Opinion

Citizen involvement is essential in planning for Waterfront Park | GUEST VIEWPOINT

BY JON QUITSLUND

Citizens with many different interests and talents will soon have an opportunity to work together on a major project for the benefit of our community.

The city has begun to plan for significant improvements in the Waterfront Park and the city dock in Winslow. Two public meetings have been scheduled, using the renovated Community Center on Brien Drive.

The first will take place on Saturday, June 1, and the second on Sunday, June 30. Both meetings will be in the afternoon, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.

The first meeting will consider the full range of activities that the park and dock might accommodate, and possibilities for connection with other places and activities on the water and elsewhere in downtown Winslow. It will be a free-for-all brainstorming session, exploring a wide range of ideas and letting them clash and combine.

The second meeting will develop a strategy for designing the park and dock. It will set in motion a team effort that will, I trust, be robust and practical enough to make its way through all the stages of design, review, funding and implementation.

This is a tall order, and we won’t see results on the ground any time soon, but there’s a sense of urgency – a belief that “Now’s the time!” – surrounding this project. Participation on the part of many people, representing a wide range of interests, is crucial to success in the first phase of planning, and citizens will also be called upon to maintain some involvement in the process over time.

Without broad public support, the project’s integrity is apt to be subverted. (We’ve seen this happen before.)

Participants in the first meeting will have the benefit of inspirational leadership. Dan Burden, co-founder of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute in Port Townsend, will join us for the day to preside over the meeting.

Board members of Sustainable Bainbridge have stepped forward to work with the city on this project. This is a new venture, both for the city, with its depleted planning staff, and for the nonprofit organization, which aims to channel the talents and generosity not only of its board members, but of an engaged citizenry.

As things stand now, after years of neglect and piecemeal fixes, the park and the Eagle Harbor waterfront present challenges – and opportunities – big enough to engage dozens of visionary problem-solvers.

In its present shape, Waterfront Park is a space, not a place. Except in the brightest part of a summer’s day, it is dark and unappealing. Nothing in the space itself invites people to gather there, and although the ground slopes down toward the water, nothing is visible on the waterfront to draw people in that direction.

The next time you’re shopping downtown, take a break and walk down to Brien Drive. Stand on the porch of the Community Center, then walk through the park down to the dock. If you have time, walk out on the dock; imagine being a visitor, coming by water to the Island for the first time.

The dock, the shoreline, the forested areas and the open slope all constitute a liminal space. Potentially, it’s a place for gradual transitions, for discoveries, for serious play.

Thinking and acting creatively in response to the raw opportunities presented by the Eagle Harbor shoreline and Waterfront Park, we would do well to put aside our usual habits of thought. We all tend to think in either/or categories, but the challenges presented by this project call for both/and thinking — ideas that bring people together and promote the common good.

At the shoreline and up the slope, on paths through the trees and in open spaces, we need to accommodate all sorts of outdoor activities for people of all ages, both visitors and Island residents.

Some activities will be strenuous and purpose-driven, and some will be relaxed, unplanned, purely for pleasure. Maybe the park should include a gathering place that offers refreshments, and shelter in rough weather; maybe some facilities can be set into the slope and made less obtrusive.

Planning for improvements in the park and dock will proceed within constraints, too many to be listed here, but they can be a matrix for creativity.

Please consider this an invitation to participate in an important planning process, and come to the meeting on Saturday, June 1, in the Community Center (1:30 to 4:30 p.m.). Come early if possible, and take some time to walk around the park and along the shoreline.

Jon Quitslund is a retired English professor with a long-term interest in Island affairs; he is also on the board of Sustainable Bainbridge and a member of the Bainbridge Island Planning Commission.

 

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