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Bellevue neighborhoods finding connections in ‘third places’
When Crossroads Community P-Patch opened in 2009 in a space the shopping center couldn't develop, it quickly became a draw for the neighborhood. Residents planted the space with tomatoes, green beans and lettuce.
“It's amazing how much you can grow in a place that's five or six feet wide and 20 feet long,” said Ron Sher manager of the shopping center, back when the project first launched.
The Crossroad's P-Patch; Bellevue’s summer farmers' market; the Downtown Park. These are Bellevue's “third places,” anchors of community life, separate from work or home that foster social engagement. As Bellevue expands, neighborhood leaders and city officials are hoping to cultivate more of them.
“Where can you have a spontaneous meeting, sit down over a cup of coffee and connect?” asks Mike McCormick Huentelman, Bellevue's neighborhood outreach manager. “These are third places. [They can be] libraries, community centers or farmers markets.”
The dialogue, though not a new one, has been revisited as Bellevue updates its comprehensive plan, and as neighborhoods like Newport Hills and Lake Hills attempt to revitalize their commercial cores. For a city that has invested much time and money into its downtown skyline, “third places” can seem an abstract idea, but the net benefits are far-reaching, making for a more livable city, lower crime rates, even potentially healthier populations, says Milenko Matanovic of Issaquah's Pomegranate Center, which helped organize and construct the Crossroads P-Patch.
The city's growing diversity makes the need for such spaces, that much more critical. During neighborhood meetings in South Bellevue earlier this year, Huentelman recalls not only the standard concerns about home theft or residential traffic, but also talk of a growing Chinese population and neighbors' efforts to bridge a connection, despite language or cultural barriers. That, he explains, is where third places come into play.
“You can't programmatically insert third places into a community, cut and paste and hope it will work,” says Huentelman, “Behind every third place is somebody, or a group of people who've invested heart and soul and passion.”
In Newport Hills, Bill Pace's new farmer's market, operates not only as a fresh grocer, but as a desperately needed space for neighbors to assemble and meet. Heidi Dean, president of the Newport Hills Community Club (NHCC), says that brainstorming sessions with residents and city of Bellevue staff have helped foster ideas.
At the back of Pace's market, Dean says a small cafe serves as one example. In May, the community hosted its first Saturday Coffee Chat. Ideas have circulated of using the walls to showcase local art, donating books, board games and furniture to encourage folks to linger and socialize.
“Over the last 25 years, the currency around these issues has risen,” says Matanovic, who grew up in Slovenia, on a continent where every major city had a square, marketplace or soccer field, promoting conviviality and conversation. “Architects and planners now talk about place-making and finding gathering places. We've begun to link the design of neighborhoods to the health of neighborhoods.”
On NHCC's facebook page, residents dream big with computer-generated images of a P-Patch in front of what used to be a burger joint. In another image, trees surround a fountain and small plaza.
“At the end of the day, the people [of Bellevue] love where they live,” says Huentelman “and they want to connect on a local level.”