By Todd Burley
The impact of climate change is being felt here in Seattle today, and Seattle Parks and Recreation is already taking many actions to adapt to hotter and drier summers, wildfire smoke, intense winter rain events, and sea level rise. Yet we realize that this new reality will be one we must mitigate for in the coming decades and longer. This means that across all our future operations and planning, we must think about our projected climate to create a resilient parks and recreation system for tomorrow.
The health of visitors to Seattle’s parks and of the employees who maintain and work in them is central to our department’s values. The primary concern for people regarding climate change is extreme heat events and associated increased prevalence of wildfire smoke. To further support their resiliency, SPR will plant more evergreen trees to provide year-round shade, as well as planning to convert more wading pools to spray parks and increasing swimming beach staffing and hours to allow for more cooling options. We will also continue conversions of all artificial turf fields to using cork infill to reduce field heat. In our buildings, we will make improvements to allow for the addition of cooling and air filtration systems in more buildings in the long-term and add other cooling features such as misting stations and shading in the near-term.
Plants and Animals
The plants and animals that live in Seattle’s parks are increasingly impacted by more intense winter storms, hotter drier summers, and more pests. To support a more resilient system, SPR plans to expand and standardize our mulching throughout our parks to improve healthy soil that can withstand extremes of weather. We will also select climate resilient species and varieties for planting and give them a solid start by extending their establishment period. This includes increasing our turf diversity to allow for more meadow-like areas that retain water and increase biodiversity. We will also look to reusing water for irrigation purposes to save money and resources. Finally, we will be restoring shoreline habitats along lakes, creeks, and ocean to support these important ecosystems.
The 11 miles of saltwater shorelines managed by SPR will continue to be impacted from rising seas and king tide events. SPR could further support our resiliency through working with other City agencies and regional partners to map and track sea level rise impacts and conducting a coastal infrastructure and habitat assessment to identify our greatest vulnerabilities and potential actions to address them. This information will also lead into the development of updated planning and development standards – from construction to restoration – and the creation of resilient designs such as soft shoreline techniques.
SPR maintains many different types of infrastructure, from built elements such as seawalls and roads to natural elements like green stormwater infrastructure and trees. Climate change impacts these infrastructure elements in different ways, so mitigation and adaptation strategies will vary as well. To understand the climate impacts to infrastructure SPR should conduct a comprehensive assessment looking at vulnerabilities as outlined in the Climate Resiliency in Seattle’s Parks and Recreation System strategy. Known impact, however, should be acted on immediately, including continuing trail improvements and maintenance of green stormwater infrastructure to manage winter storm events. SPR will also continue and expand tree inspections, particularly near play areas, and invest in additional irrigation upgrades to support tree health.
In addition to the improvements made to support healthy people in our buildings such as cooling systems that filter the air, SPR facilities will require significant investments over the coming decade to adapt to the impacts of climate change. This could include energy resilience projects such as solar microgrids or other alternative energy investments to create independent and sustainable electricity, especially for emergency response. We should also look to improve the building envelope (i.e. sealing air gaps) in our community centers to allow for additional cooling and air filtration systems. To support these efforts, SPR can conduct a facility assessment to understand the full extent of our needs and to prioritize projects with equity. As we look to the long-term, SPR will also need to update building standards to adapt to our new climate reality.
Adapting to the challenges of climate change in Seattle will be an ongoing priority for Seattle Parks and Recreation. The strategies listed above, in addition to the full vulnerabilities assessment, is now available in the recently released Climate Resiliency in Seattle’s Parks and Recreation System strategy. As the science improves and the impacts become more immediate, SPR will continue to adapt our strategies, investments, and actions in response to climate change.
Read the full strategy: Climate Resiliency in Seattle’s Parks and Recreation System