Seattle’s parks have been through a lot recently. Amid pandemic surges, historic protests, widespread homelessness and heat waves, they’ve been shut down and reopened. Marched through and camped in. Danced in and splashed in.
What’s next? That’s what the Department of Parks and Recreation is trying to figure out.
The department launched an online open house Friday to ask residents about the city’s parks, pools, open spaces and community centers — and how the department can help Seattle recover from COVID-19, combat climate change, advance racial equity and keep everyone cool.
“Which of the following would be most helpful to you in response to more extreme weather events, such as heat?” the survey asks, listing options such as indoor cooling spaces, outdoor spray parks, shade from trees and environmental education as options.
The Parks Department’s current strategic plan, which is supposed to guide investments and programs through 2032, was completed in March 2020, just before COVID-19 rocked Seattle. Much has changed since then.
“Over the past 18 months, we’ve just experienced such incredible disruption in so many ways, and our system has been stretched,” said Selena Elmer, a strategic adviser, describing the new survey as a way to reconnect. “We need to kind of reimagine what role parks and recreation can play.”
The survey asks about activities during the pandemic and about barriers to participation. It asks what programs have been most missed with community centers closed. Swim lessons, child care, senior groups, job training, art classes … The Parks Department wants to know what to prioritize.
The survey doesn’t ask for your name, though it does ask for your ZIP code, age range, gender and race/ethnicity. You can skip any question.
The survey also invites residents to rank how the department should “make sure our parks and facilities are safe, welcoming and easy to navigate.” The options include nature walks, performances, staffed kiosks, park rangers, better lighting and “addressing the impacts of homelessness in parks.”
The question doesn’t specify what “addressing the impacts of homelessness in parks” means. But currently, the Parks Department is involved in responding to homelessness by providing shower access at some sites; clearing trash at encampments; and removing encampments in coordination with other departments, spokesperson Rachel Schulkin said.
Residents can provide more specific input by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, Elmer said.
Program scheduling is another aspect of the survey, which asks, “When do you tend to engage in recreation activities?” The choices are slots like “weekday early mornings” and “weekend afternoons.”
How much time are you willing to spend traveling to a park or community center, and by what transportation mode? What training do department staff most need? How should the department reduce its carbon footprint? Those questions are part of the survey, as well.
The survey will remain open until Oct. 13, and summarized results will be posted online every two weeks until then, said Shanyanika McElroy, another strategic adviser. The Parks Department is soliciting input offline, too, in meetings with organizations that serve historically marginalized communities and from park users as they take part in activities, Elmer and McElroy said.
Community center programs that require registration are relaunching next month, though activities like drop-in basketball aren’t.
The department is poised at an important juncture, with a new strategic plan to implement, a Park District update in the works and 2022 budget deliberations by Mayor Jenny Durkan and the City Council starting soon.
The Park District is a mechanism that uses property taxes to repair, maintain and restore basic services at parks and community centers, providing about 20% of the department’s money. The tax rate could be altered in 2023.
“This is a critical opportunity for us to check in and make sure we’re having this two-sided conversation with community members,” McElroy said.
The open house with the survey is at sprstrategicplan.infocommunity.org.