Building Kites, Fixing Bikes: How Greg Kono Started the West Seattle Fixers Collective
Greg Kono/CC BY-NC 3.0
Two big storms—first snow, then ice—hit Seattle in two days last month. 200,000 people lost power. Several major roads were cut off. A man riding an ATV was killed by a falling tree.
The next morning, branches and leaves littered Greg Kono's yard. Armed with only a pair of pruning shears, he braved the cold to tackle the mess. But before he could cut the tree limbs into a more manageable size, his shears broke: a little plastic piece that sat between the blades and the handle to prevent the shears from over-closing snapped off.
The following Thursday, he brought the broken shears with him to a three-story brick building not far from his house. The building, which was the Cooper Elementary School for most of the last century, bears traces of its scholastic history. Tall sash windows divide the brick facade into neat, even rectangles, and inspire visions of uniformed hordes of children playing hopscotch on the sidewalk outside. Today, the bricks house an artists' colony, a nature conservation organization, and a performing arts non-profit, all part of the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. Greg and his shears arrived at the Center that evening in search of a slightly more practical (though no less creative) offering—the West Seattle Fixers Collective, where he joined five other repair-minded people in a room full of tools, talking shop and fixing stuff.
Greg didn't intend to start an organization. He'd spent almost twenty years moving around the west coast: studying environmental design and sculpture, building traditional Japanese kites out of bamboo and paper, and designing exhibits at children's museums. A year ago, he'd just settled into a job designing exhibits at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle.
But one day last spring, a friend sent him an article about the New York Fixers Collective, thinking it sounded like Greg.
Greg grew up fixing stuff himself. His parents, two older brothers, and both sets of grandparents lived and worked together on a 25-acre farm in Sacramento. His grandparents had been in a Japanese internment camp during World War II and didn't have a lot of money. So, out of necessity, they'd always taught their children and grandchildren that you must repair and keep the tools that you have. His grandfather made furniture out of old produce boxes, beautifully put together.
In their free time, Greg and his brothers would hang out and tinker in the garage—his brother basically taught himself how to weld, making cool candle holders and welding holes in soup cans. Greg learned a lot by watching. Sometimes they'd make model rockets. "Luckily, we didn't blow our hands off," he laughs.
When he read about the idea of a collaborative repair community, he thought it sounded great. He'd been tossing around ideas about new projects for the Science Center. So he contacted the Fixers Collective in Brooklyn and started to dream of something similar in his neighborhood.
Serendipitously, at about the same time, he read an article about a do-it-yourself community closer to home: the West Seattle Tool Library, a Sustainable West Seattle project that collects and loans out 1,500 hand and power tools for everything from car repair to gardening, had just moved into a larger space at the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. Greg happened to be living in Youngstown, so all the pieces began to fit together.
In April 2011, he called Patrick Dunn, the manager of the Tool Library, to pitch the idea of a Fixers Collective. He imagined that the Tool Library might want to organize a collective themselves. When he described his vision, however, Patrick—who Greg describes as a "really optimistic, easy-going, gung-ho, ready to go type of person"—got really excited and suggested that Greg begin organizing it himself. Patrick said, "Do it! When can you start? How about you come next week to our farmer's market?"
Though initially overwhelmed by the idea of starting his own organization, he was inspired by Patrick's enthusiasm, and decided, "Yeah, sure, I can do this." He began working with Patrick and Micah Summers, another Tool Library manager, to get all their ducks in a row. It took a couple of months to get the workshop area and the tool library organized, so the new Tool Library and the Fixers Collective launched together last June.
Since then, they have been meeting every other Thursday and have fixed all kinds of things—two KitchenAid mixers, countless bikes, and even an antique dental drill. (If you're in the area, come on by—starting March 1st, every first Thursday will be a bike-themed fixing workshop.) Visitors are welcome to bring their own bikes for maintenance or repair, but they'll also be working on adding 18 speeds to an old fixed gear bicycle, so people can get comfortable with the tools without the fear of messing up their own equipment.
Fixers collectives inspire and incentivize people to repair. Greg explains, "I could do my own stuff at home, but you learn different approaches, different ways, when you see how other people fix things. And they encourage you, too."
The collaborative atmosphere kicked into gear when Greg settled in to repair the pruning shears he broke during the storm cleanup. He had planned to pound down the shears' rivets, drill a new hole, and bolt on a new piece of plastic. When Micah heard the plan, he said, "Why do all that work when you could just weld a piece on?" So they pulled out the welder and got to work. By the end of the night, Greg's shears were fixed.
This is the third post in a series of posts profiling collaborative repair communities around the globe. We're building a database of repair communities on our iFixit Teams page. Here is the West Seattle Tool Library's page. If you know of any repair communities you think we should write about, let us know.