Creating community

Local DIY communities take things back to the way they used to be, create community along the way
The term DIY evokes a certain image. A person hunched over a circular saw, cutting wood to make their fence. Someone googling what to do when things go wrong, and their project has gone awry. Or the triumphant grin of a person who has created something with their own two hands.DIY has had a resurgence in the past few years. As interest has grown, many different resources have opened or gained popularity throughout Seattle. As people seek out DIY resources, communities are being built and enhanced. In many ways, they’re returning to the way things used to be.

The Seattle Free School | Sharing trades the old way

dallyJessica Dally started the Seattle Free School five years ago when she realized Seattle didn’t have any resources like that available.“When I saw Olympia Free School I thought that would be a great thing to be a part of sort of a bigger group of people where you can share your skills or take a class,” Dally said.

The school offers a diverse curriculum of classes, from crafts to improv to life skills. Professionals sometimes use the school to test out classes for the first time that they plan to charge for.

“They’ll often use Seattle Free School as a way to kind of vett through the class for the first time for free and we totally encourage that because we get a free class,” Dally said.

There have been people who take their classes with the hopes of passing the skill-sets along to others. When Dally taught a soap making class, a man from an island in Asia attended with the hopes of taking the knowledge along back home. He was hoping create a “sustainable enterprise” by selling them to tourists.

“I thought that I would teach [people] how to make soap, not that I would teach [them] so that you could go to other places and teach other people,” she said.

As the name implies, at the Seattle Free School classes are free. And in fact, the non-profit’s only overhead each year is the $10 spent to host the website. Everything else is free or donated. The teachers receive no pay. Dally said teachers have different motivations for volunteering their time. Some want to be become better at public speaking or figure out new ways to present information. Most want to give back to the community.

A lot of classes take place in coffee shops, libraries or community centers. Some take place in less conventional places, like a class on fixing car brakes that Dally taught in her carport.

Screen shot 2012-12-06 at 9.20.00 AM Reaction to the Seattle Free School has been great, Dally said. Her favorite reaction came when an elderly gentleman read about the school in the paper. He called Dally and told her that he was ecstatic because that’s how things used to be.Dally doesn’t record the number of classes they’ve had, but she knows that it’s in the hundreds.Seattle Free School has brought Dally a lot of personal opportunities, some of which have been financially beneficial.“A lot of times in life what comes to us isn’t a direct benefit,” she said. “It benefits us in ways we wouldn’t expect.”

Phinney Neighborhood Association | A more efficient community

Housed in a turn-of-the-century schoolhouse, the Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA) has been offering classes and resources for the past 32 years.

outside3 “During these 32 years we’ve just added more and more programs and classes and events,” said Alex Eckardt, marketing director at the PNA.The PNA is also home to a large collection of tools as part of their tool library.The library, which started 30 years ago, is filled with tools that PNA members can rent. Most of the tools have been donated by the community throughout the years.patrick
Patrick Dunn, program director at the PNA said the library was started with a community block grant. It was one of the first generations of community tool libraries. The libraries were popular at first Dunn said, over the years they faded away and only a few have remained. Recently, they’ve started to gain popularity again.

For a weekly rental, they charge what a commercial company would charge for a day. Even though there are prices attached to the rentals, Dunn said, it’s merely a suggested donation. Some people don’t pay anything and other’s pay above and beyond the price to help support the library. This payment system allows people on a tight budget to still be able to take on DIY projects, Dunn said.

toolsign Dunn estimates about 100 people use the library each month. It’s this community aspect that’s one of the most important parts of the resource, he said.“I think this encourages a little bit of a do-it-together spirit as well,” he said.

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This do-it-together form of DIY is gaining popularity, Dunn said.For Dunn, the efficiency of the library is a big draw. Instead of buying, housing, and maintaining a large collection of tools, people can access the library for tools that they would only use once or twice.“This is one collection that’s helping hundreds of people,” he said.

When Dunn was working at the West Seattle tool library, people rallied their neighbors together to clean alleys and build playgrounds.

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Dunn is proud that the PNA is a hub and has created a sharing economy.“We’re sort of better together than we are in our parts, so we [should] share things,” Dunn said.
DIY Seattle | Finding common interests in sustainability 

Edward Johnson began his DIY house blog for the same reason many people do, to share with friends and family. He and his wife had just bought a house and posted the progress they were making on their renovations.
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It was when he realized “he wasn’t crazy” and there were other people in the community interested in DIY and self-sustainability that the blog went beyond that. Now, DIY Seattle ranges between 15,000 and 30,000 page views each month.Johnson, a former mechanic, is a stay-at-home dad of three. Coming from a background where he was a jack-of-all-trades in auto repair, it only made sense to fix things around the house himself, to save money and for convenience.

“It’s just me,” Johnson said about the blog. “It’s hard to get people involved when it’s doing something.”

Despite getting a substantial number of views each month, Johnson said there isn’t much interactivity with his reader base on the site. He gets more feedback from his approximately 800 fans on facebook, but he feels a lot of ideas go unshared.

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There is no advertising on the site. Johnson does not make any money from it other than the occasional items, like fishing rods, which he sells under the sites “store” section.He posts when he can, working around birthdays, house renovations, and taking care of his kids. He doesn’t set goals regarding how often or how much to post.

“I think it would be considered a job that I had to do and then I wouldn’t do it at all,” Johnson said.Growing up in the South, Johnson was surrounded by family who grew their own food. One of the biggest topics on DIY Seattle is food supply. Johnson has kept chickens, rabbits, and quail to eat. He also buys dry goods in bulk.

“Ultimately people complain about the way government is ran and politics and big bag and big pharmaceutical and agriculture and they’re not going to do anything about it,” he said. “But at least the way I see it, you can go to the other end of that and go from the ground up.”

The family does eat pre-packaged foods occasionally and goes out to eat. When they go out, they go to local independent restaurants.

“We don’t live like it’s 1860 or anything like that,” he said. “We’re not extreme.”

Johnson doesn’t have any long-term goals for the site. He likes that it is something he can do in his spare time. He said he wants people to realize that it’s possible to be self sustaining and not rely on big corporations or pre-packaged food.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize what they can do if they try,” he said.

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