Seattle looks to cross sector partnerships for revitalization of public green space

blogimage_SeattleParksCivic leaders in Seattle are exploring new potential partnerships among government, business, and non-profit sectors to revitalize the city’s downtown parks. According to the Seattle Times, which recently profiled these efforts and their potential benefits and risks, the city has budgeted nearly $700,000 toward this initiative for 2015 and 2016.

Development and maintenance of public green space is often well suited for cross-sector collaboration. Government, industry, and non-profit organizations often share a common goal in revitalizing these spaces and can bring diverse resources to the table that make the partnership “worth it.”

In Seattle for example, “supporters say partnerships bringing private resources to bear on some of Seattle’s most important public spaces can succeed where the city has struggled,” reports the Seattle Times. A city-formed citizens advisory group tasked with exploring new park-funding options came to consensus on this point in 2013: “There was widespread recognition that the downtown parks were presenting a set of maintenance dilemmas that the city didn’t have the resources to address, said Thatcher Bailey, Executive Director of the Seattle Parks Foundation and a member of the aforementioned citizens advisory group, Parks Legacy Citizens Advisory Committee.

The Seattle initiative also illuminates the mistrust that can challenge even the most robust partnerships, as well as the importance of a shared vision of success in overcoming that mistrust.

“There is tension between government, which is there to protect the land for the use of all people, and private entities, which may have limited interests,” said Barbara Wright, co-chair of the Parks Legacy Citizens Advisory Committee. “Defining the role and mission of a partnership is really important. In structuring a partnership agreement with the city, you’re looking for that sweet spot.”

This echoes a key tool of the Intersector Project Toolkit, Share a Vision of Success — the agreement on a set of project goals and ideal outcomes that clarify the mission and priorities of the collaboration. In green space initiatives and other issue areas, defining a common purpose links stakeholders together and creates a mutual understanding of the benefits of success.

For other examples of intersector collaboration in public green space initiatives, see our case studies on Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston, TX and the Detroit riverfront.