Wednesday, August 6, 2008Last updated 12:49 a.m. PT
Life grows where death took root
Central Area P-patch groundbreaking is Saturday near sites of 2 shootings
By DEBERA CARLTON HARRELLP-I REPORTER
Residents in the Central Area, frustrated by recent shootings in their neighborhood, want to bring the community together around something upbeat: a new P-patch.
Neighbors plan to break ground Saturday on the long-awaited Spring Street P-patch, located on a city-owned lot near the sites of two separate, fatal shootings in recent months.
Though small – about 1,922 square feet – it is of huge significance, residents say.
"The P-patch has been in the works for almost two years, but has become more relevant and needed in light of the tragedies," said Christina Cummings, co-project coordinator with neighbor Mel Tomlin. "The shootings have given us all the more reason to make the garden a reality."
Scott MacGowan, who grew up in the Central Area and helped spearhead efforts to get the P-patch land, agreed. The death Jan. 30 of Degene Berecha Dashasa, a 31-year-old Ethiopian immigrant who owned the Philadelphia Cheese Steak restaurant, hit neighbors very hard, MacGowan said.
"He (Dashasa) was one of the initial donors to the P-patch; it really helped us build momentum with local business owners and the community," MacGowan said. A memorial to Dashasa, whose restaurant was at 23rd Avenue and East Union Street, may be included in the garden's design, he added.
Rey Alberto Davis-Bell, 23, was charged with first-degree murder in Dashasa's death.
MacGowan said the neighborhood has become safer since the shootings, which were within a three-block radius of the P-patch. But the tragedies spurred calls for more public safety – in part through increased understanding, respect and trust among the area's increasingly diverse residents.
In this, the garden plays a major role, residents say.
"We want this to be a unity garden," MacGowan said. "A lot of people ... didn't want to get involved, but I think that's changing now. … We want to use the P-patch to bring everyone together to talk about gardening, their different cultures – able to relate to each other better."
Choked with weeds and thick with 6-foot-high blackberry bushes, the lot will take substantial work to clear before a garden takes shape. Neighborhood volunteers will be joined by the Student Conservation Association, Reel Youth and goats from the Goat Justice League.
"It's pretty weedy, but it won't look like that after this weekend," said Rich Macdonald, P-patch program manager for the city of Seattle. "And in six months, it will be a great place for people to gather around – a real community-building place."
The Spring Street P-patch is one of 69 P-patches throughout the city, Macdonald said. Bolstered by an urban grow-your-own food trend, a hunger for open space and "people just wanting something good happening in their neighborhood," the number of such gardens has grown by two to five a year the past 15 years, he said.
"P-patches provide a lot of things for a community," Macdonald said. "Growing your own food is something that cuts across all classes of people; well off or not, they can put food on their table. But they also help provide green space that helps neighborhoods feel complete."
P-patch development citywide has been funded by the Department of Neighborhood's matching fund program. After the site was bought by the city for $185,000 in late 2007, at the community's urging, neighbors began planning, organizing volunteer efforts and fundraising to earn a $15,700 matching grant, awarded in March.
Contributions included cash as well as donated time from a local architect and surveyor – and volunteers.
Later work parties, Cummings said, will involve moving dirt, building a retaining wall, installing a water system and building about 15 plots.
"We're hoping," as Cummings put it, "to provide a space for people to come together to get their needs met … and give neighbors something to talk about besides crime and violence."
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Central Area neighbors are holding a groundbreaking Saturday to prepare a site for the Spring Street P-patch. Volunteers are welcome, but must RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The event is 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the corner of 25th Avenue and East Spring Street.
For details: seattle.gov/neighborhoods/ppatch/locations/55.htm
P-I reporter Debera Carlton Harrell can be reached at 206-448-8326 or email@example.com.