Well, Well, Well: What's happening at Olympia's Artesian Park and Commons

By Nikki McCoy on August 27, 2014

At one of five picnic tables at the Artesian Park and Commons in the core of downtown Olympia, I meet with Rob Richards, program director for the Downtown Ambassador Program, and Brian Wilson, downtown liaison for the city of Olympia. Both are in button-up shirts with to-go coffee in hand. A group of street kids, in patchwork pants and tie dye shirts, mill around under a speaker that's playing classic rock. Behind them, a man fills a jug from the well.

The three of us are here to discuss the Artesian Park and Commons, officially opened by the City of Olympia Parks Department May 4. Since then, Phase 1 has shown a glimpse of what the park is slated to be. For now, there are picnic tables and food trucks. The plan includes recreation, such as basketball and skateable areas, and the construction of structures like a stage for live performances.

The two men are working to bring a community space to the variety of people that inhabit downtown. This plan is based on Project for Public Spaces (PPS), an organization that values placemaking - how we collectively shape our public realm to maximize shared value.

"Placemaking breaks through by showing planners, designers and engineers how to move beyond their habit of looking at communities through the narrow lens of single-minded goals or rigid professional disciplines," reads an excerpt from www.pps.org. "The first step is listening to best experts in the field - the people who live, work and play in a place."

This is the sentiment that Richards and Wilson are using as momentum. PPS sets up models for other cities to utilize, and it specifically encourages a concept called the Power of 10.

"All great public spaces - Washington Square, Pioneer Park in Portland, Central Park - they have 10 things that bring in a variety of people to the space," explained Wilson. "And they are typically crowd sourced. So what we did was bring everyone from kindergartners to senior citizens, neighborhood association to people that hang out downtown, and we asked, ‘What do you want to see? What would bring you down here?' ... The city took that info and came up with a design."

Working on the core of downtown is timely, Wilson said. Between the Sears building, Legion Square and Columbia Heights, Olympia will see a 100-percent increase in market rate housing within 16 months.

"We're going to start to see in downtown the need for different types of businesses and different spaces - probably more so than in the last 20 years," Wilson said. "A lot of people ask, ‘How can we handle this?' ... This (park) is the perfect opportunity."

The Olympia Downtown Ambassadors were contracted by the city to put on three events over the summer, and all were well received. There were activities for young and old.

"My philosophy was that it's an opportunity to show everybody what this park can be," Richards said. "We set up a basketball hoop, and immediately people played. Kids who are sitting here now, actually, played basketball. We had an 80-year-old woman shooting hoops with a street kid, a cop and a community worker. There was a huge diverse mix - it brought people together."

The next phase of the park will be discussed Sept. 9 at city council