First Hill Forum has hopes of sorting out what neighborhood is — and what it could be

Crossing on First Hill (Images: Alex Garland for CHS)

Crossing on First Hill (Images: Alex Garland for CHS)

Capitol Hill rarely gets lost in the shuffle. Many of its issues — and opportunities — are well known and well communicated all the way to City Hall. Its next door neighbor First Hill has never quite amassed the same sense of communal spirit. But now the First Hill Improvement Association is looking to change that by gathering residents and community members together for the inaugural First Hill Forum on Saturday, March 22nd — an event designed to gauge the make-up of its denizens, determine what matters most to them, and then start the job of reshaping the neighborhood for the better, organizers say.

“We want people who work here to come, people who live here, people who come here for medical services -  everyone,” said said Mary Ellen Hudgins, president of the community group. “We’re really looking for a broad perspective of what First Hill is, and what it can be and should be for everyone who lives here and comes here.”

Hudgins hopes that the event will be the first step in many in raising a level community awareness. Already, Hudgins has seen dozens of new people expressing interest in volunteer work. She hopes that this momentum will result in a renewed sense of neighborhood solidarity.

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Recent measurements put First Hill’s residential population somewhere north of 11,000 people. Its worker population during the day — and night, thanks to the many medical facilities in the neighborhood — likely dwarfs that. Residents are more likely to be single and, on average, earn much less than the typical Seattleite.

“We are in the process of reorganizing and assessing our organization,” she said. “We have received support from the city on a couple of grants from the Department of Neighborhoods and the Office of Economic Development, and the focus of the work that we’re doing is to come up with a vision and a strategic plan for the organization. So we thought that the first step should be outreach to the First Hill community to determine what they’re concerned about and what their issues are.”

“This is one of the ways of being a part of the community and investing in First Hill’s success,” said Ryan Ceurvorst of Stockbox Groceries. The grocery store is a relative newcomer to the neighborhood after debuting at 9th and James last summer.

“We differentiate ourselves from traditional grocery stores is a strong focus on community connection, so we’ll be there to talk about Stockbox, let people know who we are and what we do, and letting people know that we’re a resource for fresh food in the community,” Ceurvorst said.

The FHIA is also trying to reach people who might not be up for attending the forum. The group has put together an online survey to help determine which issues matter most, such as the ongoing construction of the First Hill Streetcar, improving walkability and mass transit access, the development of additional parks and open spaces, and other topics relevant to members of the community.

“We’ll take what we learned from the forum and the survey and put it together to create a long-term strategic plan on how to make First Hill the best neighborhood in the city,” said Hudgins. “Transportation has been a huge concern for people, and issues related to transportation like parking is an increasing concern, so that’s what’s currently on the drawing board.

In addition to levying the opinions of the neighborhood to determine a long-term agenda, the FHIA hopes that the forum will also serve to inform residents of the amenities that they may have overlooked right in their own neighborhood. To help raise awareness of what First Hill currently has to offer, 15 local businesses and organizations such as Stockbox, Swedish Medical Center, and Historic Seattle will be present at the meeting.

Hudgins says part of the plan is to get ahead of change and growth coming to the area.

“Other things that we’re concerned with is planning for density, as we’re on the city’s drawing boards for being even more dense than we currently are,” she said. “So we want to know what the means for open space, safety issues, and so forth. We’re trying to be proactive rather than reactive.”

You can learn more at firsthill.org.

First Hill Town Hall Meeting on Saturday, March 22, 2014, at 10 a.m.

Town Hall, 1119 8th Ave in the Great Hall. Please use the 8th Avenue entrance.

The Town Hall meeting will be an opportunity to let our city’s leaders hear your opinions and concerns regarding the current challenges and the future direction of the First Hill neighborhood. You’ll also hear from community leaders regarding the current status of major issues facing our neighborhood, including open space, commercial development, walkability, public safety, transit improvements, and much more.

Please see the Town Hall flyer below for more information.

Everyone from the First Hill community is welcome to attend. 500_FHIA_Flyer_2

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