Wednesday night I attended the first public hearing for reimagining Seattle Center for the next 20 years. Though I was skeptical at first, being one of the few dozen or so folks there not affiliated with the work thus far, and not to mention me being one of the few individuals under the age of 40, I liked what I saw.
Just to recap how the public hearing was organized, when you first enter the Lopez and Fidalgo rooms at Seattle Center there is someone there to greet you as you sign in. They give you a quick overview of how the evening will proceed -- there are stations throughout the room for public comment, volunteers who have helped with the process thus far will be at each station to talk with you about your ideas, a brief presentation will occur halfway through the evening, and the overall goal is to gather as much public input as possible. Essentially this was how Collaborate! was organized, though this iteration put forward by Seattle Center seemed to take it up a notch.
At each station, Seattle Center provided a backgrounder of the topic area (transit, events, specific buildings, etc) being discussed at that station. A map of the center, with the related parts highlighted as appropriate, were presented alongside any conceptual images that may exist. In the case of a revised theater district on Mercer Street, concept images of a revamped Intiman and Reparatory theaters were presented. Additionally at each station there were questions posted on a large sheet (about 10 feet high and 4 feet wide) for people to place note cards as responses to the questions. Participants could also take a dot to voice support for an existing comment if they so chose. The questions typically followed the same pattern -- what draws you currently, what would you change, and other.
In terms of the volunteers at each station, not only were they intimately knowledgeable about the topic area at hand, but they would help flesh out suggestions from participants. Sometimes the volunteers would actually write down the ideas described by the participants themselves. While this may seem to be antithetical to the notion of having the people submit their own words into the process, from what I was able to see / overhear, the volunteers were very good at ensuring that the words captured on the cards accurately reflected the intent of the participant. This leads me to believe this method of data collection was not so much as to serve as a filter as it was to help capture the ideas of people who might not be able to write for whatever reason. To some degree this may have also been used to help standardize the handwriting so it would be easier for people to read.
All in all, I liked the event. That being said, there is always room for improvement. First and foremost, food and beverages should be available at meetings of this nature. Given the time of day (5:30 - 8:00 pm) this might help keep people engaged and alert. Also, it would be great to have (and this may be in the works already) each of the "stations" appear as separate blog posts to engage people online. Following on the theme of technology, what about having interactive kiosks with webcams and or sound recording (think podcasts) for people to give their feedback and thoughts about the work thus far? A recent PBS documentary did something similar to this. In a way it's similar to the work of StoryCorps or Densho. These means of recording (video or audio) could be something stationary or it could be more mobile to get a wider range of participants. Also, folks may want to consider posting the video footage and still pics of the event online. Using existing services like Soapbox, YouTube, Flickr or the like would be fine to help implement it quicker, and also it enables it to be spread throughout a wide variety of blogs (mine, for example, but hopefully some with more traffic -- lol)
Anyway, thanks to all the volunteers who helped last night. And thanks to all who planned the first public hearing. Even though I get the sense that the next meeting will be similar, I look forward to attending. Don't worry, I won't try to skew the data towards things I already voiced support for -- multi-seasonal amphitheater for more intimate music and entertainment performances, a farmers market, more walkable, more bikeable, transit hub, etc. Instead, I hope to have more ideas fleshed out around this notion of helping to make Seattle Center a "first date kind of place." (My thanks go out to Karen Keist who helped me think of it during our discussion of open space at the center). I should have more ideas around what this actually looks like at the next meeting.
For additional coverage, check out Seattle Center's blog, or the KOMO-TV Report