Friday, January 8, 2010
A Great Good Place
Wouldn't you want to be in a community space that is full of people from every background, and from nations around the world? With people that are healthy and not so healthy, abled and disabled, with varied interests and talents and with a conglomeration of people outside of your normal safe place in the world? I suppose there are people in the world that don't want this but I do. There are a few places that meet this expectation and we happen to have one close at hand.
There is "friendly community shopping center" located in what is considered the "Eastside" of the Seattle area. This part of the region is known primarily for the wealth of its residents including one former CEO of a quite well-known software company. Nestled a few miles from Microsoft's campus is this amazing place called Crossroads. It was founded by Ron Sher, referred to as the Suburban Soul Man by Seattle Metropolitan Magazine. I wish for more such places. Crossroads sits 3 miles from the very high end shopping center that houses Neiman Marcus, Jimmy Choo, Louise Vuitton (if you don't know who these people are, good for you!), etc. etc. but in a very different neighborhood. The neighborhood has many languages, people with low or no income and multi-family housing living next door to middle class and upper middle class single family homes, all close to Crossroads. Sher, a committed environmentalist with a Ph.D. in agricultural economics of all things, was inspired by the notion of a "Great Good Place". The commitment behind Sher's work was the notion of a gathering place that welcomed "all comers from the prosperous to those with little or nothing to spend". I love this place. On any night of the week I want to stand up and cheer at the mix of people gathered in this great good place.
This is indeed a place of diversity. Yes, there are many people from a variety of cultures from around the world. There are also groups of young and older adults with developmental disabilities sitting with each other or BETTER YET with all kinds of people, playing games, laughing, talking, eating. There are great-grandmama's and papa's gathered together with friends or with family members. There are college students on their laptops tapping away or conversing with their equally focused friends. There are awkward middle-schoolers, too young to drive but finding a place on the bus route (and acceptable to their parents as a hang-out) and able to eat a meal together for less than six dollars. There are wheelchairs and walkers scattered amongst the crowd for various types of people. There is frequently a man buzzing around in his electric wheelchair, well known to the merchants and the "regulars". He is very physically and cognitively disabled and has great difficulty talking but he is completely comfortable in this community without an assistant or "aide" to follow him around. He watches the giant chess game for awhile, orders Mexican food which is prepared and brought to him in a way that he can eat it. He browses the bookstore, has an ice cream and ends up at the coffee shop.
The satellite library is always completely full, with computers available for all sizes and shapes of people. Recently I watched as a story hour unfolded with tiny toddlers gathered around. The story was in Chinese. Children of every background huddled together on the floor as the exuberant leader read in such a way that it didn't matter if you were one of the 3-year-olds that didn't speak Chinese. There is much to do. There is a second hand bookstore (oh yes!), retail shops and a mini-city hall with translators and answers to questions about public health, energy assistance and health insurance. There is funding and volunteers from Microsoft and United Way assisting with tax preparation for families in need and mostly lots and lots of fun. There is a stage with open mike nights, nights with tiny children playing violins bigger than themselves, bands and mini orchestras and nightly music from cultures around the world. The elderly put aside their walkers and lean on each other in a slow two-step. The children jump and chase and keep time with the flashing lights in their shoes. The two young adults with intellectual disabilities exchange a shy kiss as they push each other around the dance floor. Languages from around the world mingle with the smells from the food court. Indian, Thai, Greek, Mexican, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and more. I can have tika masala, bubble tea, pho and a baklava for dessert. All prepared by people for whom this food is their own and who are making a new life in another country far from their home. Everything is recycled. If it is busy the customers clean up after themselves. We share tables. We recognize the specialness of this great good place. Where is yours?