What remains of the long and certain death of Seattles hood.
What remains of the long and certain death of Seattle's hood. Charles Mudede

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The future plans of the Promenade 23 shopping center, located on 23rd Avenue and South Jackson Street, offer an excellent example of such good intentions. When Paul Allen bought the shopping center from Weingarten Realty this spring for $30.9 million, many predicted that a good number of the businesses there, many of them small businesses owned by black Americans, were going to go.

Six months later, it looks like one of those businesses will be the supermarket, Red Apple, which has served the neighborhood, a predominantly black community, for more than 25 years. To this day, the Red Apple (which is a regional supermarket chain) in Promenade 23 is one of the few places in this town that sells the parts of animals most whites do not usually buy or eat: pig ears, the stomachs of cows, the sheer skins of chickens. This business does not appear to be in the future that Paul Allen's company, Vulcan, has in mind.

"Yeah, we were told it's over and we'll have to move out of here by June," an employee explained to me, "and between then and now, we are pretty much going month to month. Everyone is bummed."

Why is this supermarket closing? According to a KUOW story, "Red Apple, at heart of black Seattle, likely to close, making way for Vulcan," the developers think the supermarket has a wasted sea of parking spaces that could be filled with apartments and be more friendly to pedestrians.

This is an urbanist vision adopted for a profit-making scheme. Yes, this area should be denser, and yes, the parking lot is ugly and too big. But there is a lot of cultural history here. Which should it be? If you side with the black community, you are also siding with pro-car, pro-fossil-fuel, anti-urbanist backwardness. If you side with Vulcan, you are siding with the enlightened ideas of the urbanist movement (more density, walkability, upzoning) that challenged and even successfully discredited suburban life. We can in part thank urbanism, a movement that owes a lot to the books and ideas of Jane Jacobs, for the positive attitudes many millennials have toward bikes and public transportation.

Though urbanists' ideas are correct, they still need to be placed in a historical context. For example, it is true that walkability is important for health and environmental reasons, but it is also true that blacks and other people of color can no longer afford to live in neighborhoods with virtues like walkability. They have been pushed out to the periphery, to areas where mobility heavily depends on car ownership. "A lot of black people from Federal Way and Renton drive all the way to our store because they can't get some of the things we sell out there," explained one Red Apple employee to me.

This is the reality for many black Americans in the Seattle area. Walking, not driving, has become a luxury. To deal with developments like this, we need an urbanism that includes people of color, with an awareness of American cultural and racial history. If you remove this awareness you will end up with just the forms of urbanism—walking is good for you, living in apartments saves energy, using the bus lowers your carbon footprint—and it is easy for developers to appropriate ideas and market them.

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Now, nothing is natural or innocent about a city. The world around city people did not just pop up like trees from the ground. I-5 cut a path through the city like a river down a hill. The failure of public housing is not due to the wildness that results from concentrating the poor. There are things that happened with a historical context and involved political forces that represented a variety of interests.

The struggle between these competing forces impacts how space is produced and allocated. And owing to the racial history of this country, if this allocation happens by way of urbanism for urbanism's sake, you can expect or predict racialized outcomes: blacks move outside of the city; whites move into it.

"You better take that picture fast," said an elderly black man who had walked out of the Red Apple and caught me capturing its ugly facade with the camera on my smartphone. "This place is already good as gone."