Some remember Seattle’s International Children’s Park with a wooden bridge that sat on a stampede of gigantic rocks. Some remember the park with the slender slide. And for others, the dragon sculpture that still remains, from Seattle’s local artist, Gerry/Gerard Tsutakawa.
Over the last 30 years, the petite 0.2 acre landscape of the park has conveniently served the community as a green and open space. Due to safety measures, the bridge and the slide have been removed. Though the park does not have a colorful gym of monkey bars and swings, fond memories of childhood plays were made at an inter-generational level. Today, the park needs to connect with the youth as it did with the past. It needs to be the storyteller of memories once again.
Replacing the park undermines the early activists who fought for a park dedicated to the children of the neighborhood. But, to revitalize while keeping the park for its original purpose is key.
The talk of renovation has always been there. Many Seattle Chinatown International District social agencies, in partnership with the UW Landscape Architecture classes took part in analyzing and conceptualizing ideas of how to revitalize the park. It wasn’t until a group of residents, community organizations, and businesses tried to collaborate again to make the park improvements a reality. One resident, Liana Woo, who moved into the Asian condo’s across the street from the park, wanted to join the community’s efforts this time.
“I remember as a child, I would go to the park on the weekends with my brother and I always had good memories,” said Woo. “When I moved into the condo four years ago, I wanted to get myself involved in the community when I saw that the park wasn’t well used like I remembered.”
Woo is a Seattle native and community volunteer. Utilizing her networks and passion, a grassroots movement emerged in 2007 that formed the Friends of the International Children’s Park—a community group of immense volunteers, residents and supporters from the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation & Development Authority (SCIDpda), Wing Luke Asian Museum, the International District Chinatown Community Center, Denise Louie Education Center, Inter*Im, International District Housing Alliance, the University of Washington Landscape Architecture Program, Chong Wa Benevolent Association and many others.
Today, the SCIDpda and Woo serve as the co-chairs of the Friends of the International Children’s Park. However, the array of community efforts have been the backbone throughout the three years of design phases.
As a fiscal agent, the SCIDpda thanks the numerous supporters who steered the renovation process and the community members who voiced their opinions and concerns and gathered their ideas for their community park.
“Numerous grants have been applied to renovate the park before,” says Joyce Pisnanont, manager of IDEA space of SCIDpda. “Everyone all tried to do something but it was time to put our heads together.”
In 2008, the International Children’s Park was the recipient for the Parks and Green Space Levy. At a fortunate timing, the levy allocated $500,000 for park development. However, it just wasn’t enough.
“During public meetings and in the midst of fundraising campaigns, we realized the need for playground equipment, for maintenance of the park and also the landscaping piece,” says Pisnanont.
As the renovation process developed, other grants and resources came. A primary example: a design studio with students from the University of Washington Landscape and Architecture department collaborated with the architect team. Students from UW and youth from the International District Housing Alliance WILD program conducted focus groups to do extensive research, case studies, oral history and interviews to gain an understanding of what frequent users of the park desire.
“The dragon will stay in the park and will be moved to a different location,” says Pisnanont. “Though the Ying Yang will no longer be in place, we have been very careful to work with the original designers of the park.”
Each message, each comment, each idea and each thought carried by the community were carefully listened to during public meetings and focus groups. And though it may not compromise everyone’s cultural identity and vision, the re-design of the park will essentially carry metaphorical symbolism and subtle pieces to connect urban community and space with nature.
“The cultural meaning in the park means something different to everyone,” says Pisnanont. “But our design team have been very careful to take consideration of all those pieces by using contemporary landscape techniques while trying to have intimate conversations.”
Stuart Nakumara, a local Seattle artist who has done work in the neighborhood and taught children’s art seemed a perfect fit when time came to choose the designer of the cultural elements for the park. During public meetings, Nakumara revealed a concept of using allusions of movement that will captivate people to move around the park in order to discover the historical stories within the neighborhood.
Despite the long and extensive project, volunteer efforts have eased each roadblock.
“It’s been such a long process,” says Ben Han, an AmeriCorps staff with the SCIDpda. “But we have many interns from the UW and also volunteers for specific selection committees. There have been more than 150 volunteers.”
While the emphasis is with the children of the neighborhood, elders who are often the caretakers of the children are considered, too. Whether the revitalized space can become the next meeting spot for elders wanting to do Tai Chi or families to come for weekend picnics, the park is ready for a healthy community.
“The park is close proximity to so many social services and assets that cater to both the International District and the greater API community,” said Han. “The park has become a hot spot.”
It started as a talk to make the park become visible. The 150 volunteers combined with the Friends of the International Park have become the park’s soul.
“The mission is to bring children back to the children’s park,” says Woo. “Hopefully it will continue to be a magnet for the next generation of youth. It’s really about the Friends of International Children’s Park and making new friends and building relationships we made during this process and have it continued.”