Lifestyle

City Repair Project presentation helps Bainbridge 'think outside the grid'

From top left: Chris McMaster holds the poster he designed, IslandVibes creators Sean Matteson and Heather Wolf,  Cyndi Shick, Kayla Black and Barb Trafton write their creative ideas on the big white board at the IslandWood presentation, a Portland City Repair Project, the frog rock, City Repair brown bag presentation, Mark Lakeman (founder of City Repair) and Debbi Lester. - Photos Courtesy of Debbie Lester
From top left: Chris McMaster holds the poster he designed, IslandVibes creators Sean Matteson and Heather Wolf, Cyndi Shick, Kayla Black and Barb Trafton write their creative ideas on the big white board at the IslandWood presentation, a Portland City Repair Project, the frog rock, City Repair brown bag presentation, Mark Lakeman (founder of City Repair) and Debbi Lester.
— image credit: Photos Courtesy of Debbie Lester

When three different friends mentioned a desire for community gardens, Debbi Lester suggested the four of them get together and have a conversation.

Within three months, community gardens were sprouting - literally - all over the island: 14 P-patch plots at Johnson Farm, a multi-generational garden at Island Terrace Apartments and the Manzanita Children’s Garden on Elizabeth Gadbois’ property.

Lester knows the power of a conversation. In 2008, a Bainbridge woman named Cyndi Shick gave Lester a DVD by Mark Lakeman, who was doing innovative community-building work in Portland, and later, Seattle.

Two weeks later, as Lester was enjoying the First Annual Eriksen Park picnic with her neighbors, she noticed a woman walking by.

“Would you like some watermelon?” she asked, and a new conversation began.

Intrigued by the neighborhood’s friendliness, she asked Lester about the purpose of the gathering. When Lester told her it was about celebrating common spaces, the woman said, “You should talk to my son. He makes piazzas in Portland. His name is Mark Lakeman.”

Bringing it full circle

Together, Shick, Lester and “a hundred others,” brought Lakeman to Bainbridge to present his ideas about “place-making.”

Lakeman’s whirlwind tour of Bainbridge included a tour of Winslow, brown bag lunch presentation at City Hall, potluck at Winslow Co-housing and an evening presentation at IslandWood.

The City Repair Project hinges on the idea of using public space that is dedicated as a traffic corridor and reclaiming it as a neighborhood gathering place. The process itself, called Place-making, is catalytic to building community: In Portland, neighbors who didn’t know each others’ names began planning potlucks, swapping books, building bike shelters and planting gardens.

In some cases, they took to to the streets – painting colorful designs on the roadway, throwing parties and – gasp! even dancing in the streets.

The City of Portland initially balked at the concept, particularly that of painting intersections bright colors and rerouting traffic for neighborhood gatherings. What they found, however, according to Lakeman, was that crime in these areas dropped substantially, graffiti was nonexistent, and citizens were taking an active interest in improving their neighborhoods. Within six months, the city passed ordinances that facilitated City Repair Projects and today, there are hundreds of neighborhoods, working together.

Heather Wolf, who with fiance Sean Matteson has been drumming up community through their work with IslandVibes, saw the importance of claiming common space.

“I was most moved by his clear demonstration of the power of spaces – how the very architecture of a space –the grid-structure where every intersection is a ‘traffic corridor’ – can kill any possibility for interaction and connection, while a true gathering place, a piazza, free to be used by its people, invites creativity, connectedness and culture by its very structure.

Let the conversations begin

“I think this taps into the community creative spirit,” Lester said. ‘I’d love for us to start some conversations with our neighbors.”

Shick agrees.

“The concept intends for neighbors with ideas and inspiration to be their own connectors, organizers, leaders, recruiters, builders and artists for the process,” she said.

“I would suggest that people contact their own neighbors – host a little gathering (tea or a potluck) to talk about what could be done right now, and figure out what fires them up and agree together on their own next steps.”

“The City Repair Project presentations were meant to begin the conversation,” Lester said. “To bring the concept to light and spark the imagination, get people’s creative juices flowing, get them looking around and saying to themselves ‘What if?’

“What could we create together that would add beauty, surprise and delight?

“I think the next step is to have our friends and neighbors over for a potluck and talk about things we have discovered. Gather all the creative ideas and see if there is something in common, see if something sparks our interest. Eat, talk, draw and create together. Put it down on paper, make a model.”

For those who can’t visualize it, Althea Paulson shared how the Island Terrace Community Garden came into being in her blog, Bainbridge Notebook.

“A pile of dirt. Lumber. Bags of compost. Galvanized steel tubs. Nothing, really, but a hodge podge on a lawn.

“But then, the trucks and cars arrive. High school students, retirees, moms with their kids, drill-wielding dads. A man in a wheelchair, another with a cane. Someone fires up a barbecue and turns on some music. It’s a party. Little kids play on the swings and supervise the grownups. Big kids haul dirt in wheelbarrows and hammer lumber to make raised beds. Men drill holes in the tubs, fill them with gravel, dirt and compost. In two hours, nothing becomes something really wonderful. The Island Terrace apartment complex has a community garden.”

For pictures, visit http://www.pnwlocalnews.com/kitsap/bir/lifestyle/44648992.html

For more information about the City Repair Project, visit www.cityrepair.org.

For more information, or to get on a City Repair Project/Bainbridge mailing list, E-mail Lester at lesterforcommunity@gmail.com. A Web site, www.islandconnections.org will launch in mid-April.

Bainbridge Island TV will air Lakeman’s City Repair presentation at 8 p.m. March 29, 31 and April 2-4 on Channel 12, and at 5 p.m. March 30, April 1 and April 4 on Channel 22. Check www.bitv.org for additional broadcast times.

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