The Seattle Design Commission has a question:

"Have you noticed how many lots have been left empty or partially developed due to the stalled economy? Unattractive and unbecoming of our city, we pass by them every day: empty holes, barren plains of gravel, voids in the city fabric. How can we convert these eyesores to opportunities?"

And they want you to answer it. In a newly released call for ideas, the Commission is seeking submissions for creative ways in which stalled projects sites could be converted to interim uses that benefit, rather than detract from city life. Reportedly, Mayor McGinn has a particular interest in doing something fun with the full-block hole in the ground across the street from City Hall.

Coincidentally (or via groupthink?), this week the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects Seattle put out a very similar, but broader, call:

To what creative uses can we put vacant or underutilized buildings? Can partially constructed projects contribute to, rather than diminish, our neighborhoods? Are there more constructive uses for vacant lots than just another parking lot? How might we rethink outmoded infrastructure? How does the new economy create opportunities for lean, fresh solutions to our urban problems?"

The best ideas will be published in AIA Seattle's Forum magazine.

In Tacoma, meanwhile, a group called SpaceWorks matches artists with vacant storefronts, making the spaces available temporarily for art installations, performances, and pop-up events.

And even our own Erica C. Barnett seems to have picked up on the vibe, last week asking why some of Sound Transit's unused parcels couldn't be converted to P-Patch gardens.

B/IAS at Burien Town Square, January 2009 (click image to enlarge)

Down in Burien, not only has the city been schooling Seattle in how to implement a holistic new town center, but they've also already pulled off one of the region's most ambitious interim uses of a delayed development site. The Burien/Interim Arts Space (B/IAS) opened in January 2009 on a vacant parcel that will eventually become the second phase of Burien Town Square.

This Saturday, the empty gravel lot on the 500 block East Pine on Capitol Hill will be brought back to life for a one-day interim use.  A small group of neighborhood activists called The People's Parking Lot(s*) has been granted permission to hold a public gathering, called Earth Day Free Day, there from 11 am to 5 pm.  From the Facebook invite (with 127 RSVPs so far):

We’ll be loosely organizing, but the main goal here is to make it an event we create together, just by showing up and sharing. If you’re a musician, bring your instrument. If you’re an artist, consider the lot your outdoor studio for the day, if you’re a baker or chef, bring us a taste of your latest creation, if you’re a dancer, think of the lot as your studio, if you love to talk and speak your mind, come find someone to chat with.

Unfortunately, the steep cost of liability insurance makes such interim uses relatively rare, even though the city is littered with potential sites. These lost opportunities are just another example of how our culture's obsession with individual property rights sacrifices the common good. One solution could be a new city law stipulating that the owners of vacant sites must allow interim uses after a certain period. In someplace other than America, that is.
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