Arts & Culture

Design Month asks: How can Olympia grow and still be a people-oriented place?

Pedestrians and motorists make their way along the Columbia Street in downtown Olympia on Wednesday, May 1, 2019.
Pedestrians and motorists make their way along the Columbia Street in downtown Olympia on Wednesday, May 1, 2019.

What makes Olympia the place it is? What makes it Olympia?

Though some might toss off an answer such as “It’s the water” — which certainly seems to have an element of truth — most of us probably don’t spend much time thinking about our city’s spaces and places and how they affect us.

With the first Olympia Design Month, Olympians for People-Oriented Places is hoping to change that.

The citizens group — which aims to promote land use that creates both a thriving economy and a sustainable, walkable community —has put together a month of events to celebrate and spark interest in architecture and urban design.

“I think of urban design as a heading for the things we don’t notice but that influence how we behave and feel in a shared space,” said Janae Huber, a founder of O-POP, formed in 2015 to advocate for affordable housing and educate and inspire locals about public art, tiny houses and more.

“Do you want to walk places, or does something about the environment communicate that you should only drive? Do you find interesting things to look at?” she continued. “Is there shade to protect you from the sun, and are there awnings to keep you out of the rain? … Do you feel welcome?”

Design Month activities — designed to get locals asking those kinds of questions — kick off Friday with a reception and a screening of the acclaimed 2011 documentary “Urbanized,” which posits that citizen participation is the key to good urban design and more livable cities. The month also will include a self-guided architecture walking tour and presentations and discussions by architects, planners and other experts.

“We want to stimulate conversation about how Olympia can grow and still be a ‘people-oriented place,’ ” said Virginia Sorrels, an O-POP member and former city planner. “ ‘Urbanized’ is about very large cities, but the success stories it highlights emphasize human-scale urban design.”

“If you know that your dreams and intentions and actions are creating your city, you have a chance to be more intentional about it,” said O-POP’s Jami Heinricher, who is, along with Huber, the chief organizer of Design Month. “We are at a critical moment where it’s so important for us to really see what kind of city we are creating together.”

While O-POP aims to shape the future of Olympia, the city’s downtown is in many ways already an example of good urban design, Huber told The Olympian.

“I have always appreciated that Olympia has a working downtown,” she said. “It’s a place that was largely built prior to the mass adoption of the automobile, so it is an easy place to walk. … It’s our hub and our cultural center.”

Olympia Design Month

The monthlong event, organized by Olympians for People-Oriented Places, aims to spark interest in and discussion of how design affects our city, lives and neighborhoods. Events are free. Get more information and find out about affiliated events at

  • Opening reception and screening of the documentary “Urbanized”: 6 p.m. Friday, Capitol Theater, 206 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia
  • Downtown Gallery of Architecture: Through May 31 throughout downtown Olympia. Look for posters in the windows of more than 100 buildings downtown. Pick up a map and guidebook to 26 of these listings at Design Month events.
  • “How Buildings Happen”: 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, First Christian Church (Koinonia Hall), 701 Franklin St. SE, Olympia
  • “Elements of Design”: 7-8:30 p.m. May 10, Browsers Bookshop, 107 Capitol Way N., Olympia
  • “Perspective: Learning to Look at Buildings,” a walking tour: 1-3 p.m. May 11, KMB Architects, 906 Columbia St. SW, Suite 400, Olympia, Advance registration is required; email
  • “Design for Living: Residential Design and Neighborhood Texture”: 7-9 p.m. May 15, Temple Beth Hatfiloh, 201 Eighth Ave. SE, Olympia
  • “Envisioning Architecture” and closing reception: 7-10 p.m. May 17, Olympia Ballroom 116 Legion Way SE, Olympia