BELLINGHAM - More than a year after they started planning, Happy Valley community members were finally able to gather in the road to create a unique piece of artwork Saturday, June 7, where 22nd Street and Harris Avenue meet.
The Happy Valley Community Crossroads project was designed to bring neighbors together and to reclaim a small piece of the road as a gathering place for that neighborhood.
The project was started in part by Aaron Walters, pastor at The Table church, and artist Dan Tucker in March 2013. The two hoped to mimic similar community projects that had been installed throughout Portland, Ore., by a nonprofit called City Repair.
Last spring they worked to gather support for the idea from neighbors, the Happy Valley Neighborhood Association and volunteers.
"A lot of our process was rallying neighbors," Walters said.
They held a series of meetings, where residents voiced concerns and ideas, and discussed where the painting could be placed. Funding was offered from a grant The Table received for community development.
Suggestions for the location initially included the intersection of Harris Avenue and 21st Street or other sites near Larrabee Elementary, but after taking traffic into consideration, the group decided on 22nd and Harris.
That particular spot captures the character of Happy Valley, Walters said. It is bounded by Samish School, a rental unit that is often home to college students, and a few longtime owner-occupied homes.
Janice Clark has lived on the northeast corner of the intersection for nearly 51 years. She said she liked the idea of the artwork but worried it may distract drivers from the stop signs posted there.
"I just want people to beware when they get to the intersection," Clark said.
However, neighborhood association president James Spaich said he believed the art, created with high-volume traffic paint, would encourage drivers to slow down.
"It's intricate enough to appeal, but not busy enough to distract drivers," Spaich said of the colorful, floral design. "It could serve as a traffic-calming device."
Milli Mangels, who has lived on the southeast corner of the intersection since 1975, said she has seen several accidents in that crossroads over the years, and hopes this project will help slow people down.
"I call this our happy roundabout," Mangels said.
The brightly decorated intersection is the first project of its kind for Bellingham. It likely won't be the last. When Walters went to the Bellingham Arts Commission to seek project approval in October 2013, so did the Columbia neighborhood, which has plans to paint its own community space later this summer. A design including two birds, a sun and trees is planned for Walnut Street between West Illinois and West Connecticut.
Happy Valley residents submitted their designs late last summer and eventually voted for the flower, designed by 12-year-old Willow Hughes, a sixth-grader at Fairhaven Middle School.
"Half my friends didn't believe me," Willow said of winning the vote.
His design, which he said started as a pinwheel but turned into a flower, went up against others submitted mostly by adults.
Fittingly, Willow was actually born at a home just a few blocks from the project, said his mother, Hannah Hughes.
With paint on their hands and smiles on their faces, dozens of volunteers gathered throughout the morning and into the afternoon Saturday to paint the petals, drink coffee, listen to live music and mingle in the temporarily closed road.
"I think this is as beautiful an event as you can get with just people standing on a street corner," Spaich said.
The project could continue to grow, perhaps with the addition of a bench or a little library box, Walters said, but that will be up to the community.
WATCH VIDEO: HAPPY VALLEY COMMUNITY CROSSROADS
Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at Samantha.Wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.