We went to tonight’s Southwest Community Center meeting for the Parks Department’s future Strategic Business Plan not realizing it would be an interactive format – listen to organizers for a few minutes, then break into groups and discuss ideas and opinions for most of the rest of the time. What resulted was a public meeting that really felt like a public meeting – with the emphasis on “public.” This was the first of six of these meetings happening in West Seattle over the course of the next week (full list here, continuing with High Point Community Center @ 7 pm tomorrow), and if you care about the future of our city parks, we strongly urge you to make time to participate in one of them. Here’s what we experienced tonight – including a high-level observer:
About 30 people turned out for tonight’s Southwest CC meeting — a good turnout, according to the Parks Department organizers, at least compared to what they said happened, or didn’t happen, at the South Park meeting the night before.
The “small group” discussion actually just split the room into two groups. Ours included a man and woman, new to West Seattle, with their 12-year-old son; a father with his teen sons; two women who described themselves as avid swimmers; and others including community volunteers from parks Advisory Councils and Alki Community Council president and city Parks Commissioner Jackie Ramels. And we believe the late arrival who moved around the room listening in on much of the discussion was the newly appointed Parks Superintendent Tim Gallagher (the photo in this article is certainly a match).
Five questions framed the discussion: What could the Parks Department improve? What does (it) do well? What are the threats it faces? What are its opportunities? What is your vision for the department?
When the hour of discussion ended and responses from both groups were written on a papered easel in front of the room, there was of course lots of overlap, as you would expect. More resources, more hours, more staff, more marketing, all suggested for improvements; lots of props for the seattle.gov/parks website and parks facilities staff, in “what it does well”; threats that were noted included dwindling funding, dwindling participation, and environmental dangers. Opportunities? More community outreach. Vision? A parks system with all the things suggested as potential improvements. And so on.
But your biggest opportunity, if you can attend one of the upcoming meetings, is to have your specific parks concerns heard, and noted. Examples from tonight: With the two swimmers in our group, we talked a lot about the hours city pools are open – and not open – for public swims, and why Colman Pool has such a short season. With the young participants in our group, we heard about the teen program and a request for more weekend field trips.
Whatever concerns you have about local parks — safety? maintenance? need for more facilities? — and whatever you think they do well and want to see them do more of, show up and speak out. We don’t know if the new Big Boss is going to be at all these meetings, but everyone who joined in the discussion was certainly heard, in one way or another. Including an Advisory Council member named Kathleen, who voiced a plaintive plea for more people to join these not-so-well-known councils — West Seattle alone has half a dozen of them; the list is here, along with (at the bottom of the page) a membership application form.
As for the process that begins with these meetings and ends with an official Parks Strategic Business Plan, it will stretch out over several months, with more opportunities for public comment — but why not get in on the head end and help it take shape? High Point tomorrow night, Delridge Saturday afternoon, Hiawatha next Tuesday, Camp Long and Alki next Wednesday; here’s that full list (with location links) one more time. And if there’s absolutely no way on the planet you will make it to any of those, you can answer the basic questions online.