The Importance of Discovery Park’s Relative Wildness in the Urban Landscape: History, Human-Nature Interaction, and Just Management
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Discovery Park – Seattle’s largest park spanning 534 acres – has repeatedly been the subject of debates over how to justly manage its vast amount of open green space, specifically in terms of whether or not to allow some form of urban development within or around the park. Proponents for such development argue that much of Discovery Park is underutilized space and could provide more than its current benefits to the community if its use were different. Those who oppose Discovery Park’s development claim that any such disturbance would be in direct contradiction to the park’s Master Plan, which calls for the park to be an “open space of quiet and tranquility” for the community. The unfolding debate over Discovery Park’s management is a microcosm of larger environmental and societal problems that are perpetuated by norms of human domination within capitalist cultures, in which those who support these systems that uphold these lingering colonialist norms (whether intentionally or not) continue to maintain lifestyles that oppress other humans and non-human nature. Those involved in the debate, however, have overlooked the global context and significance of these underlying ethical issues that should have guided their efforts for the balanced management of Discovery Park. For example, the long and recent history of oppression (over Indigenous people and their land) at Discovery Park stands in direct contrast to a space deemed “quiet” and “tranquil” by its Master Plan, and the general lack of attention to this history illuminates a problem in which historical norms of colonization and domination are left unconfronted, and therefore remain structurally embedded within capitalistic cultures and societies and subtly influence the ways in which people value and interact with humans and non-human nature today. In order to better guide efforts that seek justice for both humans and non-human nature through changes in land management, this thesis will respectively discuss the implications of Discovery Park’s past, present, and future use through: 1) outlining a history of Discovery Park’s indigeneity and colonization, discussing why a just outcome must also involve diversifying the voices, values, and perspectives that are represented in these land-use decisions, 2) applying an Interaction Pattern Approach to characterize and quantify the ways in which current people use Discovery Park, investigating claims of the park’s utility through obtaining and coding narrative data of 320 participants who described meaningful interactions with nature in the park, and 3) exploring how maintaining “relatively wild” forms of nature, as seen in places like Discovery Park, could actually unite competing environmental and social claims for local and global justice through its potential ability to afford more meaningful and relational human-nature interactions, in turn deconstructing colonialist norms of domination through fostering a more virtuous society of mindfulness, care, and cooperation toward humans and non-human nature.
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