The Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation announced today that Cal Anderson Park will finally be re-opened to the public, less than a week after the Seattle Police Department arrested 25 people while sweeping the park's homeless encampment. SPD also arrested seven others for violating the park closure on Sunday. I guess we don't have to worry about violating park closure restrictions anymore, not that most of us had anything to worry about.
Parks and SPD maintained that the sweep was necessary for the park to re-open in the middle of December. Well, it looks like the city made good on that promise. Cal Anderson is now open from sunrise until 11:30 p.m., and Parks has big plans for the park's future that include adding ping pong tables and outdoor dining spaces.
Since last Friday, Parks has been cleaning the park and doing routine maintenance. The crews still have more work to do, but the city decided to go ahead and open Cal Anderson "to provide the community with access to the park as soon as possible," a statement from Parks reads. ASAP? Hm. The park has technically been closed since July in the aftermath of the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest.
According to the press release, 51 houseless people living in Cal Anderson were connected with other shelter options in the last week and outreach work continues. Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reported that new signs popped up today spelling out new "NO CAMPING" rules and a list of local resources for housing, shelter, and hygiene facilities.
"Cal Anderson Park has been an epicenter for activism and social justice movements for decades and is the heart of the Capitol Hill community. As we move into 2021, Cal Anderson will continue to be a hub for the entire community —neighbors and park visitors alike,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan in a statement.
Apparently, the city has taken suggestions from "community, business owners, and neighbors" for how to "re-envision" the park "to be safer, more welcoming and inclusive, and to honor the protests that took place here," the Parks press release reads.
Part of that honor, it seems, is creating "new recreation activities at the park," according to a statement from Parks Superintendent Jesús Aguirre.
To "honor the protests" held in Cal Anderson, Parks will be "setting up ping pong tables and outdoor dining areas, as well as creating a scavenger hunt for kids and a map for walking loops around the park and the surrounding neighborhood in order to encourage folks to explore our parks while following social distancing and masking guidelines."
So, those planning meetings over the summer and fall, the ones about improving Cal Anderson and honoring CHOP, were about turning it into a tech breakroom??? Stranger staff writer Jasmyne Keimig attended those meetings. She said these improvements "definitely weren't mentioned in the meetings I attended."
Keimig continued: "Most people wanted to turn Cal Anderson into a dog park and get homeless people out of the park. I don't remember them bringing up scavenger hunts."
I, for one, am interested to see what kind of hostile architecture the city places on the ping pong tables to stop people from sleeping on them. Will the scavenger hunt include each of the locations where SPD arrested protesters? Maybe the clues will include facts about how many people are still sleeping unsheltered during a public health crisis? There's a lot to unpack here.
I asked Parks how much these improvements will cost the city. I'll update when I hear back.
For what it's worth, community engagement around Cal Anderson improvements will be on-going. The next planning meeting is scheduled for early January.