By Patty Fong
For Northwest Asian Weekly
There is a descent into urban blight affecting not just Little Saigon and the by-now infamous corner at 12th & Jackson—but the entire area known as the Chinatown-International District (CID).
Terrible as the situation is at 12th & Jackson, it is a severe symptom of the overall poverty and neglect that this immigrant neighborhood has been facing for years. I think of it as benign neglect. But of course when the City wants to place a homeless shelter, the Navigation Center, in the CID—somehow that’s suddenly worthy of the City’s attention.
One has only to see whole buildings defaced with glaring graffitti, tents that appear and reappear along Jackson under the freeway, violent crimes, shootings and vandalism, sidewalks and alleyways full of trash and garbage,shop windows smashed,and people foil smoking in doorways.
Massage parlors abound especially in Little Saigon. Sure it’s employment for some, mostly women, but is this the best that the CID can do?
The corner at 12th & Jackson is an inferno at night. I have written to King County Metro several times about the dangers of their bus stop at that intersection—it is totally without street lighting and completely dark!
I have heard the CID referred to as a “dump.” With all these images seared into the collective memory, is this surprising?
It’s a great place to grab a cheap lunch as our erstwhile County Executive did when he decided to go slumming for a day and whipped out his magic wand to order a peremptory “fix,” but it isn’t apparently worth saving or revitalizing over the long term. Are you listening, Mr. Constantine? Metro buses stop here.
Is it any wonder that the situation at 12th & Jackson has spiraled out of control? It is a microcosm of all the urban ills that afflict the CID. Add to it the racism of indifference, and the absence of creative and humane policies that could save the whole CID. A gross absence of will, competence, creativity and humanity, respect or care, or action.
There are vocal voices—some from the current City administration, advocating for services and shelter for those who are currently on the street at 12th & Jackson as a humane alternative to policing and arrests.
They might have forgotten that those services and shelter are just one block south of 12th & Jackson—at the Navigation Center.
On the other hand, the Mayor and new City Attorney are gearing up to put more policing resources into attempting to solve the out-of-control situation at 12th & Jackson. By this, I take it to mean more arrests and swift prosecutions. This won’t solve the social problems here, though identifying felony suspects, prosecuting and detaining them would not be undeserved for the pain and threat to livelihood and personal safety they have brought to the independent business owners at the Plaza, their customers, pedestrians, and Metro passengers.
I have seen law enforcement officers there, but we all know when they leave, the crowd comes back.
Neither of these approaches will work, nor restore the dignity and respect—the right to earn a living, the right to walk the streets safely, without fear, the right to live and work in a clean area—that this immigrant community deserves.
It’s time for community and City leaders to think creatively and apply solutions that will restore the streets of Little Saigon to their rightful users.
Amazingly, the Seattle Police Department is aware of creative solutions to street crime, employing environmental design to take back the streets from unlawful and antisocial behavior. It’s on their website, called CPTED—Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design.
“CPTED focuses on the physical design of your neighborhood—fencing, lighting, plantings—to identify areas or elements that may have the potential to attract crime. It focuses in the areas of Natural Surveillance, Natural Access Control and Territoriality/Defensible Space.”
CPTED has something to offer the entire CID, and ultimately the social problems, at 12th & Jackson.
The streets at 12th & Jackson need to be reclaimed. CPTED suggests electronic surveillance (I was previously opposed to this in the CID, but I think cameras are needed in this specific area, per CPTED). As a start, I suggest frequently power washing the sidewalks, better lighting, and opening up the storefronts for better surveillance of the street. The Plaza stairwell is being used for drug ingestion. The building’s owner must address this, as well as the graffiti on the walls. The Plaza parking garage must be closed. Private security could be hired. These are doable short-term steps towards reclaiming the street corner and Ding How Center.
I do believe that police action is necessary here in light of yet another shooting here on Feb. 5. Crime is definitely a problem for the entire CID. The City must respond accordingly and appropriately.
As for the CID, I call upon the social service organizations to put together a comprehensive plan to make building and business owners take responsibility for their properties. For example, immediate and ongoing removal of graffiti defacing their buildings and maintaining their properties with respect to unsightly trash piles in their alleyways. Better business opportunities in the CID are needed, too. The City can help by making grants or loans available to help accomplish these goals.
“Municipalities, public housing authorities, private developers, and community organizations in city and suburban neighborhoods can choose from a variety of strategies to strengthen their own particular
crime prevention efforts…local leaders of the groups or agencies initiating change—together with residents, local law enforcement administrators, and government and community leaders—are the people best suited to determine the most appropriate place-specific crime prevention approaches.
Also underscored is the importance of improving management practices and using culturally sensitive policing strategies in combination with environmental design or redesign solutions” (Solving Crime Problems in Residential Neighborhoods: Comprehensive Changes in Design, Management, and Use”, by Judith D. Feins, Ph.D., Joel C. Epstein, Esq., Rebecca Widom).
The entire CID needs serious attention—from community involvement and cooperation as well as City support in the form of investment and resources.
Little Saigon and 12th & Jackson will ultimately benefit from a holistic hard focus and immediate short- and long-term commitments to saving the CID’s and Little Saigon’s residents, business owners, customers, and tourists.