Lincoln Square Park Recreation Center Expansion in Oakland Chinatown
In the fall of 2018, the City of Oakland invited the community to submit proposals to inform their Capital Improvements Program. Our Steering Committee jumped at the chance to highlight the need and articulate our vision for the future of our recreation center. Here is our submission. This vision is not final, but the beginning of a community engagement and planning process over the coming months and years.
What is your project description?
The Urgent Need: The Lincoln Square Park Recreation Center (LSPRC) is 40 years old and in dire need of expansion and improvement. The current building is over capacity, as activities fill every room at nearly all hours. The restrooms are inadequate in number and deferred maintenance. Pressure for more space is mounting as new residents move into the 5,000+ new apartments in Downtown leasing over the next year. A recent architectural analysis concluded that the facility floor area needs to be doubled just to meet existing demand.
Friends of Lincoln Square Park (FOLSP) is a coalition of community leaders and volunteers including the Oakland Parks and Recreation Foundation, the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, local churches, family associations, the Wa Sung Community Service Club and other community organizations. We are working with the rec center staff and the City to advocate, plan and fund the design and construction of an expanded and modernized rec center that will be the center of Chinatown. The FOLSP vision is a new three story rec center with an indoor basketball gym, multipurpose and class rooms, space that can be indoor/outdoor, and a relocated Chinatown Hall of Pioneers as a central foyer/gathering/performance/gallery space. This new building will have the space to host multiple simultaneous activities that bring together different generations and longtime and new Oaklanders.
Why Lincoln Square Park and Recreation Center: LSPRC is the city’s busiest rec center and park, with over 1,500 unique visitors each day, all day long. It is the only public recreation center in Downtown and serves residents of all ages, incomes and races from across the city and beyond. The adjacent bus stop at Harrison and 11th is one of the busiest in the system.
Any additional information about the importance of your project?
As the heart of Oakland Chinatown, the center hosts classes including tai-chi, ballroom dancing, table tennis, sword dancing, chinese orchestra, volleyball, and much more. The afterschool and summer daycare programs are always full with a waitlist. LSPRC is truly a destination for Oaklanders of all ages and backgrounds. Youth from across the city grow up here, swinging in the tot lot, chasing each other on the iconic junk boat play structure, playing basketball, soccer and volleyball, and hanging out in a safe and welcoming place. Office workers play basketball during lunch, restaurant come after their evening shifts. Hundreds of seniors of all incomes and races participate in physical and social activities that keep them active and socially engaged, preventing the debilitating isolation that so often lead to mental and physical decline. Please prioritize this equitable project which will benefit residents of the neighborhood, Downtown residents and employees, and all of Oakland.
How does this project fit with the City's Prioritization Model
We think this project fits well with the city's prioritization factors. Here's why:
Equity: Investment in underserved communities
This project is centered around the needs of seniors, children and families, who are underserved in Downtown Oakland, despite the recent wave of development and public and private investment. With over 5,000 new residences opening by 2020, we must invest in the recreational capacity now, or we risk further overcrowding and eventual displacement of these underserved communities from our public spaces. The Lincoln Square Park and Recreation Center is both a neighborhood and a regional recreation center, serving people of all ages and backgrounds from every zip code in Oakland. Lincoln Recreation Center is the most heavily utilized center in Oakland, yet this fact has not historically been reflected in budgeting and investment levels. It is located in Chinatown, a formerly redlined and historically low income urban neighborhood where many seniors live. It is in close proximity to multiple schools, senior housing, affordable housing, social services and pre-schools. In particular, it’s next door to Lincoln Elementary, the largest elementary school in Oakland with one of the highest percentage of students eligible for the free and reduced lunch program.
Health/Safety: Improve safety and encourage healthy living
A larger recreation center will provide increased opportunities for people of all ages to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Research shows that physical activity benefits the mental development of young children, teens, adults, and is a low cost health maintenance strategy for seniors. Expansion will allow more students to attend afterschool and summer camp programs that provide safe and affordable care, as well as access to food from the summer lunch program. Many youth come to Lincoln because they know it is a safe space to be. Lastly, the recreation center is also a designated emergency shelter so a higher capacity building will help the neighborhood be more resilient in the next large scale emergency.
Economy: Community Investment and Economic Prosperity
Busy and attractive public parks bring in many people (from the neighborhood, City, and larger region), and catalyze complementary local private businesses like cafes, restaurants, and small entrepreneurs. For example, currently, hundreds of seniors a week visit the recreation center for tai chi practice each week. They come from residential buildings next door, East Oakland, West Oakland, and Alameda. After morning tai chi, they have breakfast in the neighborhood cafes, buy fresh food in Chinatown, and attend medical appointments. Lincoln Recreation Center generates a whole economic ecosystem. More activity and more people at the recreation center will translate to more individuals and families staying Downtown to eat lunch, dinner, visits in the evenings and on weekends, and investments in the local economy. This project has the support of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce who is represented on the Friends of Lincoln Square Park Steering Committee. This project will also create millions of dollars of construction jobs for Oaklanders.
Recreation spaces in urban neighborhoods allow people to enjoy physical activity without having to drive to faraway places. This is especially true for Lincoln, which is the only recreation center that serves the rapidly densifying Downtown Oakland neighborhoods. Providing high quality recreation space makes living in smaller, urban residences (in comparison to the auto-dependent suburbs which have private yards and a much larger environmental footprint) more feasible and desirable for families with children and people in general. A new facility will reflect the very best of environmental design and energy efficiency.
Improvement: Level and quality of Service
This project will allow Lincoln Recreation Center to better serve the thousands of people who are already actively using the park, with room to accommodate the thousands of new people moving into the 5,000+ new apartments in Downtown. If we do not expand public infrastructure to accommodate for growth, the new residents will end up crowding out the old ones, leading to the kind of social resentment that makes the local news and hardens divisive narratives, as we have witnessed in the Mission District of SF, where new “tech bro” soccer players with field permits displaced people who used to just show up and play.
Existing (Asset) Conditions
Lincoln Recreation Center was built more than 40 years ago, and has not had major improvements or modernization during that entire time, other than a new basketball court flooring, which did not increase the building’s capacity to serve new users. Rather, it just improved the existing users ability to enjoy the space, resulting in even more people coming to the park. Temporary fencing has been “permanently” installed in order to create a makeshift enclosed patio for classes, and the restrooms are inadequate given the indoor/outdoor capacity. The perimeter of the building, particularly the landscaped area along Harrison side of the block is not being utilized and appears blighted.
Shovel Ready: Project Readiness
Planning for this project is ready to go at any time. The State of California will be issuing a bond in early 2019, and this project needs City investment now in order to be ready to apply for that pot of funds. Friends of Lincoln Square Park has formed a project steering committee that has been meeting monthly. We have spent the last 18 months conducting outreach with community members, gathering historical data and meeting with city staff and elected officials in order to move this project forward. We have already raised seed money for the planning process and have begun initial space planning research in order to develop conceptual plan and images.
Collaboration: Multiple Asset Categories Benefits / Collaborative Opportunities
Ideally, the Chinatown neighborhood needs a Master Plan for neighborhood recreation, as there are opportunities to collaborate with the adjacent Lincoln Elementary school, senior services and programming already occurring onsite, the new development moving forward at Lake Merritt BART Station, and the open space that will be developed and connected to Madison Square Park. There is also an opportunity to coordinate with the Downtown Specific Plan process and the Lake Merritt BART Station Area Plan.
As part of the planning process, we propose the city conducts a thorough review of what related work is currently required.
Initial conceptual drawings by Byrens Kim - Design Work