Another Capitol Hill Block Party has come and gone, the smashed beer bottles have been swept away, and the crowds that clamored to see ODESZA and CHVRCHES have dissipated. For some, CHBP was just another weekend of Capitol Hill bar hopping; for others, it was a sad reminder of the way neighborhoods and cities are changing here and across the country.
“This was a neighborhood for freaks, and that was dope,” said Alana Belle, a black woman who grew up in the area and now works on Capitol Hill. Over the years, the people she has seen on neighborhood have changed, and not for the better. “I would argue that it’s not as safe for the LGBTQ community as it used to be.”
Belle is a CHBP veteran, and said that she comes to the festival to support her friends, particularly other artists of color. Belle and her friend Ola Rae came out to support Porter Ray on the second day of the festival. “It was so dope to see black people on stage,” said Belle.
Capitol Hill Block Party is about the music, of course. And also dancing and partying. Political and cultural awareness isn’t necessarily part of the recipe. In some Block Parties past, politicians and candidates have taken the main stage through the weekend in an effort to reach younger voters. In 2016, organizers said they were unaware of any political appearances during the weekend. The biggest statements on race and privilege may have happened around the corner in a special Black Lives Matter edition of the Badwill Market at the Rhino Room.
How aware partygoers CHS talked to said they were of the neighborhood’s issues with change and affordability depended on who they were and where they came from. Friends Lety and Alicia have both been to CHBP before and used to visit Capitol Hill frequently. Neither is worried about gentrification. Lety said she did not think the gay community, artists, or minorities were being pushed out of the area.
Alicia was aware of the issue but unconcerned. “I’ve heard that it’s getting gentrified, I’ve heard people bitching about that,” she said. While Alicia said she has no firsthand knowledge of it, she does remember being stung by the area’s development when she went apartment shopping on the Hill and was asked to “pay $4000 for some shitty hole in the wall.”
Jeff Dunn, who frequents Capitol Hill on the weekends to hit the bars, also said he was unaware of any change in the neighborhood. Dunn said CHBP felt about the same as any other weekend spent bar hopping, with a bit of music thrown in to break up the drinking.
Nick Dominski had a different take. “Gay people are definitely getting pushed out,” said Dominski, who lives in the U District and, like Dunn, visits Capitol Hill on the weekends for the bars and the shopping. Dominski acknowledged that as a white gay person, he has a much easier time than people of color in Seattle. Even with that privilege, Dominski said he has unquestionably experienced homophobia on the weekends in Capitol Hill. “I definitely feel safer in the places that are specifically gay,” said Dominski. By and large, however, Dominski said that CHBP attendees “have been pretty good.”
Those who were aware of the communities being excluded from Capitol Hill thought something should be done to stop it, though they were not clear on what. “Overall, the development is not good,” said Dominski. “There’s definitely something they can do to stop it, but I don’t know what.”
Travis Spanu traveled from Portland to see the festival. Spanu said that while he has not heard too much about the communities being excluded from Capitol Hill, it is something he believes is happening all over the country. “Lots of people are getting pushed out in cities in general,” said Spanu – in Portland, Spanu said communities from lower socio-economic backgrounds are getting pushed out of the East Side. Spanu suggested rent control as one way for the cities to protect communities getting pushed out of their neighborhoods.
Belle said that the gentrification of Capitol Hill was being mirrored in the Central District, and while she thought both were tragic in her mind what was happening to the CD was even sadder. “You go in the Central District and there’s white people everywhere,” said Belle. “The black people who built their lives there are getting pushed out. It’s not for us anymore.” She agreed with Spanu that this was happening across the country.
“The question isn’t, ‘What can the city do about it,’” said Belle. “The question is, do you want to do anything about it?”