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Community Open Space Initiatives: Nihonmachi

Re-Lightening Kobe Terrace Park

Vanessa N. Lee

reenvisioning this historic sister-city park into a more inclusive space through plazas, views, and light.

Kobe Terrace Park was named after the historic 8000 lb. stone lantern that was given to Seattle by its Japa- nese sister city in 1976. Along w/ the lantern, Kobe also bestowed Mt. Fuji and Yoshino cherry trees to the park. The exchanges between the two cities range from cultural and educational to busi- ness and governmental. Strong economic ties exist between many companies of these two port cities.

Today, the park is visited by tourists, but most resi- dents avoid it because of the transients and hard drug users who may block circulation. The goal of this de- sign project is to provide multiple spaces and paths for various user groups.



  • Lack of community activity at the surrounding Nippon

Kan Theatre Area.

  • Obstructed views - overgrown vegetation.


  • Illicit activities (drug dealing and use).

  • Too many hiding places and escape routes.

  • Isolation (hidden behind Danny Woo, Kobe Terrace “adopts” those transients who have been kicked out of Danny Woo).

  • Proximity to I-5 and the “Jungle” transient hotspot.

  • Highway noise and air pollution.

  • Deemed by Danny Woo garden manager as “Northwest corner of scariness”.


  • Transient population monopolizing benches and


  • Residents fearing and avoiding transients.


  • Reconnecting Panama Hotel Teahouse with Nippon Kan Theatre (via Danny Woo Garden).

  • Revitalizing a community space for festival activity.

  • One of the best views in Seattle (included in the Viewpoints Vegetation Management Plan, Seattle Parks+Rec).

  • International connections to Kobe Sister City.

  • New family housing in construction/ new users/

  • Proximity to Danny Woo Garden.

  • Rainwater catchment from Metropolitan Apts.

Design Concept

The design concept uses the notion of light and the Moon in both its illuminating circular form and the Jap- anese folklore surrounding it. In form, the circle or ‘enso’, is a Zen symbol of enlightenment. Seasonal and agricultural festivals also play an important role in this multifunctional space.

Coupled with these themes of light and cultural tradi- tion is the inspiration derived from an interview with Mrs. Chung, a senior living in the nearby Imperial House Apartments. A photo taken from her apartment shows a shelf with Japanese floral arrangements on top, and jars of fermented beans on the bottom. As a senior living near the hillside, she was inspired to prac- tice floral arranging after walks through Kobe Terrace Park, but she also gardens at Danny Woo. The two types of objects sitting on her shelf represent the de- sign approach. Kobe Terrace serves as an aesthetic space, Danny Woo serves as a functional one, and the space between is blurred via new methods of urban agriculture (barrel cisterns and rice paddy wading pools).

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