Tell your Seattle stories about a meaningful place

Oct 27, 2023, 7:51 AM | Updated: 8:02 am

Stories in place...

Stories in Place is a new project from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods; personal stories may be submitted online in English, Spanish or other languages. (Courtesy Seattle Department of Neighborhoods)

(Courtesy Seattle Department of Neighborhoods)

Do you have a favorite place in Seattle that’s meaningful to you in some way?

If so, the city’s Department of Neighborhoods wants to hear from you about what they call “local places, past or present, that hold special meaning” as part of the Stories in Place project.

The Department of Neighborhoods is an eclectic part of city government. Staff manage Seattle’s P-Patch community gardens, the city’s historic landmark program and a community matching grant program to fund neighborhood improvement projects.

They also have been focusing lately on storytelling as a way of connecting the human experience of Seattle with physical places and locations. With this goal in mind, they have been collecting stories about Seattle from people for many years, and they routinely publish those stories on their “Front Porch” blog. They published about 90 such stories in 2022, and held a public event last November to celebrate the storytellers.

Stories in Place is a new initiative launched in September, and the deadline to submit stories is Friday, November 10, 2023.

Susie Philipsen from the Department of Neighborhoods told KIRO Newsradio that a “story” for this project can be thought of as something very simple and short. She says you don’t have to be an experienced writer, and you don’t have to worry about creating some kind of complex narrative.

“Folks sometimes get intimidated about writing it down,” Philipsen said earlier this week. “But our experience has been that when we commissioned people, or when we invite folks who don’t see themselves as writers or creators to make something, they make something beautiful that people in the public identify with.”

“And often they tell stories that help other people in the community feel less alone,” Philipsen continued. “So [people] feel more connected when they read things that are in everyday speech.”

You don’t even have to live in Seattle to participate, but the story or the feeling or the thought should relate to some specific place in the city. Philipsen says that could be a park, it could be a neon sign, it could be a particular business or some one-time concert or other special event.

Philipsen shared a few examples of Stories in Place entries that been received so far:

  • The meaning of a street corner where neighbors have gathered for years to share an annual block party.
  • A park where parents were invited by their 7-year old son to go birding, and where they’ve since been birding together as family for 20 years.
  • The Highland Park Improvement Club, because it is represents the past and the present as a way to socialize, provide mutual aid and have fun for the whole neighborhood.

Stories in Place submissions also don’t have to be happy stories – they can be sad or painful memories – because those can be some of the most meaningful stories of all. Stories can also be submitted in any language.

Susie Philipsen describes this an effort “to collect stories that have to do with places, but without a lot of boundaries around what that means” and so organizers have intentionally emphasized how easy it is to take part.

If the person submitting the story gives permission, some stories may eventually be shared on the Front Porch blog. Philipsen says that the submissions themselves will help drive what comes next as far as other uses for the stories, such as informing community gatherings or other special events.

Storytelling has been shown to be a powerful means of sharing human connections and transmitting history and values across communities and between generations, but this timeless human activity isn’t something one typically associates with government. Amongst other city agencies that deal with things like wastewater and law enforcement and building codes, does Stories in Place make the Department of Neighborhoods the most “hipster” of the public agencies in Seattle?

“The Department of Neighborhoods is really interested in talking to and having relationships with the community, so whatever that makes us, we welcome that,” Philipsen said. “And we just want to be in relationship, and we want folks to share with us because then we can share that with the city.”

The deadline to submit Stories in Place is Friday, November 10, 2023. The submission form is simple and easy to use, and it could be a great project for a classroom, senior center, scout group or other community organization anywhere around Puget Sound.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks here.

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Tell your Seattle stories about a meaningful place