Green Square: UW Tower Urban Garden Demonstration

Executive Summary:

The UW tower is the gateway to the University. It hosts the office of accounting, advancement, international exchanges, and many others. It is important that the building reflect the sustainable mission of the University.

The University of Washington Tower plaza has the potential to become an example of the transformative power of greenery in turning a harsh urban environment into an oasis of life and beauty. Currently, the tower plaza is dominated by brick and stark concrete walls, with a handful of aging pots filled mostly with ivy and other ornamental plants. A few years ago, the Green Team at the UW Tower started an urban garden project in the plaza. It was a discrete small scale appropriation of a few pots to replace the ivy, but very successful in engaging coworkers by organizing movie events and handing out fresh produce. Inspired by this initial tactical gardening project, we want to grow the garden started by the Green Team and transition it to a robust demonstration of the success and strategies to growing edibles in an urban plaza.

We want the new edible garden to be visually and physically engaging by including vertical elements, such as artistic green screens, and raised beds forms that engage the space and existing layout. It will be educational and involve the community in creative ways. We plan on designing a temporary urban garden feature that includes green screens, planters with a variety of edible and native plants, and a more pleasant place for people to relax and enjoy the outdoors during their lunch break or after work. The design is inspired by the tactical style and accessibility of parklet installations on roadsides; to create an inviting space that strategically incorporates benches, planters, and green screens adapted into a cohesive artistic experience that drastically alters the austerity of the plaza. It is an art installation calling for creativity, ingenuity, and continued garden maintenance. The end result will be aesthetically pleasing and vibrant, a place for people to learn about growing edible plants in surprising locations, and to enjoy the outdoors. Most importantly, it will advance to the University of Washington’s reputation in sustainability and innovation.

Up until now, sustainability projects have been focused on the main campus. The UW Tower Urban Garden Demonstration project, however, will help adapt sustainability to existing urban property beyond central campus. Due to the visitor exposure that the UW Tower receives and the anticipated increase of traffic as a result of the incoming light rail station, this project has the potential to enlighten a substantial number of people about urban agricultural practices and the university’s commitment to sustainability.

We are asking for $60,000 in grant funding to help carry out the design, construction, and initial maintenance for this project.  After the projects kicks off, we hope to establish a connection to farmer's markets to raise additional awareness and funds to help support garden maintenance.

Student Involvement:

The Urban Garden Demonstration Project at the UW Tower is primarily student-led, with some oversight from faculty and professionals in the field.  We foresee three phases of this project: design, construction, and maintenance. Student involvement is critical for each. We want this to be a multidisciplinary project which will involve students from many different majors.  So far two student service learners have been involved in the initial brainstorming and grant-writing process.  They have also been responsible for reaching out to UW faculty and staff.  We foresee Landscape Architecture, Environmental Science, Biology, and Design students to be involved in the design process, construction would be carried out by Industrial Design and Construction Management students (with oversight of a contractor).  The vision for our project is a platform, or multiple platforms, that incorporate both areas to relax and areas to grow food.  It will creatively combine benches, planters, vertical walls, all while looking aesthetically pleasing.  Since there is no complicated technology involved, we believe the project can be assembled in separate segments off site (in a studio) and then assembled all in one day on the plaza.  This will allow students to use it as part of a class project, and will result in minimal disturbance for the employees at the UW Tower.  Students from any major can be involved in maintenance phase of the project.

For the design and construction phases, we will recruit students from UW courses by communicating with professors.  For maintenance and event organization we plan on hiring up to two students for the first year after which volunteers and service learners will fill in the void.  This UW tower Green Team is already affiliated with the Carlson Center and has been receiving one service learner per quarter to work on the urban garden project (these are the students working on the grant, initial design and original idea for the project).  We plan on continuing to have service learners to maintain the garden and give them a small budget to organize events.

Depending on their roles, students will develop design, construction, event planning, research, teamwork and leadership skills. They can take the knowledge acquired in class and use it in the real world.  It will be a very hands-on learning experience.  The students will be able to add this project into their portfolio, which will hopefully help them stand out in the future and be more eligible for their dream jobs.  We believe it will be a unique experience for students to collaborate on a project of this size and scope.  They will leave a mark on the UW campus that will have beneficial effects for years to come.

Education & Outreach:


As mentioned above, the main aim of the garden is to showcase the potential for growth in a harsh urban environment and the importance of urban agriculture in localizing the food system and decreasing carbon footprints. The UW tower plaza is a central point for many UW employees, surrounding it are many offices that form the backbone of the university.  The UW tower houses 2000 people, most of which pass through the plaza at least twice a day.  Many visitors to the University of Washington, such as donors, also go to the UW Tower and would be exposed to the project.  The opening of the U District Link station means that many passersby will see the plaza when they exist the station, so visibility is not an issue.  However, anytime we organize an event such as a guest lecture, or a farmer’s market, we will be sure to inform students who might not go to the UW Tower daily through social media and on the University of Washington website’s events page.

One of the goals of the UW Tower Urban Garden Demonstration is to exhibit sustainable urban permaculture techniques in a manner that is accessible for the average resident. To increase participation and awareness of the garden, social media will act as a tool to engage our audience, share the process of urban farming, and inspire people to grow their own container garden. The project social media profile will also serve as a method of sharing events and fundraisers that occur on site.


The easiest way to get involved will be simply to use the space, and there is no doubt that it will be used. Many employees at the UW Tower complain of a lack of outdoor seating to enjoy the fresh air and have lunch.  At present, you will see people leaning on walls, even sitting on the floor!  Other than that, many events will be hosted to further educate and involve the community such as outdoor movie screenings, lectures, and farmers’ markets. 

Student involvement is essential in the whole process of the garden coming to life.  We want this to be a multi-disciplinary effort, with students and faculty from Landscape Architecture, Biology, Industrial Design, Environmental Science, Construction Management, and other disciplines getting involved. 

Furthermore, both student and faculty volunteers will be encouraged to help maintain the space.  Initially we will offer paid positions for students to maintain the garden.  Eventually we hope that most of the work will be voluntary (and in exchange for some produce), much like the UW farm functions today.

Environmental Impact:
  • Food
  • Living Systems and Biodiversity
  • Waste
  • Water
Project Longevity:

After the project is implemented, we will direct a lot of attention and funding for maintenance and outreach that year. This would consist of having 2 paid positions for maintenance and event planning for the year. After that, service learners and volunteers would upkeep the work started by the two paid student workers. The yearly Green Team fund ($500) and money made from fundraising events such as farmers markets would be used for replacing plants and organizing events. If big improvements need to be made, and then we might apply for another grant.

Environmental Problem:

Our current food system is unsustainable. The edible urban garden demonstration project primarily addresses the need for individuals to understand where, when, and how food is grown.  The extremely long and complex supply chains that get foods from farms to grocery stores disconnects people from the production and the hidden costs of environmental degradation due to transportation emissions, and extensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The primary focus of our project is to connect people to their food and second to introduce them about urban gardening techniques, and the benefits of localizing food production.  The garden will have other beneficial ‘side effects’ that will help impact issues like biodiversity loss, urban heat island effect, air pollution, stormwater capture, and declines in bee populations which build natural capitol and environmental services.

The garden project will increase biodiversity in the area and will provide a habitat for animals, particularly pollinators. The increase in vegetation would greatly reduce the heat-island effect inside the plaza and will help increase local air quality. The edible garden has the potential to help reduce the UW tower’s reliance on the extremely long and complicated food chain that supplies it with food.  During peak months in the past, the much smaller edible garden demonstration project was successfully producing enough food to hand out to coworkers and donate to food banks.  We hope to continue those practices and additionally plan on supply fresh produce to UW tower itself to help reduce its carbon footprint.

Although this is a small-scale demonstration project, we believe it will very successfully showcase the many cumulative benefits of urban farming, and the knowledge will radiate into the community and inspire people to start growing their own produce, planting more native plants, and thinking more about where their food comes from.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

Monitoring and maintaining the UW Tower Urban Garden Demonstration will serve as a learning opportunity for University of Washington students. The students that participate in maintenance positions will receive hands-on experience upholding the sustainable practices that this project establishes by monitoring the following:

Food -- Keeping track of the food the garden produces will be key.  We will either count the individual vegetables/fruit we collect or weigh our total produce.  The monitoring technique will depend on how much our garden produces.  It will also be interesting to take this calculation one step further and measure how much carbon dioxide was displaced by consuming our local produce instead of consuming store-bought goods.  To do this we will estimate the carbon footprint of say an apple in the grocery store by seeing where it was grown, and the miles it needed to travel to get to the grocery store.

Water -- Reducing water use and managing water consumption is a key adaptation to maintain urban resilience in the face of climate change.  Some studies say that Seattle can expect a 50% decrease in water supply over the next 35 years[1].  Collecting and using storm water is a good solution to reduce water consumption and keep our plants thriving.  We hope to address storm-water capture within the demonstration garden to a) save water and b) show others how they can capture rain to minimize runoff.  We plan on measuring the water collected on a weekly basis.  This number would then correspond to the gallons of water we save.

Biodiversity -- We will keep track of the number of both edible and native species of plants we display as well as keep track of the presence of bees near the garden.

Human Benefit -- The easiest way to judge if people are benefitting from our edible demonstration garden is to see if they are using it.  Are they having their lunch there? Reading about the native and edible plants?  Another measurement will be the number of people who volunteer to maintain the garden.  We will also conduct surveys to get a better sense of people’s opinions of the project.  The most important question for us will be whether individuals have gained an interest in gardening themselves as a result of the garden and the various events we plan on hosting.

Wind -- The current UW tower patio design provides no relief from wind, acting as a “wind tunnel”. The UW Tower Urban Garden Demonstration will introduce natural wind buffers into the space through the increase of impermeable soft surface from the plant species and through the construction of “Green Screens (vertical structures with vegetation).”

Qualitative data can be collected from surveys of people’s experience with wind before and after the project. An anemometer can be used to measure wind speeds in the patio before and after the project.

[1] McClure, Robert. “Climate Change is Darkening Seattle’s Water Forecast”. Investigate West.  September, 2015. Source:

Total amount requested from the CSF: $59,730
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
Project Design$570015700
Site Preparation$25/hCrew of 4 for 10 hours$1000
Construction Materials$10,0002 raised bed planters/benches$20000
Plants and planting materialsPlants: $70/pot; Soil:$46/yd; Mulch: $70/yd40 pots, 2.5 cu. yd. soil, 2 cu.yr. mulch$2390
Construction$70002 parklet style raised beds$14000
Project Overview$50001$5000
Maintenance intern stipend$35002 students annual$5000
Maintenance and monitoring materials$1000Including additional vegetables and winter mulch$1000
Project printing$5001(including design printing and outreach fliers)$500

Non-CSF Sources:

Project Completion Total: $59,730


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Coordination and organization1 monthend of August
DesignFall Quarter (2.5 months)December 10th 2016
ConstructionWinter Quarter (2.5 months)March 15th 2017
Transportation on site1 day (over spring break)March 25th 2017
Ribbon cutting, initial outreachSpring Quarter (2.5 months)June 10th 2017
Maintenance year-round