Admiral mini-park project update: “Play space,” not “playground”


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 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.

10 Replies to "Admiral mini-park project update: "Play space," not "playground""

  • worms Roxanne, I'm afraid of worms. July 24, 2008 (11:47 am)

    This model sounds really nice. I like the idea of smaller natural features and not the traditional school yard equiptment. logs, rocks, textural plants, and water features sound super.

    Maybe I missed it, but is there any further explaination from DOT why the “triangle” between 44th and Hill is not available? This seems much more desireable for a childrens parks since there is currently no large trees, the grass is dead, and it is off the main arterial.

  • WSB July 24, 2008 (11:52 am)

    As I wrote, Councilmember Rasmussen promised to look into it – I’ll be checking with him on that – the play-area organizers said SDOT had given them various reasons such as needing the space for parking sometimes.

  • worms Roxanne, I'm afraid of worms. July 24, 2008 (12:50 pm)

    I see, maybe SDOT stages equipment there sometimes when they are doing projects. There is probalby a good reason for it.

    Thanks for following up.

  • Jan admiral homeowner July 25, 2008 (8:11 pm)

    I am sorry to see they are going to make a play area in this fine QUIET ADULT neighborhood at California Park….I own a Condo 1/4 block from this little green space and would love to see it remain as it is. There is Hiawatha and the Lafeyette school across the street where children can be taken to play. I bought here because it was not near children’s play area’s or condo’s that could accomodate children because of the busy street. And what about the squirrels that live there? They will be disturbed and displaced.

  • mama o' four July 26, 2008 (12:44 pm)

    “QUIET ADULT NEIGHBORHOOD”… mmmmmmh, let me think about that for a minute…
    I wonder where the hundreds of children that participate in the Admiral 4th of July parade come from…
    Or how the five daycares in the area stay in business…
    Also, I am just wondering who enjoys the candy that local businesses provide during the famous Admiral “trick or treat” halloween event.
    We live in a beautiful, vibrant, kid-friendly neighborhood.
    To those working on this play area project:YOU ROCK! THANK YOU!

  • Ann July 28, 2008 (8:43 pm)

    In response to Jan admiral homeowner and her comment: I bought here because it was not near children’s play area’s or condo’s that could accomodate children. Hmm. I am a condo owner in this same neighborhood. I have a child as do several other couples in our building. There are children in each apartment building on the several nearby blocks to the proposed park as well. I didn’t realize that condos in this neighborhood were not for children. As more families attempt to stay in the city to enjoy city amenities (and not flee to the suburbs), more children will likely be living in condos and apartments as well – I am hopeful that this park is a great place for all neighborhood families to meet whether they live in houses or condos. Not to mention – condos are a great eco choice for families choosing to leave a smaller footprint on the earth.

  • Tom August 29, 2008 (11:44 pm)

    At present, my main concerns are two: one, that the beautiful trees that are here, remain — remain uncut; whether a children’s play space is put in beneath and around them, or not. The present space is extremely beautiful, IMHO, and is definitely NOT a “wasted piece of city land” for that very reason. My wife and I lived on this very block since 1974. We raised our two children, now 33 and 31, in West Seattle; they played on that exact grassy area often, on their way back from the Admiral Day Care Center (yes, it has been here that long): chasing squirrels and crows (yes, kids do that), feeding them, rolling in the leaves in the fall, standing under the shelter of the trees’ leafy boughs in sudden spring rains, admiring the sun shining through the beautiful leaves above. No, I do not want to see the trees cut to put a “play space” in; so if that is contemplated, I will weigh in in opposition.

    I am secondarily, but considerably, concerned about safety. Children are fairly unpredictable no matter how vigilant Mom and Dad are. Ours certainly were. And California Avenue is extremely close — and, during the day, that part is full of traffic some of which travels much too fast for such close association with rambunctious little ones. For that reason, when we wanted our kids to play freely, we walked with them — good exercise, folks! try it! the SHORT distance to nearby Hiawatha and / or to the “big toy” out behind Lafayette Elementary. If you live here, and readers of this blog almost all do, you know whereof I speak.

    So I am NOT in favor of a play area that does not have a very real physical barrier to prevent sudden and inevitable dashing in the direction of California Ave, not even if the trees remain. I should like to see what is being suggested. I leave this part of the blog now to see if I can dig it out.

    Thanks for the information, and this opportunity to comment! I will be back.

    Tom — local resident, on the same block

  • respect to homeowners August 30, 2008 (7:44 pm)

    Tom, The next Planning meeting for this play area is Wed Sept. 3rd 7 pm at the Admiral Library next to Met market.. Please come your voice needs to be heard and send your great response to City Council and She funds this project.

  • Set Hook September 18, 2008 (10:38 am)

    Many prefer the dynamics of park as it is. Especially during these days of financial turmoil I feel it is important to be efficient and if it isn’t broke don’t fix it. Nature is doing just fine with this little piece of land that welcomes everyone from kids to dog owners to frisbee tossers. It should not be confined to any specific group…families with children, elderly, single adults, pet-owners…we need this park to stay open to multiple uses as the neighborhood in which we live is as diverse as any in Seattle.
    Plainly…This park, AS-IS, serves many in this area and should not be revamped just to create a play area solely for children. Local child care businesses should team up and buy their own piece of land for their nature park for kids if they are out of room and want to expand…WE MUST SEE THIS FOR WHAT IT REALLY IS. This project was proposed by a child care facility owner.

  • twar September 20, 2008 (10:53 pm)

    You are so right on Set Hook

Sorry, comment time is over.