I just got back from a profoundly depressing “Open House” below Pike Place Market, at which about 50 people politely listened to Parks Department staff wax enthusiastic about their plans to tear up and “completely redo” Victor Steinbrueck Park, most likely directly connecting it to the expansion of Pike Place Market now under construction. There was about a 40 minute presentation, with lots of references to “public safety” and absolutely none to the many homeless people now living in and around the park 24/7. Even today’s announcement of the city’s plan to clear The Jungle spared a bit of preposterous lip service as to where its current residents are supposed to go. For Parks, they don’t even exist except as code words.There *was* lip service to “honoring the park’s Native American heritage,” but that clearly doesn’t include allowing the many Native Americans who now use the park to stick around. Then, after a handful of audience questions (“Why is a uniformed SPD officer here?”), attendees were told to submit comments online (no URL was given,. and no handouts), and attendees were directed to white boards scattered around the room at which we could admire their work.
After Westlake Park’s transformation into an extension of nearby retail spaces, Victor Steinbrueck is the only remaining place downtown below 6th Ave. (the little-used Freeway Park) at which EVERYONE – not just tourists, shoppers, and the occasional office worker – is welcome. If Parks gets its way, kiss that goodbye. They’ll keep the (fake) totem pole, but not the actually living Natives who use the park; similarly, Parks says they’ll keep – for now – the Leaves of Remembrance memorial to homeless people who’ve died in Seattle, just not the ones who are still alive. As with the new Westlake Park, large groups of people will only happen with events designed to sell things. And, of course, since the homeless will still exist somewhere, the people worked up about “public safety” still won’t feel comfortable anyway.
The future of Victor Steinbrueck park is pretty clearly in the hands of people whose idea of a good time is a trip to Bellevue Square. If they get their way, another little piece of Seattle’s humanity dies, and Seattle takes one more step in its transformation into a city designed to be welcoming to only some of its current residents.
I suppose this is inevitable. I live a half-block from Victor Steinbrueck Park. I count seven major construction projects planned or underway within two blocks, including both immediately north and south of Victor Steinbrueck – and that’s with half of that 12-block area a protected historical district. Our neighborhood is now overrun by tourists at day and bar and brewpub patrons at night. Of *course* they want to turn the park into a play area for the mall. But that doesn’t mean they should do it without a fight. Here’s the online comment form they didn’t much want us to find: http://vspark.publicmeeting.info/