The Artesian Commons in downtown Olympia has been a labor of love for the capital city. The naturally flowing artesian well was the centerpiece attraction long before the city opened a park there in 2014.
Unfortunately, concern about who uses the park has been a big part of the public conversation ever since. A city survey two years ago found a third of visitors to Olympia’s parks felt unsafe, and Artesian Commons was listed at the top.
Though it is too early to know with certainty, there are signs that misbehavior at or around the park may be easing slightly. Olympia police data show there were 44 arrests during the park’s first eight months in 2014. That compares with 36 arrests in all of 2016, 10 of which were for assaults.
Most victims in the incidents were homeless or listed by police as transient, according to reporter Andy Hobbs’ in-depth account in Sunday’s Olympian.
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Opening of a 24-hour public restroom on the commons site along East Fourth Avenue should improve sanitation options for visitors to the area. The toilet should be open in the early summer, serving anyone downtown who needs a loo.
With the toilet installation, the cost of city investments at the park will grow to about $800,000. That’s a lot of money, but we think the busy park has a role to play in the city’s future.
Darlene Kemery of the Olympia Downtown Association says some members of the business group remain skeptical about the park. But she says they are more apt to mention the public’s perception of the downtown rather than safety or the park as concerns.
We’re pleased to see that advocates for the street community including Renata Rollins have kept a larger view in mind — understanding that both the rich and the poor need a free, safe place to hang out. They have stepped up with public events featuring art, entertainment and even public health outreach.
No urban park will ever be free of problems or conflicts in a society in which so many live on the streets. The Artesian Commons is a work in progress that needs people support as much as financial help.
Olympia’s downtown is changing as housing units come onto the private market. Anyone wanting a fresh look at our evolving downtown should consider adding the commons to their downtown itineraries.