an underserved skating community, collaborated and hammered out design elements until it became what it is today.

Original efforts to create a park started as early as 1996, with the Ballard Open Space Inventory and Action Plan. But it wasn’t until 2005 that Ballard Commons Park was built, with funding from the Pro Parks Levy.

“The park is the product of an extensive public process to engage the community and build consensus with diverse user groups, and the resulting design effectively addressed these differing needs,” the jury for the award said. “Playful integration of art elements within the plazas and fountains, and general attention to detail and craftsmanship, make this a successful public space.”

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