Following the central role Cal Anderson Park played in this summer’s Capitol Hill protest zone, Seattle Parks and Recreation is working with design firms to make some long term changes to the park — changes that could include a permanent home for protest art, a community garden program and a revival of CHOP’s “Conversation Cafe” in some form.
Wednesday night marked the first of a series of public meetings held by Seattle Parks in concert with DLR Group and HBB Landscape Architecture to narrow down how the park will change.
“The protests of the past couple months have required that we begin a conversation about how Cal Anderson can better service the community and more firmly speak to our values,” Andy Sheffer of Seattle Parks said at the zoom meeting. “The 2020 Cal Anderson project is about receiving ideas, developing ideas and piloting ideas for new programming elements.”
A second, daytime session is planned for Thursday starting at noon.
The project has a three part process with public meetings and surveys intermixed. While the first and current step is about “setting the stage and collecting ideas” according to Sheffer, September’s part two will focus on testing ‘the viability of ideas based on site constraints, opportunities and interests,” and October’s part three will revolve around “potential implementation of pilot projects and long term strategy around bigger action items.” Sheffer says Seattle Parks plans on designing and rolling out these pilot projects in late October or November.
In the hours after the July 1st police raid and sweep that cleared the protest camp and the area around the East Precinct, Mayor Jenny Durkan said she intended to “memorialize” CHOP with art and permanent features in Cal Anderson.
Although the City of Seattle is facing a $300 million budget deficit this year likely to continue into 2021 and the budgeting process for this project has yet to begin, Seattle Parks spokesperson Rachel Schulkin told CHS that Seattle Parks is “committed to making it work.”
Seattle Parks and the design consultants put forth three initiatives up for preliminary live polling at the meeting: a gardening program in line with the Black Star Farmers garden plots, retaining CHOP artwork, and forming a “conversation corner” reminiscent of CHOP’s “conversation cafe.”
Other things CHS heard at the meeting:
- Much of the conversation centered around the future of Black Star Farmers gardens. Whether the garden will stay in its current spot in the center of the park after this fall’s harvest remains up for debate. “The garden has served as a backdrop for the conversations about race and how we can solve those by talking about food justice and land sovereignty in particular,” the garden’s creator Marcus Henderson said.
- Some public commenters wondered whether the garden will have BIPOC-exclusive areas and raised concerns over the security of the garden’s area as well as the space no longer being available for public programming like movie nights. “For years and years, that area where the garden is now has been used for kind of community things and now the garden is taking up a lot of [those] things,” commentor Gina said.
- Sheffer said Seattle Parks will generate a site analysis that will take current park programming into consideration, including the space where the garden sits being used for other events.
- Commenters also raised concerns over what will become of art created during the protests, including the Black Power fist sculpture on Bobby Morris Playfield that Sheffer said Seattle Parks has been preserving and “is part of the art initiative discussion.” He also said curated shows of Black Lives Matter art are in the works and will be addressed at future meetings.
Another important CHOP element falls beyond the purview of the parks project. The large BLACK LIVES MATTER mural on E Pine is being preserved in a process overseen by the city. The city’s early steps in working with the community on preserving the CHOP art and mural on E Pine did not go well.
The future of the Black Lives Memorial Garden at Cal Anderson Park depends on us! Seattle Parks is redesigning and hosting public meetings this week! If you can’t make it fill out our google form! We will prioritize the BIPOC voice #blackstarfarmer #blackfarmers #bipocfarms pic.twitter.com/JtoE3hITEj
— Black Star Farmers (@blackstarfarmer) August 4, 2020
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.
Parks superintendent Jesús Aguirre and Durkan have said it is important for the park’s LGBTQ legacy to connect with the coming changes for the space.
Prior to COVID-19 and widespread protesting in response to racism and police brutality, stewardship group Cal Anderson Park Alliance had been working to seek community input as to how to improve public safety and infrastructure in the park, and board member Don Blakeney said they were already planning a process of hearing from the surrounding community this summer in order to address some of these concerns.
In recent years, the city spend thousands on a lighting and safety plan for the park that has yet to be implemented.
“I hope to get some sense of what priorities folks want and then I hope that the city will actually put money towards some of this stuff,” Blakeney told CHS, “because Cal Anderson has long been at the back of the line for some of the basic improvements like functioning lights and functioning bathrooms.”
After this week’s session the Cal Anderson “step two” meetings will take place September 9th and 10th. Project information can be found at seattle.gov.
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