Public Spaces As Meaningful Places

May 21, 2024

Last week, Nancy and I wedged ourselves between students in a small room at Gould Hall. We heard Amelia Kazunas present a 10-minute summary of her Capstone project. The project aimed to discover how Seattle residents convert wild spaces into meaningful places.

Following the public presentation at Gould Hall, she was grilled by peers and faculty members. She had used unconventional and informal research methods, but she held her ground against push back from faculty. “Some of my methods were not replicable”, she admitted to me later. “No other student went out knocking on doors to interview people about their experiences with little pockets of nature.”

Aspects of her project may not have met some of the more traditional standards in academia but she brought neighbors together to share knowledge and resources with each other directly and made many other urban residents aware of different ways to enjoy special relationships with nature.

Amelia’s project entailed collecting her research data, then designing a walking tour to share the highlights of each location and to bring people together to build community around her topic.

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First she gathered information while walking and searching the whole University District for green spaces used in some way, whether it be gardening, foraging or beautification. She attended work parties, knocked on doors, requested tours and made observations at 13 sites. (FECO was a site where she volunteered and observed!)

“I will probably return to the gardening project next to the 247-step staircase along NE 52nd Ave,” she told me. “Dennis, the only long-term resident on that block, felt like it was his responsibility to keep the nearby public areas looking nice for everyone who passes by. It’s a big endeavor and he can use volunteers. After our interview, he followed me down the road, pleading for some of my time to help water and weed!”

With the information she gathered, she put together a 2.5 hour walking tour, including many of the 13 sites, and invited peers, interviewees, neighbors and other locals to join her.

“I was nervous that no one would show up”, Amelia admitted. “But 13 people came and most stayed for the whole tour! I felt really lucky. People whose plantings I showcased showed up and answered questions about their projects. Everyone contributed their own knowledge to the walk. I think I showed everyone a new part of the neighborhood they had never seen before. We also gathered up a large bag of trash.”

At the conclusion of her tour, Amelia invited walkers to rest and partake of her homemade bread with lilac syrup (her first time making both treats). She handed out cards and asked the participants to write about their feelings or thoughts about the tour. Several participants went beyond the exercise and shared email addresses so they could keep in touch.

To complete her Bachelor of Arts in Community, Environment & Planning at UW, Amelia will complete a map of the meaningful sites in nature and produce a complete write-up of her project. And after graduation? She is interested in internships, full-time work and, of course, any gig to earn some spending money!


* long staircase along NE 52nd Ave, from 20th Ave NE to the Burke Gilman trail


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