Pork sandwiches and beer in a garden in an empty downtown lot? And next to them, a folk concert tent next to a farmer's market next to a play park for your dog next to boutiques and cafes in shipping containers?
Tactical urbanism, baby, and it's hitting East Village right in its eyesore heart at Park and Market.
I've been passing this block-size patch of wasteland for months, years, so long I hardly notice it any more.
Seems it has been held in limbo because no developer has the cash to invest in a mega-project right now. So the City, which owns the land, can't sell and won't rent out space if you can't buy the whole deal.
Until now. Until Philip Auchettl, David Loewnstein, Adam Jubela, Jason Grauten, and, yes, Bob Filner started thinking outside the proverbial box. The first four guys are all grad students from NewSchool of Architecture right across Park Boulevard who had this idea: why not make a pop-up temporary park and social gathering place with converted shipping containers to house cafes and shops, a beer garden, and provide spots for food trucks — the first leaders of tactical urbanism — to come and go, then add an actual park for walking all those dogs East Villagers seem to have, plus a venue for concerts, so EV peeps can have an actual social place to go, congregate, escape the whole grid life of downtown? And be prepared to up-stakes as soon as the City finds a serious buyer for the land, and take the roadshow to the next vacant lot?
The idea has taken. Pipe-laying ditch-diggers are out churning the ground and shipping containers have been lowered onto the gravel, and you can see something's about to pop.
Just got hold hold of Philip Auchettl — Aussie, turns out — one of the four NewSchool students turning this crazy pie-in-sky thesis into honest-to-goodness hard-nosed reality.
"It's an experiment in flexible temporary urbanism," he says. "As soon as we went crowd-sourcing, we got $60,000 in 30 days through Kickstarter, just about all from locals. That's when we knew we were onto something."
Of course it has taken way longer and cost a lot more than what they laid out to their thesis prof. "Our original idea was to open it on our graduation day. That was a year ago."
And the budget? Up towards the half-mil mark, so I heard.
But along the way they inspired powerful backers, including Mayor Bob Filner, and then Todd Gloria and now Kevin Faulkoner.
So that first cup of coffee? I see Meshuggah Shack Coffee already has their banner up. "We're hoping for a soft opening January first," says Auchettl, "and then the grand opening sometime in February."
But will East Village actually come?
"Well, first thing we did was put up a questionnaire on the hurricane wire fence, 'What do you want here?' We got 1,000 responses written right there in a few days. Okay, some wanted a stadium, one guy wanted a snake pit, but whatever, we tapped into a huge energy and excitement out there. We're giving them what I think most wanted."
So hey: Bottom-up designing! Is this a new democratic day or wot?
More on this when I get that first cup of coffee.