There’s a big move to revitalize Little Saigon by acquiring a neighborhood park — a “showpiece for the community.” So says Quang Nguyen, who is spearheading efforts under the leadership of Joyce Pisnanont. Both are representing the Seattle Chinatown/International District Preservation Development Authority (SCIDpda) IDEA Space, a community development resource center where people could go to find out what’s happening in the neighborhood and how to get involved in its projects.
“We want people to get excited about a potential park in Little Saigon,” Nguyen says. “We want mothers to think about the park as a playground, seniors to look at it as an urban garden, artists to want to hold their performances there.”
This sentiment is echoed by many who believe in open spaces being essential to community life. API immigrants believe in preserving the culture of their native land and being able to pass it down to the next generation. The planned park would be key in keeping the community united in this responsibility as the citizens work together to build it from the ground up.
Because the SCIDpda IDEA space’s mission is to balance development and preservation, it wants to be culturally sensitive in its projects. When the Seattle Neighborhood Parks Levy came up for renewal in 2008, Little Saigon (together with nineteen others in Seattle) was identified as an underserved area. So at the beginning of 2010, the Seattle Parks and Recreation through Chip Nevins, the city’s Acquisition Planner, teamed up with the SCIDpda with this mission in mind.
“We need to focus on Little Saigon. We found out that people had access to parks around it but did not have one in the area itself,” Nevins says.
The first step is to find a potential site for this project. “But even before that,” according to Joyce Pisnanont, “we need to engage the community and find out what they envision for this green space. We not only want to get their perspective but help them take stewardship of this place and call it their own.”
That is why the Parks department and SCIDpda are sounding out to our readers everywhere to contact them. They would want to speak with anyone who is interested in taking care of this park project and willing to advocate for its building and growth.
There are lots of volunteer opportunities, says Pisnanont, and there are many ways to help. Starting this fall, students at the University of Washington’s Department of Landscape and Architecture will host a Design Studio to assist in identifying a site and begin researching design concepts that can inform the final design of the park. Hopefully, if the acquisition process moves in a timely manner, the community will be able to access development dollars through the Opportunity Fund before the Levy expires. There will be a group that will nurture this project from its birthing stage and beyond. Yet there are challenges that lie ahead.
“The stakeholders who we want to reach in Little Saigon are all from diverse backgrounds,” says Nguyen. “There might be difficulties in getting people such as restaurant owners and seniors to meet at one time. We might have to do small group meetings to accommodate the times convenient to them so that we could get everybody’s opinions and views.”
Many views will fuel this dream. The vision for a green Little Saigon will become a reality sooner than we know it, and we will all be a part of it.