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Successful #PublicSpace, One Yard at a Time

I heard futurist David Zach give a keynote at the AIA MN convention last week. He had a number of convincing arguments about our future – being a futurist and all – but also a warning. As people spend more time connecting through digital platforms, we give up opportunities to connect in person. In Locus’ projects and community outreach efforts (2X2, RAW), we focus on community building through design, experience, personal interaction, and stories. From what we’ve seen, people are hungry to connect with others. I offer an example from my personal life.

“You know what I’ve always wanted?” my wife Linda asked me a few years ago. Anticipating my usual sarcastic response, she answered her question, “A harvest table in the yard where we could host dinner parties with friends.”

Fast forward to summer 2012. After moving to a new house last year, we didn’t know many neighbors. Why not build that harvest table, put it in our front yard, and invite our neighbors for weekly get-togethers? We found the person with the neighborhood email list and contacted everyone on it.

Friends and neighbors:

Wynne and Linda here, new neighbors since fall. As dachshund-walkers, we’ve met many of you. We’d like to connect with more of you, so we got to wondering about a harvest table in our front yard where we meet up. Here’s the idea:

1. We build a harvest table and some benches, plop it in our front yard.
2. Every week, we send out an email letting y’all know when the table will be open.
3. If you can come, you bring family/friends and your own food and drink to the table.
4. We all meet, chat, laugh, eat, and drink.
5. When it’s all done, you take your stuff with you.

What we need:

1. Wood. Has to be salvaged. Did you take down a fence, demolish a deck, toss some pallets in the garage, or snag some lumber from a dumpster? We’ll take it. Character is a plus. Once we have enough, we’ll get to building. We’re not building a Nakashima piece, you might call it Beverly Hillbilly chic.
2. If you like, send your kids over to help – or join in. We won’t let the kids use power tools, but they can hammer and drive screws as much as they like. We’ll provide the screws and nails.
3. When finished, we’ll inaugurate with a party!

We spent nothing on it, but our time. We took scrap wood we had, more from a handful of neighbors who answered the call, and cobbled together a communal 22′ table of cast off 2X4s, lilac stumps, and a few mahogany scraps. By fall’s end, we had a tradition.

We recently announced the close of the table for winter, and started receiving emails of thanks, “we are weeping tonight,” “thanks for the leadership and initiative,” “a wonderful idea,” “a resounding success and great addition to the neighborhood,” “an amazing season,” “it’s great to have you on the street,” and “thank you SO VERY MUCH for providing the neighborhood with the incredible gift of the HARVEST TABLE. It has been extraordinary!” Most of the notes came from neighbors we’ve met in the past three months. A little effort, a large impact.

In September, I threw a surprise party for Linda – the one she had described years ago. Kids played whiffle ball in the back yard, friends came stocked with crock pots full of hearty stews and soups, salads, and cocktails. Lucky with a warm evening, we laughed and shared stories as night fell and candles were lit. Random neighbors walking their dogs were invited up the steps to join us. “This is exactly what I’ve always imagined,” Linda whispered into my ear at dessert.

We value being together, something our buildings and public spaces should aggressively reinforce. Come out to the front yard, into the public, make eye contact and interact with a stranger. Take a chance and join us at the table.




2 responses to “Successful #PublicSpace, One Yard at a Time”

  1. Daisy & RM says:

    Awesome… I think you need a Summer Solstice Table, too. 😉

  2. We Minnesotans sometimes need a little help with the first step in connecting! Fantastic and thoughtful idea both for Linda and your community. Thanks for sharing.

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