On the Closure of the Artesian Commons Park

The closure of the Artesian Commons Park was sudden and that feels crummy when you care about the folks that hang out there and want a safe place for them.

We should also consider that the staff who worked there had been receiving threats of violence, and when those threats escalated to actual death threats, the city decided they had to act and ensure the safety of everyone by closing the space.

I don’t like that it’s closed. I worked for years on the Commons… back when Ruth Snyder was the Downtown liaison and Project for Public Spaces came to town and helped us create a design for the park… I was at the ribbon cutting when the park officially opened… Brian Wilson and I probably sat in a thousand hours of meetings about the Commons over the years… pushing hard for the “Power of 10” philosophy of public space… trying to get them to build in more recreation and a variety of uses to attract more people with different interests.

In the end, we weren’t successful in those efforts. Ultimately, I would have spent the budget differently, designed it better from the start, and really invest in it to ensure its success. But being righteous is pretty easy in hindsight.

There were direct and specific threats of violence made against city staff by at least one person with a history of violence against others. I just can’t second-guess the decision to close the park knowing that. City Manager Steve Hall did the right thing. Any of us would probably make the same decision if it came down to keeping people out of harm’s way. I can’t fathom if they’d kept it open and the threats had been acted upon. I don’t even want to imagine that.

We’ve got to do something about the drugs. It’s worse than it’s ever been. The drug gangs are here and they’re not leaving. We don’t have the resources as a community to spend the kind of money required to deal with it. We need federal help…

[EDIT 8/27] It was rightfully pointed out that saying, “we need federal help…” is ambiguous and could sound like I want federal law enforcement intervention. In fact, I’m very much against that. That sort of intervention would require us to comply with DHS/ICE and that’s not something I’d ever want to see. By federal help I mean a declared National Public Health Emergency under the Public Health Service Act that would allow us to ensure that opioid-addicted individuals get the help they need.

What we CAN do is rally together. We can stand with our neighbors who are the most vulnerable and offer them a place where they aren’t preyed on by drug gangs. We can ask our city council to make sure these folks aren’t just displaced and forgotten, but pulled in and lifted up.

Let’s not let this divide us more. It’s a setback, but sometimes you gotta take a step back before you push forward.

How do you feel about that?

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