Yesterday, I had French toast with about 100 other people at The New Thompson's Point of View at the corner of 23rd and Union, as we listened to Mayor Mike McGinn announce the Seattle Office of Economic Development's latest effort—the Seattle Jobs Plan, a targeted initiative to improve neighborhoods and create jobs by supporting neighborhood business districts.
McGinn announced the city government will invest $1 million in 18 neighborhood businesses in the Central District, the International District, Rainier Valley, Pioneer Square, and Capitol Hill. We heard a lot about "revitalizing the neighborhood," improving public safety, and the benefits the grant will likely offer—namely job creation and a stronger sense of community.
There's no ignoring that Central District residents are excited about this. You see, people talk a lot of unearned smack about their neighborhood. Although there are very few places in the city where I actually feel unsafe, I regularly hear uninformed Seattlites refer to the Central District as "the ghetto." (Clearly these people have never been to Worcester, Massachusetts.) Nobody is more aware of this perspective than the people who live there, and they're hoping that a grant from the city will help people see the Central District the way they see it—as a neighborhood set apart by its diversity alone.
"Other neighborhoods are pretty Wonderbread," said Jean Tinnea of the Union Street Business Group, when speaking of the CD's diversity. "It's much more interesting here."
Most said that the CD is already changing, grant or no grant, but this money will certainly help businesses, and residents, make those changes happen sooner.
"You can feel the neighborhood coming back," said Gail Thompson, who took over ownership and management of Thompson's in June. Thompson hopes the money will help with lighting the neighborhood and cleaning up streets. She said the community is already working with the Seattle Police Department to improve public safety.
Tinnea echoed Thompson, saying the neighborhood's partnership with SPD—including the department's Drug Market Initiative several years ago—has improved public safety and resident moral. "The Seattle Police Department has done a really good job," she said. "But the perception of safety still needs to be turned around," so other neighborhoods see how really great the CD is.
Residents know that changing public perceptions about the CD will be challenging, but not impossible. Longtime CD residents Tinnea and Derryl Durden, of the East Union Investors Group, remember when the Central District was a nice place to live and work.
"In the forties, this intersection [at 23rd and Union] was one of the social centers," said Tinnea. "We'd like to get some of that back."