For the past couple of years, Spokane urban forester Angel Spell has been holding an informal coffee hour at Atticus on Howard Street every Monday afternoon. There is no agenda, no sign up sheet and no need to call in advance – that’s just how Spell likes it.
“I look at this like a professor has office hours: You can just drop in,” Spell said over coffee on Monday.
Different people with many different issues and questions join her.
“Of course I hope they have a tree-related issue,” said Spell, laughing, “but if they have any other issue with the city I’ll try and help them find the right person to talk to.”
She got the idea for the coffee hour when her schedule filled up with formal meetings, leaving little time to get to know local nonprofit organizations and neighborhood advocates. And she wanted to make it easier for residents to access local government.
“For some folks it’s a very big deal to pick up the phone and call City Hall,” said Spell. “Here’s an access point that’s nonthreatening. You can just stop by.”
Sometimes city staffers and elected officials join her. Sometimes landscape architects with specific problems or projects stop by. Sometimes it’s just kind of quiet, like it was this Monday when Spokane was recovering from its first big snow and few were out and about unless they had to be.
“I rarely get the average citizen,” Spell said. “I usually get someone who’s already involved in the neighborhood councils or active in the community in other ways.”
Spell said she benefits from the impromptu brainstorming sessions and project discussions that happen more easily over coffee than in a traditional meeting format.
“Sometimes I stay up really late Monday evenings because I’ve gotten so many good ideas here,” Spell said.
Not only has the coffee hour helped Spell develop her own community connections; she has also helped connect people.
“When I connect people, that’s when I really feel like I’ve been of service,” Spell said.