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The U District's getting a makeover. Will it displace homeless youth?

Street kids are a fixture in the University District. Is the neighborhood's "South lake Union North" transformation putting at-risk kids at risk?
One concept for the area around the U District's new light rail station

One concept for the area around the U District's new light rail station Credit: U District Square/Studio Meng Strazzara

Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part series on how U District development will affect one of the neighborhood's longstanding groups: street youth.

If all goes according to plan, Sound Transit will open its new, North Link light rail underground station in the University District in 2021. It will be one busy station, planners say, whisking passengers from the U District to Westlake in eight minutes and to Northgate in five, some 12,000 boardings per day. Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray calls the station a "catalyst" for U District change. Indeed, the train is expected to open the floodgates of growth in one of Seattle's most crucial, vibrant and complex urban neighborhoods.

The promise of transit-oriented development has shaped plans for the U District over the last decade and those plans continue to evolve. Longtime landowners are anticipating a rush of new high-rise apartments where funky, old rental houses stand today. That transformation is already underway as turn-of-the-century rentals are increasingly being replaced by apartment blocks and townhouses.

As home to the University of Washington, one of the state's great economic and educational engines, the impact is already being felt. The UW has picked up the pace of development in the area. It is building more housing for students on the West Campus (west of 15th Ave. NE), adding some 2,000 units to the existing 3,000 by 2015. The university needs more office space too. The UW Tower is maxed out, says Theresa Doherty, the school’s director of regional and community relations.

The school is also trying to turn itself into a vital hub for new private ventures, commercializing ideas that emerge from its labs and research departments. Condon Hall, the old law school on Campus Parkway, has been re-dubbed “Start-Up Hall”, a nursery to incubate new ventures. As high-tech and biotech companies have flourished, whole neighborhoods like South Lake Union and Fremont are getting makeovers. The U District presents another intriguing urban canvas.

University-driven startups have been crucial to cultivating high-tech regions like Silicon Valley, which is closely connected to Stanford University. UW president Michael Young is a commercialization booster, telling GeekWire it would be great if the effort put “a few more Porsches in the faculty parking lot,” though he sees the main purpose as extending the UW’s mission to do “good.” UW associate vice president Norm Arkans calls what’s to come “South Lake Union North.”

Along with Porsches, the UW's commercialization efforts will likely draw new residents and employees to the U District. Workers for the “next Amazon” promise to alter the economic ecology of the neighborhood, which has until now been home to students in affordable housing. The UW's Theresa Doherty says the neighborhood, which is represented by the planning group University Partnership, wants to see more non-student residents.


Construction of the U District light rail station is well underway at Brooklyn and 43rd. Credit: Allyce Andrew

While private developers will serve that emerging housing market, the university has pledged to emphasize transit-oriented development. It owns the development rights to build on top of the underground U District Station under construction at 43rd and Brooklyn. The station is ground zero for U District change. While the UW has no specific plan as yet, officials are looking at both office space and housing for the site.

To guide all the change, Seattle issued a new Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) in April. The EIS looks at three zoning strategies for the neighborhood's future. The DEIS defines the neighborhood as running from Portage Bay on the south to Ravenna Boulevard on the north, and from 15th Ave. NE on the east to I-5 on the west. In other words, it excludes the UW's main campus, which operates independently and where most of the UW's employees work.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, May 27, 7:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Rather than designing the community for the lowest common denominator, why not design it to appeal to the greatest number of people? The U District is perfectly located to be densely populated by people who want to live and work in the city, and who want a short commute to downtown and First Hill and South Lake Union by bus, train or bike. You could even walk to the Amazon campus from there in an hour or so. The infrastructure is already in place with bike lanes and ample mass transit, so there wouldn't need to be a huge amount of public investment other than the dollars already committed to Sound Transit.

The tremendous success of the University Village remake over the last 20 years shows how much economic potential there is in the area. The more restaurants and stores there are in the neighborhood the more jobs there will be for UW students and other youth. (And the more tax revenue there will be for social services.)

Yes, some homeless youth will be displaced as the environment around them changes. But any walk through Belltown will show you that regardless of how much the area is developed and gentrified the homeless will adapt to the evolving community.

We need to focus development in the city on what will serve the greatest number of people and what will generate tax revenue rather than what will generate tax expenditures. The homeless are part of our community and they need to be taken care of, but we need to have a strong and diverse enough tax base to be able to pay for those services.

talisker

Posted Tue, May 27, 8:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Let 'em eat cake!

afreeman

Posted Tue, May 27, 10:03 a.m. Inappropriate

IMO, the Ave district needs help. Have you actually spent much time there lately? It's a sad patchwork of used clothing stores, teriyaki joints, used CD shops and a few anchor places like Bulldog and Shultzie's. OK - a few college bars as well. But the place needs serious help and is a distant step-child to what it used to be even 20 years ago. Maybe the transit center will give it the boost it needs.

Treker

Posted Tue, May 27, 12:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes, some of the street kids are what the Crowley Commission called "good fringies" but many have suffered abuse, are on the streets because their home life was intolerable, and/or they are mentally ill. One of my wife's co-workers was assaulted by one of the street kids a few months ago, in broad daylight, in the very doorway shown in the photo above. There was a lot of arm waving, but no real help for either the victim or the assailant, a chronic offender and well known by the police. She didn't get either the mental health care nor the stable living situation she needed.

The social service band aid approach will never get to the root of this problem. Civilized countries, by that I mean those with working democracies and universal health care, provide counseling and subsidies to young families before and after their children are born. Although severely dysfunctional families result from our endemic racism, poverty, and unemployment, young families from privileged backgrounds need help becoming good parents as well.

Yes, making sure families start out well would cost money, but arguably less than the cost of the damaged children that we are creating now.

Since the '60's U District has been invoked, it might be worth remembering that a small institution that had no government or charity support, did a lot of good for the street kids then. It was Mornington Pizza, located at the north end of the University Bridge and alluded to in Paul Allen's biography. Morningtown hired street kids, gave them food and a place to stay in a couple of houses they rented a few blocks to the west. They had to work 20 hours a week in the restaurant, first learning to make salads, then sandwitches, and finally graduating to pizzas. They stayed at Morningtown for a year of 18 months, leaving with skills, self assurance, and a community of good friends. Again, all this was done with no outside money. It did however, take vision and compassion, perhaps two things harder to come by than money.

Silenus

Posted Tue, May 27, 10:26 p.m. Inappropriate

As much as I would like the applaud the positive description of Morningtown, it's not accurate. Morningtown never hired anyone. It was a worker-owned enterprise without formal management or equity. People joined by vote and stayed for varying periods of time, some for many years. Morningtown did let some street people do some chores for food. We also gave away a lot of food. Morningtown tolerated an ever-changing population of mentally ill and wildly eccentric individuals who would come in for a cup of coffee and hang out all day. You had to be really anti-social to be 86'd.

But your main points remain valid. A lot of the UD street kids are former (or current and on the run) foster kids who are desperate for a place to belong. They band together and will sometimes commit crimes against a larger society they feel no connection with. Once they are 18 they are legally adults and on their own, often with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. But hey, there's always jail, the home that will never turn you away.

Mr_Jones

Posted Wed, May 28, 5:29 p.m. Inappropriate

If the kids live on the street what difference does it make what borders the street? OK, I get the point of the article, some facilities that help the homeless kids may (or may not) be displaced but is that a legitimate issue for debating density? I doubt if the value of real estate, affected as we all know, by the zoning code is a major factor in services for the homeless. If it were there would be a wealth of homeless services in Renton, Tukwila and White Center. And there is not.

kieth

Posted Thu, May 29, 2:11 p.m. Inappropriate

"UW president Michael Young is a commercialization booster, telling GeekWire it would be great if the effort put “a few more Porsches in the faculty parking lot,” though he sees the main purpose as extending the UW’s mission to do “good.” UW associate vice president Norm Arkans calls what’s to come “South Lake Union North.”

Seriously? God help us.

westello

Posted Thu, May 29, 8:36 p.m. Inappropriate

The UW is now run by businesspeople, not scholars, and certainly not by social justice advocates.

sarah90

Posted Thu, May 29, 10:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Just build it, the kids will move on. They always do. It's been this way for centuries and no amount of government intervention and actions by self-serving social justice advocates will change the equation.

Djinn

Posted Fri, May 30, 12:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Most of these "youth" are actually adult age. The U District used to be a great place where all kinds of people could be found, but it was relatively clean and fairly safe. Now, it is filthy and populated by a lot of menacing hangers-on and drug dealing. I am looking forward to a much improved area.

Seasoned

Posted Sun, Jun 1, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Not only is the U District a scary, dirty place to be after dark, it's scary and dirty in the daylight. When the menacing hangers-on and drug dealing, as well as street begging at the the on & off ramps of I-5 at 45th and 50th become the norm of "what you see", most wise people go elsewhere.

Gussying up the U District is long overdue, but so is ample police protection against sheer violence and thuggery.

The people who beg on the SW corner at 50th and I-5 should be examined. Why are they left alone to do whatever they want to do?? I've seen sex in the back bushes (sparse those bushes), urination by men and women, alcohol drinking (no need to hide the bottle in a brown paper bag, the police never stop to talk to these panhandlers), fights and people staggering in and out of traffic as it is moving when the lights change.

Make a decision Seattle. Do you want to really embrace the homeless in the streets and find even more ways for them to 'feel at home' in public?

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