Over the past few weeks, Laura Stockwell's quest to make Cal Anderson Park more family-friendly has generated a lot of media coverage and a bit of controversy.
Visitors to the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog posted 117 comments on a story about how Stockwell's tweets and phone calls to Mayor Mike McGinn generated a stepped up police presence in the urban park.
The comments ranged from those supporting Stockwell's point of view ("I was at Cal Anderson with my two small children yesterday and left after 20 uncomfortable minutes"), to those defending the rights of homeless people to be in the park ("Yes, many people who don't have permanent homes hang out there, but why shouldn't they?"), to those who suggested that families who feel uncomfortable at the park should move ("you want your own private little reserve, safe from anything that's not disney/pollyanna, that fits your perfect little white-bread life? then move your [rear end] to medina").
Stockwell, a Capitol Hill mom of two who has lived in New York City and San Francisco, isn't afraid to speak up. "I am vocal," she said. "I believe you have to speak up if you want change."
The change Stockwell wants is nothing less than to carve out a greater space for children and families on Capitol Hill, a neighborhood that is more associated with young singles than young families.
"Honestly, most of Broadway is for adults," Stockwell said. "But, really, children are not advocated for in Capitol Hill, and I'm going to change it."
As for those who think she should move to a more family-friendly town or neighborhood?
"I think that's discrimination," Stockwell said. "If you said that to an African-American person – ‘Go live in a neighborhood that's more friendly to people like you' – wouldn't that be an outrage?"
Already, Stockwell's efforts have gotten some of the change she's looking for. On Sept. 2, McGinn announced plans to increase patrols in the park and directly acknowledged that Stockwell's tweets were the impetus. And, a petition started by Stockwell that calls for making Seattle's parks safe, had 122 signatures as of Friday morning. Next, she's encouraging community members to turn out at a community meeting with McGinn scheduled for Sept. 13 at the Miller Community Center.
It all started this summer after several incidents in the park. A man exposed himself to Stockwell and her sons, who are nine months and three-and-a-half years old. One Sunday morning there were three people sleeping under the playground equipment. And one day when she was walking her kids through the park in a double stroller, a man who appeared quite drunk came over and asked her 3-year-old son for a high five. He got angry when Stockwell asked him not to speak to her son.
"It was that aggressive behavior that bothered me," she said. "I felt like I was infringed on."
Stockwell stresses that it is the criminal activity she's trying to stop, not the presence of homeless people in the park. She has since heard from other parents in the neighborhood who have had problems with drug use and fights breaking out near them and their children.
She's happy to air their concerns for them. "I think we all have our special gifts," Stockwell said. "Maybe my gift is to be a loudmouth."
To sign the “Make Seattle Parks Safe” petition, go to: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/makeseattleparkssafe/signatures.
Ruth Schubert is the managing editor of Seattle’s Child.