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Sam Najmolhoda HONORS 230 B

7/22/17 Final Paper


Throughout our class, many trends arose as we travelled to each

neighborhood. Whether it was the way the neighborhood interacted with its

businesses, the way it maintained it’s environment, or the way in which work was

done to preserve a longstanding culture in the community, the various

neighborhoods of Seattle served as powerful illustrations of the importance of

urban development that is both organized and effective. One issue, specifically, that

stands out is how a community accommodates and plans around a large business or

organization that moves into a neighborhood. The benefits of a neighborhood

housing a large business entity are significant—more business means more people,

and having more people bodes well for businesses. Nevertheless there are many

issues that arise for the members of those communities. How does one preserve the

history and culture of a community in light of major developments, and what efforts

must take place on the sides of both the community members and also the elected

officials in said communities?

One strong, albeit small, example of this kind of balance can be seen in

Ballard. When the industrial company that purchased the section of railroad along

the Burke-Gillman trail essentially prevented the completion of the trail, the

industry and community were disconnected. While the company must have felt that

it was within its best interest to preserve the railway, it’s general lack of use relative

to the frequent use of the Burke-Gillman trail suggests that a more widely beneficial

solution could have been reached. What kinds of solutions are required when issues

of embracing a large commercial entity arise? This paper will look at the role both

the government and the members of the community should play in finding a
Sam Najmolhoda HONORS 230 B
7/22/17 Final Paper
solution, using South Lake Union and the U-District as a lens for viewing this

dilemma.

South Lake Union is a neighborhood that in recent years has developed into a

major technological hub. Amazon, specifically, setting up shop in the neighborhood

has had a drastic impact on the area. With the eleven buildings being built for one

company alone, this serves as a prime example of a neighborhood attempting to

embrace a major corporation into its physical and economic landscape. There’s no

denying that hosting Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle has been a huge benefit to

the city’s economy. A company this large works not only to increase Seattle’s

reputation as a thriving urban community, but also brings with it consumers in the

form of its employees and interns. That being said, very intentional steps must be

taken to ensure that South Lake Union’s public spaces are inviting to those in the

community, and also that the rich communities and neighborhoods in the

immediate area are cared for and maintained.

In the case of Cascade, we see a community that has withstood many changes

over the years, while at the same time maintaining it’s identity of a residential

neighborhood with parks, community gardens, and community centers. This is due

in large part to the work of driven community members. As a part of the

neighborhood matching fund, a system in which the city of Seattle will match with

funding any efforts put forth by a neighborhood, whether that be in funding,

volunteer hours, or donated goods and services, Cascade developed a rainwater

reuse system. Not only was this a unique and intentional clean water solution, but

also an “aesthetic asset as well as an environmental asset” that embodies the culture
Sam Najmolhoda HONORS 230 B
7/22/17 Final Paper
of the neighborhood (Diers 118). Had the community members not been organized

and proactive in improving their neighborhood, innovative cultural artifacts such as

the rainwater reuse system would be lost in the development of corporate

behemoths that enter the area.

South Lake Union also presents an opportunity for government involvement

in the community planning process. A consistent source of conflict in these

scenarios is that of zoning issues. It is important when developing office spaces and

housing for large companies that a sense of community is maintained. Whether this

includes protecting views of attractions or natural features or providing open and

welcoming spaces along the neighborhood’s walking areas, the zoning decisions that

fall upon the city leaders are crucial to the cohesiveness of the urban development.

For example, while many areas of downtown are zoned for commercial spaces on

the ground floor with residential spaces above, this is not always the best solution.

Many of these spaces remain vacant, as the specific uses don’t meet the needs of the

constantly adapting neighborhoods. South Lake Union is a powerful indication of the

importance of flexibility (Hurd 89):

According to this new policy, most of the blocks can be developed as

office, residential, or retail, either alone or in combination, but no

specific use is prescribed. This allows for a more efficient market

response to providing all the component amenities that people need

in their day.

By intentionally zoning a neighborhood in a way that allows for flexibility, the city

leaders are setting up the community members up for success. This also returns the
Sam Najmolhoda HONORS 230 B
7/22/17 Final Paper
power to the members of the community, so that their needs can be met amidst the

rapid growth of a corporate campus like Amazon’s. Through the example of South

Lake Union, one can see how zoning by the city government and proactive self-

advocacy by community groups is essential to the incorporation of a large

commercial entity into a neighborhood.

The other neighborhood that experienced a similar challenge in creating a

sustainable and active community was the University District. When the university

moved from downtown Seattle to the nearby neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1895, its

attendance consisted of only around 500 students (“Timeline”). While this didn’t

necessarily constitute a substantial corporation or public entity at the time, the

University of Washington has grown into a very large school with an attendance

greater than many surrounding cities’ populations. This, understandably, has had a

significant impact on the livelihoods of the single-family households that make up

much of the neighborhood. College students dominate the economic demands of the

neighborhood, with more and more businesses catering to the needs of students,

rather than the needs of families. The question follows: what role must government

agencies, as well as community groups, play in maintaining the culture of the

neighborhood as the region continues to develop?

Once again, my answer for the role the local government must play turns to

the idea of flexible zoning ordinances. In the vast expansion of student-oriented

housing development, it is going to be important in the coming years that the city of

Seattle remains firm in it’s efforts to establish flexible and intentional zoning in the

region. While requiring commercial spaces on the first floor is not necessarily the
Sam Najmolhoda HONORS 230 B
7/22/17 Final Paper
solution, it is also important that student housing (as opposed to family housing)

does not take over the majority of the neighborhood’s lots. This will result in a

drastic imbalance in not only the housing market, but the retail market as well.

Allowing for this flexibility, and enforcing limits on the amount of student-oriented

housing, will empower developers and community members to shape their streets

in a way that best serves the needs of the neighborhood.

Once again, the responsibility will also fall upon members of the community

to be proactive in partnering with the overseeing government organizations to

ensure that the relationship with the university is mutually beneficial in nature.

Through petitions, meetings, and thoughtful dialogue, direct change could be made

to transportation infrastructure and parks to make the neighborhood more inviting

and less exclusive to the university. If community leaders are active in advocating

for the families and businesses in the area when these discussions are taking place,

any solutions or improvements will be more widely beneficial, as opposed to only

focusing on the needs of the greater University of Washington community. With

features like the Brooklyn and Roosevelt stops of the Link Light Rail already in the

works, this neighborhood has tremendous potential to grow and develop in a

diverse community that partners with the university and embraces it’s role in the

area.

While the issues neighborhoods face can be complex, messy, and often times

disheartening, there are trends that demonstrate how effective change can be

achieved. Whether it’s as specific as intentional and creative zoning by city

government or as broad and idealistic as having organized and proactive


Sam Najmolhoda HONORS 230 B
7/22/17 Final Paper
community members, any sustainable solutions to the issues of the integration of

large businesses and organizations must be interdisciplinary and supported by all

parties involved. Despite there being “trade-offs between the relative inclusiveness

of Seattle’s neighborhood planning committees and the greater permanency of the

recognized neighborhood associations in other cities,” (Diers 175) the need for

action on every level, from grassroots community groups to the elected leaders of

our city, is readily apparent.


Sam Najmolhoda HONORS 230 B
7/22/17 Final Paper
Works Cited

Diers, Jim. Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way. University of
Washington Press, 2004.

Hurd, A.P., and Al Hurd. Carbon Efficient City. University of Washington Press, 2012.

“Timeline | The University Celebrates 150 Years.” University of Washington, 2011,


http://www.washington.edu/150/timeline/#!/student-snapshot-1890s-2.
Accessed 23 July 2017.