The 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy was passed by Seattle voters in November 2008, allocating $146M for funding from 2009 through 2014 toward green spaces, neighborhood parks and playfields throughout the City of Seattle. A 16-member Citizen Oversight Committee, appointed by the Mayor and City Council, was established to review the budget and advise on allocations of that budget – essentially acting as representatives for the community at large. Although the “community at large” is represented in these parks decisions vis-à-vis the Citizen Oversight Committee, I think the community at large would be better served if the Parks Department were subjected to the rigors of the Design Review Program as established by Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development when developing new parks.
While the Parks Department generally does an acceptable job with steering the allocation of those dollars, a recent discussion in our class turned to the idea or notion that perhaps the Parks Department isn’t doing their best in conducting their due diligence to seek out the input of those primary community members that will be using and enjoying the park spaces being developed or “improved” in their neighborhoods. When looking through the Parks’ Public Involvement Policy for Parks Planning Processes document online (and available through the Parks website), it’s clear there is a loose plan in place for incorporating public input and involvement, but it’s also clear that this process is not standardized for every new park development project. While the Parks Department does seek out public input at times, the ultimate decision on whether to incorporate public input lies with the judgment of the Superintendent. That is, some projects welcome public input while others do not.
If the Parks Department’s new projects were subjected to similar steps as those outlined by DPD’s Design Review Program, it could ultimately (similar to those objectives outlined by DPD):
- Encourage better design and site planning that enhances the character of the city and ensures that new development fits sensitively into neighborhoods;
- Provide flexibility in the application of development standards; and
- Improve communication and participation among …neighbors …and the City early in the design and siting of new development.
The primary goal here would be to always give voice to those citizens impacted by a new Parks development. Again, review meetings would mirror those conducted by DPD for new commercial developments:
- 30 minutes for the project applicant’s (Parks) presentation and the Design Review Board’s clarifying questions;
- 20 minutes for citizens to address their concerns and ideas to the Design Review Board about the project’s design; and
- 25 minutes for the Design Review Board to deliberate and make recommendations to the project applicant.
In short, I recommend that the City and Parks Department adopt a standardized process that mirrors the Design Review Program for any new Parks development that is being considered and proposed. This will ensure that those open spaces that are so special to people in their neighborhoods are designed and developed with them in mind. After all, these open spaces are set aside with them in mind – right?