Neighborhood Design-Build Studio

Stairs, Accessible Gardens & Other Garden Structures - Spring 1996

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Site

Danny Woo Community Gardens
Between 6th Ave S, S Main St, and I-5
International District, Seattle

Description

The project included the design and construction of an accessible gardening area in the upper undeveloped portion of the garden to enable long time frail elderly gardeners to continue gardening and to open the garden to other frail elderly who have not been able to garden in the past. The studio designed and built pathways, rails, seating, and accessible raised garden beds that are sensitive to the special needs of the elderly and embrace the unique character of the community garden and the International District. This studio provided students with an opportunity to explore elderly design issues within a unique cultural context, to interact with community groups and the elderly gardeners, to familiarize themselves with the International District as a strong Seattle neighborhood facing challenges and issues that reflect the larger planning, development, community and social issues currently confronting low income communities in Seattle.

Interim Community Development Association

Interim Community Development Association (ICDA) is a community based nonprofit organization dedicated to the stabilization and revitalization of Seattle's International District neighborhood without displacement and gentrification. Throughout its 27 year history, ICDA's work has focused on community development and advocacy in the International District on behalf of the elderly, low income and minority residents and the nurturing of the International District as the cultural focus for the larger Asian/Pacific community. Many of the community organizations in the International District have been spearheaded and then spun off by ICDA including: the International District Community Health Clinic, the Denise Louie Early Childhood Education Center, the International District Emergency Center, the International District Housing Alliance, and the Seattle Chinatown Preservation and Development Authority.

The Danny Woo International District Community Garden

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Danny Woo International District Community Garden, a nationally recognized project spearheaded and managed by ICDA. The 100 garden plots on a terraced, south facing slope overlooking the neighborhood on S. Main Street are tended by elderly, low income residents of the International District. The garden was built on donated land through the backbreaking efforts of countless community volunteers. For elderly residents of the International District most of whom live in tiny apartments or single room occupancy hotel rooms, the garden provides a cherished opportunity to work the earth, a source of purpose and pride, activities that are both enjoyable and productive, and a social network linking them with the community at large. As most gardeners are from Asian countries (Korea, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan) where farming was their way of life, the garden enables them to continue with traditional, familiar activities and to grow herbs and vegetables from their homeland. For the International District community as a whole, the garden serves as a source and symbol of community pride and spirit and as the site of special annual community festivities. The garden is an important showcase for the International District community, representing community caring, cohesiveness, and strength.

Previous UW Design/Build in the Garden

Past efforts of University of Washington architecture students have left a lasting mark on the community garden. The tool shed, entry gateway, kiosks, vegetable washing areas, seating, pig roast pit and barbecue area were all designed and built by UW students during the summers of 1989, 1990, and 1991. These design/build studios gave the students an opportunity to work within a unique cultural and social setting, to learn about important community issues and concerns, and to make a real contribution to the International District community. The projects of the University of Washington architecture students have helped to make the garden more beautiful, more safe, and most of all they have made the elderly gardeners feel more secure in their hold on this piece of land that is being increasingly squeezed by the pressures of downtown development.

The Problem

Increasing numbers of long time gardeners are being forced to stop tending their plots. Elderly gardeners who have through the summer months, attended to their gardens daily in the morning and again late in the afternoon for the past 10-20 years have recently stopped gardening. Climbing the hill to the garden has become too difficult for them and the numerous steps and idiosyncratic paths improvised from salvaged boards and recycled materials provide too great a risk for those for whom falling could be deadly. For these frail elderly, losing the opportunity to garden, to care for something, shrinks their world and diminishes their quality of life.