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Community Open Space Initiatives: Nihonmachi

Executive Summary

Nihonmachi is a Japanese neighborhood rich in pos- sibilities and at the cusp of great changes. The neigh- borhood was once a vibrant community of Japanese immigrants that suffered from cultural abandon- ment when the population was forced to leave dur- ing the Japanese internment. Although Japantowns are disappearing nationally, Seattle’s Nihonmachi is ripe for cultural, economic and social development. The following report takes a critical look at the latent assets of the neighborhood as well as the issues with which it is currently plagued. A major consideration of each of the design solutions are to maintain and uphold the gems, the great places of the neighbor- hood, including Danny Woo Garden, Panama Hotel, NP Hotel, Nippon Kan Theatre, and other places of historic and cultural significance. The design solu- tions also consider the spaces adjoining these historic landmarks. After careful analysis of the neighborhood through observation and in-depth interviews, the most pressing issues to be dealt with were of residential and commercial vacancy, derelict open spaces, abun- dance of car-oriented spaces and parking lots, home- lessness, drug use, drug dealing and prostitution. The report features four design concepts working to- gether to revitalize the neighborhood:

Re-lightening Kobe Terrace Park seeks to ame- liorate the deleterious impact of I-5 while provid- ing new programmable community spaces along

the northeast edge of the series of terraced plazas

district. in along


proposes a


hillside, as

well as an illuminated wall bol of friendship to Seattle’s

that serves as a sym- sister city: Kobe Japan.

Monster Stair proposes a staircase that continues the axis of Maynard Ave S and makes a new en- trance into Danny Woo Garden. Public art along the stairs is both pessimistic and optimistic as it uses pop-cultural imagery as a reference to Japanese heritage in the past as well as the present flows of goods and ideas between the city and the Pacific Rim.

Main Street Improvements examines how future development could enhance the pedestrian experi- ence and aesthetic quality to create a vibrant, ac- tive space along Main Street. Specifically, the project studies the reconfiguration of parking spaces to pro- vide pocket pedestrian spaces, new paving patterns to improve the pedestrian experience and calm traf- fic; improvement of building facades, and setbacks for upper stories and articulation at the street level.

Light in the Alley explores the creation of pedes- trian spaces from three alleyways in the neighbor- hood. While each alley is given a different theme, some common design elements ensure that the three work cohesively as a whole. The alleys would provide both intimately scaled pathways for moving through the neighborhood as well as places for lingering.

These proposed Open Space guidelines, designs, and implementation strategies work to establish connectivi- ty, improve existing spaces, and ultimately revitalize the historic identity of Nihonmachi -- a district serving not only Japanese and JapaneseAmericans, but also those communities who reside or will reside in Nihonmachi.

1. Site Overview

The study area consists of Nihonmachi, a historic area, that has a multitude of land uses within its boundaries. The neighborhood is located within a 15 block area bounded by:

  • Yesler Way to the north

  • S. Jackson St.. to the south

  • 4th Ave. to the west

  • 7th Ave. to the east.

  • Sixth and South Main served as the cultural



As early as 1891, Nihonmachi served as the heart of Se- attle’s JapaneseAmerican community. This community thrived until the forced removal and internment of Japa- nese Americans during World War II. While the district has continued to be the home to a Pan-Asian commu- nity, Seattle’s Japanese American community has nev- er regained the same sense of identity and vitality as enjoyed before the war. Although an active Japanese American community no longer resides in Nihonmachi, the District remains culturally important to those living in the Puget Sound area. As historian Gail Dubrow ar- gues, Seattle’s Japantown is the most intact Japanese American district in the U.S. thanks to its exemplary landmarks (“Restoring a Sense of Place in Seattle’s Nihonmachi”, 2003). Some of the landmarks identified from previous studio and charrette analyses include:

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