Downtown Renton has a new park, but it won’t last for long.
Renton held the grand opening of a pop-up park on Tuesday, Aug. 20 at the gravel lot along Third Avenue South, which is set to remain until the end of Renton Farmers Market.
The park includes a structure with planters, an ADA-accessible wooden walkway and standing tables. There’s also plans to add a shade sail over part of the walkway. Parts of the structure were painted by kids and adults at Summerfest on July 20.
Brittany Gillia is an intern with the Community and Economic Development Department. She became involved with the city through this pop-up park idea, which she developed as part of her senior project at University of Washington.
“This project is mostly in part of everyone that helped push the project forward,” Gillia said. “It’s nice to feel personally supported by people I met during the project and now I have a lot of friends in Renton. I’m excited to see what’s next.”
She said it was rewarding to see folks using the space during the grand opening. A community member with a walking impairment commented on how the park gave her somewhere accessible to relax near the market.
The park is a pilot program that could lead the way for similar projects throughout Renton.
“Because it’s a pop-up, it’s not a huge commitment to be involved in, and it allowed us freedom to explore what could happen,” Gillia said. “This will be a good predecessor for small interventions in Renton.”
Gillia said the pop-up park was part of an academic project through University of Washington’s undergraduate urban planning program. The city and UW students collaborated on student-generated projects, and the pop-up park started a little over a year ago.
When looking at the Civic Core Vision and Plan, Gillia said she was drawn to the pop-up park proposal as a way to engage people in an unused space, plus it met her interests in streetscapes and parks.
“I am wholly interested in how people interact with each other and the built environment,” she said. “So viewing the area next to the sidewalk as, ‘What could it be for people?’ Versus it just sitting there with gravel.”
Jon Glenn with Renton Downtown Partnership said gathering places have been an important part of its mission, and those spots help keep people coming back to downtown. He said the short-term part of the pop-up park creates a sense of excitement.
Gillia started the idea not being part of the city, and staff from Community Services, Economic Development and the Renton Downtown Partnership helped connect her with the community members. Gillia held open houses as part of her capstone project.
She gathered University of Washington students for a group called Small Steps, the team that designed and built the park. This also helped other students test skills in their interest. All of the construction was volunteer-done and lots of the supplies were donated, Gillia said.
Small Steps included seven UW students— Gillia, Sam Albee, Jordan Binford, Jessica Jarvi, Jasmine Leung, Jack O’Hea and Ian Rose— and one alumnus and Renton resident, Shaunte Smith.
Gillia said the project also received support from Dunn Lumber, Le’s Landscape and Yardwork, King’s Chapel, Luther’s Table, New Zen Japanese Restaurant, Rain City Catering, Smart Tech 3D Printing, Urban Sprouts, Boon Boona Cafe, Assetlab Marketing and Clay by Bruce. Local organizations including North Renton Neighborhood Association, South Renton Connection, Chamber of Commerce and the Renton’s Lion Club also helped with the pop-up park.
Glenn said scattered throughout the Civic Core plan is other projects like this that increase gathering at abandoned or unused spaces in downtown Renton, and it’s noticeable the amount of support these projects are getting.
“The thing I love most about Renton is there are people in the city who want to see it grow and will put their own blood, sweat and tears to make that a reality,” Glenn said. “It’s been amazing to the see the volunteers who worked with the space to then use it.”
The biggest challenge was changing to more of a leadership role and allowing other students to take control of parts of the project, Gillia said. But now the project is more of a reflection of the community which she is excited about.
Gillia said she’s been working with many local businesses and organizations that were all supportive.
“This is just a temporary park in a small pocket of a parking lot,” Gillia said. “But I think a lot of people are really happy.”
This project has reaffirmed how Gillia feels about urban planning, and also the idea that small projects like this do help folks have agency in their own community space.
She’s excited to see the variety of uses for the space they will able to get in this summer.
Glenn said it’s never easy to push through bureaucracy, and applauded Gillia for her work with the space. He also said her hard work made a clear path for future projects like this.
Gillia said those with event ideas for the pop-up park, or who want to volunteer to help water plants at the park, can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Event information will be posted on Facebook @SmallStepsRenton.