Park deemed safe by those who use it

Having opened roughly 18 months ago, Cal Anderson Park is still a recent jewel in Seattle's park system. Located in the heart of Capitol Hill just east of Broadway and north of East Pine Street, residents and city personnel alike are concerned that the park remain both appealing and well used.

With public safety a perpetual neighborhood concern, a large set of questions can be asked regarding just how safe the park is. Given that the perception of safety can be the reality - if people think the park is unsafe then on a functional level it is - the Seattle Parks Department's Randy Wiger wanted some answers about how people felt about the park. A survey seemed in order.

Last year, Wiger contacted Dr. Deidre Bowen, a professor of criminal justice at Seattle University, to see if her students might be able to assist in unearthing the data he wanted. Bowen had a class of 24 during the fall quarter that was well suited to such a project.

Bowen met with Wiger to narrow down the specific questions he wanted answered. He wanted to know how to get the community more involved with Cal Anderson Park. And he wanted to know how safe people felt about it.

The class was broken into five groups, each of which developed their own survey. One group focused on what people wanted to see in the park, another on what would make people come to the park. One group paid attention to Seattle Central Community College students, many of whom may not use the park. Neighborhood safety was the focus of another group. The final group concerned itself with crime inside the park.

The target area included a two-block area around the park. Surveys were mailed to 1,600 residential addresses as well as to 200 businesses. Students conducted personal interviews in and around the park as well.

"This probably meant about 3,000 people live within this small area, which says a lot about the density of this part of the Hill," said Wiger.

More than one-third of the surveys - 662 to be exact - were returned. Bowen said that total is much higher than usually make their way back. Such results indicate a high level of awareness and concern about Cal Anderson Park.

Perhaps surprisingly, the results indicated that between 70 and 80 percent of those responding felt safe using Cal Anderson Park. Such a conclusion, Wiger said, was a very good sign.

Bowen pointed out that there was a high degree of park usage despite a high level of awareness of crime, including drug use, aggressive panhandling and loitering.

"It was surprising to the students and to me that people are quite aware of crime, but most people have not been a victim of crime in the park or even know someone who has," she said.

The survey also indicated that people would definitely like to see a larger number of activities in the park, but, perhaps surprisingly, that such activities wouldn't necessarily increase park use.

"This may be because most people who responded were already park users," said Bowen. "They're using the park already."

"People need to know the park is there and that it needs to be used," said Wiger, who is in charge of programming activities in the park. "The park is doing well, and everyone wants to make sure it stays that way. This survey was a snapshot, but this is far more data than we've ever had access to before."

The more people using the park for legitimate reasons, the less crime there's likely to be.

"You can create critical mass just by having a lot of people in the park," Bowen said. "Active use creates a positive perception. The survey said the park has that now. The more non-threatening activities taking place inside creates a new perception, which means the older, historical perception of the park could start to fade away."

Bowen said the information was valuable, though probably not a large enough sample was taken to be considered a scientific study. But the survey was not just an academic exercise. The results, once summarized by Wiger, will be used as a reference in the Parks Department. Other city departments will have access to it, as will the police. And another survey could be undertaken in the future, perhaps one that examines how successful an increase in park activities has been.

"That a group of students came up with questions, research design, data analysis and then write a 15-page report on its conclusions in 10 weeks, a report government agencies will reference for public policy is monumental," Bowen said.

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at or 461-1308.

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