The image of drug addicts in our neighborhood is one that the International District can’t seem to shake off. While some might jokingly say that the drug use and panhandling in our neighborhood “add character,” the reality is that the perception of the International District as an unsafe area discourages tourism in the ID. It affects our businesses. In Asia, the alleys and shortcuts are alive with food hawkers and vendors. Come night time, the alleys are where people want to be. But this is not the case in our area. We’ve heard many stories of new visitors to the ID who take a shortcut through Canton Alley only to run into drug users. The memory they take home of this place, and the story of the area that they soon share with me, is of the drug deals and drug use they witnessed in the alley, and not of the historical sites, our great museum, and delicious food.
This community has not been willing to just sit on the issue. On April 3, community organizers gathered at a public workshop hosted by the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda) to discuss ways to clean up and rejuvenate our alleys. The issues on the table included activities in the alleys, architectural improvements, paving and landscape improvements, and lighting. The workshop also looked to notable alleys, like the ones in San Francisco, and discussed existing conditions and constraints to making these goals happen. In the past, many have avoided staying out in the ID after dark, but we currently have many of our own community members volunteering their time each week to patrol the neighborhood as a group, and to fill the streets with conversation and laughter. It’s clear that we are ready and willing to reclaim our streets and alleys, but we also need help. This area has for too long been forgiven and accepted as the dodgier part of town. Perhaps for that reason, less effort is made to supervise our community and prevent these activities from happening. We need the police to step up to the plate.
It is inspiring to see what can be done when a community comes together to discuss mutual concerns, but more can be achieved if we also ask for outside help. We should ask the Seattle Police Department for more regular patrols of our area in the evening, and regular patrols of our alleys in the daytime. We should encourage local business owners, among the strongest voices in our community, to voice their concerns. For those who have been around the ID for many years, it might be easy to get complacent and to accept that these things come with our community, but we should not. As the ones who live, work, and frequent the area, we should be the first to express how much we value this place, so that others will come to value it later. (end)