North Seattle used to be a place where you could just spread out. People came up north after the great fire of 1889 to escape the crowded tinderbox of downtown Seattle. Later, others came to build malls and for many other reasons.
Out in Lake City, a man named Bill Pierre opened a string of car dealerships. There was this broad stretch of state highway running right through the middle of town where people could put the pedal to the metal during a test drive.
But there’s a downside to having a state highway as your neighborhood’s main street. “The street is like a wall. You can’t just go across it, you’d be killed. You’d be run down,” says Sandy Motzer.
Motzer’s giving me a walking tour of Lake City. It’s part of KUOW’s effort to get to know the brand new City Council districts, one at a time. This week, we look at District 5 – North Seattle. It spans from Puget Sound to Lake Washington.
Motzer leads a community group called the Lake City Neighborhood Alliance. She stands among the quaint storefronts at the heart of what Pierre once called “li’l ol’ Lake City” in television commercials for his car dealership.
It’s hard to walk here. We walk about a block from the main drag to 30th Avenue Northeast, where pedestrians regularly walk from the high-density, low-income Little Brook neighborhood.
“So here we are in an area now where there’s no sidewalks,” says Motzer, pointing to a woman who walks along the shoulder. “Because of the poor infrastructure, when it really rains, the shoulders fill up with water. And then you have to really get into the street or get your feet wet.”
On a map showing Seattle streets with no sidewalks, the whole North End is lit up red -- danger.
Motzer shows me the civic core, where the library is, where the farmers market meets.
Everywhere around us is underdeveloped land owned by the Pierre family, the family that owns all those car dealerships. Motzer points to an abandoned looking house. “This used to be a church and then it was Hubcap Annie’s, where they sold hubcaps for years and years.”
Despite the abandoned buildings, parking lots and chain link fences topped with barbed wire, many here see a bright future.
Local business owner Annette Heide-Jessen, whose Kafeeklatsch coffee shop has a big garage door that opens right onto Lake City Way, believes Lake City could become the next Columbia City, another neighborhood with a highway going right through the neighborhood core.
The reason for her optimism is that the Pierre family, which owns 16 acres in and around Lake City’s urban village, is ready to develop. The Pierres have asked the community what they want to see here. People have said they want affordable housing – and a more walkable neighborhood.
North Seattle is also a place where some minority groups have found a home.
Inside the Idris mosque near Northgate, a man in white robes approaches a microphone and begins the call to prayer. In many parts of the world, the call would be broadcast via loudspeakers throughout the neighborhood. But not here.
“We try to respect the neighborhood we live in and the law we live in,” says Hisham Rarajallah. He’s an official here with the mosque. “It’s a community noise that we know may disturb others. So that’s the reason why we do it inside.”
Not that it wouldn’t be convenient. Many people nearby would appreciate the reminder. Farajallah says that when Muslims need to relocate, for work or school, they call the mosque and ask if there are any places to live close by. Farajallah, for example, works in Everett at Boeing but chose a house in Northgate very close to the mosque.
We are human, he says. And because humans are lazy by nature, he says, "we try to locate ourselves very close to the mosque. So at least we can participate in one service a day.”
Farajallah estimates there are 500 to 1,000 Muslim families living close to the mosque. He says they feel very welcome in this neighborhood. His congregation holds a barbecue every August to thank the community for guarding the mosque after 9-11.
But he says the visibility of Muslim women with headscarves has triggered a negative reaction from a few “bad apples.” He says the mosque has received threats, some of which have been shared with the North Precinct police. He worries “that somebody would hurt someone, or that somebody would come at the mosque and hurt someone,” he says.
Other people here raise public safety as an issue – not only the fear of assault but of drug dealing and burglaries too.
Another thing that’s important to people in District 5 is the environment. Dale Johnson stands on a bridge over Piper’s Creek in Carkeek park. He spends a lot of time here restoring trails. “It’s a way to renew your spirit,” he says. “To stand here and see the breeze, and hear the creek and walk through the forest.”
But lack of infrastructure like sidewalks and storm drains in North Seattle puts a strain on the salmon in the creek that runs through the park. Johnson says the salmon manage to lay their eggs in the creek bottom. But this is a city, not a forest, and water quickly runs off hard surfaces of buildings and roads in the surrounding neighborhood.
“And then we have these big winter storms and there’s so much water in here, it just scours the little eggs out,” says Johnson. “So that’s why every year they have to use hatchery fish to restock it.”
Johnson hopes the creek some day can have a self-sustaining salmon run. But he’s realistic about the need to adapt such dreams as the city grows denser.
That’s the challenge for North Seattle – making room for new people while preserving the features that drew people here in the first place.
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