Unearthing a Community Asset

Blog Author Ann Flannigan

Written by: Ann Flannigan

Published: September 9, 2016

Found in: News/Press

Sometimes it takes an outsider to help you see the assets you possess.

I knew that our empty, weed-riddled corner lot in Seattle's U-District was a valuable credit union asset because of what it will one day become: a modern, state-of-the-art new branch for our members. More on that in a minute.

But I didn't know how powerful a community asset it could be as-is. To help us see that, we needed University of Washington graduate student, Britton Shepard. He was a student in Landscape Architecture this spring when he asked if he could use the lot for his thesis project. Britton wanted to explore the land in its nearly-abandoned state, document what was there and share the entire experience with others.

"You want to do what?" I asked when we spoke by phone. This clearly wasn’t your typical credit union partnership.

Britton told us he hoped to bring a team of students, community members and credit union employees together to dig in the dirt and explore the site at its moment of transition between what it was and what it was going to be. He talked about the secrets underneath the soil and the chance this would provide to examine the ordinary and celebrate it by turning their findings into a “garden” to open up to the public after their week of work.

While this request was far afield from our day-to-day work helping members achieve their financial goals, we saw something in Britton’s proposal – and his passion – that aligned with our views of community. So, we said yes. We shared the lot with Britton. Cooperatively. After all, pooling and sharing our assets are at the roots of the credit union movement.

The week-long project brought the neighborhood together. Students, residents, workers – even homeless youth – were invited to watch and participate. They came to the open house on the last day to see what was uncovered. Turns out there are all sort of secrets in the land if you look closely. They curated their findings like a museum would. People arrived curious to see the work and enjoyed connecting with other U-District neighbors as they explored the site.

WSECU was able to talk with them about what’s next for the lot and share details about the building coming in 2018, including describing the community space that’s included and the pedestrian-friendly design.

Sometimes it’s the most unexpected partnerships that bring about the best results. Take a look at this short five-minute film we made of Britton Shepard’s project. And if you’re walking by an empty lot some time, slow down to examine the ordinary. There’s a lot of beauty there.

Ann Flannigan, VP Public Relations