In a pandemic, we should be closing unused streets, not crowded parks
Yesterday, the Mayor’s Office announced on KUOW that several parks would be closing. Later in the afternoon, those specific parks were announced. The mayor claims, likely correctly, that some people haven’t been social distancing properly. Instead of using the opportunity to educate residents, and increase open space so residents can social distance properly, the former prosecutor decided that the people shall be punished. I believe this shortsighted measure will cause an increase in covid19 cases.
In all, 15 parks will be closed over the weekend. These parks represent some of the largest in the city, some of the few places people who can’t afford million dollar homes can get needed fresh air and exercise. The 15 closures are slated to be Alki, the Arboretum, Cal Anderson, Discovery, Gas Works, Green Lake, Golden Gardens, Kubota Garden, Lincoln, Magnuson, Seward, Volunteer, West Seattle Stadium, and Woodland Park. Together, these parks represent 2,509 acres of the 6,414 acres in Seattle parks. The mayor is closing off 39% of all open space in the city, at a time when we should be increasing it.
Of the 6,414 acres of park space in Seattle, much of it is greenbelts that are not really accessible as open space. Included in the 6,414 acres of park land are 4 public golf courses: Jackson Park GC (130 acres) Interbay GC (45 acres), West Seattle GC (120 acres) and Jefferson Park (123 acres). Incredulously, these 428 acres are not open and accessible to the public — a further indictment of how ridiculous the function of these spaces are in an urban setting. Taking these out of the number, means more than half of the accessible park space is being closed this weekend.
Governor Inslee has, repeatedly, said it is OK to go outside. His latest directive states, ‘Engaging in outdoor exercise activities, such as walking, hiking, running or biking, but only if appropriate social distancing practices are used’ are, ‘Essential activities permitted under this Proclamation’. Strangely, one of the mayor’s tweets yesterday implies Inslee’s order doesn’t allow folks to go outside.
The mayor also tweeted, “Walks, runs or bike rides around the neighborhood with children, dogs, or family members can continue to occur.” Here’s the problem with having a myopic millionaire driven everywhere as mayor — many neighborhoods in this city do not even have sidewalks at all. This staircase is one of the parks near our home — does it look like social distancing is possible here?
Many neighborhoods in this city have sidewalks so broken up and narrow, they are not only difficult to walk or roll on, they are impossible to safely social distance on. And with virtually zero speed enforcement of dangerous driving in neighborhoods underway, it is increasingly life threatening to even step out on to the street to safely social distance — let alone impossible for people with wheelchairs. This is also another instance where POPS (Privately Operated Public Space) are revealed to be a total failure — none of them are open to the public in this crisis, because these businesses are all closed.
Oddly, the mayor states the other 475 neighborhood parks in Seattle will remain open. There are roughly 760,000 residents in Seattle. It is going to be sunny and in the 60s this weekend. If the tens of thousands of people who are going to go outdoors can no longer use the large parks where people can actually social distance safely — they are going to crowd these small neighborhood parks. The Burke-Gilman Trail, which the mayor admits to using last week, will be a disaster. Speaking of neighborhood parks — there is a massive equity issue with them. As Sightline noted years ago, most neighborhood parks are surrounded by single family zones. There is a massive open space inequity in this city that requires a radical rethink of open space allocation post-Corona Virus. Several of the parks the mayor is closing are the only accessible parks for rather dense multifamily zoned areas without walking uphill or taking transit — including Volunteer Park, Green Lake, Gasworks, and Cal Anderson. This is due to a number of reasons, but largely to a century of Seattle’s racist and classist land use practices. One wonders if there was any equity lens used in making this decision.
A smart, progressive mayor would use this opportunity to *increase* open space, so that residents could safely social distance. It would also be an opportunity to educate residents. The Parks Department is redeploying workers to punish and harass people about park closures, rather than having them educate residents. Which one do you think workers would rather be doing? Which do you think is going to be more effective and cause less confrontation and consternation?
Mayors all over the world are taking the opposite tack — closing down streets to cars that aren’t being driven anywhere — so that families, joggers, cyclists can safely social distance while getting the fresh air they need. From Berlin, Doug Saunders reported, “In a city like this, where virtually everyone lives in an apartment, the parks are all that’s left. For many, they’re the safer place: A poorly ventilated apartment building is, medical experts say, more infectious than being outside. If your partner or your parents are abusive, or you’re teetering on the edge of a mental-health crisis, then the best thing for you might be to get out and feel the sky.” Just last night, Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, announced that 74 miles of that city would be shut down to car traffic so people can go outside. This is exactly what our city should be doing.