Letter To The Editor: Reponse to “Out of the Ashes: The Rise in Arts, Buildings and the Future of the ID”

To the Editor,

I am deeply troubled by the misconceptions presented in The Spectator’s article: “Out of the Ashes: The Rise in Arts, Buildings & the Future of the ID.” The first sentence of the article compared a recent fire in the district to the plight of the neighborhood as a whole, which according to the author “has been on the verge of toppling for quite some time now.” Really? This contradicts my own experiences of engaging with a very active and dynamic community in the International District, which has withstood a century’s worth of social discrimination and economic hardship. My own roots in the ID date back to the 1920s, as my great-grandparents originally met while living in the historic Japantown along Yesler Street. I too have spent much time in the neighborhood, whether eating at my favorite Vietnamese deli, interning at the Japanese cultural center, or enjoying dragon dances celebrating the Lunar New Year. The International District may no longer have the same vibrancy that it once did when my great-grandparents resided there, but that certainly does not mean it is in ruins.

But what incited me most was the overwhelmingly positive stance the article took on its central theme: gentrification. The article portrayed economic development and the arrival of wealthy residents from elsewhere in the city as rosy prospects. The recent influx of artists and bohemian types into the neighborhood was lauded as inducing the general “upward trajectory” of the ID, beginning the transformation of the neighborhood into the “city’s new ‘it’ spot.” Couched in phrases like that, who could disagree with gentrification? But what the article fails to note is that development and an “upward trajectory” do not come without a cost. There is a community already there, and that community won’t necessarily play a role in the “future of the ID.”

I am not anti-development, and I certainly do not believe that the International District does not have its fair share of issues. But historical evidence shows that urban development and refurbishment usually result in the destruction of the established community and the disproportionate displacement of low-income and minority groups. In the ID specifically, the influx of wealthier citizens risk displacing long-established Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Filipino residents. Rising land values and rent rates will push these communities to the new “international districts” in Rainier Valley and the southern suburbs, further away from public transit, social services, and quality employment.

As the article illustrates, the process of gentrification in the ID is already well on its way. The question then is how we can make sure this process is done in a just and equitable fashion, wherein current residents too can reap the benefits of a refurbished ID. Organizations such as Puget Sound Sage are advocating for this on a political level, but first there needs be a general recognition of the potential injustices of gentrification. Without these steps, the displacement will accelerate and a new gentrified ID will develop “out of the ashes” of the communities that once called this place home.