Protests and the Park: Evolving Community Needs in Cal Anderson Park

Mobile Workshop

Join us as we explore the evolving narrative of Cal Anderson Park and discuss the impact of community engagement in shaping this space. Learn about the collective efforts that emerged from the outreach process, addressing design and programming interventions that now guide stakeholders’ commitment to inclusivity and community well-being.

The Cal Anderson Park vicinity became a spotlight in 2020 when a demonstration for Black lives turned into a controversial, month-long occupation, and months later, encampments of unhoused people were cleared. An outreach and engagement process to receive and address potential design and programming interventions at Cal Anderson Park immediately responded to the changing environment. The Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd accelerated efforts in parks departments and organizations around the country to take a much deeper look at the assumptions, language, and designs of public space systems.

There was a need and opportunity during the pandemic to address how these issues played out at Cal Anderson Park. Seattle Parks and Recreation wanted people to voice ideas that had previously been unheard or had not been provided with the appropriate space to share. SPR’s goal was to implement immediate action items and long-term goals.  These steps aimed at enhancing the sense of belonging in the park (centered on the BIPOC population) and building on and sustaining the health of the people, of the environment, and of the strong community that supports the park.

After months of community engagement, five priorities emerged to create a more inclusive park that reflects the community’s needs and values: Art, Safe Space to Socialize, Stewardship, Human Services, and Safety. Today, the park is open, and the City of Seattle has continued to collaborate with the community through an interdepartmental team that meets once a month to address emergent issues and collaborate on a sustainable strategy to maintain the park as a core to our civil rights movement. The park must continue to evolve to maintain its relevancy in keeping with the legacy of Cal Anderson, who held office in the state legislature from 1987 until his death from complications of AIDS in 1995.


  • Identify why it is critical for parks and public space organizations to evolve in sync with community needs and current events. 
  • Outline methods for successful community collaboration to advance the goals of public service.
  • Discuss the collaborative outcomes of community engagement, including design and programming changes.
  • Discuss the role of local government in providing physical space and support for community advocacy, activism, and public engagement with sociopolitical issues.

Tour Leaders

Andy Sheffer

Deputy Superintendent of Operations, Seattle Parks and Recreation