Volunteer Park, Seattle

Seattle Asian Art Museum’s Expansion: Losing greenspace, one ‘good’ idea at a time

This guest post is an open letter  from Cass Turnbull (1951-2017), president of TreePac, and its board members. Also see below, for more information and upcoming meeting details:

TreePAC is against the proposed expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) in Volunteer Park. It is important for us to stop thinking of green space as free land to be used for other things. As with most environmental damage, the cumulative effect of many small, seemingly insignificant losses – each taking having a good justification – eventually adds up to serious and sometimes irreversible problems.

Seattle is losing trees and greenspace on private property at an alarming rate because of the building boom. Concrete covers land where trees once stood and where trees will never grow again. At the same time the Parks District indicates that it will neither be adding more green space to mitigate the environmental losses, nor to meet the increasing needs of 200,000 new residents. In this equation we seem to have forgotten that all these people need green space and large trees as are found in Volunteer Park, a City and National Landmark designed by John C. Olmsted.

Volunteer Park, Seattle WAThe proposed expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) threatens the integrity of Volunteer Park. Previous additions to the SAAM encroached upon the land and are an architectural mismatch to the natural beauty of the park. Volunteer Park’s stately trees and lawns are irreplaceable. Even those trees not directly in the path of building expansion are threatened by construction activities.

The Seattle Protect Our Parks Ordinance #118477 states: “An Ordinance requiring the preservation of all lands and facilities held now or in the future by the City of Seattle for park and recreation purposes; stipulating that such lands and facilities may only be changed from park use after a public hearing and the enactment of an ordinance finding that such action is necessary, and providing for simultaneous exchange of land or facilities of equal or better value.”

Public engagement in this project has been all but non-existent.

TreePAC does endorse the much needed improvements to the existing SAAM building that voters approved in 2008. But if more space is needed, then a new building should be located within the foot print of a preexisting building that has been torn down, elsewhere. In our view, this should be our policy to protect all our public greenspaces from encroachment.

We are asking the Mayor and City Council to act on behalf of the public good and the public trust by halting the expansion plans and permit applications until Seattle Citizens have been fully informed and engaged in decisions concerning conversion of valuable Volunteer Park property.

Once public green space is gone, it is gone for good.

– Cass Turnbull / TreePAC President & Board members
TreePAC is a political non-profit created to protect and advocate for Seattle’s urban forest.

From our perspective, this is a good example of two reoccurring themes with Park projects throughout the city.

First, there seems to be a lack of community engagement, early on in proposed projects, leaving the community feeling left out of the conversation. Whether intentional, or simply a by product of a large organization’s poor communication, the result is the same: the lack of transparency makes people suspicious and question the need, the motives, and the ultimate goal.

Second, the perspective that ‘unused’ greenspace is up for grabs for cultural or recreational purpose, and should be made ‘active’ for community use without consideration of historical or environmental impact.

Whether you agree or disagree with this particular proposal or not,  we believe you need to pay attention to the trend toward expansion and development, no matter the consequence.

Learn More

Seattle Asian Art Museum expansion (Captiol Hill Times)

Protect Volunteer Park
Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks (FSOP)
Seattle Volunteer Park Trust

Upcoming Meetings
Attend a meeting to learn more and voice your concerns:

Saturday, November 19, 2016
Seattle Asian Art Museum
1400 E Prospect St, Seattle WA 98112

Saturday, December 10, 2016
Seattle Asian Art Museum
1400 E Prospect St, Seattle WA 98112

Photo credits:
Dan Houston

5 thoughts on “Seattle Asian Art Museum’s Expansion: Losing greenspace, one ‘good’ idea at a time

  1. Very sage comments. Thank you!
    Every single inch of Volunteer Park is needed for restorative recreation and passive natural enjoyment as designed 110 years ago by the Olmsted Brothers firm of Brookline Mass. Fairsted is the Olmsted’s office and is a National Historic Park in which educational exhibits prominently feature Volunteer Park and the rest of our Seattle system of parks and boulevards. So even though Ed Murray, José Aguirre and Michael Shiosaki may make a mess of this national historic landmark example of Landscape Art…

  2. There have been 17 meetings open to the public discussing the Asian Art Museum renovation and proposed expansion project this year. SAM has been hosting monthly community feedback meetings since July to inform the public about the project and to seek comment. The next public meeting is scheduled for this Saturday, November 19 at 1:00 PM at the Asian Art Museum.

    Both the Asian Art Museum and Volunteer Park are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As the planning process for the Asian Art Museum’s renovation and proposed expansion continues, SAM’s intention is to find a design solution that not only respects the integrity of the park, but also ensures the ability of the museum to function as an important cultural and community resource for years to come.

    More information about the project, including a list of frequently asked questions, can be found at http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/inspire

    Thank you.

    1. You are Domenic Morea the Director of Communications at Seattle Art Museum?

      There were meetings but until people protested, the meetings were announced as being about only the “renovation”, which had been discussed for years. The public was not informed that an expansion was planned. Jen Graves wrote in The Stranger about the opacity of the outreach and how difficult it was for even the press to know about the expansion:


      Volunteer Park (all of it) is itself a work of landscape art of national significance. Many of us do not agree that the proposed design respects the integrity of the park. It would become the tallest and most visually imposing exterior wall of the building. As an informal organization “Protect Volunteer Park” we have set up a web site to share concerns about this project: http://ProtectVolunteerPark.org

  3. I personally love this city because of its natural scenery. I totally support the protection of the volunteer park. The cost of the museum expansion is just a bit too much.

  4. The Park must stay inviolate as Cass has said, even if only as a memorial to that lovely lady’s efforts on behalf of a public that sometimes seems not to care.
    Once green space has been built on – it is gone forever, you don’t have to look far to recognise that. How much more concrete can the area absorb? Look at the Auburn Valley, once a thriving Dairy Farm area and now just a sheet of blacktop and concrete.
    Green spaces in the urban landscape are essential, and more especially now with the projected increase in population.

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