Community Outreach & Neighborhood Design Charrette
15th Avenue East Community Workshop
Creating a collaborative space for a community to weigh in on the future of its neighborhood.
As designers, we take our role in shaping city life seriously. With the sale and development of several large properties on Capitol Hill’s 15th Avenue East, we noticed there was little opportunity for the residents and business owners of the area to participate in the future plans for their neighborhood. In 2017, we had the opportunity to partner with another local firm, Environmental Works, to do just that. Environmental Works shared our concerns about the lack of opportunity for the local community to take part in the development of their own neighborhood. If you’ve ever visited 15th Avenue East, you’ll recognize the eclectic mix of small businesses, restaurants, retail, and a buzzing mix of multifamily and single-family dwellings. With so many stakeholders in the neighborhood’s future, we collaborated with Environmental Works to develop a community event to give those living and working around 15th Avenue East the opportunity to weigh in on the future of their neighborhood.
In April 2018, approximately 85 community members met with Board & Vellum and Environmental Works to engage in a two-hour discussion about their hopes and dreams for 15th Avenue East. The discussion was divided into three events: a visioning exercise, a collaborative discussion, and an interactive design exercise.
We started off by agreeing on ground rules for the event. It was important to keep the conversation productive by focusing on the positive aspects of the inevitable changes happening to the area. Rules of engagement included speaking concisely, respectfully listening to and accepting other’s opinions, and focusing all efforts toward the highest good for the neighborhood.
After the ground rules were set, we embarked on the visioning exercise. Participants were asked to consider the question, “What are your best ideas for the future of 15th Avenue East?” Each person wrote three ideas on three separate notecards which were then gathered and posted for the other participants. Many of the ideas centered around common themes of safety, green space, preserving small businesses, supporting job development, and thoughtfully adding density. In the discussion that followed, attendees were able to elaborate on their ideas and seek out further commonalities between them. As facilitators, we worked with the group to identify all ideas so that we could prepare the most comprehensive list for future reference by those shaping the neighborhood.
Next, for the basis of the interactive design exercise, we posted street-view elevations and aerial views of 15th Avenue East from Denny to Mercer on parallel tables. Participants used markers, tracing paper, and cutouts, to mark up the elevations with their ideas for a better 15th Avenue East. With suggestions such as benches, kids' play spaces, exercise equipment, gazebos, P Patches, and more, attendees produced a bountiful range of ideas, including a farmer’s market, underground parking, and developing affordable housing.
Despite their many visions, common themes emerged. Most important to participants was creating and retaining affordable spaces for local and independent retail, a greater public street presence, and pedestrian friendliness. Finding similarities in the participant’s visions was inspiring – though everyone came in with their own ideas, our wishes and hopes for the neighborhood showed we had more in common than originally thought.
The event yielded a great deal of relevant and important information from 15th Avenue East’s community members. The result is a digital report detailing the results of the exercises and discussions of the day, available to the City, future developers, and community members to help shape the future of 15th Avenue East.
This project was recognized by WASLA, honored with the WASLA Award of Merit 2019 in the category of Research, Analysis, and Planning alongside our partners, Environmental Works and the University of Washington’s Landscape Architecture SCAN|Design Master Studio.
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