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Possibility Potlucks & "What if" Stores

Every day I walk by empty storefronts and I imagine. I can't help it. Unused space, like a blank canvas, invites wonder. But unlike the single dimension of a canvas, space prompts community, interaction. But, that pesky "For Lease" sign and its anonymous phone number reminds you that, though you walk by something everyday…it isn't yours. You can’t enter till it’s “Open for Business.” You have to wait till it's cooked, finished, ready…

Yet, as a community, we are curious about unused spaces, ready for them to open to us. We want empty storefronts to be filled with a new nook, a place to peruse, a space to share again.

When I walk by these empty places, I moved to do two things: 1. Ask, "What if…" 2. Throw a dinner party. (I have this reaction to most stimuli.)

I think these are best done together. And, with neighbors.

–PROPOSAL– I propose a series of community potlucks and "What if…" art installations in empty storefronts to prompt shared dialogue about what these places might be next. These possibility potlucks & installations would spur neighborly interaction, and potentially, local business. (How many aspiring business owners are in our neighborhood that would take the leap if they knew people wanted it?!)

Where? I live at the intersection of Ravenswood and Lincoln Square, in the bubbling up (but awkward) northern Damen corridor. It is best to start with the places you know and the people you'd like to know better. There are multiple storefronts on Damen waiting to be filled, but three stick out in particular between the Damen Brown Line Stop (4700N) and Lawrence (4800N).

This idea has been brewing for a while, but after talking with several business owners nearby, I know we are ripe for something wonderful (and whimsical) in my ‘hood. Most recently, a conversation with the Orange Beautiful (letterpress/graphics) owners made me realize we have the collaborators, we just need a catalyst. The Awesome grant could be that catalyst.

–ABOUT ME–

I work best at intersections. I bring people together. I believe in the power of place.

Quick facts. I... –Work at a sustainable design/urban planning firm–Perkins+Will–making better places for communities to learn –Studied social/urban policy at Northwestern –Take pictures of my feet wherever I travel –Work with the Healthy Schools Campaign, Jane Goodall Institute, 826Chicago, Starting Bloc, and a network of collaborators in the design and non-profit worlds –Tweet. Find me at: melaniekahl & perkinswill_edu

Funded by Chicago, IL (September 2011)