“Unsightly.” Exactly how the Seattle Design Commission captures the essence of partially constructed or vacant city lots. 

One of the many unfortunate aspects of an economic recession is a city peppered with vacant and underused lots, which can make getting development going in that area difficult, not to mention that it can pose safety or security risks for neighbors.

So, in walks the design commission’s Holding Patterns effort and proposed rules from the Seattle Department of Planning and Development.

The city’s planners have drafted hopeful legislation to allow temporary, active uses in areas not otherwise zoned for it. To give people ideas as to what these active uses could—or will—look like, the design commission held an open casting call for the Holding Patterns program, enlisting ideas from the public on how to transform sites.

The commission then selected 13 finalists in late June from the 83 total entries. The commission says it doesn’t aim to hand out awards and call it good or divvy out grant money, but rather partner top-quality ideas with groups and organizations that could actually make them work. A novel attempt to encourage proactive uses in unsightly locations.

The commission says, “The ideas for how to temporarily use stalled project sites covered a broad gamut and it was clear that people had gone to amazing effort to think through and put down their ideas.”

So, what are some of these great community-minded space-filling activities? How about:

• A community rink complete with street hockey.

• A parkour park. You may ask what that even is. It turns out to be: “Parkour is the art of overcoming obstacles effectively and swiftly using only our bodies. Fundamentals include running, jumping, crawling and climbing … to pass over, under, around and through obstacles that we naturally encounter.” Got it?

• A futsal/soccer court. Again, let me define: Futsal is basically mini-soccer.

• Video projection surfaces for entertainment.

• A multi-purpose public event space designed for neighborhood theater.

• Blackboard installation to encourage, well, I don’t know what exactly it encourages, but it would have a lot of blackboards, I guess.

• The installation of sails and lighting. Apparently this will be quite artsy, at least according to the renderings and photos that I’ve seen. It is underwhelming, but it sure does beat just a plain slab of concrete.

• Use the space to serve as a temporary “canvas” for graffiti. (Like it doesn’t serve that purpose already).

• Sites for mobile film and food stations. Now, I do like the food part here. People do tend to congregate positively around quality food vendors.

• Home for transient urban farms for produce stalls and food carts.

• A Community food garden. I guess this works if you tear out some concrete or build some raised beds.

• Live, improvised audio performances.

I am still a fan of some of the 13 honorary mention ideas, such as a climate-controlled, vegetated, transportable bubble structure (does your city have one of these fancy contraptions?), a greenhouse for elementary school kids or sculptural plywood shapes with LED lighting as urban furniture. After all, we could use something to sit on while we munch on food from this roaming food vendor.

While the list itself may not be entirely earth shattering, at least it gets things going in the right direction. Just as the commission says, these vacant lots or unfinished holes in the ground can be particularly troublesome in business districts or otherwise high-activity areas such as downtown and city center neighborhoods.

You can only applaud Seattle for attempting to take a step in the right direction to get some design and active use into spaces that otherwise sit static. Let’s see if they can get the community to take hold, at least until some real building gets going. Plus, good food counts as a bonus.

To check out the lists and more information on some of the ideas yourself, check out: www.seattle.gov/dpd/Planning/Design_Commission/Overview/DPDS017625.asp.