Introduction to the ARCADE Issue 36.2 feature, “Seattle’s Ethos: Changes in Our Shared Space.” Articles from the issue will release online over the following weeks. Subscribe to receive ARCADE in print.

A Seattle Property map overlaid with the story title.

Background image: Baist’s Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Seattle, Washington, Plate 9. Author: William G. Baist. Collection:Seattle Public Library Maps and Atlases. Courtesy of the Seattle Public Library [spl_maps_341191.9].

Seattle has one of the fastest growing populations in the US. A number of other large American cities have attracted significant inward migrations because of their expanding local economies as well. In all of these places, including Seattle, new residents introduce both benefits and challenges for maintaining the health of the urban community. New residents bring ideas and energy to tackle shared community problems. But when change is very rapid, local public resources can be strained when trying to accommodate the newcomers’ impact on existing physical and social infrastructure, resulting in our most vulnerable residents’ needs being ignored.

When assessing the impact of this dramatic growth in population and business, we should consider if Seattle has been able to sustain a stable, equitable, growing urban community given these challenges. Is Seattle adequately addressing the problems it’s facing? As a whole, does Seattle have a set of guiding moral beliefs—a collective ethos—that supports and enables equitable change?

For this ARCADE feature, I asked members of two communities to address this issue on a personal level and share their thoughts on what they’ve seen happening around them.

One community is centered around and within Warren G. Magnuson Park, which was created by transforming a military base with large paved runways and 55 aging buildings into one of Seattle’s largest parks at 350 acres. It now hosts 11 sport fields, acres of trailed wetlands, and the only shoreline-accessible off-leash dog area in the city. It is also home to various cultural groups as well as over a hundred low-income working families or individuals.

Magnuson Park was formally guided towards its cornucopia of public services when citizens called for the City of Seattle’s initial Sand Point project to be more responsive to community needs. As a result, starting in 1999, power to shape the park was increasingly put into the hands of the people. From the beginning of this process, Magnuson Park has been intended to serve both low-income residents and regional recreational needs. Community members’ pieces reflect how they feel Seattle’s ethos has guided this effort.

The other community discussed in the feature articles is the Central Area, a neighborhood which has been home to Black residents for over a half-century. During this time of growth, the Central District, as it’s called by many residents, has become very attractive to primarily white middle-class home buyers and developers due to the area’s location near downtown, its relative affordability, and its zoning which allows for denser building. As a result, both established businesses and families have been dramatically dislodged. In 1970, Black residents made up over 70% of the neighborhood's population. Now Black residents account for under 20% of the population.

In reading the stories of those that work or live in the Central District, I see hope that Seattle’s ethos will acknowledge their neighborhood as the home of the Black community’s unique cultural heritage in the city and assist a rebirth of its cultural vibrancy.

To make that happen, there must be a city-supported plan, the last example of which dates back 20 years to 1998. It was supposed to have created a stewardship committee to carry out an action plan for the Central Area. Unfortunately, there are no documents on the city’s website regarding what the committee accomplished and when it disbanded.

From my 40 years of citizen activism and public service, I believe that Seattle’s underlying ethos has supported many social justice policies, such as wrestling with the redlining of poorer minority neighborhoods and fighting to overcome institutional racism. Today, the pursuit of equity in our city is being made ever more difficult by the explosive growth of our economy and population. I invite readers to consider the perspectives in this feature on whether Seattle is meeting that challenge successfully.