Thank you kathleen conner for 20 years of service

We had the privilege of connecting with Kathleen Conner, who recently retired as Seattle Parks and Recreation Planning Manager. Here’s what she had to say about her 20-year tenure.

Tell us about your start with Seattle Parks?

In early 2001, Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) was hiring a Capital Improvement Program (CIP) Planner.  In my past jobs I had worked on capital project plans and long-range plans that included park and recreation elements, so I thought the job looked interesting.

What positions and types of responsibilities did you have over the years?

I was the CIP Planner for many years, and prepared studies and the Asset Management Plan, and developed the capital budgets for major maintenance projects.  As a Senior Planner, I led many long-range planning efforts, including several Parks and Open Space Plans, led the effort to procure SPR’s asset management and work order software system, and became the liaison for historic preservation. In the past six years, I have been a Strategic Advisor and the Planning Manager managing SPR’s Planning Team.  In 2018/19 I was on special assignment to the Superintendent’s Office to lead the preparation of the Strategic Plan.

Of course, there’s an Olmsted connection! When/how did you first learn about Olmsted parks/principles?

In the mid-80s, my first job out of graduate school was for the city of Portland, Maine.  The Olmsted Brothers had prepared plans for the Eastern Promenade, Western Promenade, and Deering Oaks Park in Portland, so it was something that the Planners and many community members knew about and valued them as extra special parks.  At the same time, my in-laws lived right outside of Boston, so I spent a lot of time in Boston and Cambridge enjoying the parks on my visits there.

How did you first learn about and become involved with Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks (FSOP)?

Beginning in 2001, I learned about FSOP because I brought several project plans in Olmsted parks to FSOP for design input.  In 2003, around the time of the centennial celebration of the Olmsted legacy in Seattle, I was assigned to become the liaison to FSOP and on other historic preservation and city Landmark’s efforts.  Luckily, Donald Harris (current FSOP board member) passed the torch to me, and I learned a lot from him along the way.

You’ve also been involved with the National Association of Olmsted Parks (NAOP), how did come together what was your role?

There were several Seattle members of NAOP who thought it would be good to have a member of the Advisory Council who worked on parks planning, budgeting, and capital projects, and could provide a “boots on the ground” perspective on proposals and issues.  

What do public parks mean to you?

Parks are places of respite and enjoyment for everyone.  They are a key component of Seattle’s livability and provide not only social benefits, but also health and environmental ones.   SPR is committed to ensuring that we have an equitable parks and recreation system and is working daily to increase access to quality parks and recreation services.

Any favorite moments or memories?

The Olmsted Centennial was an amazing place to kick off my more official role with FSOP.  The park tours led by FSOP Board members have been really interesting and fun.  I was very happy that Seattle’s Olmsted system was placed on the National Register (multiple-part documentation) due in large part to the significant contributions of FSOP members. Over the 18 years I was connected with FSOP, I have enjoyed meeting and working with many dedicated volunteers on the Board.  Their deep knowledge about Olmsted principles and advocacy helped to improve many projects.  

Your last year was interesting, what has been like working the last year during the pandemic?

I was able to work at home, and once I learned all the new communication software tools, it worked out well.  Plus, having an amazing Planning team and other SPR colleagues was really helpful.   I definitely missed in-person connections and meetings, though. 

There have been some pretty big challenges working on Parks & Recreation’s Strategic Plan; updating and planning for the next increment of Park District funding, what does that involve?

The 2020-2032 Strategic Plan for Seattle Parks and Recreation took about two years to develop working with SPR and city staff, the Park District Oversight Committee, and the Board of Park Commissioners, and the public. As you know, we had several task forces do deeper dives on key issues, including the Olmsted Park and Boulevard System.  We appreciated FSOP’s efforts on the Olmsted one.

 A lot has changed in Seattle/the world since early 2020, and staff is working out the details to check in with community later in 2021 on the Strategic Plan priorities to best serve the public.  I hope that you will continue to be involved in the planning for the next Park District funding.   

Are you willing to tell us what your favorite public park is, and why?

It is hard to choose my favorite one, but Discovery Park is at the top of my favorites.  I love that there is an Olmsted Brothers’ plan for Fort Lawton (now Discovery), and the variety of elements that were envisioned for the Park.  It is almost like a miniature city with beautiful views of Puget Sound and was based on a cohesive design for a natural and built environment.  I really enjoy seeing the water views, getting to the beach, walking through the forest, seeing birds and wildlife, and viewing the historic buildings on my frequent park visits.  The new play area, tennis and pickleball courts, and the Environmental Learning Center are also important assets for the Park, as well.  A fun fact related to my personal history is that my Dad spent a couple of weeks at Fort Lawton awaiting a ship to take him to Japan for his military service.

What do post retirement look like for you?

I hope to travel as soon as possible.  New Zealand, Australia, and South America are high on my list.  I plan to audit some classes at UW starting in the fall.  I also will be involved in community service in some capacity, to be determined. 

Celebrating Earth Day 2021 with Coyote Central

During this past year so many of us have been rekindling our fondness for green space and especially the city parks. Gaining a hyper appreciation for the views, natural wooded areas, and the ability to leave our homes for even a brief respite. With schools closed we have seen kids returning to parks in new ways – with family, pets or making their own field trips.

To celebrate Earth Day this year we have partnered with the very creative people at Coyote Central. Students were asked about preservation, access, and reconnecting with nature in Seattle’s Olmsted Parks. Here is a slideshow of posters created by students ages 10 – 15. We hope you find them as inspiring as we do!

  • Olmsted Parks - A place to connect. Computer illustration of people spending time in Volunteer Park, looking out at the city skyline with the space need. The sun is setting in a brilliant orange sky. A girl poses with her dog in the famous "donut" sculpture, two women walk with children, and a few other people are sitting on the grass surroudning the resevoir enjoying the park.
  • Root for trees! Wave back to the ocean. Digital art. In front of an abstract galaxy, a globe is topped with a gigantic tree covering most of a hempisphere. Rotating the image 180 degrees, a giant red octopus grabs onto the opposite site of the globe in a dark blue ocean.
  • Be the solution, Not the pollution! Hand-drawn poster. Large block letters and a globe site atop a wall of words including pollution, trash, deterioration, gross, catastrophe, plastic, downfall, and abuse. Occasional yellow words through include reduce, love, and water.
  • Everyone Needs a Space to Breathe. Protect Seattle Olmsted parks. Watercolor of volunteer park black ring sculpture with abstract space needle, resevoir, and trees in the background.
  • Protect Connect. An elaborate collage featured hands covered in green ivy atop a background of abstract nature images in shades of green. Phrases are pasted on top of background. Dissolve into the earth / we sha'll become one. Sway with the leaves / let us dance together. Take your time / like the old wise snail. Shine like the sun / help others grow. Explore the earth / proect her. Skip like a stone / over the creek. Bloom like a flower / and fill others with love.
  • Earth Loves You! Love It back! A hand drawn sketch of a person in a green hat walking up a hill in the hot sun. The word "Earth" is filled with green and blue like the planet.
  • Protecting nature youth artwork, with an orca jumping over the Seattle Space Needle

Funding the Beach at Be’er Sheva Park

logo for Rainier Beach Link2Lake

Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks is very pleased to lend our voice in support of the Be’er Sheva Park Capital Campaign. This project will create a beautiful and welcoming beach at the park, in the Rainier Beach neighborhood. It will also fulfill part of Olmsted’s vision for shoreline access in this neighborhood. 

current shoreline conditions at Be’er Sheva

Community-led and designed, this decade-long dream is ready to be built, but additional funding is needed. Seeking both large and small contributions, the goal for Phase 1 is $1,000,000 by April 30, 2021. Approximately 60% of that goal has been reached to-date, with possible additional grants pending. We invite you to make contributions through this link and encourage others to add their support as well.

This community project is led by Rainier Beach Link2Lake Open Space Steering Committee, whose fiscal sponsor is the Seattle Parks Foundation.

along Henderson Street
Henderson Street connection to lightrail

FSOP is particularly excited about this project, not only for its improved waterfront access for an underserved neighborhood, but also for how closely it mirrors Olmsted’s vision, described well over a century ago. In 1908, Olmsted recommended a shoreline parkway be extended south from Seward Park to an expanded park at this location, which he later described as having “very notable landscape advantages.” Additionally, the Rainier Beach Link2Lake’s broader vision to create a pedestrian-friendly green corridor along Henderson Street, which would connect the park to lightrail and the Chief Sealth trail, traces Olmsted’s proposed parkway route connecting the neighborhood to Beacon Hill and other park boulevards. As Olmsted noted in his 1908 report, all these improvements would be “exceedingly valuable” for “making the lives of the people of the neighborhoods better worth living.”

Please consider giving your support for Be’er Sheva Park, especially as we look forward to 2022 and the national ‘Celebrating Parks for All People‘ effort of the Olmsted200 bicentennial.

Addressing Homelessness in Seattle’s Parks

Please note: following is a letter, written by Park Commissioner Tom Byers and addressed to Mayor Durkan and the City Council, addressing homelessness in Seattle’s parks.  We at Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks support his recommendations.  We greatly appreciate his phased, balanced approach to providing shelter and resources, as we do not condone park sweeps that fail to offer lasting and attainable alternatives.

Indeed, the original Olmsted vision for parks was imbued with principles of social reform: public parks were intended as democratizing and humanizing spaces, for the common good, where everyone is free to gather.

January 21, 2021

Dear Mayor Durkan and Members of the City Council,

At least five times a week I take a long walk in one of our wonderful city parks. The exercise, fresh air, and occasional wild-life sightings help to clear my head and maintain some semblance of physical and mental health during these dark times. I am not alone. On this morning’s hour-long walk in a cold rain, I passed sixty-four others in the park, the vast majority of them women and small children. On days when even a trace of sunshine breaks through, the numbers are much higher.

The pandemic has made many of us more aware of how important our park system is, not only for our well-being as individuals, but to our sense of community. We value the parks as Seattle’s common ground, open to everyone, no matter their circumstances. 

But today that is no longer true. There are many Seattle neighborhoods in which our fellow citizens don’t have the life-sustaining access to parks that my neighbors and I enjoy. Some neighborhoods didn’t have enough parks to begin with, and the limited park space they have has been taken over by tent encampments. 

Ironically, our elected leaders enabled these occupations of our parks in the name of social justice. Their reasoning, as I understand it, was that Gov. Inslee’s order to “shelter in place” during the first days of the pandemic meant that homeless individuals who were then living in the parks should be able to remain there undisturbed. There was logic in that viewpoint last spring, but it has long since evaporated. Ten months into the pandemic, the city has failed to make tangible progress towards establishing temporary and long-term solutions to the housing crisis, allowing city parks to become the best option for hundreds of unhoused individuals to seek shelter. Indeed, the number of individuals living in parks has appeared to increase as the economic effects of the pandemic become more severe. Over time park encampments have mushroomed tenfold with newcomers who cannot claim they are simply sheltering in place. 

Our Park Superintendent estimates that roughly 12 percent of our city’s parks have encampments large enough to discourage or prevent use by other park visitors. Many neighborhood park advocates believe the percentage is much higher. Most of those parks are in densely populated areas, where most residents are enduring the pandemic in apartments that don’t have back yards. Those families and individuals are dependent for fresh air and exercise on the parks nearby their homes, parks that are now filled with the tents of our unhoused neighbors who have few places to go besides public parks and lack access to essential services that are critical to maintaining public health during a global pandemic.

For those of us who believe in social justice, the current policy of benign neglect is a double-barreled failure. It is neither just nor progressive to deprive families and individuals of their ability to use their parks as they were intended to be used. Nor is it just and progressive to leave the people in those tents — some of whom are suffering from physical disabilities, mental illness, and addictions — to sleep in tents through a long and rainy Seattle winter.

Social justice demands we do better on both counts. It will not be easy. We did not come to this predicament overnight, and we will not find our way to higher ground quickly or cheaply. But for the good of the entire community, we need to find our way. Here are some steps toward that goal: 

The Mayor and Council must overcome their past differences and work together to implement a strategy to end the epidemic of homelessness that is jeopardizing everything else we are trying to achieve as a community. It has been several years since homelessness was declared an emergency by a previous Mayor, yet most Seattle residents still do not perceive that City Hall has any coherent plan to meet the challenge, and the tents in the parks seem to be evidence that no such plan exists. We need a strategy that mobilizes all agencies of the city, and the community as a whole, to achieve the goal of restoring homeless individuals and families to full participation in the life of the community and preventing others from becoming homeless. The Mayor must identify a leader who will be in charge of implementing that strategy and hold that leader accountable for making progress. The Council must provide the necessary resources to enable city agencies to play their roles effectively.

The city government must also renew its commitment to restore our parks so that all Seattle residents can use them for the purposes for which they are intended. As part of its comprehensive strategy, the city government should announce its intent to phase out the tent encampments and then enforce the long-standing regulations that have prohibited camping in the parks. The phase-out of the park encampments should be accomplished through the following measures (some of which are already underway, but under-resourced):

  • Active outreach and engagement with residents of the encampments 
  • Referral to shelter and affordable housing as available 
  • To the extent existing shelter or housing resources are insufficient, establish sanctioned encampments at non-park sites where appropriate sanitation and human services can be provided. First priority should be sites owned by churches, public agencies, or non-profit organizations that are willing to “sponsor” an encampment and assist with outreach and linkages to health and human services
  • Until better options can be created, upgrade the sanctioned encampments with the types of facilities provided in refugee camps and state-sanctioned farmworker housing during the cherry harvest. That translates into OSHA tents, mobile restrooms and shower facilities
  • Rapidly develop more “tiny-house villages” like those described here. The tiny-house villages are a big step up from tent encampments. They provide shelter, heat, and electricity in the individual units, and access to shared restrooms, showers, and kitchen facilities. The units also provide security for residents and their belongings because they can be locked by the resident. The importance of this feature is described powerfully in this short video. The existing villages in Seattle are managed by the Low-income Housing Institute (LIHI) and operate under a detailed code of conduct that each resident agrees to abide by. Each village has an advisory committee composed of neighbors to ensure they are well-managed. During her first year in office, Mayor Durkan stated she intended to create 1,000 units in tiny-house villages. About 380 have been developed to date    
  • Invest in the primary health, mental health, and addiction care services available in the community and strengthen the connections between the providers and residents of the sanctioned encampments, shelters, and tiny home villages  
  • Expedite the production of permanent supportive housing
  • Substantially increase funding for employment programs that help homeless individuals. A leading example is the Seattle Conservation Corps, which is operated by the Parks Department and employs and trains homeless individuals to complete park improvements and other public works. The Corps has an excellent track record of helping individuals regain their place in the community, but its enrollment has been limited to 60-70 per year by budget concerns. In light of the damage that has been done to the park system in the past year by cuts in the maintenance budget, plus the freeze on hiring temporary workers during the summer, now would be an excellent time to expand the Corps by recruiting some of able-bodied and resilient people living in the shelters and tents and deploying the Corps to repair the damage that has been done to the park system during the pandemic. The Corps could also help with construction of tiny-home villages
  • These actions can be paid for, at least in large part, by avoiding costs the City is incurring to mitigate the impact of the encampments on the parks (garbage collection, sanitation, etc.); the cost of the police presence necessary during “sweeps”; and other costs associated with allowing people to remain homeless (911 calls, emergency room visits, etc.) The expansion of the Conservation Corps and other measures to restore and enhance the park system could be funded by a modest increase in the levy rate of the Metropolitan Park District, which can be done with five votes of the Council and the approval of the Mayor.

These are the obvious first steps to meet the twin crises evident in our parks. A more complete list of actions will need to be created, and it must be forged by those most affected: by the families and individuals in the city neighborhoods who have been unable to use their parks for their intended purposes; by individuals who have experienced homelessness; by advocates for the mentally ill, and chemically addicted; and by the dedicated individuals who are working to reform the systems that have badly failed to protect both our parks and those who have pitched their tents within them.

Sincerely,

Tom Byers, Member, Board of Park Commissioners and Park District Oversight Committee

Co-signers:  Andrea Akita, Jessica Farmer, Kelly McCaffrey, Members of the Board of Park Commissioners and Park District Oversight Committee; Dennis Cook, Even Hundley and Jessica Vu, Members of the Board of Park Commissioners; and Dewey Potter, Member of the Park District Oversight Committee

“OLMSTED IN SEATTLE” NOMINATED FOR BOOK AWARD

Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks (FSOP) is proud to announce that Olmsted in Seattle has been named a finalist for the 2020 Washington State Book Awards. In addition to introducing readers to John Charles Olmsted’s plan for a park system, Olmsted in Seattle recounts the interplay of policy, politics and city development that led to hiring the Olmsted Brothers and examines how our park system has evolved since then.

Olmsted in Seattle is published by HistoryLink and distributed by University of Washington Press and can be purchased athttps://uwapress.uw.edu/book/9781933245560/olmsted-in-seattle/

The Washington State Book Awards, now in their 54th year, are presented by the Washington Center for the Book, a partnership of Seattle Public Library and Washington State Library. The awards honor Washington authors and will be judged by a panel of librarians and booksellers. Olmsted in Seattle is one of five books nominated in the “General Nonfiction” category. Winners in each of eight categories will be announced on September 25.

More information can be found at http://www.washingtoncenterforthebook.org/2020-washington-state-book-award-finalists/

FSOP congratulates author Jennifer Ott and HistoryLink on this nomination! Jennifer Ott is an environmental historian and assistant director of HistoryLink. She served on the board of Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks and was board president from 2011-2015. Ott’s other books include Waterway: The Story of Seattle’s Lock and Ship Canal, co-authored with David Williams, and Seattle at 150: Stories of the City Through 150 Objects from the Seattle Municipal Archives, for which she was head editor. She is a member of the Volunteer Park Trust steering committee and an advisory board member with FSOP.

Emergency Tree Removal on Queen Anne Boulevard

photo of tree-lined street
Queen Anne Boulevard at W McGraw Place, near site of tree removal

Seattle Parks and Recreation took emergency measures to remove an infected tree on W McGraw Place, part of Queen Anne Boulevard, on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. The Parks Dept. briefed FSOP on the need for the emergency removal Tuesday afternoon and received approval from the Landmarks Board early Wednesday.

The tree, a mature Norway maple (Acer platanoides) was infected with a spore, Cryptostroma corticale, which when airborne can become a human health hazard. The tree removal crew wore special protective gear during the removal process.

The spore grows under the bark of the tree, and as the bark falls away the spore is released to the air. More information on the pathogen can be found in this article.

Seattle Parks will replace the tree with a young tree of a different species yet to be determined. Approximately 23 additional trees along the boulevard are being assessed and may need to be removed and replaced as well. FSOP will be involved in both processes.

Call for Volunteers

Are you interested in becoming more involved in matters regarding our Seattle Olmsted parks and boulevards? Consider joining us!

Historical photo showing rustic road bridge in Interlaken Park

We are currently seeking new members to serve on our Board of Directors. Board activities include consulting on park improvement projects, creating and organizing walking tours, advocating for our historic parks, and partnering with community groups to help meet shared goals. Included on our current board are landscape architects and designers, a horticulturalist, a lawyer, a business manager, retired park staff, graphic designers and community relations professionals. We seek additional individuals with expertise and/or interest in at least one of the following areas:

  • Historical Research – looking for a candidate willing to do in-depth research for specific properties or projects, one of which is expanding our narrative to include related instances of racial injustices
  • Community Outreach – looking for a candidate who will identify and work with community groups and individual Olmsted Parks groups to help with park improvement projects
  • Educational Programming – looking for candidates who can help lead walking tours and/or identify and develop additional teaching opportunities
  • Accounting – looking for a candidate who can assist with our bookkeeping
  • Landscape Design – looking for candidates who are comfortable reviewing design proposals
  • Fund Raising — looking for candidates that are interested in leading our fund raising initiatives
  • Strategic Planning – looking for candidates who can help direct and implement our long-range planning
  • Communications – looking for candidates who can spearhead letter-writing campaigns and help build our social media presence
  • Anyone with an interest in the importance of unique urban parks and a willingness to advocate on their behalf

Terms begin in September immediately following our annual meeting on September 14, 2020, and run for three years. Our board meetings are typically held from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on the first Monday of each month. We are currently holding our meetings remotely via Zoom. As conditions allow, we will hold in-person meetings again at the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation headquarters in Denny Park (plenty of free parking available).

Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks (FSOP) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Seattle’s unique Olmsted landscape heritage and raising awareness of the Olmsted philosophy of providing open space for all people.

Please contact FSOP President Douglas Luetjen at friends@seattleolmsted.org if you are interested in getting more involved!

Color photo of about 25 people gathered together in middle of vegetated meadow.
Walking tour through WA Park Arboretum

black lives matter

The Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks mourn the tragic loss of life due to injustice, racism, or intolerance.  We remember George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Manuel Ellis, Roger Reese and Barry Lawson, and countless others as we condemn the continued violence and oppression against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.  We, as did the Olmsteds, believe in a society that honors and protects the personal rights and freedoms that work to make everyone feel welcome and safe.

          The Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks commit to understanding our role in dismantling institutional racism and to seek partnerships with individuals and communities to further inform the ways our historic parks can effectively serve them.  We will seek broader understanding of the factors and policies that helped form our historic park system so as to acknowledge and communicate this history fully and transparently. We will incorporate these lessons in our ongoing efforts to support the Olmsted legacy of a park system meant to provide access, and value, equally throughout our community.

Go here to read our statement on race and social justice.

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