Happy Valley residents hope to turn intersection into gathering spot

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 29, 2013 

If an effort underway in south Bellingham succeeds on schedule, people will gather this September to paint a large colorful image on the asphalt where 22nd Street and Harris Avenue intersect.

Supporters see their Happy Valley Community Crossroads project as a way to stitch the neighborhood closer with a pleasant gathering spot, and build camaraderie in the process.

"It's to bring neighbors together," said Aaron Walters, a proponent. "That's really the goal."

Walters is the pastor at The Table, a small church in Happy Valley, and a barista at Firehouse Café. He's also a board member of Happy Valley Neighborhood Association.

At a board meeting earlier this year, fellow board member Dan Tucker mentioned that he had seen intersections in Portland, Ore., painted to foster community. In Portland, a nonprofit group called City Repair works to improve public urban spaces, including intersections.

The painted intersections remain open to traffic, but might be closed on occasion for events.

Tucker, a fisherman and artist, suggested that Happy Valley consider such a project.

As it turns out, Walters had earlier been given a copy of City Repair's "Placemaking Guidebook."

"I said, 'I have the manual at home,' let's start talking," he said.

So he and Tucker began talking to residents and held early meetings at Firehouse Café and at Samish School.

They looked at crossings west of 21st Street, but traffic was too busy there. So they looked to the east and agreed on 22nd and Harris, a quiet intersection bounded by Samish School, rental units with college students, a single-family home, and a duplex with older residents.

"We live in a really diverse community," said Pam Sinnett, who co-owns and teaches at Samish School along with Jody Guenser. "We're excited that our particular intersection was chosen."

As far as organizers know, there's no such painted intersection elsewhere in Bellingham.

"We're breaking new ground," Walters said.

Several design ideas have been submitted, and more are welcome. A neighborhood meeting will be held in late July to pick a design, but no meeting date has been scheduled yet.

Once a design is chosen, supporters will present their plan to the city. They've already contacted city staffers and have talked to Councilman Michael Lilliquist, whose ward includes Happy Valley.

Lilliquist said he likes the idea of residents creating a "sense of place" in their neighborhoods, as long as there's strong support from people in the area.

"If there's broad popular support in Happy Valley, it might go forward as a pilot project," he said.

To gather backing for the project, supporters are presenting their idea, and winning endorsements, from other neighborhood associations. They also will gather signatures of support from people who live near the intersection, Walters said.

If the project proceeds, the cost of durable traffic paint can be covered, at least in part, by a church grant obtained by The Table, he said.

Walters hopes that music, food and other activities can turn the day of painting into a fun neighborhood event. He hopes the project will encourage other amenities, such as benches, bulletin boards and neighborhood gatherings, that have cropped up in Portland.

"It's reclaiming public space for the community," he said. "That's the dream."

LEARN MORE

- To learn about Happy Valley Community Crossroads, and submit an intersection design, go to happyvalleycommunitycrossroads.blogspot.com.

- To learn about City Repair, go to cityrepair.org.

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