A good friend has died, and with his passing, the Seattle of big ideas and quiet courage is just a little diminished.
Harry Hoffman was our friend and colleague and the driving force in envisioning and creating the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands. Harry quietly mobilized neighbors, community members, civic leaders and really anyone who would listen, to reshape this eight-acre site, once a nursery and long fenced-off from the public, into a vibrant, productive urban farm. Already it's a place where African elders plant and harvest shoulder to shoulder with Rainier Beach High School students; where lake-side neighbors tend and weed side-by-side with day-care moms who volunteer their labor in exchange for healthy food for their kids.
In many ways, the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands reflects Harry’s vision for what Seattle should be: a place of inclusion and cooperation; a place of equity and shared effort.
Of course, Harry’s vision for a better Seattle extended far beyond this urban farm. It was how he saw the world.
As executive director of the Housing Development Consortium, Harry sought to expand affordable housing near transit stations and helped to assure local revenues serve as a sustainable resource in meeting the emerging housing needs of low-wage workers and families who are striving to make ends meet. Plus, Harry was known to stand up to development interests that shape our city in order to ensure that all people — regardless of income — have a decent, affordable place to live and work and thrive. All of that takes a good deal of courage, which Harry always seemed to manage, with a smile and quiet resolve. And maybe just the slightest hint of swagger.
Those who knew Harry were well aware that even though Seattle apparently has a football team and a baseball team, it is soccer that makes the Earth spin. As a board member for Seattle Youth Soccer Association, Harry worked to make sure that all kids, regardless of income or ability, have access to the sport he loved.
Above all, for those of us who had the great fortune to know and work with Harry, we can speak to his warmth and his humility, his generosity and his humor. Plus one additional quality — his relentless drive. Even in his last days when he was gaunt and weakened, even when his voice was barely audible, Harry kept showing up, kept pushing, kept fighting for the big ideas and just causes he loved.
In the days and months ahead, construction of the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands will take shape and will soon be completed. We hope you will stop by and walk along the crop rows and chicken coops, the market stand and the outdoor classroom and kitchen.
And while hundreds of people helped make this happen — neighbors, community leaders, donors and volunteers — we know that this treasure of a community resource started as a big idea and a just cause.
And it began with Harry Hoffman.
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