Can government-built structures like bridges provide a canvas for social equity? Local Seattle designers took on this question by activating the Mount Baker pedestrian overpass with an installation for the 2015 Seattle Design Festival: Design for Equity, September 21st through October 3rd. The installation, “Mind the Gap,” explores a literal bridge connecting historic Mount Baker to dense urban development taking place in the North Rainier Valley. The effort addresses equity gaps in accessibility, infrastructure, and culture that frequently follow transit- oriented development in historic neighborhoods, by creating a sense of place through little- known and culturally diverse local history. The result is intended to inspire cohesive community ownership on a deeper level.
The 40-year old Mount Baker pedestrian overpass, spanning the crossroads of Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and Rainier Avenue South in the Mount Baker neighborhood, is a bridge connecting cultures and resources. The Seattle Design Festival provided an opportunity for local design firms, JeppsonEGD and Penniless Projects, to temporarily transform the bridge into a venue that engages the community with inclusive stories uncovered during the recent “Mount Baker: Great Heights” neighborhood identity project.
“The 40-year-old pedestrian bridge is functional, but few would call the crossing “inspirational.” We wanted to challenge the current perception of the area and — through design elements — use the bridge to highlight the cultural connections and history of the neighborhood. Beyond the physical, this program challenges neighbors to notice and “mind” the equity gaps that exist in the community. The remarkable stories displayed in this installation remind us that everyone can overcome obstacles and have a hand in how our city evolves—through community-driven projects, advocacy for equitable design, and pride in our neighborhoods,” said Noah Jeppson, a Mt. Baker resident and the project’s manager.
Today’s urban village has been the stage for some of Seattle’s greatest moments and most profound heroes. Historically, this area is underpinned by the Olmstead plan for interconnected parks and boulevards intended to connect the neighborhood of upper-class residents on the hills above Lake Washington to an economically and culturally-diverse group of individuals in the Rainier valley and beyond. This area was home to two legendary baseball stadiums, beautiful Franklin High School, and extraordinary individuals that made an impact on the world regardless of cultural background or personal challenges. These powerful, inspiring stories are the core of the installation.
Colorful wayfinding signage welcomes pedestrians and cyclists onto the bridge, reinforcing the Olmsted legacy connections. As students, commuters, and recreational users ascend the spiraling ramps, vibrant banners form an outdoor gallery of inspirational neighborhood stories. All that cross are encouraged to read the stories and consider how they — as community members — can also help shape the future design of this dynamic area.
A related Seattle Design Festival panel discussion on local opportunities and challenges for equitable design occurred on September 21st. The panel included representatives from Southeast Effective Development (SEED), Friends of Mount Baker Town Center, Mount Baker Center for the Arts, Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks, Seattle Department of Transportation, and community-oriented design firm Penniless Projects.
“Mind the Gap” will be on public display through October 3, 2015.