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.


joshuadf said...

Congratulations! It's a great story. I wanted to come to the sale, too, but was out of town.

Scott Andrew Mueller said...

Great post Keith... loved the idea board at the event, what's next?

Keith said...

thanks for the comments, guys. obviously lots of ideas floating around, but the most prominent ones are the night out block party in august, some sort of temporary public art and/or gardens, and perhaps outdoor movies. any and all of these would be fantastic.