Happy Summer!

Environmental Works News July 2018

Happy summer!  This month we highlight the City of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative Fund, which recently awarded $5.5 million to ten underserved communities working to retain a presence for everyone during this period of severe displacement; and the recent Imagine Africatown Design Weekend.  And please check out recent highlights from our social media for construction updates, a facility grant opportunity, and more.

Seattle Equitable Development Initiative Fund

In April of 2016, the Seattle Office of Planning & Community Development published its Equitable Development Implementation Plan, summarizing research on the risk of displacement and access to opportunity in each neighborhood, and proposing strategies to support communities in mitigating displacement and increasing equity.  This plan gave rise to the Equitable Development Initiative (EDI) Fund.

The EDI Fund was established with funding from the sale of the former Public Safety Building site at 3rd and Cherry, across the street from City Hall.  That initial $16 million will be supplemented by a tax on short-term rentals (the Airbnb tax) to be implemented in 2019, which is expected to raise $5 million per year for the fund.  The fund also receives $430,000 annually from the federal Community Development Block Grant.

The first EDIF awards, in fall of 2017, supported capacity-building and pre-development for the Little Saigon Landmark Project, a mixed-use project with a Vietnamese community center, Southeast Asian Public Market, and affordable housing; the Multicultural Community Center in Rainier Valley; and the Rainier Beach Action Coalition and Rainier Beach Food Innovation District.


This year’s recipients, announced July 5, represent an eclectic array of communities and neighborhoods throughout the City: the African Women’s Business Alliance, Africatown, Chief Seattle Club, Filipino Community of Seattle, Duwamish Valley Affordable Housing Coalition, United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, Ethiopian Community in Seattle, West African Community Center, and Black and Tan Hall.  EW is honored to partner with several of these grantees:

  • The Africatown Community Land Trust, advised by Evelyn Allen, works for land ownership and economic and opportunity for African Americans.  Their EDI Fund grant will support capacity-building and development assistance for the Midtown project at 23rd and Union, to include affordable housing plus affordable commercial space.  Africatown is also working with FAME Housing Association on the redevelopment of Bryant Manor at 18th and Yesler, an EW project, which will create 244 1- to 4-bedroom units to bring displaced Black families back to the Central District.

  • Ethiopian Community in Seattle will receive support for capacity-building and project development for its plans to develop up to 96 units of senior housing above two floors of community and meeting spaces, a child care center, and social service offices.

  • United Indians of All Tribes Foundation will receive support for renovation of the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, and capacity-building toward eventual development of the Northwest Native Canoe Center on Lake Union.


Imagine Africatown Design Weekend

At the Imagine Africatown Design Weekend on July 13 and 14, community members reflected on the Central District’s heritage as home to Seattle’s Black community, and how to incorporate this heritage into its present and future development.  The weekend kicked off with an interactive design town hall event at Garfield High School featuring Nmadili Okwumabua and Walter Hood.

Ms. Okwumabua, founder of the Community Planning & Design Initiative Africa and professor of African Architecture & Urban Design at Kennesaw State University, described CPDI Africa’s annual design-build competitions, which call for conceptualizations of pan-African design: using traditional building forms and design elements as a springboard for modern architecture representative of 21st century Africa.  Mr. Hood, a designer, artist, and professor of landscape architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, described his work incorporating Black history, especially forgotten individuals’ histories, into beautiful artwork and spaces that welcome and honor Black communities.


A Q&A session then addressed topics such as the need for a Black neighborhood which welcomes Black people, and provides safe spaces to gather, play, learn, and promote Black culture; what people envision in a future Africatown; creating a vision of Black community in Seattle to present to politicians and developers, rather than accepting displacement as inevitable; and ways to respond to resistance to Africatown.

The town hall’s tremendous positivity and highlighting of possible ways forward set the tone for the full-day design cypher on July 14, which invited the community to reflect together on the future of five sites in the Central District, primarily along 23rd Avenue South.  One of the sites considered was Bryant Manor at 18th and Yesler, a FAME Housing Association project to be designed by EW.

Landscape designer Azzurra Cox, co-organizer of the event with Mark Mappala, explained the design cypher concept: “It’s a totally flat place, with no expert – a freestyle circle where you engage in a conversation, a continuous dialogue.”  Ms. Cox and Mr. Mappala, with support from Gabriel Ramos, developed Imagine Africatown’s cypher model to support participants in moving from abstractions to physical spatial proposals.


Approximately 50 community members and design professionals divided into five teams, one per site, and started off walking around their site together to observe.  They reflected on three themes during their walks: sacred spaces (with prompts including consideration of which spaces make them feel special, which activities hold a special place for community and connection, and sensorial clues), street/connection (public space, importance of business and retail, light and vegetation, which activities bring energy), and history/narrative (memories associated with the neighborhood, importance of memorializing space, remembering tradition while incorporating sustainability and technology).  Afterward, participants engaged in word-mapping to put words to their sensory experiences.  Each participant then created three collages with magazine images and drawings, to start to give a visual shape to the words and concepts they had noted.  Groups then constructed 3D models of their sites out of foam core, cork, and wood.  The cypher ended with presentations to all participants of each group’s model and ideas.

Some of the numerous ideas developed during the design cypher included creating walking trails with historic markers through sites, incorporating affordable spaces for Black-owned businesses, using culturally relevant colors and patterns to tie the sites together (such as pavement imprinted with African textile designs), more spaces for youth, and improving and expanding spaces for gathering and art.  Imagine Africatown organizers collected the collages, drawings, and models created, and will share them with all involved in development of the areas considered.

For more information or to get involved, please visit Imagine Africatown or the Africatown Community Land Trust website.

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