Pioneer Square is home to stark contrasts. Art galleries, boutique restaurants, high-end housing and blossoming tech startups within historic buildings are contrasted by homelessness, development limitations, a hub of mental health facilities and lack of urban-enhancing amenities.
Many empty or under-utilized properties await future change, and the Map the Square team (the Young Architects Forum of Seattle AIA) sought to influence this design change by inviting the public voice. Map the Square is a physical art installation and digital interactive urban mapping project that elevates public conversation around design and the built environment in Pioneer Square.
The week-long physical installation coincided with the Seattle Design Festival’s block party in Occidental Square, the heart of the neighborhood. The Map the Square team asked several questions. How can we help the public and local stakeholders articulate the problems in the urban built environment in this neighborhood? Is it possible for our installation to allow the public to voice their solutions to those problems? How can we strengthen the voice of the inhabitants, businesses, tourists, and caretakers of Pioneer Square in the discussion and development of their neighborhood? What design elements will transform Pioneer Square into a more vibrant, socially sustainable urban environment?
In partnership with the local business improvement association and local businesses, eight Map the Square kiosks were displayed in front of neighborhood storefronts. The playful and approachable kiosks empowered the public to stop, look and interact with the colored tag elements and the neighborhood, asking the public to show where they felt a change could take place.
Participation was encouraged in the built environment and through social media using #mapthesquare, introducing a digital and networked conversation around the exercise. The design team recorded tag locations and written input, and tracked the feedback on an online map, now a permanent record for the public, business owners and city officials to use as a guideline for future development.
The design team went through many iterations on how to garner data from the inhabitants of Pioneer Square and decided to print Tyvek tags. They were able to stand up to the elements so the team was able to collect and record before the rain could destroy them. Team members went out every morning to collect and record new tags in the expanding database. The project’s home base, in a local gallery, showcased the project and provided a space to gather and discuss the neighborhood’s future.
The entire project incorporated user-centered research. Initially, the team was going to propose positive interventions into the built environment, but instead decided it would be best to have locals say what interventions they thought best.
The measure of success for this project was fairly subjective, but the team found success in being able to actively participate in the Seattle Design Festival, create a conversation about the future of Pioneer Square and be able to provide meaningful data to the Alliance for Pioneer Square that they could use.
Shannon Payton (project lead); TJ Hoving (design lead); Rob Deane (project manager); Carl Leighty (partner); Yes Segura (data analyst); Joseph Knight, Samira Yasmin, Michelle Yates, Jessica Hardin, Jacqui Aiello, Maribel Barba, Arti Patel, Tya Abe, Grace Lounsbury, Brittany Porter (design/production team); Jesse Chapman (team member)
A-Gallery, Seattle Design Festival (facilitators); Alliance for Pioneer Square, Carl Leighty (partner)
"A fresh take on engaging the public without limiting it to the more traditional public engagement approach."
"This project brings empowerment to each and every participator, challenging traditional city planning to keep pushing toward innovative, inclusive, authentic, urban planning solutions right from the voices of the people."