OPINION: Why Open Space Equity Priorities Matter Near Future Light Rail Stations

by Share The Cities
(written by members Calvin Jones, Rachael Ludwick, Laura Loe)

Seattle’s city-owned, privately managed, golf courses have come into the public eye as Mayor Jenny Durkan has questioned whether golf courses are the best use of transit-adjacent public land. Seattle’s 2017 Parks and Open Space Plan states: “Over the past decade, the city of Seattle has grown rapidly, adding an average of about 4,000 housing units and 7,000 people each year. In the years to come, Seattle expects to accommodate a significant share of the region’s growth. In 2016, Seattle’s population was estimated to be 686,800, with projections that growth over the next 20 years will add an estimated 120,000 people to the city.” As we face a crisis of houselessness, rising housing costs impacting folks at every income level, and even more workers coming to our city, now is exactly the time to discuss what we value in our public shared spaces.

Share The Cities is a volunteer group dedicated to land use justice and grassroots, equitable community engagement. We have not proposed alternative uses for municipal golf courses, but the question of how we balance transit priorities and open space requires intense study and debate. On June 23, we invited the community to learn about the history of Seattle’s Parks and review the results of the city’s golf course study. See the recorded discussion here. Share The Cities is frustrated that a discussion about the best use of public land in close proximity to multi-billion-dollar transit routes has become a discussion about the sport of golf.

As Marlo Kapsa, a graduate student researcher, said at our meeting this past week, “You can move bus routes but light rail stations are fixed transit stops.” Lowering our carbon emissions means prioritizing transit-oriented neighborhoods and land use policies, and working to stop the displacement of frontline communities. Share The Cities wants more people to ask the following four questions:

  1. Will our land use policies support easy, family-friendly station access?
  2. Do the current configurations encourage people to take fewer automobile trips to access light rail stations?
  3. How will these huge fenced parks stop families from walking to light rail, even if it is very close by?
  4. How does the placement of transit stations contribute to displacement and what land use policies might mitigate displacement?

These considerations are paramount at a time when we have unanimous Seattle City Council support for a Green New Deal framework for decision-making. We are frustrated that some loud voices are trying to shut down this complex conversation at a time when civic leaders say they want to be bold climate leaders.

A city-commissioned report found that public golf courses use 528 total acres. In comparison, Volunteer Park is 48 acres. The study also found that 83 percent of municipal golfers are men and that golf’s popularity has fallen over 30 percent between 2002 and 2016. We do not know the racial demographics of city-owned golf course users, which makes a Race & Social Justice analysis impossible at this time.

Share The Cities would also like to know more about water consumption and herbicide use on the golf courses, particularly given that the Jackson Park and West Seattle golf courses are adjacent to environmentally-critical watersheds. While some media seem to want to make this primarily a conversation about the sport of golf, we see this as a conversation about light rail investments, open space equity and the future of our planet. Between one and three Sound Transit light rail stations will be (or are already) within close walking distance of each city-owned golf course.

Seattle’s leaders are elected to weigh the status quo against competing options and choose what does the most good for the most Seattlites. Individual residents have the same responsibility. The next time you find yourself on the outside of one of our city’s golf courses looking in, maybe on the lovingly-maintained and hard-won Jackson Park Trail, ask yourself if you wish the fences could come down and it could be an open space for anyone? It is no surprise many people are asking the question: do Seattleites want to reserve 528 acres of environmentally critical green space, over 11 percent of the city’s publicly owned open space, for mostly men to golf at $37 per round?

We have heard from community members: “Simply make these parks free for all, with dense affordable housing up against their borders”; “Use the land for equitable open space and thousands of units of affordable housing”; “We need senior centers paired with daycares, surrounded by acres of intergenerationally accessible open space.”

One thing is clear: undermining a future-thinking discussion of the best uses of our public lands is in direct opposition to Seattle’s climate, open space, and affordable housing goals.

For more information about how you can join the discussion, go to Share the Cities’ Facebook page.


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