Criticism of ‘pro-military’ veterans plaza causes City of Edmonds to alter design

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    The new memorial area.
    A close-up of the redesigned wall, which now features light-colored stone.
    The former memorial area.
    The former design.

    After criticism from some community members — including Edmonds’ best-known celebrity, Rick Steves — that the design for a new Edmonds Veterans Plaza was promoting the military rather than honoring veterans, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night approved a revised plan for the project.

    Rick Steves
    Rick Steves

    Steves, an Edmonds resident who owns the Edmonds-based Rick Steves’ Europe travel company, appeared in person Tuesday night to make his feelings known during the council’s public comment period. He not only spoke to the council, but also at times turned to address a group of veterans who were gathered in the council chambers to hear council discussion of the plaza project, which will be built outside of the city’s Public Safety Complex at 250 5th Ave. N.

    “We all benefit from the sacrifice and the valor of our military, and everybody I know, regardless of their politics, wants to always remember veterans that have made a sacrifice,” Steves said. “But if we are taking city land and city money and making people who have fought and people who have not fought walk by it every day, it’s the responsibility of this city government to make it inclusive, rather than a lecture but something that we can all enjoy and celebrate together.”

    The former and newly-approved wall design.
    The old (top) and newly-approved (bottom) wall design. in the former design, each wall section included a different military service emblem. in the new design, the emblems are located on one wall.The second wall will feature an inscription that has not yet been determined.

    During a presentation later in the meeting, City of Edmonds Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Carrie Hite told the council that there have been concerns “from a few citizens” that the project was “too militaristic…and it wasn’t welcoming.” Those citizens included both Steves and Woodway resident David Quinn, who also spoke before the council Tuesday. Quinn is a high school teacher who oversees the International Baccalaureate Program at Edmonds-Woodway, but stressed that he was speaking as a private citizen. Quinn told the council that some of the plaza elements “are out of scale and proportion,” and he encouraged councilmembers “to take the time to get it right…so you are properly honoring those individuals who made a great sacrifice for our country.”

    Hite said that a community group comprised of both veterans and non-veterans, which is charged with overseeing the plaza design and raising money to fund the project, has met with Quinn and Steves a few times over the past several months. Based on those concerns, the committee has worked with consultant Brian Bishop of Site Workshop to redesign the plaza, Hite said, and that design was presented to the council Tuesday night.

    The new design breaks up some of the hard surface and adds vegetation and seating areas “that could be considered more welcoming for the plaza,” Hite said. It will cost an extra $30,000 to make those changes, and the council voted unanimously to allocate that money from the city’s Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) fund, since the plaza committee did not count on the extra expense as part of its fundraising efforts.

    The revised design for the Veterans Plaza seating area, located outside the Public Safety Complex building.
    The revised design for the Veterans Plaza seating area, located outside the Public Safety Complex building.
    The former plaza seating design.
    The former plaza seating design.

    The new design also replaces dark-colored stone with lighter tones, and reduces the size and placement of military emblems representing the five branches of military service. Those emblems were a particular bone of contention for Steves, who told the council in his comments that  “personally, I see no reason to have five emblems celebrating the different branches of our military” included in the plaza design.

    “I’ve got a different perspective, and so do most of the people in this community,” Steves said. “We want a veterans memorial; we don’t want a pro-military memorial. We need to get the other half — my friends — to take this seriously and not roll their eyes every time they walk by.”

    Councilmember Tom Mesaros, who has been working with the veterans plaza committee and is the only military veteran on the city council, offered his perspective on the significance of military emblems.

    “The emblem plays a role in the identification for a veteran,” said Mesaros, noting the loyalty that veterans feel to their particular branch of the service and the competitive but good-natured teasing that occurs between service members.

    Mesaros, who was in the Army stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War, recalled visiting his sister last summer in West Haven, Conn., when he came across a newly-installed veterans plaza. “And my first inkling was to find the United States Army emblem, and to stand by that emblem,” he said. “So that’s important element of this, especially for those that served.”

    Fundraising efforts for the project have been led by Vietnam veteran and local real estate agent Ron Clyborne, who told the council that $282,000 has been donated so far toward the committee’s $450,000 goal.

    The Off-Leash Area Edmonds group has been raising money separately to fund a statue that will commemorate the role of dogs both in wartime and in helping wounded veterans heal when they return home.

    — By Teresa Wippel

     

    11 COMMENTS

    1. On behalf of all of us residents who never saw that original plan, thank you so much to David Quinn and Rick Steves for saving the project! If I had walked past the original planned installation, I would have thought those were the equivalent of corporate logos and assumed all the military branches had offices in the building attached to the square. It didn’t look anything like a tribute to veterans.

    2. I wish to thank the Edmonds City Council for all of your considerations and support in the planning of the Veterans’ Plaza. It will be a beautiful tribute to all of the Edmonds’ men and women who have served and who continue to serve for our country. It will be a wonderful tribute in honor of them from the residents of Edmonds. Thank You!

    3. Well done on the redesign. I think this will be a tremendous tribute to those who have served and continue to serve – and to those who were unable or chose not to serve, it will be an inviting sanctuary to pay respects. And I agree with Tom on the branch seals – from my visits to other memorials, those tend to be a standard feature.

    4. As a veteran I can appreciate the change in design, the original was a bit over the top. The out of proportion nature of it was rightly criticized. The new design is more focused on the unity of the services and is a worthy tribute to our veterans.

      I do, however, take exception to the complaints that the original design was a “pro military memorial”. When you say it like that it implies that there is something wrong with the military, that the community feels drawn to recognize those who *served*, but not those who serve. Do you think that this memorial is really just for the veterans? Maybe that is the intended purpose, but it goes beyond that. Young people will see the memorial and they will be inspired to service by this. And the current generation of service members will take from it too. Among the strongest memories of my active duty service was in seeing some of our Nation’s military memorials. The pride I felt in seeing the service and sacrifice of those who came before me documented there made my commitment to serve even stronger. You cannot recognize that service and not be pro military.

      I am proud to be pro military. We all should.

    5. Very well said Karl. I came to the site today planning to say something very similar, but you have saved me the trouble. I am not unhappy with the redesign, to which Mr. Clyborne and his committee have devoted much hard work. I would prefer somewhat larger representations of the service branch insignia, but I can live with it. I might be a bit more impressed with Mr Steves & Mr. Quinn’s comments, had we any indication that either of them intended to provide material support to the project. Veterans feel a great loyalty to their branch of service and take great pride in the recognition of their particular branch, much more so than most civilians who have never worn the uniform seem to understand.

    6. Hi Mike. My family has been involved in service for several generations. In the past, my family primarily served our government and citizens through military service, and I’m very proud of the contributions of those individuals. My family now serves in different ways. Two were designers of large defensive weapons systems, one as a member of State, and at least two of us are still teachers. From the beginning of the project, I made it clear to Ron that I would memorialize my grandfather and father-in-law in a gift. I began the process of gathering various DD214s, and Ron and I just had a conversation on Monday about necessary paperwork. As a resident of WA since 1993, and a resident of Edmonds and Woodway for the past 20 years or so, I have a lot of pride in what we do as a community. I hope my comments to the council made it clear that I think that this plaza is an important, permanent, part of our town – and I want to make sure we get it right the first time. Our veterans deserve this space, and our community deserves a plaza that honors these individuals, and builds dialogue among all of our citizens. That’s been the goal from the beginning. I love that we have added more green, and worked to create something that is welcoming for all of us. There is still, though, more to do to finalize the project. I look forward to seeing you at the dedication when it happens. I can tell you all about my amazing father-in-law, who (I think you will be happy to know) still fit in his Navy uniform until the day of his passing.

    7. Mike,

      Thanks for the affirmation that I was not alone. Steves’ dismissal of the logos was the biggest disconnect I noticed from the story. To not see my emblem of service would have felt odd. The original design with separate displays was bad in my opinion as it would develop competition among some. Having all five symbols together shows the unity and teamwork of the services while making sure all are represented and respected. Its near exclusion would have been a disastrous mistake.

      David,

      Thanks for your determination and efforts to build a suitable memorial, and I salute your family’s service.

    8. David,

      After reading your reply to mine, I can’t help but feel that the original article did not do you justice. I wish I could say that, like your father-in-law, I can still fit in my uniform, but alas, other than the hats, it is not even close. Your efforts to memorialize your serving family members are appreciated and I certainly hope we will have a chance to meet and chat at the dedication.

      Mike

    9. This plaza will be a wonderful place for people to gather, rest, consider and honor. Thank you to the Veterans plaza committee for all the hard work. The efforts to work together on all sides, is inspiring. Much appreciated.

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