Editorials — September 13, 2015 10:09 — 1 Comment

Changes In The Ravenna/Roosevelt Neighborhood

The Ravenna and Roosevelt neighborhoods are largely unknown outside of the people who live there. They’re small, mostly residential areas with a few shops and no major outpost – until now. Smack-dab between them is an ambitious construction process, one of several happening in the city: an 80-foot deep light rail station, which aims to provide a main jugular for the city.

It’s widely understood that Seattle is growing fast – The Seattle Times reported that 15,000 people moved to the city’s metro area last year, bringing our total population to 668,342 in 2014, with no sign of slowing. This is thanks to companies like Amazon, HBO, Facebook, Boeing and Microsoft.

The biggest question for the city’s incoming residents, therefore, is: what responsibility do they have to preserve the history of Seattle’s neighborhoods?

And the biggest question for the city, itself, is: what are our priorities as we invite new residents to Seattle?

Sitting in a bar in the Ravenna/Roosevelt neighborhood, you overhear people introduce, saying, “I just moved to the neighborhood.” I should know: I work four nights a week as a bartender in Ravenna’s Pub at Third Place. My close friend, Caleb Thompson, also works at the Pub and our friend, Dan Morgan, owns and operates Teddy’s Tavern just up the street (a few storefronts from the light rail station construction). I feel I can speak for the three of us when I say our ears perk up when we hear new people introduce themselves.

Most of the new faces in the Ravenna and Roosevelt bars are white, clean-shaven and in their mid-thirties. The new folks spend money freely and, from my experience, talk loudly and confidently and aren’t afraid of imposing a drink order on you without your asking for it. There’s a general tone of indifference – they can often treat you like a drink-taking machine rather than a person, which hasn’t always been the case. In short, I get the feeling that the transaction is all about commerce and that we’re losing something more human: pace, curiosity and care.

I’ve been working at the Pub for about eight years and in the last one or two I’ve noticed a change in our clientele. Where the Pub used to feel like a clubhouse, a place rich with comradery, it now feels like a pit stop for young families and professionals who want their food and drink in the shortest amount of time and to leave abruptly. It’s been well documented that neighborhoods like Beacon Hill, Columbia City and Ballard have undergone gentrification, but so is just about everywhere in Seattle, even the sleepy neighborhoods of Ravenna and Roosevelt. So, what now?

Above Teddy’s Tavern is a red, iron crane that skims the sky, part of the light rail construction, which aims to make travel throughout Seattle more convenient for commuters and shoppers. It is a symbol that commerce is the city’s top transportation priority. It’s assumed by people in the neighborhood that the 80-foot deep light rail, slated for 2021, will be built as planned and be more than functional – not, say, like the famed monorail debacle downtown (parodied by The Simpsons cartoon series). But light rail construction has already changed the Ravenna and Roosevelt neighborhoods.

Of course, change is not inherently a negative thing. To wit: The Stranger and Seattle Times both reported that flophouses owned by a “slumlord” in Ravenna were shutting down to be replaced for a public park (those houses have since been knocked down). Homes that stood where the new light rail station now sits have been moved to the corner of 65th and 15th near a fresh fruit stand. These are good things – but the issue comes down to how these things will be used and by whom?

If you were to take a stroll in Ravenna or Roosevelt you’d see a lot of buildings that more and more are becoming relics of the past: Hawthorne Stereo, M&L Records, an old toy shop, Café Racer. These are buildings, owned by families, without gleaming facades. The charm at the neighborhood is at risk and I can easily imagine that within five years that all of these buildings will be gone, replaced by shops that make more money and move faster. As someone who’s lived and worked in Ravenna for eight years now, I feel like this is a dicey proposition and one that could easily get out of hand.

It’s uncertain to Morgan – who says he’s selling “less Pabst these days” – whether, once the six years left on his lease at Teddy’s runs out, he’ll be able to keep the bar running, or if it will be replaced with something new to match the new apartment buildings popping up all over the area. “That’s up to my landlord,” he says with a sigh.

Public Information Officer for the Department of Planning and Development, Wendy Shark, said the city’s Department of Neighborhoods have begun to work with the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association to provide a series of forums to understand land-use issues – but what they will conclude is not certain. And as they speak, new businesses have already begun to take advantage of the growth in Ravenna: Salare, a pricey northwest eatery with chic white walls and a small outdoor herb garden, moved in five blocks south of the Pub. Sod House Bakery, which sells, among other things, artisan pop tarts, opened its doors over the summer. A new brewery is also planned for the area. These are unique businesses but they are markedly different than the cheaper Bagel Oasis and darkened Ravenna Ale House that have dotted the neighborhood for decades.

“How do we preserve the businesses that give character and flavor to a neighborhood?” asks longtime Ravenna resident, Parama Dhillon. This is the central question facing the entirety of Seattle and it’s up to our city’s leadership, businesses owners and residents to decide what we want of the Emerald City – even it’s smaller neighborhoods. What will change look like as the massive construction efforts permeate our home, and can we avoid money being the overriding motivation?

Probably not. But we can try.


Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

One Comment

  1. Jared says:

    It is hard to explain to people who don’t have a problem with this kind of growth, why it is so bothersome. For people whose definition of happiness and success is related to money and owning things than I am sure all of the changes you mentioned in the article are seen as positive. I can even look back at a time not too long ago where I thought this way myself. I am a transplant and moved here about ten years ago. About 6 years ago, Seattle started to change me, and my values began to shift. I no longer cared as much about working long hours at a stressful job, with no time to appreciate the beautiful parks, amazing art, all the wonderful people geeking out on their passions of choice, and the overall happy nature of Seattleites. In short I started to accept the unique character that those of us who were born here, or live here for no other reason than because we love it, consider Seattle culture. My biggest complaint about the changes is that I question whether it is good business to turn this city into something resembling every other city in this country? Aren’t those amazing unique qualities that Seattle has somehow retained through all the past industry booms our best selling point? I think in the near future, if prices keep going up and people are forced to leave, we will see what things were/are really driving the beauty, character, and success of this city. Hopefully with the help of elected officials like Kshama Sewant and public figures like Jess Spear and John Roderick we will be able to make choices that protect the things dearest to us, even if sometimes it doesn’t make sense financially. I just ask that the folks moving here from all over the world just respect our culture and don’t try to change it. Respect that this city is amazing, and that all that the quirky things that don’t make any sense are part of that, and don’t need to be “fixed”. That’s this Seattleites 2 cents. I love this town.

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