Restoration project aims to bring kids back to International Children’s Park
By Evangeline Cafe
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Amid the hustle and bustle of Chinatown sits a quiet, unassuming park nestled behind trees on the corner of Seventh Avenue South and South Lane Street. A bronze dragon hovers over a giant yin-yang arrangement made of sand and grass. Rockery symbolizing the mountainous regions of the Philippines rests alongside a small slide and merry-go-round.
Community activism led to the construction of the International Children’s Park in 1981 to give inner city kids a place to play. However, safety concerns, accessibility issues, and a lack of visibility have turned the park into an underappreciated and underused space.
“Even those who live, work, and play in the neighborhood can easily pass the park without being aware that it exists,” said Monica Le, steering committee member of Friends of International Children’s Park (FICP).
On Oct. 2, the FICP will launch a fundraising campaign to support a major restoration project of Dragon Park, as it is affectionately called. The project is slated to break ground next year. The goal is to bring children back to the park and make it more inviting to the rest of the community.
“Green, open spaces are integral to our communities for cleaning the air, beautifying the neighborhood, improving the pedestrian experience, and especially as a place of development of all sorts,” said Le. “[It] needs continued investment from city entities and community stakeholders.”
The FICP formed and began conversations on how to improve the park in 2007. Its community members teamed up with the UW Landscape Architecture Program and the Wilderness Inner-city Leadership Development youth program (WILD) to produce a set of conceptual design alternatives.
These designs were based on feedback from neighbors who expressed concerns and offered suggestions at a series of community workshops. The Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation & Development Authority, InterIm Community Development Association, and the Wing Luke Asian Museum also provided their support to this effort.
“What is particularly unique about International Children’s Park is the grassroots efforts of several community stakeholders who have joined together to improve the park,” said FICP Co-Chair Liana Woo,.
In 2008, voters approved the Parks and Green Spaces Levy, which allocated $500,000 towards the restoration of the park. The project also received awards from the city’s Neighborhood Matching Fund, bringing the total amount raised to $580,000. Despite these successes, Woo stresses that their work is far from finished.
“We still need to match $55,000 to support public art, play equipment, and continued programming for children and families in the park,” said Woo. She hopes that donors will help the FICP meet its match by January.
This summer, the project’s landscape architect, Karen Kiest, proposed an overall design draft for the project. The design aims to improve visibility and accessibility to the park by revamping the plant palette and rearranging the rockery. Tall trees and shrubs currently obstruct the street-level view of the park.
It is also looking to make the park friendlier with additional seating options and a plaza-like open space that will make the park more conducive to hosting public events.
In an effort to provide a more inviting atmosphere for children, the draft proposes an upgrade of playground equipment. They asked a sample of school-age children to test playground equipment over the summer, in order to obtain their assessments on which toys are most enjoyable. Finally, the design aims to add artistic elements to the park that reflect the International District’s distinctive character.
“The renovation of the park is an opportunity to blend old and new elements, and find new meanings within our vibrant neighborhood,” said Woo.
Construction is scheduled to begin in 2010 and is expected to take more than a year to complete. Until then, the FICP will continue raising money and soliciting input from neighbors as they iron out the final details of the project.
“You can help by joining the FICP e-mail list or by joining one of the FICP committees,” said Woo.
“Sign up for volunteer match hours, give monetary or in-kind donations, attend our monthly programming events, and, most importantly, spread the word about the International Children’s Park!” she said.
Le believes the park is a “hidden gem” in the International District that must be preserved. “It serves as a reminder of our ethnic roots, and provides a space for people to gather and share culturally rich experiences,” she said. ♦
The FICP fundraising event will take place at International Children’s Park on Oct. 2 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. For more information, call 206-624-8929 or e-mail email@example.com.
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