If Seattle’s city center parks feel livelier lately, that’s on purpose! Hardly a summer day passes without art, music, or community activities taking place in several downtown parks at once. In particular, Westlake and Occidental Parks have become beacons of activity, with food trucks, games, “engagement coordinators” and events attracting more residents, workers, and visitors than ever. Once seen as bland and not very welcoming, these parks are undergoing a renaissance thanks to a collaboration between Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA). The DSA’s mission – to create a healthy, vibrant downtown – meshes nicely with SPR’s goal of supporting healthy people, healthy environments, and strong communities.
While the DSA manages downtown park activities, it coordinates with the Metropolitan Improvement District, Alliance for Pioneer Square, Friends of the Waterfront Seattle, the Seattle Parks Foundation and many businesses to fund and execute the programming. This alliance has been dubbed the Urban Parks Partnership, and started as a one-year trial in 2016. It has been so successful that the City Council voted to extend the partnership with DSA through 2020.
As programming and events draw more residents and visitors to city center parks (which also includes Freeway, Hing Hay, Cascade, Belltown, and Denny parks), conditions are improving for merchants, commuters, the police, and even those facing homelessness, who often have no safe place to go. Of Westlake Park, Mayor Edward Murray said “This is about making all people safe and all people having access to our parks.”
Says Jesús Aguirre, Superintendent of SPR, “We have three big priorities in everything we do: promote healthy habits, connect people to each other and nurture a love for the environment. I see the Urban Parks Partnership as a vibrant way to make an impact in all three of those areas just by getting residents outdoors and engaging with each other through art, celebration and gathering.”
Dan Biederman, a consultant for the City who has worked to re-invent parks in other cities, feels that “programming is critical in city spaces that are not scenic wonders. The idea is to spread this activity throughout the park, which then creates an environment that people feel comfortable in. We might make very subtle changes, but when you add them up, they make for incredible improvements that elevate the value of the surrounding area and make the city a better place to live.”
In the coming months and years, SPR will be partnering with new community organizations, and hopes to expand the partnership concept to parks outside the downtown area. For now, there’s plenty to choose from on a summer day or night in the park, whether you want to dance till dusk, watch an outdoor movie, listen to music, do yoga or make some art. It’s all happening downtown!