The problem with tunnels is that they have to end somewhere. Working on the “Big Dig Lid” in Boston’s historic North End made me familiar with the challenges that cities face when tunneled traffic inevitably resurfaces. Freeway speeds and behaviors are suddenly injected into the finer-grained interactions of the city.
Therefore, my fantasy for the spoils of excavation would be to use them to mitigate these 20th-century-style surface wounds in our city by covering them with 21st-century development. We could minimize further transportation energy put toward the spoils by reckoning with them in place, at the two ends of the tunnel, rather than shipping them elsewhere. Pile the spoils on a lid over each open ramp area and develop the new hills as dense, pedestrian developments: mini modern hill towns of beautifully designed buildings and walking streets.
The new pedestrian streets that lace through these hill towns will be created out of thin air over the ramps, so no one could begrudge their dedication to people on foot. The mini modern hilltowns would also serve as giant sound insulators for the adjacent blocks and neighborhoods. The entry to the tunnel into the base of each hill would become a concise, framed portal into a hillside rather than an expansive open area. The tightness of this physical experience would reinforce the intense design, humanity and high value of land in our city...perhaps inspiring drivers to slow down and submit to the beauty and (in)conveniences of a finely crafted, pedestrian-filled city.
Shannon Nichol landscape architect and founding principal, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol
Plot It Out
The City of Seattle estimates our population at around 630,000. We have 900,000 cubic yards of dirt—that’s approximately 1.5 cubic yards per person! How about each person in the city receives this gift/burden as part of his or her due as a Seattle resident, effectively adopting and owning a piece of land from downtown Seattle! Not only do we each get a piece of downtown, we’ll be receiving a piece of Seattle history, since much of that area was filled in in the past as the shoreline was transformed from habitat for salmon and Native American settlements to a port for shipping. While each person could decide for themselves the best life for their piece of Seattle, one suggestion is to plant it with salal and other native plants that once covered the area where the tunnel is now.
Vaughn Bell multimedia artist, whose work includes Metropolis, which was part of Next Fifty, 2012, at Seattle Center