By Arlene Kiyomi Dennistoun
Northwest Asian Weekly
Community by Design: Main Streets in a Changing America is a new design exhibit featuring the Seattle Chinatown International District (ID) as one of six cities on display at the Center for Architecture and Design.
The Center, built in the old Elliot Bay Bookstore, is a landmark building listed on the national register and houses the Seattle Architectural Foundation (SAF), which produced the exhibit.
Stacy Segal, executive director of the SAF, and Maiko Winkler-Chin, executive director of the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), eagerly discussed the exhibit, the extensive history of the community, and the significance of main streets in America. “As our country diversifies, its main streets reflect that in some way,” said Winkler-Chin, and you’ll find different ethnic neighborhoods filled with people new to America located in the cities.
The SAF’s curation team developed the show with Winkler-Chin, the City of Seattle’s Business Improvement Area assistance program, and other advisers. Segal sought to inspire people to help shape their communities and show them how design happens.
We typically think of main streets in small rural communities, said Segal. The exhibit shows how preserving and invigorating small, rural main streets also apply to urban communities, like the ID.
Selection of the ID by SAF for its exhibit is good for the community, said Winkler-Chin. It gets people to think about urban areas as main streets, rather than just the somewhat Anglo, idealistic version of a main street — a small town with one main street where everyone gets together, and activity focuses on that one street. “You’ve got the storekeeper who’s the friendly person who knows everybody. She’s reminded of ‘Little House on the Prairie.’”
The gallery contains historical photos provided by the Wing Luke Museum and others. There’s a focus on crucial times when there was major growth, impact, and development in the neighborhood. The Kingdome is an example of the ongoing challenge of the community’s struggle in having a voice in the area’s growth and evolution. When the Kingdome development began, voices in the community cried out in fear of gentrification, and now the outcry is about displacement.
There’s a sense of loss for a lot of people, whether they live or work here, said Winkler-Chin. “This is their cultural home — their heart home.”
Infographics, photos, and videos, including one of Bob Santos and Doug Chin, two long-time civil rights activists (Santos died last year), chronicle the ID’s history. An interactive social media feed lets folks share photos of the places they love.
SFA also collaborated with the SCIDpda and ID to do a walking tour, so folks can get a clearer understanding of properties undergoing changes, and see some of the historic buildings. Local business owners and developers will share their thoughts and experiences with tour participants.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has been a big supporter of the main streets model, said Winkler-Chin.
ID boundaries are broader than what you’ll find on the City of Seattle’s Business Improvement Area map. Winkler-Chin views the ID’s main streets as Jackson Street, King Street, and Fourth Avenue running all the way up to Rainier Avenue, including the little Saigon area. Jackson Street is the backbone of the community for Winkler-Chin, and she believes the farther away you get from Jackson, the less commerce and culture you get.
Culture is the primary element of main streets for Winkler-Chin. She cites Little Saigon as an example where Vietnamese immigrants actively shaped their environment in the 1970s, and the culture is clearly evident.
The dilemma Winkler-Chin grapples with is the preservation of more than just buildings — it’s how to accommodate the cultural aspects of a rapidly, ever-changing population, while preserving the culture of Chinatown residents.
Winkler-Chin thinks the main threat today — her opinion could change tomorrow — in preserving the character of the ID is the intent of property owners. She looks at who the owner plans to rent to, what their plans are to rehabilitate the building, and what they know about the community.
Segal wants folks engaged in shaping their main streets. Change is happening whether you like it or not — do you want to help develop it in an informed way or not, added Winkler-Chin. The exhibit may help you decide.
Community by Design: Main Streets in a Changing America is on display at the Center for Architecture and Design, located at 1010 Western Avenue. The Center is open Tuesday – Thursday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Saturday, 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
The Developers and Business Owners Tour of the Chinatown International District, presented by the SCIDpda and ID, is on May 15, between 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Registration is free and information is posted online at SAF’s website.
Arlene can be reached at email@example.com.