Since building the Belltown P-Patch in 1995 through 1998, neighborhood residents have dreamed of expanding the garden north into Vine Street.

Others in Belltown-a densely populated neighborhood dominated by concrete and glass-have wanted to take the concept of “green streets” and make them real. In the mid-1990s, a diverse group of Belltown residents organized themselves as “Growing Vine Street” and began the greening of Vine Street. The plan was to treat the eight-block length of Vine Street as a watershed, turning it into a street park in the heart of Belltown. It was to bring the calming rhythm of nature to the urban setting and provide public access to the waterfront.

As the project evolves, it will provide benefits to the Seattle community. Currently, street and property runoff in Belltown is channeled into the combined sewer lines, which carry both raw sewage and relatively clean storm water to sewage treatment facilities. These combined lines operate beyond their capacity and overflow during heavy rains.

One of the principal features of the Growing Vine Street project is capturing local runoff and allowing it to follow the course of the natural watershed. Since urban runoff contains pollutants, some filtering is mandatory before this water is released into Elliott Bay. The Growing Vine Street project will clean storm water through biofiltration. This project is meant to be a test laboratory for urban neighborhoods, demonstrating the double benefit of reclaiming problem storm runoff while creating a desirable, living green space for people and habitat for wildlife.

The response from the local community has been overwhelmingly positive. Working together, Growing Vine Street, the Belltown community, and a multi-discipline team of consultants headed by Carlson Architects have produced the conceptual design for Vine Street that you are now reading. Our goal is to make Vine Street grow!

The Plan

As indicated above, the Growing Vine Street project is a laboratory for green solutions within an urban design context. The objectives are three-fold: to treat roof runoff through biofiltration, to create a refreshing green space for the community, and to reintroduce the natural hydrologic cycle into our urban lives.

Central to the Growing Vine Street concept is the runnel, an urban stream running the street’s entire eight-block length surrounded by native greenery. Storm runoff from the roofs of buildings bordering Vine will be collected in large cisterns in each block to supply the water for the stream. As the water flows through the plantings lining the watercourse, it will be treated through the process of biofiltration, which will remove many of its impurities so that it will be clean enough to be released directly into Elliott Bay-without passing through the City’s overworked water treatment facilities.

Between Fifth Avenue and First Avenue, Vine Street is relatively level. In this section, the public right-of-way will be reconfigured so that one side is narrow (with a sidewalk and narrow planting strip) and the other is wide. The runnel will meander through the wide side of the street, surrounded by as much greenery as developers and residents can manage. These wide segments will form a refreshing linear park, a setting for creative public art as well as nature.

Concept - Street Cross Section

At First Avenue, Vine Street slopes to Elliott Avenue, where it again levels out. Here the street right-of-way will be reconfigured in a switchback alignment to allow for more dramatic water features. One such project is the Cistern Steps adjacent to the Belltown P-Patch. The Cistern Steps is planned as a series of terraced planting areas stepping down the slope. Water from the runnel will flow into the top garden, overflow into the next, and continue to a small pool at Elliott Avenue.

Demonstration Projects

The Growing Vine Street project was designed to be completed incrementally. Although current property owners may support the project with intensive landscaping, most of the project’s structures will be constructed as new development occurs. As it is completed, each new segment will connect with adjacent sections until, over time, Vine Street becomes an urban watershed supporting a runnel flowing its entire eight-block length. The runnel, in turn, will support the lush vegetation through which it flows-and the entire Vine Street garden will nurture and refresh us all.

This project has received enthusiastic and wide-ranging support, with hundreds participating in its planning and design. Yet, even a great idea will be forgotten if it is not implemented. With that in mind, Growing Vine Street planned two projects to serve as catalysts and keep the vision alive.

The first of these projects is the Beckoning Cistern, part of the development of The 81 Vine Building. The Growing Vine Street concept calls for large cisterns in each block to collect roof runoff to feed the runnel. The Beckoning Cistern is the first of these cisterns, a whimsical example of the possibilities inherent in the concept. The second project, the Cistern Steps, is a dramatic water feature made possible by the steep slope in that section of Vine Street.

What We Have Learned

Developing an eight-block green street is a major undertaking. Since its inception, the Growing Vine Street project has faced many challenges and frustrations-but it has continued in the face of all these obstacles. Today, with one major demonstration project completed and another under construction, success finally seems possible.

The process was a long one. Here are some of the things we learned as it progressed.

  1. Continuity is essential. The development of the Growing Vine Street concept and the subsequent implementation of the demonstration projects took many years. More than a hundred volunteers have worked on this project. They would come and go, and often come back later, but few stayed for long periods. Through it all, however, Carolyn Geise remained to lead the project and keep it alive. Without such continuity, Growing Vine Street would have died in its first year or two.
  2. Collaboration and coordination are critical. The Beckoning Cistern and the Cistern Steps were completed through complex funding arrangements. The Beckoning Cistern was funded primarily by the developers of The 81 Vine Building, with added grants funding from the City of Seattle. The Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs funded the artist and much of the cistern construction. As the Beckoning Cistern is officially a piece of public art, the City has assumed major maintenance responsibilities. The Cistern Steps was funded by the City of Seattle, King County, and private donations, and Friends of the Belltown P-Patch have entered into a maintenance agreement to maintain the project. Developers of The Vine condominiums agreed to provide storm water from their building and constructed a portion of the pipeline that carries the water from The Vine to the Cistern Steps. The Beckoning Cistern and Cistern Steps serve as examples of what can be accomplished through collaboration and cooperation.
  3. The City of Seattle should take the lead. The City of Seattle is both regulator of private development and funder of public projects. The Departments of Planning & Development and Transportation should develop a strategy and regulations whereby private developers, the City, and local residents can collaborate in the implementation of green street plans. This would remove a great burden from citizen volunteers, who have a difficult time negotiating the labyrinth of City organization. The Beckoning Cistern and Cistern Steps would not have happened had it not been for the tireless effort of volunteers. However, whether this volunteer effort can be sustained to finish the entire eight-block project is questionable.
  4. Occasionally, with luck and enough determination, impossible things can be accomplished!

Environment-Friendly Gardening


One of the major goals of the Growing Vine Street project is to encourage recognition of water as an integral part of our lives. With this recognition comes an acknowledgement of responsibility. Squandering or misusing this precious resource will seriously damage all of us – and our descendants.

Therefore, one of the project’s themes is the cleansing of storm water runoff through biofiltration. As stated earlier in Growing Vine Street Revisited 2004, biofiltration is the process of exposing polluted water to sunlight, soil, and vegetation to biologically alter and absorb pollutants, thereby improving water quality. On Vine Street, as the streamlet flows through the vegetated runnel, different plants will work in various ways to purify the water. Please see the “Vegetation: Biofilter Plantings” section for a list of suggested plants to be used for this purpose.

Water Conservation

The Growing Vine Street project not only cleans water, it conserves it as well. The Growing Vine Street plan calls for large cisterns to be constructed in each block to collect roof runoff. Although much of the water they collect will, of course, be channeled into the runnel, each cistern will be equipped with a spigot for irrigating the landscaped areas. At each cistern, posted signs will warn that the water is not potable.

Although Growing Vine Street is experimenting with large cisterns on a grand scale, “rain barrel” gardening – using barrels instead of cisterns – is an environment-friendly, cost-effective practice that has been used by generations of Northwest gardeners. Because it helps reduce demands on both the area’s water supply and treatment system, King County has developed a website explaining the benefits of this conservation measure and how gardeners can set up their own system. See rain barrels for more information on this subject.

rain barrels

Sustainable Gardening

Biofiltration and water conservation are the two environment-friendly gardening features Growing Vine Street has built into its plan. However, there are many other smart gardening practices that will be used to make Vine Street’s landscaping more sustainable.

One of the most important is the selection of plants to be used along the runnel. Native plants – being already adapted to our climate – often require less care. In an environment such as the runnel, however, they must also be able to withstand inundation as well as occasional dry periods. A major function of the Growing Vine Street project is serving as an experimental laboratory to help determine which plant materials are suitable for this purpose.

Composting, mulching to promote healthy soil, employing proper watering techniques, and choosing the right plants for the location all promote sustainable gardening. Examples of these and many other techniques are being demonstrated year-round in the Belltown P-Patch, adjacent to the Cistern Steps. Also, King County has prepared Natural Yard Care, a pamphlet describing many of these smart gardening practices, which can be found here.