By Leslie Yeh
Northwest Asian Weekly
Maiko Winkler-Chin is the new executive director of the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda). She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Affairs and Asian Studies from the University of Puget Sound, and she earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Washington.
She was previously the SCIDpda director of Housing and Facilities. Prior to that, she was at Southeast Effective Development where she worked on economic development, housing development, and property management. She currently lives on Beacon Hill with her husband, who is a Seattle native.
Northwest Asian Weekly caught up with Winkler-Chin to ask her what she has in store for SCIDpda.
Northwest Asian Weekly: How long have you been familiar with the International District (ID)?
Winkler-Chin: Since 1994. I’m originally from Hawaii, so you figure out quickly where to get good Asian food! If you’ve noticed, there’s a real Hawaiian affinity to the ID, and people from the [island] generally feel very comfortable here.
How did you become selected as the new executive director of SCIDpda?
There was actually a national search that the board went through to find a new executive director. I was very excited … also a little nervous and anxious.
The previous work I did here at [SCIDpda] was in the property management division, so I used to work a lot with the building managers and the housing staff in the affordable housing units that we have around here.
I’ve also been involved in some of the development and rehabilitation projects. If anything, I am pretty familiar with the affordable housing programs that we run and the groups that live in them.
The mission of SCIDpda is to “preserve, promote, and develop the Seattle Chinatown International District as a vibrant community and unique ethnic neighborhood.” What are your goals in achieving that mission?
Well, I think [SCIDpda] has a pretty long history in the ID. It’s a community development corporation, which means we look at the neighborhood’s needs as a whole … from commercial development to affordable housing to public safety.
The ID’s unique cultural heritage is very important to us. It’s more of the history behind the buildings … who was in them and what they did.
The PDA is working towards making the ID a much more vibrant place by trying to fill [vacant] spaces and rehabilitating the buildings so people can work in them and create business in the district.
I will be trying to communicate with different organizations and figure out what it is that people do. I think there are a lot of good resources in the neighborhood, and if we can all work together in making this a better place to be, that would be great. But that’s going to involve coordination and communication.
What are some of the activities of SCIDpda we’ll see in the near future?
People will start hearing more about the design center, which started off just looking at the design elements of the district. In this neighborhood, there are definitely rules and regulations for altering historic buildings, and it helps people understand how to work with those rules and what they can do to make their spaces more attractive.
As staff started talking with the business owners and other people involved, it became apparent that there were other things missing, like maybe for small businesses — technical assistance or knowledge of how to navigate the process of getting things done through the city … looking at it from much more than just the physical design aspect. And so it’s helping to provide these resources, as well.
How is the ID important in terms of retaining culture among our youth?
I battle with this with my own 6-year-old, as my mother is from Japan and my husband comes from a Chinese American family that has been here for four generations. How do you make that link?
That’s something you can’t expect the public schools to teach. It has to be through celebrating your own background and your culture through festivals or events, or by going to places like the Wing Luke [Asian] Museum.
The other thing is to be cognizant of “Hey, we’re going to Chinatown, and this is why this developed here, and why this building is so important.” These stories need to be told. It’s important for people to know and to teach their children that, because a lot of people forget, and we start taking things for granted.
What is your favorite restaurant in the ID?
That’s an unfair question! Let’s just say I eat a lot here! ♦
For more information about SCIDpda, visit www.scidpda.org.
Leslie Yeh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.