As the Seattle City Council takes up its final push in the debate over Seattle Police funding in 2020, Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle city officials are making good on at least one promise made to Black Lives Matter protesters — finding ways to make changes at Cal Anderson to “memorialize” the demonstrations and weeks of CHOP, the occupied protest camp that filled the nearby streets and the park in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“The protests of the past couple months have required that we begin a conversation about how Cal Anderson Park can better serve our community and more firmly speak to our values,” Jesús Aguirre, superintendent for Seattle Parks and Recreation, said in a statement on a new initiative to start the Cal Anderson planning process.
The Cal Anderson effort comes as as the Seattle City Council prepares its final rebalancing of the city’s 2020 budget and zeroes in on a major vote on the plan
Monday. UPDATE: The final vote is being delayed a week and will now be held Monday, August 10th.
Today, the council will renew its debate on addressing #defundSPD goals as its budget committee holds its final meeting before Monday’s big vote. Although a Seattle City Council majority has committed to the long-term goals of defunding SPD by 50%, the path to getting there will be set this week and in the days leading up to the August 10th vote.
Compared to the budget maneuverings, the art and possible changes to Cal Anderson are minutiae in the pages of department spending being pored over. Officials have not yet established a budget for any of the work that could be planned for the Cal Anderson initiative. For many, city-backed efforts to create CHOP art and features in the park will echo with other City of Seattle initiatives stronger in symbolism than substance like the rainbow crosswalks of Pike/Pine.
But the process to shape Cal Anderson changes could also be important to Seattle City Hall’s attempts to patch damage done to its image and its connections to the communities around the recent months of protest. The city’s early steps in working with the community on preserving the CHOP art and the large BLACK LIVES MATTER mural on E Pine did not go well.
At Cal Anderson, the city says the park remains “temporarily” closed after weeks of clean-up and graffiti removal during collowing the end of CHOP. Most of the art and graffiti is gone though some elements like the BLM-inspired paint job for the park’s central bathroom building remain. Even the Bobby Morris sports field’s artificial turf got an overhaul and clean-up following CHOP.
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Named for the state’s first openly gay legislator, Cal Anderson Park opened in 2005 after being transformed from a weed-covered mess of a sports field, reservoir, and park — Lincoln Reservoir was capped and covered with Cal Anderson as part of a city parks levy project.
Anderson’s legacy will expand from the park later this year as the AIDS Memorial Pathway project will open and connect the north end of the park to development at Capitol Hill Station.
“This park has many meanings to our community, both as a gathering space, and a space to honor the legacy of LGBTQ leaders,” Aguirre said about the new initiative to create a new “community conversation and vision” for the park. “And yet, this is just the beginning. Parks are spaces for community to gather, to recreate, to represent our values—what is important to our community must be reflected in our parks.”
In the hours after the July 1st police raid and sweep that cleared the protest camp and the area around the East Precinct, Durkan said she intended to “memorialize” CHOP with art and permanent features in Cal Anderson. Durkan, by the way, also pushed an idea to create a “shared space” for “the Black-led organizations” that would create “a community room in the East Precinct.” So far, there’s been no announcement of a process around that initiative as the building remains barricaded and surrounded by chain-link fence. The precinct headquarters conference room off the main lobby has frequently been made available to community groups for meetings over the years.
There is more than art to consider in Cal Anderson. Aguirre said his workers had been on hand to support some clearance aspects in the park and also collected some plantings from community gardens to be kept in city greenhouse facilities. It’s possible, he said at the time, that a community garden feature might become a permanent part of the park after its clean-up.
Seattle Parks told neighbors that the existing community garden plots established by urban farmer Marcus Henderson in the park during the weeks of CHOP occupation and camping won’t be maintained by city staff. “The current plan is to leave the garden in place until the late summer/fall harvest, and then work with Marcus and interested community on a longer-term plan,” the parks representative told CHS. The city has been reported watering some of the plots — and we’ve seen a few volunteer efforts from city employees — but residents are being encouraged to help take care of the CHOP gardens.
The art of CHOP will also be a factor in the discussions. The Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, Seattle Park, and the Seattle Department of Transportation said they worked with some artists “to preserve the public art around Cal Anderson Park and Pine Street.”
“We have worked with several individuals who were on site daily during the protests and who had been designated as responsible for decisions related to art produced on site,” a statement sent after the camp clearance read. “This included contacting several individuals who helped coordinate the artists who painted the Black Lives Matter street mural on Pine Street. Our overall goal has been to work with the artists to preserve and/or provide temporary storage of the artwork while the artists determine the long-term future of the artwork on their own.”
Starting next week, the city will begin holding “on-line discussions” to “engage the public on how changing assumptions and language can affect the design of the park space and create a sense of belonging for everyone.” It is bringing in design consultants DLR Group and HBB to aid the process. If Wednesday night doesn’t work for you, a second session has been planned during the day on Thursday.
Aguirre says the goal “is to engage community around how we can use Seattle’s parks spaces to support better outcomes for BIPOC communities in our city and our region.”