Excellence in Cityness is a new series in which we praise the places, amenities, and experiences that Seattle (or other cities) are definitely doing right. We’re starting with Occidental Waterfall Park.
Seattle is a very Nature-Forward city. Not just in its much touted vicinity to mountains, water, and general green grooviness, but also inside the town itself. We have trees on every block, multiple green spaces, gigantic, lose-yourself parks like Magnuson, Ravenna, Seward, and Discovery, and just generally pride ourselves on how pretty the town is. This is great.
So I didn’t realize how ingrained this was in me, how much I was used to, and needed the daily doses of nature. After all, I’m not one who gets out into the mountains every weekend, most of my interests– shows, readings, museums, “culture”– are very city-based.
But when I moved from a small apartment in Columbia City abutting the Cheasty Greenspace (a future contender for Excellence in Cityness) to a studio on a block bridging Pioneer Square and the ID, I realized how much I missed my nature. I’d somehow managed to find, and move to, one of the five square tree-less blocks in all of Seattle.
Constant sirens, lots of concrete. In the time since moving, the parking lots on either side of my building are new buildings. My view went from a pretty spectacular cinematic shot of the Smith and Columbia Towers to the rapidly dirtying pastels of the newly constructed. Pulled blinds of windows just across mine.
Which is why the Occidental Waterfall has become so important to me. In one of the most urban of Seattle’s environments, it’s a little slice of zen. It is, of course, completely man made, a gift from UPS to the people of Pioneer Square. It opened in 1977 and the waterfall has been turning on at 8 a.m. and shutting down at 5:45 pm (or 3:45 in winter) ever since. It’s an example of the often touted privately owned public spaces that actually functions like it’s supposed to, as office workers, square residents and the un-housed alike eat their lunches, read their books or simply take in cascading water in peace.
The number of times this little plot of land has helped me breathe, de-stress, given me inspiration for a poem or article is countless. Ten minute stretches in the middle of busy days, on days when I can’t make it to one of the parks mentioned above, but need a chance to breathe.
In practical terms, Occidental Waterfall is arguably a better de-stress site than the waterfront; there are fewer people, and even if you can’t tear yourself away from your phone to look at it, there’s still the sound. Rushing, hypnotic, soothing.
So yes. This is a thing that works, and I love it. I’ll probably go there tomorrow, since it’s closed by now. . . which brings me to my only complaint about it: I just wish it were open longer.
Also published on Medium.