As Seattle’s Central District (CD) is replaced, its black community is displaced. I discussed this transformation with Draze, a hip-hop artist whose music captures the changes and their emotional toll.
Gregory T. Wooston: Can you compare the past and present Central District?
Draze: It felt down-home—loved, lived in, real, culturally sound. It felt like us. It felt very welcoming then, and now it feels like, “This isn’t for you.” The new styles of homes aren’t even the way we want to live. We don’t want to live on top of each other, we want to have our own homes. It felt like the black suburbs, and now it feels…stale.
GW: You describe this in two of your songs.
D: “The Hood Ain’t the Same” was like a eulogy for a dying community. The video and song highlight landmark spaces that once were and are no more. I archived them so that future generations can see what the CD used to look like. Writing it was easy. I simply asked myself, “Where did I used to go? Where do I want to go that I can’t anymore?”
“Irony on 23rd” [was] one of the most painful records I’ve had to pen in a long time. Visually, it was about the architecture. I wanted you to see this fucked up street, decimated and silent with no one walking on it. I wanted you to see Uncle Ike’s and this new, poppin’ building next to this old church, the heart of the black community. I wanted you to feel the irony of it all!
GW: How does the architecture make you feel?
D: That’s the crumbling of my community. You got rid of Helen’s, built a new structure, brought in 200 people, and when I walk down the street, someone looks at me like I don’t belong here. African-Americans were redlined into the Central Area, and now to be pushed out—that’s where the irony and pain and frustration is. The architecture becomes a sign of pain.
GW: How can we do better as architects and planners?
D: Start with care. Ask, “What’s the story of this building and how do we maintain a portion of that?” There’s nothing wrong with beautifying and modernizing the neighborhood, [but] how do you do it with thought that says, “I care about the community that was here, about the history of the people who lived and died to change a community that is now gone.”