Illegal Behavior Sparks Charnel Mulligan Park Renovation

by Luisa Anderson

Community and city members are planning the renovation of Charnel Mulligan Park as it approaches its 30-year anniversary. Residents say they are detracted by the outdated space, but are more concerned by increased illegal activity in the park, which is located on the corner of West 17th avenue and Charnelton street.

The renovation staff is taking neighborhood concerns into consideration through a series of workshops and surveys. Staff held the first workshop back in December 2012 at the Washington Park Community Center and opened a web survey for public feedback. The second workshop was held in February 2013, and the next is scheduled for late April or early May. A second web survey will be available soon, but construction of the new design won’t begin until 2014.

The majority of the web survey respondents say the main issue facing the park is behavioral: alcohol and drug use, sleeping, and urinating and defecating on park property.

“We would go more often, but I am uncomfortable taking my children there,” an anonymous respondent said.

Disruptive behavior has also affected businesses in the area like Cornucopia, a restaurant  only one block away from the park. An anonymous web survey respondent, who identified as a Cornucopia employee, said that illegal behavior is a safety issue for the restaurant.

“More than a dozen times homeless [people] or drug users come to use our bathroom,” the anonymous respondent said. “They have left many needles and blood in the restrooms, making it very unsafe for anyone.”

Todd Schneider, Eugene Police Crime Prevention Specialist, says that alcohol and drug use has concerned neighborhood residents for years and has influenced more police patrols around the area. Schneider says that crime in Charnel Mulligan Park is no different from crime in the parks downtown. He says when police attention seems to be focused elsewhere, people tend to congregate to areas of lesser surveillance, pushing families out.

“As soon as one group of alcoholics take over a piece of the park, people with kids disappear,” Schneider said. “Right now it’s very frustrating with the city jail situation. We don’t have a heavy hammer to come down on crimes at the lower end of the scale.”

Schneider says he has seen people from 20 to 60 years old engaging in illegal and disruptive behavior, and most are homeless.

An important issue for architects is finding ways to create more visibility in the park to reduce negative behavior. Most respondents said that the removal of the shelter structure, which is often covered in graffiti and lacks visibility, is the most needed improvement. Still, some web survey respondents say the shelter is a key focal point of the park and should not be torn down. Renovation staff recently removed several picnic tables under the shelter to see if their removal would make an impact on behavior.

Philip Richardson, a city landscape architect working on the new design, says that the park’s northern and western boundaries attract transients because the ground slopes downward, making it less visible from the street.

Parks and recreational areas have an impact on the communities they inhabit. Until recently, park designers did not consider crime prevention as part of the design process. According to “Dealing With Crime and Disorder in Urban Parks,” a U.S. Department of Justice document written by Jim Hilborn, parks in residential neighborhoods experience higher crime levels. Hilborn says this may result from lower and informal supervision of the area. This is an important issue for Jefferson Westside because forty-eight percent of the neighborhood is comprised of residential land. The neighborhood is also home to two other parks, Jefferson City Park and Monroe Park, and both parks receive complaints of illegal behavior.

“It’s been a well-used park for a long time, but it’s experiencing problems,” Richardson said. “We’ve had fights, drug use, and aggressive panhandling to the point where people don’t feel safe.”

The most challenging part of the renovation for Richardson is balancing community feedback with the design requirements. The park must meet current safety standards, and the city must also be able to maintain and afford it. Eugene has lacked proper maintenance resources for the last several years due to bond measures passed in 1998 and 2006 that created more city parks, but no additional maintenance workers. Richardson says the new design of Charnel Mulligan Park might include less shrubbery to compensate for limited maintenance resources.

Richardson says that $500,000 could be used for the renovation through city and grant funds. About $300,000 of the budget would come from city funds, and $200,00 would be  requested from the Community Development Block Grant.

“We’re going to make the best decision we can,” Richardson said. “We’ll be very open with what we’re proposing. The more input we get, the better the process will be.”

Residents and city members say the renovation might not eliminate all crime, but they hope it will discourage inappropriate use of the park and promote a safer environment for families. Richardson says that most residents are supportive of the project. For city members, the renovation is a priority.

“Parks tend to be a social gathering space,” Richardson said. “You get to know who has dogs and who doesn’t, and it’s a place to work with your neighborhood.”

Who was Charnel Mulligan?

Charnel Mulligan Park was constructed between 1983 and 1984, but the park itself is a memory of Eugene’s early history. Named after early Eugene settler and civic leader, Charnel Mulligan was born in Kentucky on June 20, 1826. Mulligan moved to several other states before residing in Eugene, Oregon in 1847, one year after Eugene Franklin Skinner founded the city. After two years in Oregon, Mulligan moved to California to gold mine, only to return to Oregon another two years later. Throughout his lifetime, Mulligan made several important contributions to the city. In 1854, Mulligan donated 120 acres of land for the construction of Columbia College, one of the first educational institutions in the region that was located around the area now known as College Hill. Then in 1856, Mulligan donated 40 acres south of West 8th avenue to build the new county courthouse. Eugene Skinner, founder of Eugene, also donated 40 acres to the courthouse project five months after Mulligan’s donation. Mulligan died at his home on May 19, 1899 at the age of 72. Lane County erected a monument in Mulligan’s memory in 1904 located near his grave in Laurel Grovel Cemetery.

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