Sunday, September 29, 2013

Block Printing Class Was Fun and Community-Building, and Thoughts on Creating Privately Owned Public Open Spaces

  Jack Roger's free lino-block printing class left us all feeling like artistic successes. Conversation at times drifted to current Northeast Kingdom events, while our hands were busy creating interesting designs. Community classes fulfill one of our goals here, which is to provide a space for people to meet and strengthen their ties to neighbors.

   Although progress is slow, another good sign is that neighbors are dropping in for coffee and conversation or to use the computers. Of course, visitors are also coming in too to see the art. This makes for an interesting mix of people who might not otherwise use the same space, which is also a great way to strengthen community ties.

   We hope to prove that indoor public space can be an asset to the community, especially here in Vermont where six months of the year inclement weather precludes sitting around in a park.  Some communities are creating public-private partnerships to make this kind of space a reality. Have a look at the link below:

 This is 60 Wall Street in New York City. It's a POPOS (privately owned public open space). Occupy Wall Street used it for meetings during the occupation of Zucotti Park. Yes, some of the people sitting here quietly reading the paper, getting a cup of coffee or using the public bathroom may not have a fixed address. But every time I've been in there, everyone has been respectful and considerate of others rights.

   Third Place Commons in Lake Forest Park near Seattle, centered around a large bookstore, is another privately-owned public space I have visited. My daughter loved the giant chess set. From the pictures, it looks like it's getting a little ritzier than when we were there, but the idea behind these public places is that they are open to everyone and encourage events or
just hanging out. Wouldn't it be great to have a child's play place like they have in malls right in downtown Newport? One where you didn't have to buy your kid a Happy Meal to get in?  A place for mom's to take their kids on a rainy day, hang out, talk and have a cup of coffee?  Privately owned public places are a way businesses can contribute to strong communities, but are not just a charitable donation. These spaces encourage people to come and linger, possibly remembering something they need to get, which they wouldn't have if they had just made a quick trip in to buy something from the Pick and Shovel and then hopped in their car to leave again. Indoor public spaces also provide ideal locations for publicizing (and hosting) educational and cultural events such as art shows and plays. They are also great places for shopping-weary tourists to sit down and take a take a load off their feet. Kid friendly spaces would surely be welcome to these visitors!

   The new development downtown would be an ideal way to incorporate public open space into the community of Newport. It would also demonstrate to residents that the developers are seriously interested in the welfare of our area.

   For the time being, The 99 Gallery and Center will be open at least part of the day as a place for neighbors to meet and we will continue to offer free classes and events for the community. Our coffee pot is always on! We are looking for people with skills to share who are willing to teach a class and provide materials. All classes are free, though people sometimes may want to contribute something to the person teaching the class to offset costs. This is voluntary. The Gallery and Center does all the publicity.



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