Thursday, August 02, 2007

Anatomy of the 'Hood

Now back on the WestsiiIIIIde until the move to Beantown. And apparently the 'hood is the new up-and-coming place. I had brunch with one of my oldest friends and her bf this past weekend, and they pointed me to this recent article in Seattle Magazine:
Long in the shadow of the view side of West Seattle, this working-class neighborhood is quickly going from blue collar to one of the last bastions of affordability in the area, as affordable homes grow more and more scarce in the Puget Sound region. Just how popular is it becoming? One look at Delridge Way SW and surrounding roads tells the tale: townhouses sprouting up on every other block, replacing tired, older housing stock (many of them small, wood-frame homes from around WWII); additions to established cottages going up right and left; a bustling Home Depot that opened in 2005. The nearby brand-new High Point mixed-income housing development that replaced a decrepit low-income project in the middle of West Seattle is a catalyst for change around these parts. ...

This neighborhood in transition is still somewhat rough around the edges. Some streets lack sidewalks and curbs, and homes here and there need some loving. But don’t expect that to last for long. “Now you drive down Delridge, and instead of it being an eyesore, it’s ‘Wow!’ ” says [a veteran West Seattle real estate agent]. “It won’t be very much longer until the whole thing is improved. In 10 years, either through new construction or through the deferred maintenance being done, that will all be fixed up."
Now that I'm back in one of those small, wood-frame houses from the 1940s, it's a little odd to reconcile the neighborhood I grew up in (and got out of!) with the neighborhoods I've lived in since. It's weird, but in a way I feel like I'm contributing a small part to the gentrification of Delridge. I'm not buying one of the dozen new townhouses or anything, but I did whoop with delight when DSL first arrived in the area a mere 6 months ago and offered dirt cheap plans to residents who signed up (no more dial-up for Mom!). There are now also two cafes with wireless (I get a weak but steady signal at the house;, and the formerly crumbling little shopping area kept alive by Target and a local grocery store now boasts a Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, Jamba Juice, Bed Bath & Beyond, a trendy organic dinner cafe, Chico's, Taco del Mar, and Pier 1 Imports. Though I'd love it if the shops there weren't huge chains, except for those last three, I've bought stuff at all the new places.

On the one hand, all the new development is great; people are coming to the Westside! There are places to hang out! The cops, in their new and very oddly artsy Westside precinct, seem friendlier! On the other hand, it's not like the new places are small locally-owned businesses, even if they might be locally-owned franchises. And the housing being torn down and replaced by the townhouses really is driving out old residents. Even with the mixed-income facilities being built in some of the places (half subsidized housing, half businesses or home owners), it won't be the same residents moving back in; those people have already been displaced.

The place hasn't entirely changed, though. Spanish is still the language you'll most likely hear on the bus in the morning; Vietnamese is still the language most likely to be seen on business signs in the not-yet-redeveloped part, especially all the really inexpensive nail and hair salons and pho shops. Because it's historically been cheap to live in the 'Ridge, there are still over 20 registered sex offenders within 8 blocks of the house I grew up in, including 9 Level IIIs (it took me until I was in college to realize this, and figure out why my parents were sometimes overly paranoid about me and my sisters closing the blinds in our room...)

All cities grow and change, that's the nature of urban life. It's one of the cool things I love about cities: they're like a living things in and of themselves. Until you study the policy trends and the economic and social shifts, that is, to de-mystify them. But it's all still cool when de-mystified, and I love to hear other people talk about their home 'hoods and cities. A fellow history nerd, whose hometown is Pittsburgh, can rattle on for hours about Pittsburgh if prompted. And though the social and political trends and the excitement in people's eyes are similar, there are still unique qualities to the changes each city undergoes.

(Yes, I love my hometown and home 'hood can talk about it forever.)

Land-wise, West Seattle makes up about a fourth of the City of Seattle, but only about 10% of the population. Every now and then there are secessionist murmurings, but it never goes anywhere; the City actually began on the Westside (fleeting though that founding was), and people are actually very proud of that. Similarly, though he's a big dork, the current mayor is still a Westsider, and I think some people still have weird loyalties simply because he represented us so well when he was on the County Council.

One thing I find really fascinating is the sudden interest in White Center, an unincorporated area between Delridge (in Seattle) and Burien, an adjacent small city. People who grow up in the Delridge corridor or White Center sometimes interchangeably use Delridge, White Center, and West Seattle to describe their home turf, depending on what they're talking about or (more likely) who they're talking to. At any rate, until all this recent development, nobody really cared about White Center. It used to be largely low-income (and still is), have a large Latino and Asian immigrant population (and still does), and have a tough image (which it still can't shake). But suddenly, with all the new development efforts, there are now draft ordinances proposing to annex White Center to one of its adjacent cities. No more buffer zone.

I guess this is a confused and long-winded way of waying I'm moving "home" but having to re-explore and rediscover everything, because it's so different and only bears a little resemblance to the home I grew up in. It's beginning to resemble the more apartment, young-single-resident neighborhoods I've chosen to live in for the past six year, which can be both a good and bad thing.

It's both exciting and depressing.


The Common Man said...

Excellent book on city change: Metropolitics by Myron Orfield. The Twin Cities come out looking pretty good, actually, but it's a look at the processes behind neighborhood changes and urban sprawl in American cities.

Rainster said...

Awesome! I have now reserved it at the Seattle Public Library.