Taking Back the Vacant Lots

Capitol Hill Vacant Parking Lot

Since the destruction of the 500 block of East Pine – former home to Capitol favorites like the Cha Cha Lounge, Bus Stop, and Kincora Pub – to make way for another bread loaf of a condo development, the block has been anything but “vibrant.” The project has been put on hold, hastily paved over, and stood for a short time as a parking lot (a use not permitted by its current zoning). For the last few months, the lot has served mainly as a repository for beer cans and a shortcut for pedestrians, though it has also been inspiration for one painter, and the subject of an amateur video calling for occupation by the neighborhood residents.

However, the lot is poised to regain its status as a social center of the neighborhood, for one day at least. The Second Annual Capitol Hill Garage Sale – sponsored by the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, Unpaving Paradise, Sustainable Capitol Hill, and People’s Parking Lot – has been granted permission by the property owner, Pine and Belmont LLC (Murray Franklyn of Bellevue), to use the spot as a community garage for all the apartment dwellers that want to participate on June 13th. It is free to participate in the sale but registration is due by June 10th.

This event also stands as an example of the power of social media to connect similarly minded people and allow them to, in this case, have an effect on the built environment, or its use at least. In an age where it is easy to join a facebook group or author and read blogs, without actually doing anything – slacktivism, as they call it – some might consider this small victory inspirational.

In the wake of Unpaving Paradise being awarded $150,000 of park levy funds for the conversion of another Capitol Hill parking lot to a P-patch, could this event be construed as evidence a shift from auto-centric and generally top-down development patterns to a more community-based future, focusing on the needs and desires of current residents? Are we going to get a nice public plaza or a handsome building with local shops at grade on this site? I doubt it, but it is refreshing to see positive use coming out of spaces that sit empty in one of most active neighborhoods in the city.