UW Today

October 12, 2011

Garden at Monicas Village Place grows a community

For four years, the garden at Monicas Village Place was no more than a dream and a Post-It note tagged to Evelyn Allens computer.

Today, though, the garden runs the width of a block at 23rd Avenue South and South Main Street in Seattles Central District. Its the centerpiece of a new low-income housing complex built by Catholic Community Services.

Daniel Winterbottom, a UW professor of landscape architecture, and 12 of his students worked with Allen, director of Catholic Housing Services Village Spirit Center, and a group of her residents, to design and build the 6,000-square-foot garden.

“I wanted a place where families could unwind,” said Allen, director of Monicas Village, which includes 51 apartments ranging from studios to three bedrooms.

Named after the mother of St. Augustine, Monicas Village houses people who have been homeless or are at risk of being so. Catholic Community Services wants to decrease homelessness via a package of support services that go with apartment rentals.

To rent an apartment, the person must first have a dream, indeed real desire, to change whatever prevents him or her from having a stable life. And a garden can be a place to encourage that desire, to reconstitute oneself and ones family, said Winterbottom, who specializes in therapeutic gardens.

The garden at Monicas Village includes three “rooms”: a play space with a rubberized floor; a gathering area with benches and cooking space; a quiet arbor tucked away at the rear.

To encourage community pride, pictures and quotations from well-known Northwest figures — people like jazz musician Quincy Jones — have been stamped onto brushed stainless steel pillars and planted around the garden. A map of the Central District with key African-American places such MLK Way and the Douglass Truth Library is painted onto the playground surface.

The garden has turned out well, but designing and building in a third-floor courtyard was a challenge, Winterbottom said. Nothing, for example, could be massively heavy because the garden sits atop a parking garage. And since watering must be done by hand, plants had to be drought-resistant. There also needed to be both communal and individual gardening space. A series of raised beds have been set aside for the community, and galvanized metal tubs have been assigned to individual residents.

Several months after the spring dedication, Winterbottom returned to the garden. Surveying the work, he said, “A house is a roof over your head. A home is a community, a place to encourage that desire for community and a place to nurture it.”