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    Transit is renewing the place of the International District in Seattle's life

    The demographics of the Chinatown-International District may stay fairly familiar, but the district could take on greater economic importance and vitality.

    Seattle's Historic Chinatown Gate with Union Station across the street and the clock tower of the King Street Station in the distance.

    Seattle's Historic Chinatown Gate with Union Station across the street and the clock tower of the King Street Station in the distance. Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons

    Seattle’s Chinatown-International District is a neighborhood that has always faced change from within and without. Much of that change has been related to the neighborhood’s position at a major transportation crossroads in the region. During the era of rail travel the city opted to put Union Station in the neighborhood. As the automobile became the dominant mode of transportation after World War II, Interstate 5 plowed right through the neighborhood.

    Now, with the emergence of light rail and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) as strategies to make the city more sustainable, the neighborhood once again is in the middle of change and opportunity. While the preferred mode of moving people has changed from rails to wheels and back to rails again, the greatest asset the neighborhood has is its ability to adapt in the face of pressure to accommodate more residents and commuters. It’s the way land is used in the Chinatown-International District that will trump any shift in transit mode, ensuring that the neighborhood will continue to be a haven for small business, neighborhood character, and ethnic identity.

    The neighborhood plan adopted by the City of Seattle describes the Chinatown-International District as:

    A community characterized by a sizable elderly population, significant low-income households, and a large number of affordable housing units. We are primarily small businesses as well as social service and community development organizations. We are a delicate social connection for many elderly. We are a regional hub for Asian-Pacific American commerce and culture.

    The Puget Sound Regional Council projects that more than 1.7 million people will be coming to the Puget Sound region in coming decades. Does all the growth mean that demands for re-development will, after more than a century, finally overwhelm the distinct quality of the Chinatown-International District? Will TOD open the door to gentrification that will obliterate the neighborhood’s character? It is tempting to think so but it is unlikely. The International District is likely here to stay.

    First, changing demographics favor the Chinatown-International District maintaining its place as a regional hub for Asian Pacific Islander (API) commerce and culture. A recent analysis of 2010 United States Census data by The Seattle Times showed that while the API population represents about 4.8 percent of the U.S. population, the API population is much higher in the Seattle area. More than 13 percent of the areas population is API with the Chinese population being the largest part of that growth, increasing by 67 percent.

    Second, much of that growth is new immigration, and immigrants use transit. A recent California study published in the Journal of Public Transportation found that “immigrants commute by public transit at twice the rate of native-born commuters, [and] comprise nearly 50 percent of all transit commuters.”

    But the study also found that:

    Over time, immigrants’ reliance on transit declines. Transit managers would be well advised to plan for these inevitable demographic changes by enhancing transit services in neighborhoods that serve as ports to entry for new immigrants, those most likely to rely on public transportation.

    So instead of being the death knell of the Chinatown-International District, transit can be just the opposite, bringing in a new generation of Asian immigrants into the heart of the city and, at the same time, increasing access and mobility to existing residents of the neighborhood. Transit Oriented Development is actually a preservation strategy.

    Finally, the character of the built environment and existing uses can be preserved through the development and implementation of a hearty Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program for the whole city of Seattle. A building owner with a historic building could sell her right to develop the property to a greater height or scale to a developer somewhere else in the city who needs additional density for their project. The idea of TDR is pretty simple but would be a challenge to implement. Still, it would allow the city to put more density in parts of the Chinatown-International District but preserve other important, historic buildings and, at the same time, promote density to absorb coming growth elsewhere in the city.

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    Posted Tue, May 10, 1:41 p.m. Inappropriate

    Ideally, the waterfront trolley and the First Hill Trolley should share maintenance sheds. It requires an upgrade to the power to the historic trolleys but all the rest of the things needed for a trolley are in place, stations, track, wire etc.


    Posted Tue, May 10, 7:38 p.m. Inappropriate

    From the piece:

    "Now, with the emergence of light rail and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) as strategies to make the city more sustainable, the neighborhood [Chinatown - I.D.] once again is in the middle of change and opportunity."

    That makes no sense. Fifteen light rail stations have been sited for years, and light rail has been up and running for about two years. The only ways those locations around train stations can be said to have been "in the middle of change and opportunity" recently stemmed from the hassles people experienced trying to navigate around construction activities. Property values haven't risen near train stations. Virtually no private development has sprung up. Train passengers aren't spending lots of money in businesses around those stations.

    One of the key selling points when this massive regressive tax hike for trains was pushed was all the new big private "TOD" near the stations that would take place. Only it didn't. The new buildings along MLK are mostly just SHA projects.

    Staggeringly large amounts of taxing has produced a "transit hub" near Fourth Ave. South and S. Jackson St. over the past two decades. The Chinatown - I.D. isn't in the middle of any changes or opportunities.

    And no, Virginia, the magical tonic of upzoning won't justify the scores of billions of dollars of regressive taxing that is expected to be hauled out of this community and used to secure the mountains of long-term debt to be incurred in the name of the wrong kind of bus and train "projects" the government leaders around here are lurching into.

    Neither the Chinatown - I.D. area, nor any other six-block radius around those train stations, will improve in ways that could compensate for this abusive bus and train project financing plan that targets the least-well-off people and families of this region.

    This piece is a fairy tale. Sound Transit's light rail will NOT bring meaningful amounts of private TOD, jobs, economic activity, or other "secondary benefits" - even to the locations near the stations. Sound Transit has hauled in about six billion dollars of tax revenue and over a billion dollars of long-term debt sale revenue and shipped most of it out of state. That pattern will grow, significantly. The feel-good platitudes in this piece about supposed benefits to that one part of the city don't amount to a hill of beans.


    Posted Wed, May 11, 7:34 a.m. Inappropriate

    "This piece is a fairy tale."

    Consider the source.


    Posted Wed, May 11, 4:53 p.m. Inappropriate

    Are you saying "Transit Oriented Development is actually a preservation strategy" as a stand alone statement or only when complimented with TDR?


    Posted Wed, May 11, 7:21 p.m. Inappropriate

    Curlove, The limited housing stock in South Downtown (both Pioneer Square and Chinatown-ID) is primarily subsidized. Far from land speculation, both communities have unanimously identified the need for greater housing density (for a mix of incomes) to better support the residential services that make any neighborhood liveable--dry cleaners, grocery stores, restaurants, etc.

    Crossrip, to say that the largest American transit hub north of San Fransisco is not an opportunity for South Downtown is ridiculous. While the construction of the streetcar on Jackson may last the better part of a year, the benefits of linking these neighborhoods to First and Capitol Hills--and shortly thereafter to the University of Washington and North Seattle (via light rail) will be felt for generations.

    Posted Wed, May 11, 8 p.m. Inappropriate

    "the benefits of linking these neighborhoods . . . will be felt for generations."

    What "benefits" are you talking about?

    What will be felt for decades is the excessive and regressive tax hit this abusive financing scheme will impose on people and the local economy. THAT can be quantified: about $85 billion in taxes will be confiscated by Sound Transit through 2052 just as security for the $7 billion or so in long term bonds it plans on selling. NOBODY finances buses and trains like that.

    Your turn - quantify those "benefits" you claim to see in your crystal ball.


    Posted Wed, May 11, 10:35 p.m. Inappropriate

    Just to be clear, the ID has some of the best and most affordable neighborhood services you mention-restaurants, dry cleaners, and grocery stores.


    Posted Thu, May 12, 10:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    I think TOD is a joke. Just because it works in SimCity doesn't mean it works in real life. Portland and Seattle's foray into Transit Oriented Development is just welfare for the heavy construction unions and the Private/Public corporations that spend heavily to buy the politicos. The libs drink heavily of this koolaid.


    Posted Fri, May 13, 7:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    I've lived in Seattle's ID/Chinatown several times, most recently in 2010. The last thing wanted are metro buses running through the area. They are noisy, dangerous and oversized for the streets. The transit tunnel is no choice for most ID residents for anything but going to the Eastside. The buses and trains only wait 10-15 seconds before pulling away. If you are not exactly where the bus/train stops you will not run fast enough to catch the bus. And older people don't run. Up at 4th and Jackson the drug dealers and bums move among those waiting for already overcrowded buses. Frequently the drivers change at this "hub" adding to the wait. The buses each have a different set of stops along there route into town so one is frequently 1-2 blocks from the drop off point of choice. Virginia street is the last stop for Belltown unless you transfer. 3rd Avenue was prior to transit a conglomerate of small business and low income housing. Now its frequently empty of any traffic except buses, the mom and pop stores lost during the tunnel construction long gone. Crack dealers are all along 2nd Ave bus stops. To say that transit is somehow a solution to progress in Chinatown/ID or Downtown is to mark yourself as someone who does not live there. You are only reading reports from paid administrators who inflate their success with bogus counts and statistics. The worst view is the nightly run of all the regional buses blowing through Downtown and Chinatown with just 1 passenger.

    There are plenty of existing buildings that could be renovated for housing which would keep the character of the neighborhood intact. No need to tear down to increase density. Cheaper and more culturally consistent to use existing housing stock. I think the article writer should put down the pen and instead walk the area. Maybe live for a week in the youth hostel on King Street. Just a block from the transit tunnel and a world away from other Seattle neighborhoods.


    Posted Sat, May 14, 4:39 p.m. Inappropriate

    Remove the burberry outlet bs please.


    Posted Sat, May 14, 4:50 p.m. Inappropriate

    Ahem.. I guess what irks me personally about seattlers predicting their future, as in this case, is the potential (I see) missing from the author's opinion. I see a depressing need for better pedestrian essentials, (curb extensions at intersections, well-marked crosswalks etc), and amenities which should include complete Do-over, nevermind any historic concete poorly laid from the beginning. And don't get me started on how downtown seattle transit sucks, no excuse.

    Personally, I prefer the Pre-AWV -- Post-Seawall era for Alaskan Way sans AWV in the near future. Also, Mayor Mike, Mighty Mayor Mike McGinn,
    is CORRECT to oppose the DBT and support a surface boulevard first.
    We Like Mike. We Like Mike. We Like Mike. We Like Mike. We Like Mike.


    Posted Sun, May 15, 6:19 p.m. Inappropriate

    ILG writes:
    "The limited housing stock in South Downtown (both Pioneer Square and Chinatown-ID) is primarily subsidized. Far from land speculation, both communities have unanimously identified the need for greater housing density"

    Who's kidding who?? Forced densification is the same all over, at least China begins with economic facts.

    May 6-8,2011 China Daily USA, page 4:
    More than 60 percent of China's residents cannot afford an apartment and the high property prices in the cities are curbing the nation's urbanization process, experts said. Migrant workers are unable to afford apartments in the cities, which forces them to return to their hometowns and build houses in rural areas... Speculative investment is one reason that has caused urban house prices to rocket....As part of it's 12th Five-Year Plan, the central government pledged earlier this year to build 10 million units of government subsidized housing in 2011 [$197 billion US] and 36 million units in total by 2015 in an attempt to cool the overheated real estate market. ...the government is under great pressure to find the money needed to support such a large scale construction program.... In China, only about 10 percent of people rent. That is much lower than the 38 percent in the US and the 70 percent in Germany..."


    Posted Sun, May 15, 9:55 p.m. Inappropriate

    This article doesn't actually make any sort of point using data.

    It says there's more "transit" (and there has been...for years now...even when it was just buses and Amtrak).

    Yet, when it comes time to actually describe the fantastic "changes" I'm am perplexed as to what he refers to.

    I commuted using Sounder through the ID during 2009-10. I liked walking between Sounder and the bus tunnel and I often stopped by the Starbucks to have a coffee.

    But as far as seeing some kind of "Renaissance", I just did not see it.


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