Wednesday, August 13, 2008

File this one under community

So. I live in the ghetto. There. I said it. And I like the ghetto.

I like the mix of wealthy people who live one block east of me and thus have a Lake Washington view or a waterfront home combined with the people who live on my street and west of me who are a mix of: young people like myself who couldn't afford housing elsewhere in the city, Eritrean and Ethiopian immigrants, Vietnamese people, generalized working class people (read: black because white working class people for some reason appear to prefer the first ring suburbs), middle class people (read: black and white), and a whole bunch of people who practice Orthodox Judaism and walk on shabbat to one of three temples in my neighborhood. It's loud. It's ecclectic. It's diverse (in the real sense of the word--ethnically, religiously, socio-economically, etc.) and it's true (in my mind) CITY living.

It's also gentrifying. And that's either good (if you're me and you're worried about property values and/or crime) or bad (if you're me and worried about your local Eritrean grocery store getting bought out by some stupid chain who won't sell injera).

I wish that we could all stop talking about gentrification and insisting that it means bulldozing the local Ethiopian restaurant in order to build condos with chi chi boutiques underneath.

What if young, hip, socially conscious (white) people (like me) could move into struggling neighborhoods and help be the change that makes them safe, awesome neighborhoods? What if we clean up the garbage on the streets and call the cops when we hear gun shots instead of just ignoring it like everyone has been doing for years?

I'm not saying I have all the answers, nor that my neighborhood wants me here. But here I am. And behind me are a lot more of me--young hip people who want to live in the city but have been priced out of the more "middle class" (read: white) areas. And frankly, we don't want to live in the white areas anyway--no offense to Ballard and West Seattle, but we're looking to be near to and benefit from the International District and downtown and the lake and the up and coming light rail.

Ahh, the light rail. Opening at the end of 2009, the light rail guarentees the gentrification of my neighborhood. It has nothing to do with me...but I did buy in my neighborhood knowing that i would have access to its shiny rails come 2010.

Blah blah blah. This is beside the point. (tangent, anyone?)

The point is this: someone decided to do something about it. About children being forced to stay inside because our neighborhood isn't safe to play in. About crime on the corner (crack, prostitution, fist fights, gun shots, petty theft and vandalism). This someone's name is CARMEN.

Meet Carmen. She's latina; her mom can COOK; she cares about our community. She grew up here. She was one of the kids on the inside, peeking out between the mini-blinds at the other kids stuck inside.

So, Carmen opened a restaurant called Alcatraz (this means pelican, by the way) on the corner of Othello and Rainier. Carmen's contribution to the community is a family-friendly place to meet and share community. Carmen also waters the flowers in the planters maintained by ROSA, the neighborhood association; she's befriended the local beat cops who have idenitfied a HUGE reduction in crime on that corner since she moved in; AND she's managed to get her landlord to remove the corner pay phone that helps to contribute to area crime (prostitution, drug deals, etc.) that ROSA and my HOA have been trying to get removed for some time now.

So, since Carmen moved into this corner, she's lowered crime, added a place for us to meet our neighbors, and fed us some really amazing mole. The homemade tortillas are spot on. The mole is yummy. The chips are crisp and warm. The taquitos make me swoon. AND this is exactly the type of business our communities need: more family-owned, community-grounded, children-friendly eateries.


[And, if you have $300,000 laying around that you'd like to invest in a small, community-minded business, Carmen could use it to buy out her landlord who is threatening to sell the land to an auto body shop. Boo. But, if you're like me, and you don't have an extra $300k laying around, just go eat at Alcatraz. Try the mole with homemade tortillas. And tell her that I sent you.]


Christy said...

Amen! I see a save Carmen and save our neighborhood campaign... you should send your blog post to all the local news stations...

Becca said...

This is a great post and I feel the same about our street in Burien. We moved to Burien to grow our own food and increase density (two families in one house) and I find that I don't miss Ballard that much. I like the international food (irish, australian, thai, vietnamese, guatemalan, salvadoran, and more I don't even know about), the diff. languages, kids playing outside, and soccer games on Sunday...:)