Our previous reports on the Admiral group proposing a kids’ play area for the tiny park shown above — California Place, at California/Hill next to Admiral UCC church (map) — have been greeted by some comments suggesting the space might be better left undeveloped. Nobody showed up at the group’s first community meeting last night to express that opinion in person, but those who feel that way will likely be interested to hear that the proposal isn’t what you might suspect — they’re not seeking to turn it into a playground, but rather, per a phrase offered by a Parks Department staffer who attended the meeting to observe, a “play space.” Here’s the explanation:
First, it shouid be noted that this small project is getting big attention: West Seattle-residing City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the council’s Parks Committee, sat in on last night’s meeting; he didn’t speak during it, but told project organizers afterward that this type of project might be perfect for the “Opportunity Fund” money proposed in the Parks and Green Spaces Levy that he and other councilmembers just voted to place on the November ballot.
The meeting was led by Manuela Slye, a local mom and early-childhood educator who presented the idea to the Admiral Neighborhood Association just a month and a half ago (original WSB report here), and Ann Cantwell. They stressed that the proposal is in the “really early stages” but also wanted to make one thing very clear: “When people think about playgrounds, they think about big structures,” Ann said. “This is NOT what we are talking about. We are talking about something unique” — and small — “There are lots of different things we can do that don’t involve swing sets.”
They showed photos of “pocket” type features in parks in other cities — a small grouping of differently textured plants, an arrangement of logs for kids to climb and stand on, a few large rocks with a small trickle of water running through them. “Maybe like the Children’s Museum (at Seattle Center),” Cantwell explained, later offering an example from the Seattle Aquarium, where there is a small play area with a climbing/hiding log. “The era of the big play structure everywhere is going away,” affirmed Pam Kliment from the Parks Department, who has had some early meetings with Admiral organizers and came to last night’s meeting mostly to observe.
The California Place park space is just 10,000 square feet – less than a quarter of an acre — and longtime Admiral community activist Dennis Ross expressed concern that this proposal would exclude uses other than play space for small children. Discussion then turned to a nearby triangle of open city-owned land to the southwest, which this group – now known as Friends and Neighbors of North Admiral – say they first eyed for this project, until that triangle’s owner, the city Transportation Department, told them it wasn’t available. (Rasmussen said he’ll be checking on that.)
Slye and Cantwell stressed they’ve worked hard on inclusion at this early stage of the process — not just inclusion of nearby residents, whom they’ve canvassed in person with “sign-up sheets” as well as distributing notices about meetings, but also inclusion of the end users: The kids. “We want children to be involved in the whole process,” Slye said, displaying a book her three kids helped create with their hopes and dreams for the play area, and describing one child’s suggestion that the most important thing about the park would be “that children play there.”
They also have visited about 20 playgrounds around the city, and have talked to others in West Seattle and elsewhere who have coordinated volunteer and fundraising efforts for projects such as Ercolini Park — California Place will be very different, though, they stress, because of the size, the fact they are not pursuing major playground equipment, and the fact that Ercolini was created largely with money from the Pro Parks Levy that’s expiring. Slye mentioned she had attended the recent Ercolini dedication (WSB coverage here) and taken the chance to give a California Place play-area flyer to parks superintendent Tim Gallagher; Kliment said that flyer had made the rounds at Parks headquarters and she in fact had the same copy with her when she showed up at the meeting last night.
One concern voiced by Ross and others in attendance centered on safety – crossing California at Hill, as well as keeping kids from running into traffic. For the former concern, organizers say they’d like to see some kind of traffic calming – crosswalk? or at least signage alerting drivers they’re passing a play area – in the future; for the latter, landscaping or other natural features would likely be used to discourage little ones wandering off the park’s perimeter, but fencing would not be part of the plan – the Parks Department says it’s not building play areas with fences these days.
Right now, organizers are looking for suggestions of a few more landscape architect/designers with whom to discuss design possibilities (they’ve talked to one so far); they have applied for a city Department of Neighborhoods grant that could provide $15,000 to hire one to draw something up, with the help of input from the community (including those young members). Then the process would continue with three options being brought to official public meetings for review and comment, refinement to one design, and then a campaign for volunteer time and donated money — Cantwell said the play-area development, even with simple features, could cost a quarter-million dollars. “We need help,” she said, adding, “We’re moving forward as if we are going to get that money.”
WHAT’S NEXT: FANNA is meeting every first and third Wednesday of each month TFN, to continue planning the play-area project. Next meeting: August 6th. All meetings are at 7 pm at the West Seattle (Admiral) library branch, just north of Metropolitan Market. To get involved with the group before the next meeting – or to ask a question, offer a suggestion, whatever – you can e-mail Manuela Slye at firstname.lastname@example.org. They’re hoping to have a decision by mid-August on whether their initial grant application will be approved. They’re looking for help with almost every aspect of this project, including budget/financing, PR/marketing, fundraising, and project management, so send her a note if you might be able to volunteer to help. And watch for word of a pinata party at the site toward the end of August, where kids will be invited to suggest park designs. “We’re trying to raise citizens to make a difference in this world, and I think this is a good start,” Slye said.