Night market, giant hamster wheel are ideas for downtown Bellingham improvements

People who live in Bellingham are called Bellinghamsters, so what could be more fitting for the city’s outdoor-loving, quirky, artsy citizens than a 20-foot human-powered hamster wheel?

That’s what one group proposed as a way to un-subdue the City of Subdued Excitement, as part of Sustainable Connections’ “Kapow“ competition, which asked people to cook up ideas for improving downtown.

Though the group pulled itself from the competition because the costs of building the world’s largest human hamster wheel are likely to be high, Maddie Neuman still got to present the idea to a packed Mount Baker Theatre main stage crowd Wednesday night, March 25, to wrap up Kapow’s pecha kucha event.

“Nothing like this exists in the world because there’s only one place where it belongs,” Neuman said.

Hundreds gathered at the theater to hear the top 10 ideas for how to improve the city with creative “placemaking.” The finalists represented the best of about 50 entries submitted to the competition, which was co-sponsored by the city and a host of local agencies, building and design firms.

“Real unique, creative ideas are not going to come from city government. They come from you. They come from me,” Rose Lathrop, Sustainable Connections’ green building and smart growth manager, told the crowd Wednesday night. “We don’t wait for it to happen any more. We just do it.”

After hearing quick, lively pitches from each group — pecha kucha is a style of presenting where each group gets to show 20 slides at 20 seconds a piece to have their say — the crowd got to vote for the act they thought most worthy of getting the night’s proceeds, collected from the sale of donated beer, suggested entrance fees and a raffle.

Dean Fearing’s Parkade Night Market won both the mayor’s choice award, selected by Mayor Kelli Linville, and the people’s choice award, voted live by text messaging and ballot.

In what Fearing said would essentially be like holding the farmer’s market at night, the market could coincide with the monthly Downtown Art Walk, drawing people to what is currently an underused public space to enjoy food, music and art.

The Kapow judges gave their top pick to Heather Jones’ Shadow Geometry, an interactive art installation that will encourage passersby to play with shadows and sculptures in alley space as part of a temporary installation.

Both projects will receive financial support from the contest, but that doesn’t mean the other ideas are excluded from gathering donations and becoming real as well. As of Thursday afternoon, Kapow and the pecha kucha event had raised $5,000, which won’t fully fund either project, said Amy Vergillo, a Sustainable Connections spokeswoman.

For those who want to help make sure the night market and Shadow Geometry are funded, or help pay for or donate supplies or other help to the other ideas, donations can be made to Sustainable Connections at sustainableconnections.org.

Honorable mentions went to Urban Fern Kingdom, Cat Sieh and Audra Robson’s idea to put vertical green gardens on the parkade in place of concrete panels the city already plans to remove, and to Synchrotreecity, Casey Scalf’s plan to light up city trees with motion-triggered, solar-powered lights.

Other ideas included an umbrella art installation, events where artists could sell their work in the city’s alleys, a permanent “soapbox” to encourage public oration, big chairs that would elevate users for people-watching and gathering, and alley installations of basketball hoops with backboards decorated by artists.

More information on the Bellinghamster wheel and visual examples of what could be the city’s quirkiest tourist attraction are available at Facebook.com/BuildTheHamsterWheel.