Two tours collide in Seattle’s Central District — with very different messages | KUOW News and Information

Two tours collide in Seattle’s Central District — with very different messages

Aug 29, 2017

Seattle's Central District was once the largest black enclave in the Pacific Northwest. But no longer.

Architect and Central District resident Donald King says the trend is only going to continue. "Our old sense of a black community will be gone in the next 20 years."

In the face of rapid displacement, how can the Central District hold onto a sense of black history and community?

On a recent Saturday, two walking tours covered the same few blocks of the Central District and approached the question two different ways.

The first tour was put on by the AIA Seattle Urban Design Forum and by The Urbanist. A group of about 30 met near the corner of 23rd and Jackson. The tour discussed ways that buildings can reflect and support their community. That could be as simple as a plaque on the wall, or as complicated as an ownership structure.

The second tour was put on by Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, which has been in the Central District for more than 60 years. Tour members walked the neighborhood in neon green vests, saying hello and inviting people to a barbeque. One tour member, Daniel Ellis, stopped to chat.

"Well, basically, we're just walking in the community in which we live," Ellis said. "And noticing the change that a lot of people are moving in and a lot of people are being, probably, forced out."

For a brief moment, around 11 a.m., the two tours collided.

King was talking about the building that will go up where the Red Apple Market is now. Vulcan, Paul Allen's real estate company, met repeatedly with the community as the project was being designed.

"It set a standard for the community and feeling empowered," King said, "that they could make a difference in what they saw going up around them, and sort of understanding that you can't stop this development, but how can you shape it in a way that is more community friendly."

Yolanda McGhee, a drop in from the church tour, listened for a moment, then walked away.

"I didn't know if they were for or against what's happening here. Basically, this is all displacement, the way I see it," McGhee said.

As for community building? McGhee said she prefers doing that face to face. She mentioned the church BBQ and that anyone is welcome.

"Just come and see us ... you know, so we can shake hands, and meet a friend! That's the way I see it, but is that really going to happen? I don't see it happening. So this is all talk to me. What they're doing is all just talk."

King, the architect, disagreed.

"As an architect, I have a different view of the world, and I believe that there's a place where the physical structure itself, and the planning and urban design of the neighborhood can facilitate community."

He pointed out that the BBQ is happening at a church. Which is a building.

"So we're not able to do everything, but the part that planners and architects can do is to be able to encourage that and facilitate the gathering place where they're doing that socialization."

The Urbanist tour wrapped up around 1 p.m.

Meanwhile, at 28th and Jackson, the Tabernacle BBQ was in full swing.

Ellis was at the dominoes table, but he didn't last long. ''Well, the two players with the lowest score have to get up for others to come in and play, so I was one of those who was gracious enough to give the next person a chance."

Ellis said he did notice one big change when he was out walking: The church where he found God has become a new housing development. It makes him sad to think that history is gone. 

"A lot of people just take advantage of what has already been built, with no regard or respect for what it took to establish what they're trying to take advantage of, and I think we miss out on a lot when we do that ... 'cause if we don't know what our history was, how will be be able to build on it?"

As for how to know that history, and how to build on it, both tours agree that getting out in your neighborhood and meeting your neighbors is a good way to start.