The Port of Seattle owns and operates six public parks along the Duwamish River that many people don’t even know exist. That’s changing as the port engages community in a renaming process meant to help residents reclaim the properties and their heritage.
The parks currently have forgettable, utilitarian names based on their function or geography: “Terminal 107,” for example — or “Eighth Avenue South Street End” or “Turning Basin 3.”
“You know, they really have a romantic ring to them,” joked Port of Seattle Commissioner Fred Felleman. “So, we can only do better.”
Felleman is vice president of the Port Commission and serves as its tribal liaison. He says more than 3,500 people have engaged in the process so far. In suggesting new names, they were asked to prioritize cultural, ecological and historical context. All languages were allowed, but names of individuals, companies and organizations were excluded.
Over a thousand different suggestions were nominated. A selection committee narrowed them to the top three for each park, which the public has been rating in an online survey. Ten of the 18 choices are in the local Indigenous language, Lushootseed. Two are in Spanish.
“And the net result is not just a better name, but a better relationship with our surrounding communities. And something that is going to endure long into the future,” Felleman said.
He says that includes getting the public involved in ongoing restoration work and other improvements that will follow the renaming.
Some of this will include on-the-job training for underemployed adults and youth who will do habitat restoration through the Port’s green jobs initiatives.
“So we're actually working to give young people and other unemployed, underemployed adults access to a field that is typically not diverse, typically not inclusive,” said Christina Billingsley, the port’s community engagement project manager on the renaming campaign. She says all of the properties are slated for the port’s jobs training program.
“Terminal 117 in particular — it used to be a toxic Superfund site. We cleaned it up and now it's going to be a beautiful habitat carbon sequestration bank," she said. "And on top of that, we’re going to be able to use it as a learning lab for habitat stewardship training.”
Terminal 117 also is the site of a native fishing village, the remains of which were found during the Superfund cleanup work. Two of the Lushootseed names nominated for the parks in the area reference that past.
Billingsley says public participation in the renaming project has exceeded all expectations. The need has been on the port’s radar for quite a while, she says, with lots of local residents asking for it. The timing of the launch and call for nominations this summer ended up giving it a big boost, with so many people looking for more outdoor spaces and activities nearby.
“Because people have not known about these parks. And so this public outreach campaign in the time of COVID when there's not a lot to do — you know, this is another resource for the public that people should be using,” Billingsley said.
She says she was surprised by how many people really engaged with the local history of each park property — learning and sharing how they were used and who lived there — and connecting that research to the names they nominated. “So I think people resonated really well with that and learned a lot in that process.”
There are now three finalists for each of the six parks, and the public is invited to help the selection committee with the final choices by ranking them in an online survey, which closes at midnight Sept. 30.
The Port Commission will announce the final choices at its meeting Oct. 27.