August 8, 2014

CityLove: Seattle According to Linnea Westerlind

  • By: Grant Stevens
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Credit: Linnea Westerlind

As part of the CityLove blog series, we wanted to highlight a local leader -- someone who is living the preservation-minded life in the city. For Seattle, we spoke with Linnea Westerlind about all things park-related.

For historic preservation/placemaking/urban planning fans, what are the must-see places in Seattle for a first-time visitor?

Seattle’s Pike Place Market is a testament to the importance of preservation. It’s one of the oldest continuously operating public markets in the country and was nearly demolished in the 1960s. Today, Pike Place Market is packed with tourists, but locals flock there too for fresh seafood, produce, flowers and great restaurants. It’s such an important part of the flavor and culture of our city.

Other spots that shouldn’t be missed for visitors to Seattle who are fans of historic preservation are Pioneer Square, the Smith Tower, and St. James Cathedral. People who love parks and views should check out Lincoln Park, the Ballard Locks, the Olympic Sculpture Park, Discovery Park and Volunteer Park.

Green Lake, Seattle. Credit: Linnea Westerlind
Linnea said Green Lake Park in North Seattle is one of her favorite places. “It’s like a miniature Central Park and has a 2.8-mile paved path that circles a lake. Green Lake is where on a Saturday morning -- rain or shine -- you can see people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities enjoying being outside.”

We are big fans of Smith Magazine’s Six Word Memoir Project. What are your six words about Seattle?

Nature draws us, community keeps us.

We discovered you through your blog, Year of Seattle Parks. Tell us a little bit about the blog and what has inspired you to spend over four (!) years exploring each of Seattle’s parks.

I grew up in the Seattle area, and I’ve always loved parks and exploring new places. A few months after my oldest son was born in 2009, I decided to take on the challenge as an excuse to get us out of the house and see more of my city. I optimistically aimed to visit all the parks in one year, but with more than 400, I had to modify my plans! I loved going to so many parts of my city that I’d never set foot in before and learning about Seattle’s history through its parks.

My blog became a way to document my progress, but I also hope it has inspired others to follow along and explore our city’s green spaces. Now I have three sons, and my husband and I love taking them to parks to play. When someone asked one of my sons what we do as a family, he said, “We go to a lot of parks!”

Ballard Locks, Seattle. Credit: Linnea Westerlind
Ballard Locks

We love that you have a “Favorite Historic Parks” filter on your blog. What determined whether a park was historic?

I labeled a park “historic” if it had a tie to significant parts of our history as a city, either by its location in an historic district or by events that took place at that location. It’s very interesting how much of Seattle’s history can be told through its parks.

The City of Seattle’s Parks Department has an amazing resource in the Sherwood History Files. Donald Sherwood was an engineer for the parks department for 22 years (1955-1977) and made hand-written notes and sketches about more than 300 Seattle parks; the notes are based on both his own work in the parks and older department files that were going to be destroyed. I used a lot of the Sherwood History Files in my research to better understand what made so many of these parks significant.

Volunteer Park, Seattle. Credit: Linnea Westerlind
When we asked her for her all-time favorite historic park, Linnea named Volunteer Park in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. She said “(it)… dates to 1876, which is impressive for our relatively young city. The Olmsted Brothers created plans for many of the park’s best features including the conservatory, which houses some of the country’s rarest plants and flowers. The entire park was designated as a Seattle landmark in 2011. It’s a lovely place to visit year-round.”

Often times, historic neighborhoods surround or are nearby parks, with the park serving as a major landmark in the community. Why do you think parks are placed at the center of a community?

Parks have always been -- and will continue to be -- community gathering points. Parks are great equalizers. People of all incomes and backgrounds can enjoy free activities in public spaces. I think parks play a huge role in both historic neighborhoods and new ones. All great public planning revolves around public green space.

What can the preservation field do to attract more people like yourself (folks who probably would not self-identify as preservationists)?

I think you can find people who feel strongly about preserving things they are passionate about -- whether it is parks, open space, historic buildings, or access to waterfront. I think if you ask people if they are a preservationist, they wouldn’t identify with that title, but ask them to help keep their favorite park from being sold to developers and you’ve got a strong advocate for preservation.

Grant is the manager of Community Outreach at the National Trust. He's proud to be from a Main Street Community and the Black Dirt Capitol of the World—Conrad, Iowa! Now a resident of beautiful Baltimore, you can most often find him reading, running, or out on the road saving places.


This Preservation Month, let's celebrate and explore historic places, starting with one action a day through the month of May. We can’t wait to see what you accomplish!

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