Green space for all: King County moves to speed up open space investments and improve access

Across the street from a grassy private lot fenced off with razor wire, kids play tag in a gray concrete Tukwila parking lot, sometimes dodging honking cars and making the apartment manager nervous about his liability. The closest park playground is a hot 20-minute summer walk from the apartment building along busy arterials.

These kids are among a half million King County residents without easy access to green space, parks or trails (within a 10-minute walk). It’s a stunning truth in a county renowned for its astounding outdoor possibilities – the Cascade Mountains, lush forestlands, fertile farmlands, salmon-bearing streams and rivers, a world-class trail system, lakes both large and small, and the iconic Puget Sound.

The City of Tukwila would like to purchase the vacant lot – easily distinguished within the low-income neighborhood because it has mature trees and green grass – and turn it into a community park. But, with other priorities in a financially-strapped local government, Tukwila hasn’t had the matching money it needs to qualify for King County’s open space funding program – funding that could make a park happen.

Giving more kids, and more King County residents, the ability to experience the health and quality of life benefits of green space is why the King County Council overwhelmingly approved legislation aimed at conserving the last, best places in King County, and making sure every community has easy access to green space.

The legislation bolsters a new Land Conservation Initiative launched earlier this year, designed to improve access to green spaces in underserved communities and preserve 65,000 acres of remaining vital and at-risk farmlands, forestlands, river corridors, open space lands and trail corridors throughout King County within a generation (30 years).

The Initiative is the culmination of two years of work between the County and multiple partners, including 39 cities within King County and conservation partners such as: The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, The Trust for Public Land, Forterra, The Wilderness Society, and The Nature Conservancy.

Proposed in May by King County Executive Dow Constantine, the legislation does not increase property taxes, but instead enables the County to borrow more against future revenues from an existing funding stream – as much as $148 million over the next four years – to accelerate protection of open and green space.

What’s more, the ordinance removes the financial match requirements for acquiring new open space in communities where open space investments have been lacking, and which have missed out on the health, quality of life, economic and environmental benefits associated with nearby green spaces.

“Many communities have experienced – and still experience – a history of unequal and limited investment in parks, open space and trail access, which limits the ability of people to lead healthy lives,” said De’Sean Quinn, Tukwila City Councilmember and co-chair of King County’s Open Space Equity Cabinet.  “The local match requirement has been a barrier for cash-strapped communities to access CFT funds to make open space investments. Removing the match means these communities can now seek CFT funds for green space investments in neighborhoods with the greatest needs.”

It can’t come too soon for those kids playing tag in Tukwila, and some 500,000 other King County residents.

  • Land Conservation Initiative website

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