A large crowd of North Seattle community members crowded on the sidewalk of the Oak Tree Village Shopping Center eagerly awaiting an opening address from Mayor Ed Murray for the year's first Find It, Fix It community walk on Tuesday. The group of community members decided to spend their sunny evening walking through the Aurora and Licton Springs neighborhoods to bring concerns to the mayor's attention.
The walk set out to address a lack of sidewalks around N 100th Street, crime in Licton Springs Park, building safe crosswalks on Aurora Avenue that will to a school that's being built on North 90th Street, and needles and garbage found in a vacant lot on Nesbit Avenue.
"This is a neighborhood that is economically more mixed than a lot of Seattle neighborhoods. It's a neighborhood that has some real challenges when it comes to equity and poverty, so it doesn't have some of the amenities of the neighborhoods we all know better. Despite that, it's one of the most upbeat group of people about changing the neighborhood," Murray said after the walk.
"But there's a lot of work to do up here. As you can see, Aurora is a highway, not a city street. It's going to take a lot for us to turn this around, but we're committed to working with this neighborhood," he said.
City officials chose to hold the first community walk in Aurora-Licton Springs because residents had been long calling into city offices with their frustrations about crime, public health, and the neighborhood's lack of services, Murray said.
During the walk, city workers instructed participants to use the Find It, Fix It smartphone app to document problem areas they saw on their walk. With the app, neighbors could submit reports about everything from illegal garbage dumping to potholes in the road.
Seattle City Council Member Debora Juarez, who represents District 5 in North Seattle, also attended the walk. According to her, the area between North 84th Street and the Washelli Cemetery, which she and community members refer to as the urban village, lacks basic amenities such as a grocery store or a community center. This is inconvenient for residents living within the urban village area, who would have to drive or haul their groceries on the bus.
Juarez and Murray both said that neighborhood residents were in favor of rejuvenating the urban village by creating a commercial area and community spaces along Aurora, which carries State Route 99.
According to Juarez, her district, which spans between 85th Street and 145th Street is unique because, before the neighborhood became incorporated into the city, it had its own hospital, college, and major shopping center. But, when it was annexed, Aurora and Licton Springs still lacked basic things like sidewalks. Since then, "the north end has been flat out ignored," she said.
But as rents skyrocket in central Seattle, more people are looking to live further north when rents have typically been lower.
"Poverty and those issues that come with it have really moved north. You have the drugs and prostitution on Aurora, which have been going on since the 1950s and 60s. But we also have people working two or three jobs just trying to live in the city. Now people are moving north and even our rents are climbing."
This issue of sidewalks and crosswalks is a big concern among Aurora and Licton Springs community residents. Members of the Greenwood-Phinney Greenways group are particularly concerned about the young students who will be walking to school when the campus housing Cascadia Elementary School, Eagle Staff Middle School, and Licton Springs K-8 opens in 2017.
Justin Martin, a member of the Greenwood-Phinney Greenways organization, said the group is proposing a new pedestrian signal to be installed on North 92nd Street and Aurora Avenue, which would better protect bikers and students crossing the busy street.
In residential areas, a lack of sidewalks is also important in residential areas. According to Beatrice, who lives just outside of the urban village area on 90th Street and Corliss Avenue North. There, she said cars park on either side of the street, which forces pedestrians to walk in the road. Because of this, Beatrice said she has nearly hit a North Seattle Community College student while driving when he walked into the street from between two parked cars.
Other residents voiced concerns about some of Aurora Avenue's historical problems, including crime and drug use.
Amy Provenzano, a resident who has lived just off of Aurora Avenue for just under a year, is frustrated with the crime in the area. In the last six months, her car was broken into twice, she said.
According to Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole, officers part of the department's property crime task force and the North Seattle precinct have been successfully policing the area. "Just since March ... officers have made 162 arrests for property crimes in this neighborhood for car prowls, burglaries, and other offenses, mostly related to addiction, unfortunately," she said.
In the Aurora-Licton Springs neighborhood, a number of residents mentioned finding used needles, which were sometimes broken, in parks, residential areas, and along busy street.
According to Provenzano, she also regularly comes across needles and other used sharps while walking her dog. It's not only a risk to her pet, but to the larger community, she said.
Although Provenzano said she's in favor of safe consumption sites, she still believes that drug users would still dispose of used sharps in public spaces. "But it would be a good first step," she said.
When the walk ended around 8 p.m. in front of Lantern Brewing, Mayor Murray said he was excited to see so many people engaged and excited about their neighborhood. But, he admitted, there were no quick-fixes to the issues affecting their community.
"Almost every single person who has walked up to me tonight has talked about needles and has talked about RVs or homelessness. This is not going to be easy," he said. "We know we can't arrest our way out of those needles and we can't just social service our way out of those needles. It's going to have to be a balanced approach, but it also means that we have to do more."
While city officials work with community members to seek solutions, the Department of Neighborhoods is partnering with national nonprofit Cities of Service to offer up to $5,000 for a community project grant to Aurora-Licton residents. You can find more details about the grant here.
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This post has been updated since its original publication.