Monday, June 29, 2009

A Few Comments and Moving On

Regarding the Guerilla Dance Party:

In general, PPL thinks it was great to utilize the space, even if the event was illegitimate and even if it upset neighbors. The party brought more attention to this empty space and I hope others continue to organize events, whether they have permission or not. However, a few minor critiques that would serve to better unify the neighborhood and "cause":

First, pick up after yourself. Leaving bottles all over the lot makes you look as disrespectful as the "system" the led to the destruction of this block. It's my opinion that we should show the owners how to be better neighbors, rather than fighting back with the same sort of disregard for the neighborhood that brought this empty space upon us.

Secondly, and in the same vein, aiming to do something noisy with a little more consideration for the time would have probably been more productive. More people would have come out and less people would be bitching. Starting an hour earlier would have made the event a lot closer to following noise ordinances, which state that it has to be done by 11:00 on weekends.

That's it, as far as I'm concerned. I congratulate the organizers for pulling it off and hope to speak with them shortly. In the back of my head, I fear that the owner might put up fences and/or not allow any more legitimate events to take place on the lot, which would be a shame. I also think that would be a mistake on their part, given the effectiveness of this guerilla campaign. I guess we'll see what happens.

Moving on:

Coming up on Wednesday at Town Hall, the German Urban Planner Thomas Sieverts will be in town to give a talk entitled "Re-imagining Urban Spaces." Though this lecture addresses "in-between" areas, or sprawl, as I would call it, I find it an interesting topic related to unused space. He's interested in the future of what we've already built: places like Tukwila and Burien, places that are in between the city and country. I'm interested in the future of what we haven't built, what we've destroyed or abandoned in the city, places in between past use and possible future use. It should be interesting.

On Thursday, Sieverts will be touring the B /IAS installation: an in-between place in an in-between place (temporary art in Burien). It's free and open to the public.

Lastly, on Friday at Northwest Film Forum, he will sit on a panel that includes the Stranger's own self-styled urbanist, and ignorer of this blog and everything we're trying to accomplish, Charles Mudede. (I actually do respect what Mudede does, I've just been hoping for more of his support, so I'm venting here. That's what most people use blogs for anyway, right?)

More details about these and other events on


  1. I love the idea and energy of what is going on here! Good work Keith.

    I think I still disagree with the sentiment of most Capitol Hill residents about the developer. (Admittedly more sympathetic with their situation, since I work in their industry.) There will always be sentimental ties to old haunts and I understand that, and there tends to be a predisposition for an anti-developer mindset amongst certain groups. However, my understanding is they took down a multi-use structure to make way for a denser multi-use structure. In the grand scheme, density is a plus in urban environments, as it allows for more people to inhabit smaller spaces and thus create a smaller footprint, a benefit for everyone. Also, what they are doing is a terribly intricate and difficult pursuit. The rub here is that they faced some difficulty with the neighbors trying to get out of the ground and then the economy tanked, leaving them holding the bag. So far they have been receptive to Capitol Hill groups holding approved events there, which is commendable. I'm sure they don't have the time or resources to invest in that community the way the community itself can, so there is room for improvement. I think ideally a group like People's Parking lot would get an ongoing arrangement with them to utilize the lot effectively until such time that development could begin. That would give the community and the developer some shared experiences and hopefully prove to help both groups facilitate a better use for that space once building begins.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Scott. While I completely agree with the notion that density is key to urban environments, and understand that development is a complex endeavor, I think it's worth addressing two points of view that create tension between the community and the developer.

    Back before developers had any interest in this area, the community grew alongside the local businesses that inhabited the cheap buildings: they made it their own, they made it vibrant and hip and interesting. Groups that did not fit into the mainstream -- dreamers, artists, gays, hipsters, slackers, hippies, layabouts, commies, etc -- socially constructed a place where they felt at home.

    So when the developer -- from Bellevue, of all places; a place that doesn't come close to embodying the values of this particular community -- comes in, buys the land, and intends to construct a building that displaces the types of people that made this area desirable in the first place, they are not welcomed. The small business can't afford the rent, the fledgling writer can't get a $350k mortgage for a place upstairs, and a whole new group moves in. For the community, it feels like colonization.

    These two ways of looking at that parcel of land are inherently incompatible: the community sees it as theirs while the developers actually own it. The former group may not have a legal claim to it but they're the ones who are affected daily by what is (or isn't built). It's a damn tricky situation, the whole notion of lived space and community vs. real estate investment and development, and I don't know how it can be resolved, but I think the traditional model where the developer buys the property and does as he pleases is nearing, or at least should be nearing, extinction.

    The present economic situation is great because it gives everyone a chance to slow down and try to figure these things out. If Murray Franklyn continues to allow PPL or other groups to host events on this space, and comes to realize that we all might benefit from a little cooperation, we might be on to something. In the meantime, though, a little fighting fire with fire is an unsurprising response by the disaffected, and it's one that I think is healthy for the dialogue.