Moments of connectedness can feel unfortunately rare in a place that is known for the “Seattle freeze.” But I get the sense more and more that Seattleites are craving that connectedness and seeking to build stronger relationships with their neighbors. The Buy Nothing Project, which began on Bainbridge Island, Washington, is a prime example. People request and share free goods and services—everything from furniture to kids’ clothing to lasagna—in hyper-local Facebook groups. You send fewer items to landfills, and you get to meet people in your community while you’re doing it. My neighborhood group is so active that it’s hard to keep up with all of the posts.
I also felt this spirit of connectedness during PARK(ing) Day last month. Held as part of the Seattle Design Festival, PARK(ing) Day is an annual worldwide event where artists, designers and citizens transform parking spots into temporary public parks. My Aggregate teammates and I ventured out to explore the pop-up parks around Pioneer Square, the historic Seattle neighborhood in which our office is located. I was struck by the mood at each spot—people were happy and smiling and chatting. The frivolity of the parks helped create a lighter mood and drive curiosity. You wanted to talk to the people who had organized the space to find out what their park was about and to learn more about their organization or company.
PARK(ing) Day aims to raise awareness about the importance of walkable, livable, and healthy cities and help people re-think how our streets can be used. I’d say it succeeds in doing so. Creating a flower crown in the middle of First Street felt way better than sitting in traffic on First Street.
Designing for Equity
Gaining a stronger understanding of the issues affecting Seattle—and hearing diverse perspectives on the potential solutions—also helps me feel more connected to other residents and to our city. I enjoyed hearing from designers, architects, community organizers and activists and discussing ways to design for equity at the Seattle Design Festival’s conference. It was refreshing to see a conference focused on equity live up to that ideal—it was free, open to the public, held at the public library in downtown Seattle, and the panelists were fairly diverse in terms of gender and ethnicity.
The discussions featured grassroots organizers and activists who are working every day to tackle social justice issues in Seattle. I learned about the recommendations that came out of Seattle’s Housing and Livability Agenda, which seeks to address our city’s dire lack of affordable housing.
I also learned more about efforts to stop King County from building a new $210 million youth jail in the Central District and a City Council resolution to ban youth detention (which has since passed). I appreciated the panelists’ honesty and directness. They named the three architecture firms signed on to build the new jail—one of which was a sponsor of the conference—and asked them to step down from the project. The panel was effective—I gained a deeper understanding of a crucial local issue, and I was compelled to act. I went home and emailed each City Council member about the resolution.
We need more events and programs like the Design Festival and the Buy Nothing Project. We need to bring people together in public spaces and break down the barriers that prevent us from talking to our neighbors. What events and programs help you connect? I’d love to hear about them.