community · creativity · environment · music

Want to support music? Support green space and parks!

OK, maybe that’s overstating it a bit, but that’s the headline/thesis that Grist Editor Jess Zimmerman proposes in his short article about Seattle rapper Macklemore, and I gotta admit I like his thinking…

In this video for the Nature Conservancy, rapper Macklemore explains how municipal green space in his home city of Seattle influenced his career: He and his friends didn’t want to kick it at their parents’ houses, so they went and freestyled in parks. (Side note: Do people really still say “kick it,” or is Macklemore even older than I am?) We knew, of course, that Macklemore was into creative reuse, but who knew he had so many ideas about urban infrastructure?

The moral here is clear: Want more rappers? Make more parks. It’s just science.

I also love the fact that a hip hop artist is “kicking it” with the Nature Conservancy.

Do you know of any other artists who got their start playing in parks, beaches, or other urban green spaces? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

architecture · community · creativity · disease

Adding art to Belltown, Seattle

This is an ongoing project in Seattle of sprucing up vacant office or retail space with art. It’s a plus for the artists, the building managers since it brings attention to their space, and the passersby who are charging to and from work or tourists who stop and linger a little bit longer to view. Always love seeing updates on new projects by this group.


Storefronts Seattle is proud to announce the first two of three projects in the Belltown neighborhood!

Ingrid Lahti
One Pacific Tower, 2006 First Avenue, Belltown
Through June 2013


Ingrid Lahti traditionally works in neon, but has branched out into illuminated lighting gels in her new installation at First and Virginia.  Inspired by the saturated color in Matisse paintings and Chinese artwork, Ingrid views the illuminated window pieces as a study on the emotional effects of color and light, fitting seamlessly into the vibrant neighborhood in Belltown.  

These installations glow brightly at night, adding to the street-level nightlife of Belltown and kicking off a summer in Seattle with a burst of color.

Chris Papa
2505 Second Avenue
Through June 2013


Chris Papa, a local printmaker and sculptor, has installed 5 sculptures at Second and Wall, featuring playful sewn wood sculptures conflating art, craft, and architecture.   Interested in the…

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behavior · community · happiness · Social

Seattle City Hall is at least thinking about happiness, even if haphazardly

Seattle: Christmas Cookie Edition
What about Seattle as a cookie? Cookies make people happy.

I read this article in Seattle’s The Stranger: Can City Government Make Us Happy?

The authror of the article was pretty snarky about the whole process, and I admit it’s not the best thought-out initiative, but my first thought was, “at least they’re interested and trying.”

I actually thought the task force (let’s call it that since the town hall meeting was fairly limited in public representation) had some pretty interesting insights:

“The last four days, we were out on the streets asking, ‘What makes people happy?'” explained Laura Musikanski of Seattle’s Happiness Initiative, which was tasked with surveying Seattle’s happiness levels in 2011 (spoiler: Poor people are less happy). Behind the panelists sat a wall of sticky notes with the answers to that question, including sex, fish, power, free parking, corn, and sun.
“A lot of people said water—they love the rain,” added Mario Chamorro of Make It Happy. “People in Seattle are waterproof!”

I don’t know if people meant rain when they said water – Seattle is also surrounded on multiple sides by lake or sound – but maybe they did mean rain. Who knows, we might just be that crazy. But rather than critique their methodology, I would like to applaud the city of Seattle, a city that is shrouded in damp, dark, and gray for most of the year, for at least starting to tackle this question.

I’m curious if anything will come of this, or if they’ve burned all their happy budget on the Make It Happy team from New York. If this is in fact ongoing, I might suggest having your next Happy Team meeting in the sun. It was one of the things on your list that makes people happy, after all. And maybe offer some fish and corn. 🙂

architecture · community · creativity

Public art makes people invested in the land: an OpenIDEO idea

OpenIDEO asked “How might we inspire and enable communities to take more initiative in making their local environments better?”

One of my responses:


Install public art to create community, sense of place

Install public murals and other public art to create a sense of place and add beauty to urban spaces, which leads to more interest in and conservation of the environment as a whole, including the natural environment.

Public art creates a sense of place and space, and makes people more aware of their environments, more invested in the space, and more interested in preserving other things in their environment.
From a Grist article: “dozens of painted plazas, dubbed Intersection Repairs, pepper the map not just of Portland but also of Los Angeles, New York, St. Paul, and Seattle.
“In Seattle, a City Repair chapter formed and facilitated several intersection painting projects, including a ladybug in the Wallingford neighborhood. Residents meet annually to repaint the mural and hold a block party. “Our goal is to cut down traffic and bring the community together and create a sense of neighborhood,” Eric Higbee, who led the ladybug painting, told the Seattle Times.
“It’s not about the paint,” says professor Jan Semenza, a professor of public health at Portland State University who lives near the Sunnyside Piazza and has researched intersection repairs. “It’s about neighbors creating something bigger than themselves.” As an everyday intersection becomes someplace special, residents begin to experience the value of community.”
There are other examples of public art and murals being installed that have created a renaissance in a neighborhood, from New York to Brazil.
Guerilla street art has also started to appear over the last couple of years, creating awareness and interest in preserving the community. In Seattle, when a woman knit a sweater for a tree, it created interest in the tree and a desire to preserve it. Even something as simple as “repairing” walls and buildings with colorful Legos, such as the work that Jan Vormann has been doing for the last couple of years, has made people more invested in repairing and preserving their community.
While it is not a direct impact on the natural environment, it is a positive impact on the built environment, and does create a sense of place and overall higher investment in the neighborhood and local environment.

Read about their next challenge too.

architecture · behavior · community · design · Social

Why Public Art Is Important « The Dirt

ASLA blog The Dirt has been reporting on their annual meeting, and mentioned a talk discussing why public art is important. I couldn’t agree more!

…art occupies a unique position within the art world. In comparison with big-name gallery shows, public art is often “under appreciated” much like landscape architecture. But there’s lots to laud: “It’s free. There are no tickets. People don’t have to dress up. You can view it alone or in groups. It’s open to everyone.”

Community art can also create attachment to one’s community. According to Bach, studies have looked at the economic development benefits of art, but only just recently have there been wider examinations of the effect of art on a community’s sense of place. The Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community initiative surveyed some 43,000 people in 43 cities and found that “social offerings, openness and welcome-ness,” and, importantly, the “aesthetics of a place – its art, parks, and green spaces,” ranked higher than education, safety, and the local economy as a “driver of attachment.” Indeed, the same story may be playing out locally in Philly: a survey of local residents found that viewing public art was the 2nd most popular activity in the city, ranking above hiking and biking.

An example of public art; “Tree Futures” by Suze Woolf. Photo from the Heaven and Earth Exhibition in Carkeek Park, Seattle, 2012.

more via Why Public Art Is Important « The Dirt.

It creates community by creating a sense of place, it is available for all to enjoy, and it makes a place more enjoyable in which to hang out. All of these are important for creating enriching environments. Also, by making the art public, people often feel they have ownership of the art, or a right to play with it. This can be good and bad; if they art is designed to be engaged with, more power to the people. However, some people do act upon the art in a destructive way, either accidentally or intentionally, which is play to them but ruins it for the rest of the public.

This brings of the life cycle of art, and it being taken care of or abandoned over time, which was also discussed at the meeting:

Bach also made a point of discussing the “afterlife of public art,” what happens once it’s out there. As an example, she pointed a work by Pepon Osorio, a pavilion at a Latino community center that features historical photos of people from the community. Today, kids from the neighborhood take photos of themselves with photos of their ancestors. Another project called Common Ground in a footprint of a church that burnt down was hosting weddings just a week after it opened. While these works became part of their communities, Bach said the group still has to work hard to ensure that all works remain relevant to their communities and aren’t “orphaned.”

Some art is meant to be abandoned; at Carkeek Park in Seattle there is an annual public art exhibit where often the installed art pieces are left at the end of the summer to decay or be destroyed by the elements.

Art installation at Carkeek Park, Seattle, 2012

Overall though I think interaction with public art is a good thing. Do you or have you ever played in fountains, posed with statues or art pieces, or altered them in some way (like the Fremont people in Seattle)? These are all forms of play inspired by public art, which I think are valuable methods of play and should be encouraged so long as it doesn’t damage the artwork.

Waiting for the Interurban is memorial to the trolley/rail line that once ran between Everett and Tacoma. Standing at the north end of the Fremont Bridge, these five aluminum commuters (and one dog) have waited since 1978 for a ride that never came. Decorating the statues with seasonal apparel, political signs and other props has become a Seattle tradition.

What is your experience with public art? Do you find it a good use of real estate? Do you have a statue or fountain or public art piece that speaks to you, that you think of as “yours”?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

anthropology · behavior · health · learning · mental health · psychology

I will be speaking on play this Friday, July 20, in Seattle at Parkour Visions

Me showing my serious anthropologist side.

Hi everyone. Just a little self-promotion, plus some promotion for a great organization:

I have been asked to speak this Friday, July 20, at 7:20 pm about play and parkour, at the 3rd annual Parkour Summit hosted by Parkour Visions in Seattle, WA.

As some of you know,  I received my MA in Anthropology this past winter, which focused on play and parkour. My play research has included studies of human-gorilla interaction at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, the primary physical play behaviors found in all primates (including traceurs), and how traceurs redefine and interact with space in new and creative ways.

Full disclosure, I have also been an advisory board member for the Pacific Northwest Parkour Association (the nonprofit behind Parkour Visions) since 2006, when it was having board meetings in my kitchen and I would feed all the board members banana coconut pancakes.

I have been asked by Parkour Visions to discuss my findings about parkour and play, why play is vitally important across the human lifespan for physical and mental health, what human play looks like, and how parkour reflects and answers the need for lifelong play.

There will also be lots of other great speakers talking about how movement plays into health in other ways than just strong muscles, including gut health, mental health, and long life, and ways to incorporate movement and play into ones lives. See a list of speakers here. The talks will be after a community dinner, so if you’re interested you can also bring $5 or a plate of something healthy (think fruit or meat) starting at 5pm, and mingle with the speakers before the talk.

The summit also includes an invitational competition of some of the best traceurs in the world, which is free to the public, on Saturday morning, so if you can’t come to the talk please come by and check out these amazing athletes. There are lots of other events taking place, so check out the itinerary and see if there’s something that sparks your interest.

I look forward to seeing you there!

behavior · creativity · environment · play

Boat Bumbers as elephant toys

An elephant named Chai carries a boat bumper around with her trunk. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

This time of year we often think of playing in boats and recreation on the water. But sometimes one kind of play can inspire an entirely different kind. I came across this great blog post from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, WA, about how recycled objects like boat bumpers make great toys, especially for larger critters:

Our elephants have a number of toys, or, in zoo-speak, Environmental Enrichment Devices (EED) that are designed to bring out their instinctual behaviors, along with all the naturally enriching elements in their exhibit like trees, logs, leaf piles, water and different ground coverings. The elephants have quite an array of EEDs, and one of their favorites is a boomer ball, which we often fill with treats. But constantly purchasing more boomer balls (since the elephants can be a bit destructive with them) can be a little costly. So, what’s a zookeeper to do? We think outside the box, er, ball.

With a background working with marine mammals, I thought back to my days of playing with dolphins. We would throw boat bumpers and buoys in with the 800-pound critters, and play endless games with them. So, how would an 8,000-pound animal react to one?

To get my answer I ventured to West Marine to see if we could acquire a couple of boat bumpers to test out on these playful pachyderms. Lo and behold, I discovered that not only did the manager have a couple to spare, but that in the summertime, they often receive dozens each week. Finding a new and revitalized way to keep them out of the landfill was refreshing to him, and getting free toys for the animals at the zoo was exhilarating for me!

We hung a boat bumper up in the barn, and put another in an EED container to protect it from getting squished too soon. It didn’t take Bamboo long to figure out where the hole was located so she could get the treats out. It took a little encouragement from us for Bamboo to notice the hanging bumper, but once she realized it, too, held treats, it was game on, and she batted it non-stop until she was certain every morsel was out.

To see how the other elephants reacted, read the rest of the blog post.

Congrats to Woodland Park Zoo and West Marine for keeping stuff out of the landfill and making some elephants very happy!

community · design · environment · Social

UW exhibit celebrates parks, public spaces reclaimed from unusual uses

A bit older news, but still interesting, and a great way to get into the unofficial summer season; from UW News:

Gas Works Park, Seattle WA

Thaisa Way, a UW associate professor of landscape architecture, and several of her design students have curated “Experimenting in Public Space,” on exhibit May 9 to June 24 at the American Institute of Architecture design gallery in downtown Seattle. The exhibit explores Gas Works and 11 subsequent parks and public spaces in a series of sketches, photographs and architectural renderings.

In 1962, a parcel at the northern tip of Lake Union was a toxic waste dump, the result of an industrial plant that turned coal to natural gas. By 1976, however, it was Gas Works Park, the result of a gutsy experiment in landscape architecture led by Richard Haag, a University of Washington emeritus professor of architecture.

Gas Works and subsequent projects established Seattle as one of the first American cities willing to recast industrial sites into places to celebrate.

“Gas Works was a radical move, especially since Rachel Carson’s book, ‘Silent Spring,’ had just been published, and people were alerted about environmental pollution,” Way said.

Haag convinced the city that not only could unusual and sometimes polluted land be reclaimed but that it should be. Instead of the wide, rolling vistas of trees and flowers created across the country by the Olmsted brothers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, Haag celebrated the city and all its right angles. The gas works boiler house eventually sheltered grills and picnic tables, and the gas compressor became a play barn, all with a water’s edge view of Lake Union and the downtown Seattle skyline.

Among the projects featured in the exhibit are Freeway Park, Waterworks Gardens and the Olympic Sculpture Park.

Read more here.

I’m excited to see a celebration of open public park spaces, especially those reclaimed from formerly unappealing and otherwise unusable spaces. I find myself at Gas Works Park a lot in the summer, and love having so much green open space in the city I live in!

anthropology · behavior · community · emotion · happiness · Social

Just how lonely are we?

Jeff Ragsdale on Location
Jeff Ragsdale, the instigator for "One Lonely Guy" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More and more studies are coming out about how Americans feel more isolated than ever, and that we have less “close” friends despite being more connected to people via social media and technology.

One book was recently released that explores that idea of loneliness and the need for humans to connect with each other through the case of one man’s ad and the voicemails he received in response. From University of Washington News:

In October 2011, former University of Washington student Jeff Ragsdale, living in New York, had hit a low point — his stand-up comedy and acting career had stalled, he had been through a bad breakup and he was living in a cheap rented room. Despondent, Ragsdale posted a flyer around the city that said, “If anyone wants to talk about anything, call me. (347) 469-3173.”

To his surprise he got about 100 calls and texts the first day alone, and they kept on coming, finally numbering in the thousands. In time he brought the messages to the attention of his former teacher, UW English Professor David Shields. From that came the book “Jeff, One Lonely Guy,” edited by Ragdsale, Shields and Michael Logan of Seattle.

“I had kept in touch with Jeff over the years; I knew he was always up to interesting projects,” said Shields. “Jeff kept sending me the most amazing transcriptions of phone calls and texts that he had received. At a certain point, I just couldn’t say no. The material was simply too interesting; it spoke too deeply to the culture.

“What I love about the book (and I can say this because it’s less anything any of us did, and it’s more the voices that came in on Jeff’s cell phone) is what it tells us about what it’s like to live in America right now. I can’t think of a book that evokes more specifically how people talk now (the new words and phrases and sayings are extraordinary — it’s a virtual Roget’s of contemporary slang); how much they/we hunger for connection to themselves/ourselves, to each other, to a larger community; how energized and enervated they are/we are by Big Media and digital culture; how confusing love is in a 24/7 porn environment; and how baffling transcendence is — how fame or brief flickers of fame seem to beckon out of every internet portal. This book is a remarkable document of contemporary existence.”

Read/watch more about “Jeff, One Lonely Guy” in The New Yorker, Book Forum, and The Huffington Post.

The explorations of loneliness and connectedness sparked by one simple ad is pretty incredible. The book itself is also pretty powerful in that it truly is a collaborative effort, not only edited by three guys, but the content of the book is created from the voicemails of 100’s of individuals who were looking to connect with another individual in some way.

In Seattle we talk about the “Seattle Freeze,” this phenomenon where it’s hard for newcomers to make friends, but it sounds like it’s a problem all over the U.S. Would you say you have a close friend, or close friends? Would you say you feel connected to where you live, to your community? Why do you think we feel so disconnected from our neighbors compared to 30 years ago? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

architecture · behavior · culture · design · happiness · mental health · Social

New Office Designs in Seattle Trend Towards Open, Social Spaces

Most of us these days work in a cubicle, although the past ten years have really seen a transformation of space and place at the workplace in order to create happier, and therefore more productive, workers. This article in the NYTimes focused on some organizations in Seattle that have embraced a more open work floor plan:

Is this your idea of a perfect work environment?

MARTHA CHOE’S ideal working space is not her private office, nice though it is, but rather a long, narrow table in the vast atrium of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters here.

Ms. Choe, a former member of the City Council here, is the foundation’s chief administrative officer, and she had considerable input in the building’s design. One objective from the start was to give the 1,000 employees a variety of spaces to accommodate different kinds of work. “There’s a recognition that we work in different modes, and we’ve designed spaces to accommodate them,” she says. “I think one of the lessons is to understand your business, and understand what your people need to do their best work.”

The building was designed by NBBJ, a 700-employee architecture firm whose largest operation is in Seattle. The structure is a culmination of ideas about the 21st-century workplace that NBBJ has been exploring in corporate office designs worldwide, including its own offices here.

These are the main concepts: Buzz — conversational noise and commotion — is good. Private offices and expressions of hierarchy are of debatable value. Less space per worker may be inevitable for cost-effectiveness, but it can enhance the working environment, not degrade it. Daylight, lots of it, is indispensable. Chance encounters yield creative energy. And mobility is essential.

This isn’t a suddenly exploding trend. NBBJ’s research has found that two-thirds of American office space is now configured in some sort of open arrangement. But even as these designs save employers space and money, they can make office workers feel like so many cattle. So how to humanize the setting?

SEATTLE serves as a test tube because of several converging factors: There’s a lot of money here to experiment with projects. The work force is relatively young and open to innovation. And the local culture places a high value on informality, autonomy and egalitarianism. People will put in long hours under high pressure if they feel respected, but they won’t tolerate being treated like Dilberts.

Most office workers in Seattle and elsewhere labor in environments much less inspiring than Ms. Choe’s. And most employers have much less to spend to make things pleasant. (Bill and Melinda Gates personally contributed $350 million of the campus’s $500 million cost.) But staying competitive requires coming up with the best ideas, and the office environment can be the incubator for them.

Read the full article.

I am all for creating spaces that encourage collaboration and make workers feel comfortable and ready to get down to business. My only question is lack of meeting space. In my last two jobs it has been very hard to find private spaces to meet, although both were cubicle-based workspaces so that layout doesn’t necessarily solve things either. And I’m not alone in my concerns, as the article points out:

NOT all of NBBJ’s corporate clients have boarded the informality-and-buzz bandwagon. When the R.C. Hedreen Company, a real estate development firm based in Seattle, commissioned a renovation of a 10,800-square-foot floor in an old downtown office building five years ago, it specified a perimeter of private offices. Collaborative spaces are provided for creative teamwork, but the traditional offices remain the executives’ home ports.

“Individually, a lot of our workday is taken up with tasks that are better served by working alone in private offices,” says David Thyer, Hedreen’s president.

Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” is skeptical of open-office environments — for introverts and extroverts alike, though she says the first group suffers much more amid noise and bustle.

What are your thoughts on work space? Do you like having an open space to share, or do you prefer your own cubicle or booth? How do you handle the meeting privacy issues at your office? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.