By Rebecca Bear, President and CEO
Last fall I stood at the center of one of the best park grand opening events I’ve seen in Seattle and thought, “This is what great public spaces do. They bring together community in celebration, joy, and true connection.”
That park is Detective Cookie Chess Park, and it stands as a great example of what community driven public/private partnership can do to transform a neighborhood. In fact, over the last decade, the Rainier Beach community has coalesced around public spaces as a way to reclaim historic inequities, breathe life into spaces that have been neglected, and create new places for youth and families to thrive.
Projects at Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, Be’er Sheva Park, Detective Cookie Chess Park, and a future Rainier Beach Playfield Skatepark all point to a dedicated belief in the positive power of the commons.
There is a movement underway in cities around the country that recognizes our public spaces can bridge differences, create increased and shared prosperity, advance health and well-being, and serve as critical infrastructure assets that solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time.
When we think of our public spaces as civic commons, it creates an opening to transform our communities.
Civic commons are places where communities can celebrate, learn, rest, play, make decisions, express collective aspirations, and provide economic value for themselves and one another. This is what is happening in Rainier Beach.
Much has been written about the challenges Seattle faces in its public spaces. Neighborhoods are ecosystems that need a balance of work, play, home, culture, and nature. When one of those elements is overemphasized or lacking, the community can lose balance. As we look for ways to solve the challenges facing public spaces in the city, perhaps we need to look to the progress made in Rainier Beach for inspiration.
There is intrinsic value and vision within the community; we should listen to and invest in the assets that create the character of the community and invest in the people who know the neighborhood the best.
Our civic assets are an ecosystem; we shouldn’t solely focus on one park or space, we need to step back and evaluate how those locations interact, what might be missing in the community, and develop a neighborhood-based approach to transformation.
Cultivate stewards and champions who will not only lead the transformation of public space, but also nurture it for years to come.
Welcome everyone into the conversation, to allow diverse perspectives and discourse, including those pushed to the margins of society.
Recognize historical wrongs and be willing to put in authentic work that will build trusting relationships over time.
Ensure nature and ecological solutions are always integrated into our public spaces, whether they are parks, sidewalks, or vacant under-activated corners.
Engage youth in leadership and development – designing a space for play and gathering benefits adults and families too.
At Seattle Parks Foundation, we are committed to ensuring private and community-based funding and resources go towards creating the best civic commons in Seattle and the region.
We believe each and every neighborhood, regardless of the complexity of issues, will be stronger and more vibrant if we invest in community building around our public spaces. Please consider contributing to our efforts as we continue to support neighborhood-based solutions.