By Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Community engagement remains a hallmark of maintaining the strength and character of Seattle neighborhoods. In the 2014 budget, $1.2 million was allocated to The Neighborhood Park and Street Fund – the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods’ program that provides funding for projects that are otherwise excluded from the city’s overall budget. These neighborhood projects are driven by proposals generated from within communities, and the application process is now open.
“It’s a park-oriented fund and a street-oriented fund,” Tim Durkan, the current East District Neighborhood Coordinator, told The Capitol Hill Times. “If you have a park idea, like you want some new park benches, some lighting, or a walkway into the park, this is a good way to do that. If you have a traffic improvement idea, like you want to build a traffic circle or a crosswalk, or put lighting near a crosswalk, this is also a perfect way to do that.”
The $1.2 million pooled from the budgets of SDOT and Parks and Recreation for the project is divided up between the city’s 13 neighborhood districts, each district guaranteed funding for a project, with a maximum budget of $90,000 each. Community groups have until February 3, 2014 to submit an application for whatever projects they feel will benefit the neighborhood as a whole.
“The East District Neighborhood Council will look at the various applications that will come in, and I’ve already heard from two or three different groups that have applied for it, and they get to present, then take questions from the East District Council,” Durkan said. “You don’t have to put in a price estimate, that’s the beauty of it. They give it to me, we talk as a group, and then the District Council votes on what project they think should go forward.”
Once submitted in February, the applications will be reviewed by the district councils for the next two months before being submitted to the DON in June and July. The projects selected by the DON will then be included in the mayor’s proposed budget for the next year, and will be finalized following a council vote in November for implementation in 2015 (yeah, we’re already talking about 2015).
Previously, the program has been used to institute improvements that are forgotten by the SDOT or the PRD. Past projects have included updates to neighborhood infrastructure like safety improvements, such as marked crosswalks, curb ramps, and pedestrian countdown signals. Other improvements have included traffic-reducing projects like traffic circles, median islands, and speed feedback signs.
For Capitol Hill, past projects included the addition of curb bulbs along 12th Avenue and the recent 2013 project on Madison Street, which saw a buckled and decrepit 70-year-old sidewalk slated to be repaired for the hundreds of commuters who walk along it every day. Durkan said that the success of that project was a testament to what Capitol Hill can do when its residents unite together with the intent of improving the place that they live.
“That Madison Street project has been applied for by one retired senior for five or six years,” Durkan said. “He’s really become good at mobilizing his neighbors and his community, and he works doubly hard on improving his neighborhood,” Durkan said of Jim Erickson, Vice President of the First Hill Improvement Association.
According to Durkan, projects like these that show that Capitol Hill residents care more about their neighborhood than is often assumed by other Seattleites. Durkan points to how some of the projects must be completed in phases, meaning that the community has to communicate with each other and achieve a level of planning that may not otherwise have been possible.
“When you think about Capitol Hill, you think about all the crazy stuff,” Durkan said. “You think about the bad stuff that happens in the parks and the robberies. We’re such a young, mobile, transient population, and may not feel a certain tie to the neighborhood as certain old-timers do. This is a chance for the community to come together. This isn’t just a pot of money; you’re asked to work with your neighbors. This really brings people together and gets people to talk about what their priorities are.”