In preparing for this 98118 issue, we asked one of our writers to go down there and get the lay of the land — see the sites, talk to the business owners. To us, 98118, which comprises Columbia City and Rainier Valley, represents great food, great people, and incredible diversity.
To our surprise, this person, who is from the Eastside and known to embrace diversity, was reluctant because this person had the impression that Rainier Valley is dangerous and shady.
Maybe this would have been true 10 years ago. As Jeffrey Taylor said in our 98118 story, in the mid-90s, he didn’t see many small businesses, nice restaurants, or people comfortably walking the streets after dark. But you do see those things today. The Rainier Valley of today is a vibrant community of neighbors and businesses. Sure, we’ve all heard of or experienced incidences of cars being broken into in that area, but to be fair — those kind of incidences happen everywhere, even Bellevue.
Perhaps the reason why 98118 intimidates many of us is because the diversity there is intimidating. With 59 different languages spoken, and immigrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, 98118 was declared by the U.S. Census to be the most diverse region in the nation. Most of us applaud this melting pot in our own backyard — but unfortunately from afar.
How many people do you know visit the Rainier Valley on a regular basis? Not enough.
During the last few years, construction of the light rail disrupted many small businesses in that area. Some even had to close shop because of it. But there is hope that, since the rail has been completed, the area will experience a revitalization. This remains to be seen, and it cannot happen without the patronage of visitors from other neighborhoods in the Puget Sound region. We must not abandon the area.
Notably, during the last two mayoral races, it turned out that whoever won 98118 also won the election.
Both Nickels and McGinn campaigned hard in that area because they realized the power that the people had there.
We must also commend the people who live in 98118 for working so hard to turn it around. Mostly refugees and immigrants, inhabitants of 98118 certainly didn’t move there years ago to keep up with the Joneses.
Rather, they moved there after incredible hardships in order to eke out a better life for their children.
Remarkably, they turned an area known for drugs and prostitution in the 90s and made it home. How many of us would have been strong enough to do this?
We hope that this week’s issue will inspire you to look at 98118 with a different perspective. See it for what its inhabitants see it as, a community where neighbors of starkly different backgrounds have learned to live and thrive with one another. ♦