Charles Henry Parrish is an artist. For him art is work, it's therapy, it's vocation. He has survived several upheavals in his life, and he’s about to face another.
Parrish meets me at the door of his home in Yesler Terrace. Yesler Terrace is set for a massive overhaul that will turn Seattle’s first public-housing project into a mixed-income community. Altogether, Parrish is among about 500 households that will need to be relocated in advance of the renovation that could take up to 20 years to complete.
When Yesler Terrace finally becomes a planned, mixed-income neighborhood in the next 10 or 15 or maybe even 20 years, it won't be the first in the city. New Holly, Rainier Vista and High Point are all former public housing projects. They were redeveloped through Hope VI, a federal program that came into being in 1993, at a time when public housing was seen by some as a social policy failure, an example of how government got things wrong.
Kristin O'Donnell loves meetings. "Absolutely my hobby. I do enjoy meetings," she tells me over a cup of tea in the Panama Hotel. Meetings, she says, offer a way to affect change in her community. And besides, she likes to put on a show. "To a large extent community organizing is theater; it works just often enough that I'm hooked."
The Seattle Housing Authority is preparing to redevelop Yesler Terrace, a 30-acre site that houses 1,200 low-income residents near the city’s downtown. Vulcan Real Estate is one of two private companies competing to become the lead development partner. The Seattle Housing Authority Board is scheduled to choose the winning bidder today.
Rumor has it that somewhere in a forgotten corner of a basement somewhere in Seattle there's a decaying 3-D model of a brand new Yesler Terrace. It was dreamed up in the late 1960s but, like the R H Thomson Expressway or the parking lot that was planned for where the Pike Place Market still stands, it never made it out of the world of imagination and onto the grid of the real world.
In 2013, after six years of planning, it appears another vision of a brand new development will take root where Yesler Terrace now stands. It's not the first transformation this patch of ground has seen though. This is the story of two places that occupy that ground -- one in the present and one in the past.