Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Down But Not Out

The Green Housing Collaborative is still alive and kicking, but given the current economic situation, increased interest in utilizing vacant spaces, and the success of my other project -- People's Parking Lot (PPL) -- I have not had as much time to devote to the GHC blog. Rest assured that in a few months, when I begin my doctoral program at UW, I will have much more to say, but, in the interim, I suggest that you turn your attention to PPL because that's where the action is.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Public Service Announcement

The Capitol Hill Community Council elections are coming up next Thursday, June 25th, and will be held at the Cal Anderson shelter house (between the park itself and the ball fields), at 7:00 PM. Click here for more info about the candidates.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Activating Vacant Space via Social Media

This post is an expanded hybrid of several posts from the People's Parking Lot site.

In response to the demolition of a treasured strip of local businesses in Seattle, I put together a quick video calling for the takeover of the resulting vacant lot. My intentions were mixed: part of me was bored, another part frustrated; I wanted something to happen but I didn't know how to make it happen. So I turned to the internet to complain, rabble-rouse, and instigate: a familiar reaction by much of the blogging community. This would mark the second blog I'd started in a year that was supposed to be the virtual seed of real-life action -- a tall order, I now realize -- but it would also be by far the most effective.

Upon sharing my work with the author of a neighborhood blog, I was approached, via my blog, by one of the organizers of a community garage sale to try and secure this empty lot for a community space. As one of the densest neighborhoods in the city, many residents are without garages and would benefit from an open and visible location.

Of course, my only credentials for approaching the property owners were a video calling for guerilla occupation of their site and a blog that attracted a few readers a day. Luckily, I had just met an industrious individual on a social networking site for design professionals who had a friend working for the (notoriously absent) property owner. Through this connection, I emailed a principal who authorized the use of the space, after reading a proposal that my connection had reviewed (without his review, I wouldn't have known how to approach the property owners; I wouldn't have known that liability would be their major concern, nor would I have thought that the free PR would have been of value to them).

After securing a single-event insurance policy and spreading word of the sale via the aforementioned neighborhood blog, I awoke yesterday morning to walk down to the site. As I approached, I couldn't believe my eyes: there really were about forty sales setting up. People were strolling onto the lot for the first time in months.

My partner -- whom I met five days earlier after she saw my video though a link on another group's email list -- had an easel and a stack of post-it notes, and was ready to ask the attendees what else they wanted to see on the lot. After several hours we had ideas ranging from the immediately practicable (outdoor movies) to the whimsical (corn maze).

In the last few days, the emails from interested folks have been coming in regularly. My blog now gets about 25 hits a day and the facebook group that was only me and my wife six weeks ago has 30 members. With this combination of virtual and real-life exposure and brainstorming, plus a property owner that is open to sharing their space, it looks as if we have the seeds of a internet-based, grassroots neighborhood movement. Who knows what, if anything, will come of it, but from my current vantage point -- that is, looking at this empty lot in the middle of a vibrant urban neighborhood -- the possibilities seem endless.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

(Huge) Garage Sale Saturday!

Check out the 2009 Capitol Hill Garage Sale Roster here. Of 78 registered sales, 38 will be on the lot. Please come by and plan to stay a while.

People's Parking Lot will have a table set up where we will be brainstorming your ideas for the future of this space.

And if you have a buck or two to spare -- to help cover the insurance premium cost -- tip jars will be available.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Garage Sale at the People's Parking Lot!

Since the destruction of the 500 block of East Pine – former home to Capitol favorites like the Cha Cha Lounge, Bus Stop, and Kincora Pub – to make way for another bread loaf of a condo development, the block has been anything but “vibrant.” After neighborhood residents called the city on its lax enforcement of development standards and the economic crisis made construction projects less feasible, the project was put on hold, hastily paved over, and stood for a short time as a parking lot (a use not permitted by its current zoning). For the last few months, the lot has served mainly as a repository for beer cans and a shortcut for pedestrians, though it has also been inspiration for one painter, and the subject of an amateur video calling for occupation by the neighborhood residents.

However, the lot is poised to regain its status as a social center of the neighborhood, for one day at least. The Second Annual Capitol Hill Garage Sale– sponsored by the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog,Unpaving Paradise, Sustainable Capitol Hill, and People’s Parking Lot – has been granted permission by the property owner, Pine and Belmont LLC (Murray Franklyn of Bellevue), to use the spot as a community garage for all the apartment dwellers that want to participate on June 13th. It is free to participate in the sale but registration is due by June 10th.

This event also stands as an example of the power of social media to connect similarly minded people and allow them to, in this case, have an effect on the built environment, or its use at least. In an age where it is easy to join a facebook group or author and read blogs, without actually doing anything – slacktivism, as they call it – some might consider this small victory inspirational.

In the wake of Unpaving Paradise being awarded $150,000 of park levy funds for the conversion of another Capitol Hill parking lot to a P-patch, could this event be construed as evidence a shift from auto-centric and generally top-down development patterns to a more community-based future, focusing on the needs and desires of current residents? Are we going to get a nice public plaza or a handsome building with local shops at grade on this site? I doubt it, but it is refreshing to see positive use coming out of spaces that sit empty in one of most active neighborhoods in the city.

Information Technology

In a recent post I wrote about some steps that LEED could take to provide a better assessment of the "real" sustainability of a building. That is, considering the sustainability not just for the building itself but the use, the activity, that takes place within the walls. I suggested that a digital sign displaying statistics related to sustainability might be a way to publicize the building's and its occupants' performance. Lo and behold, I found a sign on the Pacific Science Center in Seattle that is displaying the carbon emissions for far more than the building itself, but for the entire county.

I'm sure reactions to this board cover the spectrum from anger to embarrassment to indifference to pride, but the real victory is that the information is there, glaring us in face, quietly counting the metric tons (one every 1.37 seconds) of carbon that our county adds to the atmosphere. If the first step to solving problems is awareness, this certainly seems like a good start. So, what's next?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Polish Lights

Not necessarily "green" but certainly a "collaborative" project...