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Remembering Central Seattle: I Miss Having Kids Out Playing

At KUOW's live show at the Northwest African American Museum, we heard from audience members about the history and culture of this new district, which includes Capitol Hill and the Central District.

Merlin Rainwater

Merlin Rainwater was born in Seattle has lived at 25th and Madison since 1980.

What brought you to this part of Seattle?

I had spent about ten years living in other places and when I moved back to Seattle I moved to Capitol Hill with a bunch of friends that had a co-operative house. Housing was really cheap.

I think my friend bought this beautiful old house – that was built in I think 1902 – for $20,000 in 1977.

And then I moved in with a friend two blocks from where I live now on the east side of Capitol Hill. She had bought her house for $3,000 – it was sort of in the years following the big Boeing recession.

And that had really devastated the neighborhood. Fifty percent of the houses had been foreclosed and abandoned because people lost their jobs.

At the time it was a somewhat mixed, but primarily African-American neighborhood. And the people who had lost their jobs and lost their homes were mostly African-Americans.

So we were part of an influx of young, white, liberal-minded people that thought it would be cool to live in a sort of funky mixed neighborhood. Plus we could afford it.

What do you miss the most?

Well the main thing that I miss is having lots of kids out on the street playing and having a group of mixed race kids.

The whole norm about letting kids play outside has changed so you never see a child outside without a parent hovering over them. So I really miss that.

Sherry Williams

Sherry Williams has been on the board of the Northwest African American Museum for four years. She is originally from Boston, Massachusetts and moved to Seattle 20 years ago.

What brought you to Seattle?

Being from Boston – the communities and neighborhoods are very distinctive and very segregated. When I moved to Seattle I wanted to be in a community that was predominantly black or predominantly mixed or integrated.

For me an integrated community really supports all cultures and races. So that's why I selected this community to live in. For me it was so different from Boston: It was so diverse, and it was so alive, it was so green and people were nice to you. People wished me, ‘Good morning!’

How has the neighborhood changed?

Wow, it really has shifted a lot. They talk about gentrification, I mean I grew up in Boston – I know what that looks like. I moved here when it was a very solid community.

It's so different now, it's so changed. You have buildings with no set back that are right on the corner. You have bars and pot shops and doggy daycares. Which is so different from the community that I moved to 20, 25 years ago.

I'm not saying it's not good. I'm just saying that people are stressed because it's different from what they grew up with. People are feeling displaced and not listen to about how the culture of the community needs to be sustained. Growth is great and development is good, but to listen to the community and know what the needs are is I think not taken seriously.

And so what happens is that people hold on tight to what they know and what they believe in and that's where a lot of the friction and misunderstanding and miscommunications have come at this point.

Noah Prince

Noah Prince does diversity training for Seattle Public Schools.

How have you seen the Central District change?

I care about being a white man in Seattle looking at gentrification issues. I went to Garfield in the 90s as a white kid coming from Ballard when they were doing the bussing, and Ballard is not a very diverse neighborhood, so that was my first exposure to it.

And I know it was already in flux then compared to now. It seems to be drastically different now…I was hoping to see a more diverse crowd [at the show] but I recognize I’m part of that.

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