As you may have already read I am often to be found walking the streets of Seattle. I am finding that it is the kind of city which wears its heart on its sleeve. Whether those streets are filled with around 700,000 Seahawks fans celebrating the winning of the Super Bowl (had to slip that in!) or more quiet expressions of the city’s cultural life, there is always something interesting to come across.
A frequently spotted sight has been ‘Little Free Libraries.’ I had never heard of these before being in Seattle, but when flying here at Christmas there was an article about them in the KLM flight magazine. So I realised it was a movement not just a Seattle ‘quirk’. It turns out they exist in many countries. Todd Bol in Wisconsin built one in 2009, as a tribute to his school teacher and book loving mother and from there has inspired a global community. People passing are encouraged to take, read and replace a book (either the same one or another) in an open hearted desire to keep books flowing and being enjoyed.
It is really rare to take a walk in Seattle and not pass by one. They vary enormously in shape, size and design – but all have been delightful, and very well made. I found this TV article about them, which tells the sometimes moving stories of a few of their Seattle owners (or stewards as the founder of Little Free Libraries like to call them). As this mentions Seattle counts as a literate city, and the map on the Free Little Libraries website does tell a story of these existing in perhaps the expected places. Having said that there seem to be only 5 logged in the UK – perhaps some of my blog readers there might want to get on on the act! But even in Seattle these libraries are being built through perhaps less expected routes too. It was great to see Arcade (a design and built environment organisation) advertising a workshop for high school students to work with designers to create their own libraries. It rather reminded me of a UK Creative Partnerships programme I was involved in where we enabled school pupils in Sunderland and Durham to work with architects to design bird boxes for the river banks, the results were just fantastically creative beautiful and original, and outward focussed.
Books aren’t the only delights to be tempted by when wandering around. This week, when out walking with a group the leader took us to see where the pavement/sidewalk verge beside two houses had been transformed. We were fortunate to be spotted by the artists and home owners (Nancy Mee and Dennis Evans) who kindly invited us in to see their garden and to talk about their inspiration behind the work, which was partly a response to the loss of 9/11 and named The Garden of the Souls. The gardens were open for all, but their house insurers are now insisting on ‘by invitation’ in fear of accident litigation. The sidewalk extensions have become even more important to them since that change, but were always a part of the work. By one of the houses is a Shinto style shrine, over 800 prayers get placed there a year by passers by and twice a year a ceremony is held to burn the messages and celebrate the importance of community with those who live near.
Another gift offered to those going by is the delightfully playfully environment that someone has created and tends for just at the side of the Burke Gilman Trail heading near to the Matthews Beach area. It changes with the seasons and weather – and is always a delight to pass. I love to go that way just to see what has changed since my last visit.
Many talk about the car obsessed nature of the USA, all these small interventions rely on the passion of people believing that foot fall is still a reality. I feel fortunate to be living somewhere that is celebrated, where the car is not always king. And even more fortunate that people want to connect with the unknown passers by through such creative means.
Do let me know when you have set up your own Little Free Library – I am looking forward to doing one so as soon as we live somewhere we are able to (the rental property has an annoyingly tall fence).