Belltown Paradise/Making Their Own Plans
A double book edited by In the Field (Brett Bloom and Ava Bromberg)
With Contributions by Edie Adams, Glen MacGilvra, Carolyn Geise, Buster Simpson, Ken Dunn/Salem Collo-Julin, Dan Peterman, Christoph Shafer, Luke Cordingley, The Mobile City Farmstead team, and Stuart Cowan/Mark Lakeman/Jenny Leis/Daniel Lerch/Jan C. Semenza
Published by WhiteWalls 2004
Review originally published in Clamor Magazine Winter 2005 by Daniel Tucker
Brett Bloom and Ava Bromberg work together as “In The Field”, collaborating on public art projects and publications about the politics, realities, and potential of public space. Their most recent project is a two-in-one book project, entitled “Belltown Paradise/Making Their Own Plans”. The book(s) is a beautifully designed quick-read that stands out as a unique survey of citizen initiated space reclamation, public art and experimental urban planning. “Belltown Paradise” focuses on the story of a changing urban neighborhood in Seattle and the engaged artists and activists who live and work there. The book discusses the history of a community garden called the “p-patch”, local sustainable architecture initiatives and artistic interventions into the climate of gentrification and the need for public green space.
Belltown Paradise surveys the important eco-architectural public sculpture of Seattle artist Buster Simpson, a longtime resident of the Belltown area. This is the first time that Simpson’s work has been dealt with in this manner, showing the wide range of projects he has been a part of since the 1970’s.
The other part of this project, “Making their own plans”; shares stories of hope and struggle from across the U.S. and Europe. This book functions more like a tool-kit, collecting inspiring and often-instructional information about group process and organizational structure of various self-organized activist initiatives. City Repair, a broad-based coalition from Portland documents their street intersection take over projects called “intersection repairs” and other urban citizen-initiated public space creation, known as “place making”. “Can Masdeu” is a squatted social center and experiment in collective living on the outskirts of Barcelona. The residents of this former hospital are a collection of anti-capitalist environmental activists from all over the world that have gathered in this building to live together, grow food, hold retreats and conferences, resist eviction and build a temporary space for their own autonomy.
“Park Fiction”, based in Hamburg (Germany), tells of their decade-long struggle to preserve and develop a park in the low-income St.Pauli neighborhood. This initiative has managed to achieve concrete results, like getting the city to transfer its development budget into a neighborhood bank account for resident-controlled process and decision-making. They have also opened up a space for neighborhood solidarity even when material-change was caught up in city bureaucracy, by creating a space for utopian and experimental visualization of what could/might/should be built or created in the park and lot near the harbor. And finally, the Chicago based “Resource Center” tells of their 30-year long history of experiments with recycling and urban agriculture. Artist Dan Peterman, highlights a resource-center affiliated project from the 80’s on Chicago’s Southside where VW Buses buried in soil and manure from Chicago police mounted horses, were turned into temporary self-heating housing for the neighborhood’s homeless population.
This book project’s significance lies in it’s many potential audiences, including policy-making professionals, grassroots activists, interventionist artists on to urban planning students and teachers. The stories, and the groups who tell them, detail the crisis of public space and the possibilities of self-organized civil society to take the urban spaces we have inherited and make them truly ours.