On July 6, groundbreaking for Little Saigon Park began.
“It was a long time coming,” said Quynh Pham, Executive Director at Friends of Little Sài Gòn. “It was really great to see folks who were part of the original planning committee.”
In the heart of the concrete jungle, greenspace is invaluable. Trees provide shade and work to absorb carbon emissions, cooling down urban areas through evapotranspiration, a process by which water is transferred from the land and plant surfaces into the atmosphere.
The groundbreaking is the culmination of over a decade of planning between Friends of Little Sài Gòn and the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, as well as local business owners, to transform a gravel lot into a park in the heart of the neighborhood. Friends of Little Sài Gòn was originally founded to advocate for the park’s creation.
“We had to think, ‘How do we create something that can help catalyze community and not just involve the small businesses, but involve the broader community also?’” said Quang Nguyen, one of the original members of the organization.
The park will house a gateway featuring local artists, a children’s play area, an amphitheater, and an open lawn with adjacent seating. Its position between South Jackson and King Street will break up long blocks that can make the area difficult to navigate.
“[The park] would be a potential community event space, or just a space for employees in the neighborhood to come and have lunch,” Pham said. “It breaks through the neighborhood and gives access. You can actually walk past King Street straight up to Jackson Street once it’s open.”
For a long time, the Vietnamese community lacked a physical landmark in the Chinatown International District (CID). Attempts to establish one, for one reason or another, have always fallen through. Knowing how vulnerable Little Saigon in particular is, the Friends of Little Sài Gòn team felt that a park would provide the best opportunity to establish a cultural stronghold.
“In the early 2000s, in Rainier Valley, we wanted to create a Vietnamese community center,” said Nguyen. “Through the years, we realized how hard it was because of the financing, finding land, and all that stuff. To jump back to the Little Saigon Park project, we were just looking for any opportunity possible to create a landmark that would enable us to create a sense of place.”
In recent years, community members have vocalized concerns about the neighborhood’s public safety. Friends of Little Sài Gòn wants to ensure that the City humanely addresses the needs of homeless people in the CID by responding to accompanying challenges with thought and care.
“We’re also very aware of some of the public safety challenges that are ahead,” Pham said. “[We] want to hold our city partners accountable and work with them to ensure that [the park] is used to the best of its ability for our community.”
Little Saigon Park is expected to be completed by Feb. 10, 2024 in time for the Lunar New Year. Once complete, the park will be located at 1224 S King Street.
Both Pham and Nguyen hope that the project inspires future projects between the community and the City, whether that means more greenspace, cleaning up tree pits, or developing landscaping.
“The idea was to create a template on how the community can work together,” Nguyen said. “We learned some tough lessons that taught us community members are very busy, so they’re not able to just take all that time to learn the process. You need to have some sort of focusing project to kind of help them, to motivate them.”