Those of us who attended this year’s Green Seattle Partnership Shareholder’s meeting were treated to a brief address about the Public Engagement Committee by member-at-large, Rick Paulsen. We were so inspired we asked him to share his words on our blog. Rick is a volunteer with Friends of Lewis Park, an amazing and active group who has been transforming Lewis Park – check out their next work party for a chance to chat with Rick in person and get involved with their exciting new trail-building project!
Hi, I’ve been asked to speak to you today as a member of the Public Engagement Committee. We are made up of representatives from local government, non-profits and volunteers: the 3 constituents that make up the Green Seattle Partnership. As a group, we work on issues of outreach and engagement for the GSP as a whole. There are the monthly e-blasts to produce and planning for Green Seattle Day (put Nov 8th on your calendars, this is a great way to let the community know what we’re doing). In addition, this group provides an opportunity to consider some longer-range issues. These include working more closely with the community centers, bringing additional partners like local businesses into the GSP and striving to better reach out to the public in vital and inclusive ways so that we can involve the widest possible cross-section of the city in this work we are doing.
I am also speaking to you as a Volunteer Forest Steward. Lewis Park, the park I work in is a 5 acre wooded hillside on the north tip of Beacon Hill. We’re a group that is small, but mighty. My participation as a volunteer began almost 3 years ago at a meeting held by the Friends of Lewis Park. What I heard that day has changed my life in several ways, both large and small. Here is what I took away from that meeting:
Much of the initial work of clearing invasives and then planting and establishing native species had been accomplished. As the landscape was opened up, new challenges and possibilities had appeared. The park which had previously been a barrier between neighbors could become a bridge to bring us together. As the restoration took hold, the effort required would be changing from restoration to stewardship. Over the long term, if the park was to remain healthy and vital, the neighborhood (myself included) needed to take responsibility for it. We were being asked to contribute our ideas, our support and our time. There was a lot of enthusiasm at that meeting and I realized that this was something that I wanted to commit to. I signed on that day. Here I was, the “public” and I had been engaged.
Over time, my level of commitment grew and this past winter I became a Forest Steward. As I’ve become involved, I realize there is more to this than I first expected. In addition to building our park, we are also building our community. In order to recruit the neighbors who will care for the park in the future, we have to find them, meet them, ask for their input and invite them to join us. In supervising volunteers at work parties, through relationships with school groups and neighborhood teenagers, when hosting community meetings and tabling, and by communicating with other organizations in the neighborhood, we have tried to do just this. There have been a lot of successes but also many unmet challenges. So now, here I am, the “public”, I have been engaged and find myself in the position of needing engage a broader “public”. I am living both sides of this idea of “public engagement”.
So, who are the members of the broader “public” we need to reach? They are our neighbors and coworkers, our children’s schoolmates, the people we ride the bus with, folks who shop where we shop, local business owners and many others. They are all around us every day but it is often difficult to make connections. It is quite possible, and important, to describe a city like Seattle by identifying groups that are distinct and different from each other. You can subdivide the population along the lines of ethnicity, culture, economic resources, language, physical abilities, education, and age to name a few. These distinctions are important. I greatly value the diversity of this city and have learned and gained much from sometimes being a minority in the neighborhood where I live.
As a Forest Steward, I want the volunteers that work in Lewis Park to represent as much of that diversity as possible. The more connections that Green Seattle Partnership can make among the many diverse groups, the stronger our parks will be. If we can achieve this, we can build a demographic of people who love their parks and want to work hard to preserve and protect them. This new group, made up of diverse individuals and united by a common purpose, our forests, will be the next generation of Forest Stewards, valuing our urban forests for decades to come. For that is our true mission within the Green Seattle Partnership.