People, parks, programs and partnerships

By Pete Mayer

Island Forum

While Mercer Island's Town Center reinvents itself and the community debates the merits and implications of the transformation, an opportunity arises to reflect on what makes Mercer Island unique and something special to its roughly 22,000 inhabitants.

Whether it's a high-achieving school system, low crime, highly educated and active citizenry, dedicated public officials, progressive government services, park-like surroundings or extensive community volunteerism, Mercer Island continues to set itself apart from other northwest communities.

The Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Department strives to help build community through people, parks, programs and partnerships.

Our dedicated parks maintenance staff continues to manage and improve more than 465 acres of park land while overseeing 100 activities and events this spring and summer.

The VOICE youth development program has placed Mercer Island youth in 50 park and environmental stewardship projects this season.

Partnerships with park neighbors, the Mountains to Sound Greenway and EarthCorps have resulted in the restoration of acres of ivy- and blackberry-infested forestland.

Together with the Mercer Island Preschool Association and Starbuck's Coffee, new park and playground equipment is coming to Deane's Children's Park.

The Mercer Island School District, Boys & Girls Club and other community organizations have partnered to provide facility space for city programs and events.

The city and district continue their commitment in jointly scheduling the high school stadium and other high school facilities for greater community access.

Those whom attended a recent Mostly Music in the Park performance or outdoor movie at Mercerdale Park, took part in the many events of Summer Celebration, enrolled their child in a youth or teen camp, took a dip at Groveland Beach, were visited by the FunMobile, or cracked a bat in the senior softball league can likely attest to the value of this community building.

In evaluating more than 1,000 public spaces around the world, Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating and sustaining public places that build communities, has found that successful ones have four key qualities: they are accessible; people are engaged in activities there; the space is comfortable and has a good image; and, finally, it is a sociable place -- one where people meet each other and take friends when they come to visit.

Such thoughts may come to mind of the recently installed Veterans' Pergola at Mercerdale Park and entry plaza improvements at Luther Burbank Park.

More exciting opportunities are ahead with the impending opening of the new Community Center at Mercer View on Saturday, Dec. 10. This state-of-the-art civic gathering place will enliven the community with beautifully designed and functional spaces for meetings, dance, fitness, arts and crafts, presentations, games, sports, programs, reading and much more.

Meanwhile, the master planning process will get underway this September for Luther Burbank Park offering numerous opportunities for public involvement in crafting a 20-year schematic plan to guide future management of this 77-acre flagship park.

As private development occurs in the Town Center, opportunities arise where plazas and park improvements can be cooperatively pursued that provide public access and new amenities.

Era Care's Aljoya House (2420 76th Ave. S.E.) will include a public plaza that combines art, water, greenery, improved pathways, benches and picnic tables that will interface with the I-90 Park leading to the Outdoor Sculpture Garden.

Similar opportunities exist with the 7700 Central project and 7800 Plaza Condos envisioned along 78th Avenue S.E. between S.E. 27th Street and Sunset Highway to create better connections to the Sculpture Garden near I-90.

While a transformation of the Town Center brings about change and uncertainty, it also creates new opportunities for connections to local parks and greenways. With Mercerdale Park anchoring the south, North Mercerdale Hillside to the west, upper Luther Burbank Park to the east and I-90 Park, Luther Burbank Park and the Community Center at Mercer View to the north, new connections can be created that enhance the public spaces where unique programs and events regularly occur. This, in part, makes Mercer Island a little extra special place to live and work.

Pete Mayer is director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

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