Sunday, March 13, 2016

Stepping on Seattle's Dreams

Yesterday I read about an Ethiopian spice grocer who will be displaced by Vulcan’s purchase of Promenade 23, along with some other small businesses and the only supermarket to serve that part of Jackson Street, the Red Apple. Since I haven’t been to that neighborhood since I moved, even though it’s much closer to me now, I decided to explore in that direction.

This is an old neighborhood, and a graceful one. The Langston Hughes Community Center is a cultural anchor and the Sojourner Truth Library combines Carnegie elegance with a downstairs addition that is flooded with light from skylights and offers seating on modern red sofas. The streets are quiet and it’s difficult to remember that it’s a quick walk from them to downtown Seattle.

Jackson Street is peppered with entrepreneurial success stories that stand out among the Walgreens and Starbucks that have sprouted there. Craft beer from Standard Brewery is showing up in restaurants; it soon will offer food as well as fresh-brewed beer in an expanded setting. Nearby in a dusty shopfront, an Ethiopian lady sells what people have told me is the best fried chicken in the city, and I came away yesterday with almost an entire chicken for less than eight dollars. She sells the Ethiopian version of samosas too, sambusas, and little coconut handpies that are made locally, are consumed in two bites, and could prove to be addictive. A bit further down the street is Two Big Blondes, a consignment shop that sells designer wear; 14 is the smallest size in the place.

The Starbucks is one of the few I’ve seen in Seattle with patio seating and it always seems to have people in it who are savoring their coffee, not gulping it on the run. Across the street the Red Apple sells food for families—ice cream in tubs, racks of ribs ready for barbecue grills, reasonably priced produce, and catfish sandwiches for instant picnics. When I lived in Chinatown, I often walked here in the summer, uphill most of the way, to escape the high prices and Japanese junk food of Uwajimaya.

Then there is the ill-fated shopping center, which the Seattle Times in their usual burst of inaccuracy said contained “beauty salons, barbers, and nonprofits.” They weren’t completely wrong, but except for the nonprofits, the other enumerated businesses are singular, not plural. They failed to mention the one clothing store, whose window announces that they offer in-house teeshirt and hat printing and bears a phone number for those who are in the market for custom gold teeth. There is a Seattle Neighborhood Service Center and a place that takes donations of used children’s clothing—and then there is East African Imports and Restaurant.

The minute I walked in, my nose never wanted to leave. The smells came in a barrage and they prickled my nostrils with scents I recognized and those that were completely new to me. Bags of powders and flour and unroasted coffee beans crowded the shelves, along with stovetop grills for injera, kettles and coffee pots in graceful shapes and delicate cup and saucer sets and pans to roast the coffee beans. Colorful baskets of different sizes were heaped in a container at the front of the shop, with much larger ones filling the shelves. Clothing, most of it beautifully embroidered, hung on the few patches of wall that were not covered with shelving.

This was a store for serious cooks and I was dazzled by the world they knew how to negotiate with skill and confidence. When the man behind the counter asked if I had questions, I told him I had too many to answer in one visit, and then assailed him with the most insistent ones.

There is a restaurant partitioned off from the spice shop, with cozy booths and small tables and a menu that gave descriptions of the 22 dishes that can be eaten there. The coffee is hand-roasted and freshly brewed and can be had for breakfast, since this spot opens every day at 9:30.

This shop and restaurant aren’t just a community resource. It ought to be a city treasure. Instead it has at best eleven more months, less if Vulcan is allowed to proceed with their plans apace. It will be replaced by 570 apartments with underground parking and as a sop to the existing local community, a plaza.

In an area where lovely old houses with yards are the predominant feature, a plaza doesn’t seem as though it is what the residents are going to yearn for—especially when it replaces a very well-stocked supermarket and a very good restaurant and a spice shop that is unique in the area.

Arguably even more alarming is the idea of at least 570 new residents and probably more, depending on the size of those apartments, each with a car to keep safe in that underground parking area. Jackson Street is a major thoroughfare that is filled with several well-used bus routes and now the streetcar. Anyone who has seen what happens in the area from South Lake Union to lower Queen Anne in the late afternoon can only shudder at the thought of almost 600 hundred new drivers taking to Jackson Street every day. Even if there were no other neighborhood impact, this is enough to make Vulcan’s vision for this neighborhood one that needs severe alteration.

It also makes me wonder what exactly is being planned for the new and improved Yesler Terrace project. The silence that surrounds this has been broken, to my knowledge at any rate, by an announcement that the development will be similar to that of South Lake Union. To someone who has lived off Jackson for over a decade and who loves it, this is news to chill my blood. Perhaps yours too?

Paul Allen’s vision for Seattle is not mine. This billionaire is stepping on the dreams of those less fortunate than he—and that is almost everybody who lives in this city.



Kim said...

Once again I heave a big sigh. "Improvement"??? "Progress"??? What about life? Real life. Real people. Thank you for sharing this neighborhood with me, Janet.

Janet Brown said...

What about history, diversity, community? I'm off to buy Nick Licata's book on citizen activism effectiveness in Seattle as soon my hair is dry and my laundry's done.