When Seattle Parks and Recreation Project Manager Pamela Kliment began conducting outreach for a new park in Yesler Terrace, she had to rethink her outreach strategy. After presenting the project at three different Yesler Community Council meetings, she often found that there were only a few English speakers in attendance, and some community members couldn’t read in their own languages.
Shwu-jen Hwang and Frank Robinson are the designers for the project. Both are Seattle Parks landscape architects. Toby Ressler will be the project manager. They are working as a team to make sure the park design will meet the community’s recreation and gathering needs, and be suitable for cultural traditions and future uses.
The team realized that if they were going to plan, design and build a park that reflected the people of Yesler Terrace and surrounding neighborhoods, they’d have to immerse themselves in those communities. During the last two months Kliment attended the First Hill Improvement Association Open House, and aided by interpreters, the monthly Vietnamese Senior Tea at the community center and an East African reading and singing event for children.
“Neighborhood discussions revealed that people will use the park to play games and to meet with friends,” Kliment said, “but we want to know the types of games they play in their cultures and the types of gathering areas they’d use. Do we put in benches and tables or have more open space? How close should these elements be to each other? How can we add as much walking as possible?”
The design team faces a unique challenge because the park is part of the Yesler Terrace Redevelopment. Yesler Terrace is being redeveloped from a low-income housing development to a combination of low-income housing, market rate housing, offices and community spaces. All the existing housing will be demolished and the street grid will be altered.
The designers must try to satisfy current residents, future residents, business people, children, seniors and all of their diverse needs.
According to a report conducted by Seattle Housing Authority, African Americans/Africans and Asian Americans/Asians make up more than 80 percent of the Yesler Terrace population. Additionally, the disability rate in the community is nearly 50 percent higher than the overall Seattle population, meaning almost one in five residents is disabled.
“Yesler Park is the convergence point of many different cultures in a location that is close to downtown and is very connected to surrounding neighborhoods,” landscape architect Frank Robinson said.
In addition to attending already established events to do outreach, the Seattle Parks team sent out mailers in five languages and put up posters in the neighborhood inviting residents to attend three public meetings and give input on the park design. The first meeting was held in late April and the other two are scheduled for June 26 and Aug. 28 at the community center.
“Working with many different ethnic groups is very exciting and challenging, but we have found good ways to communicate with them and are very impressed with their level of engagement,” landscape architect Shwu-jen Hwang said.
The park will be 1.7 acres and will be adjacent to the Yesler Community Center on the west side. The 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy provides $3 million for the planning, design and construction of the park.
“The park is part of a changing community, and there are so many details to keep in mind,” Kliment said.