Three City directors participated on Monday in a tour of neighborhoods facing pressures from growth and gentrification as property values in Seattle continue to rise. The tour was organized by Yesler Community Collaborative partners to introduce the new director of the Office of Planning and Community Development, Sam Assefa, to these historic communities and brief him on crucial issues the neighborhoods are facing.
Assefa was accompanied on the tour by Office of Housing Director Steve Walker and Office of Economic Development Director Brian Surrat. The directors, along with several City staff members, visited the Chinatown-International District, Little Saigon and the Central Area.
The afternoon tour began with a stop at the Chinatown-International District Community Center where Maiko Winkler-Chin, Executive Director of Seattle Chinatown International District PDA, provided background on the area and led a discussion on the best uses of large parcels of land in the public realm as the city’s population increases. “We know that, of the parcels owned by the City or County, none is truly ‘surplus’ land. However, we need to ask ourselves in each case, ‘What is the highest and best use of this property as our neighborhoods grow and change?'” she said.
The group then traveled by van through Little Saigon (stopping at 12th and Jackson to discuss development on that corner) and Yesler Terrace. The tour concluded at Midtown Commons, 23rd Ave and E Union. The group was hosted here by Black Dot, a culturally responsive community for Black entrepreneurs. Discussion centered on the development taking place at 23rd and Union, including the Liberty Bank Building, Africatown and Midtown Commons.
Among the speakers at this stop were Andrea Coupain, Executive Director of Centerstone, and K. Wyking Garrett, CEO of Africatown. Garrett reflected on the importance of the business and culture at this particular intersection of 23rd Avenue and East Union. “Which way this corner goes…” he said, “will determine how this city goes. This is the last property of this size in this community. We want it to reflect our vision of a thriving community that brings everyone’s assets forward, one that reflects creativity and innovation normal to this culture. We want Seattle to be a first class city, not a one-class city.”
As the tour concluded, City directors reflected on the value of the on-the-ground knowledge and awareness they had gained. Assefa noted, “It is incredibly valuable to meet community leaders face-to-face and learn from them.”
Office of Housing Director Steve Walker observed that for equitable development to really work, it has to take place in partnership with the community. OED Director Brian Surrat echoed those thoughts. “We are here, and we are committed. It’s hard work to bring policy, community energy, real financial resources and pragmatism to bear on these opportunities. But I believe it is possible. We can be a model of equitable development for other cities.”
In addition to the Yesler Community Collaborative consultant team, staff members from InterIm Community Development Association, Chinatown-International District PDA, Africatown PDA, Capitol Hill Housing, and Centerstone, along with that staff from OPCD (Steve Shain, Michelle Chen, Quanlin Hu) participated in planning and hosting the tour.