For the Love of a Place

Do any of you remember Quiz Kid Donnie Smith from the film Magnolia? His character was troubled by his past and obsessed with finding love and acceptance, particularly from Brad, the bartender with braces. In a moment of exasperation Donnie proclaimed “my name is Donnie Smith and I have lots of love to give” even as he struggled with where that love should be placed.

We all have lots of love to give and many including myself often struggle with where to give it. I think, even outside of romantic relationships, that finding purpose and fulfillment in our lives has everything to do with discovering the places where we have something unique to put into the world in a way that it will be accepted and valued.

For me the love I have to give is still not fully defined, but has something to do with creative problem solving, neighborhood living, ecological engagement, social justice, and buildings (and being a dad!). Inversion Design Build is my attempt to put a stake in the ground and say “This is What I Stand For” and invite anyone else who agrees to join in on the hard work of love-giving to your place.

Many places need love and my town is no exception. We live in an agriculturally based city of 100,000 people with a majority-minority population and a reputation that is entirely unrepresentative of reality. Our city is Yakima, Washington but could just as easily be any of hundreds of bread basket cities throughout the United States that are dearly cherished and misunderstood. In the time I have left in town, which is somewhere between one and forty five years, I am going to give this place as much love as I possibly can. I hope in its own way that my City loves me back but looking for that is probably the wrong way to go about living so I’m just going to get started and keep an eye out as we go.

Alright, so, Love. Love is an action (verb) and we might as well give the cliché a tacit embrace before accepting it and moving on. So what actions might love-giving hold for an architect with a penchant towards guerilla urban engagement? Lets start with downtown.

As a railroad city, Yakima once boasted a vibrant downtown with shop-lined streets, booming commerce and more than a few tall tales about rolling buildings, lost universities, shootouts, treaty induced tragedy, and enterprising settlers. Like many American cities the fate of downtown took a turn for the worse during the 60’s under the guise of ‘Urban Renewal’. Buildings were razed, parks paved over, trolley lines ripped up, and the once vibrant hub was spurned for the now more desirable suburban lifestyle. At one low point in the 80’s during the crack epidemic, downtown made national headlines for the level of violence and volume of illicit substances. They called it ‘The Hole’ and you can imagine how much love had been choked out of the place. Today the violence is much more manageable and there are a handful of new shops and businesses and even a Sunday farmers market but it would be a stretch to call the downtown ‘vibrant’. What is left in 2021 is a downtown that is struggling for relevance in a Valley that seems all too ambivalent about its fate.

But of course there is a flipside to this coin which is, that Yakima, unlike many of its neighbors to the West, North, or South, is both economically stable with a steadily growing population, and almost entirely undiscovered by the Work-From-Home techies, the Gorge Man-Boys, or the Funempoyed Mountain Hipsters that tend to shape places in their own image. So here we have a shot at creating a downtown where immigrants and indigenous can have a voice and an equity stake. A place reflective of those that pick the fruit, catch the fish, prune the vines and feed the hope that their children will live fruitful, long, and fulfilling lives. What might a place like that look like? I think its time we ask.

And so we are asking! This October 1-3 we are taking over the streets of downtown Yakima and making space for anyone from our Valley who has love to give in the form of music, art, wares, food, activities, or dialogue. Rather then a ‘central plaza’, we are creating a loop with many edges, a handful of corners, and something to discover around each bend. The loop is complete, meaning you can park somewhere, anywhere, enjoy the whole thing, and then end up back at your car without ever worrying that there is ‘not enough parking’. The loop is also full, but with room to spare in a near-mythical concoction of urban alchemy. Maybe I can write up how this works in a future post but for now it will remain a secret.

If you happen to be in Yakima around these dates, I encourage you to come downtown and walk the loop. Its only a mile. If you are from the Yakima Valley and want to carve out your corner on the loop, give us a call! We will be sure to make space for you.

The Mile Loop is one event, but love-giving is more than a one-and-done affair. In order for love to last it must be given places to take root and grow so we are also focused on buildings. In the past, a shop front with an apartment above was the standard building typology for town-building. It presented a face to the public and invited others to sidle along and build next to it to increase the draw to that particular spot. This was not a ‘regulated’ construction type, it just made sense because it was the simplest easiest well-known way to start and to grow a community. As it turns out human nature has not changed that much in 150 years so the same building types that worked well for town building in the 1800’s still work today. We are reviving the shop-front settler logic and developing 16 live/work units at the southwest corner of our downtown loop. We are building the units to be as affordable as possible and selling them to residents who are from our Valley and have love to give in downtown Yakima. We hope to have more to come but this is the first one I can share and we are very excited about it.

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