On September 1, community members attended an evening meeting at the International District/Chinatown Community Center to get to know Jesús Aguirre, the new Superintendent of Seattle Parks and Recreation. Alan Lai translated into both Cantonese and Mandarin for Chinese elders at the meeting, who made up over half of the audience.
Aguirre is a recent transplant to Seattle, previously serving as the Superintendent of Parks and Recreation in Washington, D.C. He is taking an active approach to the position, and has been on a listening tour of Seattle’s Community Centers to speak with and hear out local residents.
For its size, Seattle has a very extensive system of parks and recreation spaces. This includes 6,200 acres of space, 465 parks, 25 miles of boulevards, 26 community centers, four golf courses, swimming pools, and more. There are hundreds of play areas, tennis courts, fields, and other recreational areas. Over 36,000 volunteers help run community programs across the city. Seattle’s parks and recreation system is ranked 9th in the country based on investment and the degree of access that community members have to parks and programs.
Aguirre said that with limited resources in the areas of education, preventive health care, police, and security, there has been increasing pressure on the Parks Department to pick up the slack. When extra-curricular activities are cut as schools become more focused on reading, writing, math, and science, parents come to Parks and Recreation looking for programs for their kids, he said. Parks is also feeling pressure to provide additional before and after school programming for at-risk youth in association with the growing perception that crime is on the rise in Seattle. Aguirre said this requires funding for more staff and supplies at local community centers, but the Parks Department is still recovering from significant budget cuts.
120,000 new residents are expected to arrive in Seattle over the next 20 years, making Seattle one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. With increasing density and diversity, residents expect the Parks Department to provide more green spaces and recreational programming. People also expect Parks to address homelessness, provide park security, create public programs to promote exercise, increase access to healthy food by building community gardens, and provide spaces for dogs to play off-leash as the population increases.
Aguirre suggested that the Parks Department’s past attempts to do everything stretched its resources too thin, contributing to the public perception that Parks was not doing many things particularly well. As OCA board member Doug Chin clearly summarized: “The Parks Department can’t be all things to all people.”
Aguirre said he recognizes that the Parks Department does not have the resources to do everything it is being asked to do and will have to make careful decisions over the coming months about which projects and programs to invest resources into.
The superintendent opened up the floor for questions and comments. Community members expressed appreciation for the park rangers and for our local park concierge. They requested that Parks employees be given more hours to attend to the parks, and that we get dedicated staff for the Danny Woo Community Garden, which needs better security.
Brien Chow of Chong Wa Benevolent Association welcomed Aguirre to Seattle, and requested that the new Superintendent change the name of the International District/Chinatown Community Center to the Chinatown-International District Community Center out of respect for the Chinese community.
Along with others in the audience, Chow shared the community’s desire to rename the International Children’s Park to the Donnie Chin Children’s Park. There was substantial audience support for a renaming. Aguirre noted that Parks is already in talks about renaming a park in honor of Donnie Chin, but that the process of renaming is likely to take multiple years.
Regarding the Hing Hay Park extension, the Parks Department reported that it would begin construction this November, and that the extension project is expected to complete 12 months after breaking ground. Additional questions addressed increasing the number of programs for children and seniors, getting an early childcare program for low-income families, fixing broken or concealed park lighting to improve safety, and treating local homeless people with respect and dignity.
Community members can report park maintenance issues to (206) 684-7250. To learn more about Seattle Parks and Recreation’s upcoming projects, visit http://www.seattle.gov/parks/projects/default.htm