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Hill Wonk | Geography — and affordability — defines community of place

We’ve asked Zachary (Pullin) DeWolf, Vice President of the Capitol Hill Community Council, to contribute to CHS about community civics and politics on a semi-regular basis. If you’re an expert and want to share with the community in a recurring CHS column, we’d like to hear from you.

550190_10151496017543696_1846920479_nThe historic draw of Capitol Hill, its evolution into the nucleus of LGBTQ culture, is rooted in its mantle as a neighborhood that families moved away from. Housing was affordable, LGBTQ services were convenient, and jobs in downtown Seattle were close-by. Recently, however, our neighborhood is known for its skyrocketing rents, displacement of longtime residents, a sanitized culture, and rapid development.

When urban areas and inner-cities are “rediscovered,” with their high walkability and mixed-use development, naturally the complex and challenging conversation comes back to gentrification. Many Seattle neighborhoods see gentrification evolve over decades, framed as the revitalization of neighborhoods. On the exterior, it is positive, rapid growth meeting the demands of substantial population surge.

But, one person’s view of our neighborhood as revitalized may be another person’s characterization of our neighborhood as gentrified. Frankly, revitalization, reinvestment, or renewal of a neighborhood is not inherently bad, but unchecked gentrification challenges us to reflect on how our role in gentrifying a neighborhood transforms it, detrimentally.

Gentrification is a deliberate, calculated, and consumerist model of urban growth. Growth by way of gentrification, even with both real and perceived economic development and neighborhood revitalization, generates unequal benefits in our community and means the loss of the diversity that our neighborhood thrives on.

While many people believe diversity is good and right, collectively we don’t acknowledge how the gentrification we benefit from pushes out vulnerable and valuable populations.

Business leaders understand diversity’s importance for growth and prosperity of a company: diversity of perspectives, experiences, cultures, genders, and age produces innovation and innovation produces business success. Diversity is critical to thrive and innovate in a fast-changing environment.

Business understands the critical importance of diversity. So should our neighborhood.

Earlier this year, as a fellow with the Pomegranate Center, I learned an important lesson:

Geography defines community of place. When we draw the circle wide enough, it includes people with whom we have little in common – except physical proximity. Our future depends on finding ways to collaborate with people who have divergent viewpoints. Healthy communities transform differences among people into gifts.

Actively creating shared community, as opposed to passively perpetuating gentrification, means we invest in a strategy that grows and improves our urban areas for all. Shared community is revitalization without displacement.

One way we can all pursue shared community is by advocating for the livelihood of people whose lives are vastly different than our own. So, in pursuit of shared community, The Capitol Hill Community Council made a choice. Instead of our regular monthly meeting, we will attend the Mayor’s Housing Affordability forum Thursday night at the Garfield Community Center to listen to our community’s priorities and keep people at the heart of the growth and improvement of our neighborhood.

Thursday night, November 20th, Join us at 6:30 PM at the Cal Anderson Park Shelter House. We will walk with Central Seattle Greenways, similar to the Mayor’s Find It, Fix It walks, to support accessible pedestrian and bicycle routes by way of the future Denny Greenway to the Garfield Community Center to support affordable housing.

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8 thoughts on “Hill Wonk | Geography — and affordability — defines community of place

  1. Zach. I enjoyed your piece. I was the only paid staff of the Council in 1979 and we struggled against the gentrifications issues way back then. Some even got arrested at 13th and Republican. I ended up starting Capitol HIll Housing and lived on the Hill until 1994 (when I decamped to Astoria, OR for job reasons). And now have moved back to the Hill a few months ago. I am just glad to hear this voice in the community, and the progressive thoughtful voice of CHCC. Thank you.

    John Berdes

    • John, I live at 13th and Republican now (moved into an apartment here in 2005) and I’m really curious about the events you mention. Would you share more about this neighborhood history? Thank you.

  2. Do people remember what happened in the 90’s in Belltown? They drove out all the low income people and artists and people that essentially made the neighborhood diverse (and cool), and gentrified it. Later, after the bridge and tunnel people bought some of those condos for an insane amount of money, they realized they over developed Belltown and the value of condos dropped. Then came the seediness of Belltown. My question is though, can we not learn from our mistakes? Why is there this sense of urgency in “rapid growth” – can’t there be such thing as responsible development? I’d really hate to see Cap Hill become like Belltown.

    • How do you want to keep the low-income people? Rent control or more houses to reduce some pressure? I am happy at least some development happened in SLU and Belltown, but prizes are going up too fast and I am not sure how to keep rents moderately low.

  3. Thanks for your interesting article, Zach. Your distinction between “revitalization” and “gentrification” is especially provocative. But I don’t think “gentrification” needs to be a pejorative. If we can figure out a way to make housing more affordable (a very tough nut to crack), then gentrification is all good.

    • Yes, calhoun, gentrification may or may not be pejorative. I don’t want to be the arbiter of that distinction, but that is why I believe a new phrase, a new terminology, such as “shared community,” does a better job at defining growth and improvement in our neighborhoods. It’s revitalization without displacement (of people, cultures, ideas, and more!)
      And, also, I don’t believe just making housing affordable needs to be done with intention and does not give a pass for the swift hand of gentrification. In fact, it calls on all of us to be critical of the growth and development in our communities. Gentrification – even if we benefit with cleaned up streets, a new park, more coffee shops, etc – can still greatly deteriorate a community if it goes unchecked. Growth is a shared responsibility and pursuit. Frankly, gentrification tends to just move and absorb without buy-in from the neighbors, friends, and businesses. Casting a vision, creating that vision, and living that vision of our neighborhood is best when shared.

  4. Pingback: CHS Blog Column by VP Zachary Pullin Hill Wonk | Geography – and affordability defines community of place | Capitol Hill Community Council

  5. Pingback: City announces housing affordability committee, with Capitol Hill on the agenda | Capitol Hill Community Council