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Seattle’s Downtown Activation Plan Envisions a Greener, More Resilient City Center

The landscape of Downtown, with breathtaking views of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, is a beautiful reminder of the Emerald City’s connection to nature, and the commitment we have to protecting it for all to enjoy. As we work to bring people and vibrancy back Downtown, Seattle will continue to lead in climate action by centering climate justice and addressing climate change with urgency. 

Last Wednesday, Mayor Harrell announced the launch of the Downtown Activation Plan, which lays out bold goals and actions to stabilize and transform Downtown into a place where residents, workers, and visitors want to spend time. The plan outlines seven goals, one being to create a healthy, resilient, and green Downtown – a collection of the neighborhoods of Belltown, Chinatown-International District, the Commercial Core, Denny Triangle, Pioneer Square, and Stadium District.

Groups of people biking through a Downtown urban forest on a dedicated bike lane, as a streetcar passes by and pedestrians walk. Buildings shine in the sunlight in the background.
Olson Kundig curated images created by third-party AI programs for the Downtown Activation Plan. Images are not actual project images and are strictly for illustrative purposes. 

The resilience and climate justice aspects of the plan focus on improving Downtown’s air quality, addressing climate impacts in the Downtown neighborhoods, and building a resilient, fossil fuel-free city. The plan’s climate goals are aligned with our values of Mayor Harrell’s Climate Justice Agenda, furthering our commitment to support Seattleites most impacted by climate change by building community resilience, creating new clean energy jobs, and ensuring a just transition to an equitable, clean energy economy.

Left: “Downtown is you” logo on bright yellow background. White text says “Downtown is you” and is placed inside rectangular shapes. City of Seattle logo is at the bottom of the graphic. 

Right: Picture of a child taking a picture wearing a blue shirt on a navy background. The “Downtown is me” logo is in various shades of blue. City of Seattle logo is at the bottom of the graphic.

To achieve the goals of celebrating Seattle’s connection to nature and addressing the urgency of global climate challenges, the City pledges the following actions:

  1. Pilot a green and healthy street by closing Pike Street between First and Second Avenues for pedestrians only. The new street will feature activations, music buskers, café-like seating areas for people-watching, and popup vendors. Accommodations for delivering goods and supplies to adjacent businesses will be allowed during certain times of the day to mitigate disruptions.
  2. Reopen City Hall Park with activations throughout the summer to help keep the park vibrant, including concerts, food trucks, fitness classes, art programs, movie and sports viewing, and a satellite farmers market.
  3. Finish improvements to Downtown parks happening now and extending throughout 2023, at Bell Street Park, Tilikum Place Park, and Freeway Park. Upgrades include new electrical and lighting systems, utilities, and stormwater infrastructure.
  4. To create new community green spaces and areas designed for families and young children, open the remaining parts of the new Waterfront Park in 2025, including Pier 58 with its public plaza and free programming by the Friends of the Waterfront. Open Habitat Beach at the Waterfront for a pilot period this summer before opening permanently in 2024.
  5. Explore the future use of Pier 48 as new open green space. Pier 48 is a 4.5+ acre pier south of the Coleman Dock ferry terminal owned by the State.
  6. Continue to explore the lidding of I-5 to create park spaces and pedestrian connections from Capitol Hill to Downtown. The City has received grant funding for this feasibility analysis. Successful examples of highway lidding can be seen in Dallas at Klyde Warren Park.
  7. Pilot low-pollution neighborhoods Downtown by establishing low-emission delivery opportunities. These include delivery hubs, e-cargo bike delivery, infrastructure to support electric food trucks and street vending, electrification of our transportation system, incentives for the electrification of small business vehicles, and other policies, programs, and projects that support reducing harmful pollution for residents and workers. Seattle was recently awarded a $1.2 million grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation under the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program to pilot three low-emissions neighborhoods.
  8. Implement the Building Emissions Performance Standards Policy (BEPS). Relevant to existing nonresidential and multifamily buildings greater than 20,000 square feet, the Building Emissions Performance Standard Policy (BEPS) is expected to reduce annual building greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 325,000 metric tons by 2050 ― a 27% decrease from a 2008 baseline. The reduction in emissions is the equivalent of taking 72,322 gasoline-powered cars off the road for a year.

The plan also includes visionary ideas for the future of Downtown. One idea is imagining an urban forest that meets Seattle’s goal to achieve 30 percent equitably distributed citywide canopy cover by 2037.

The City’s 2021 Tree Canopy Assessment revealed that we are slowly losing ground in our tree canopy. The report also found that neighborhoods impacted by racial and economic injustice had less canopy coverage to begin with and lost more coverage between 2016-2021 than the citywide average. Tree canopy cover is important for protecting Seattle from climate impacts.

Large group of people walk under the urban forest canopy in the future Downtown of Seattle.
Olson Kundig curated images created by third-party AI programs for the Downtown Activation Plan. Images are not actual project images and are strictly for illustrative purposes. 

Maximizing trees and greenery in the middle of the city could transform it into an urban forest, further connecting the built environment with nature and preparing Downtown to be more resilient against the impacts of climate change. When we prioritize people and climate justice, the opportunities are endless.

Learn more about Mayor Harrell’s Downtown Activation Plan at DowntownIsYou.com.