by Goorish Wibneh
Last Sunday, dozens of local vendors, musicians and visual artists combined to help celebrate the Mount Baker Hub Festival. The festival, in its second year, sought to promote and highlight community engagement and economic development and to lay the ground work for a “model community” around the Mt. Baker Link Light Rail Station.
The festival, which featured music, food, art, community booths, and a beer garden, joined hands with Seattle Design Festival to showcase the role art and design play in the transformation of underdeveloped areas.
Hub Fest was actually part of a two-day event, with the second piece happening Monday Night, where “Lightning Talks” took place where community stakeholders shared their visions for the community.
Mount Baker Hub Fest organizers say that the area is uniquely positioned to achieve economic development that will benefit all, and create a “living community” that is just and sustainable. To that end, vendors and festival performers were intentionally culled from the neighborhood.
Among performers was Seattle’s own subversive hip-hop artist Jamil Suleman, who performed eight songs on the day to close out the festival. (Coincidentally, Suleman announced that Sunday would be his last performance before retiring from hip-hop and spoken word art.)
Suleman, who lives in the Mt. Baker Artist Lofts, raised the topic of displacement and other social issues during his set which lasted about 45 minutes.
In addition to Suleman, the day featured seven other musical acts, and three spoken word artists, all of whom performed throughout the day. Around twenty local businesses sold their products to event visitors.
Loveyou Emanate, one of three muralists involved in the community engagement efforts, did a live mural painting that will reside on the fence of Hao Mai preschool.
According to event organizer Talis Abolins, another of the festival’s goals was to bring attention to the North Rainier Neighborhood Plan’s vision of becoming a “model community” in Seattle’s North Rainier Urban Village zone. The vision draws its inspiration from the “Living Community Challenge” standards set by the International Living Future Institute which focuses on, among other things, sustainability and equity.
The plan was prepared with major outreach to the community and with the consultation of community organizations such as The Mount Baker Hub Business Association and Friends of Mount Baker Town Center.
Abolins who founded the volunteer organization Friends of Mount Baker Town Center said, “There was a tremendous outreach campaign in the community to define a sustainable and equitable transit-oriented development.”
The area has been “stagnant and dangerous” without a lot of economic development said Abolins, referring to empty lots in the area and roadways that are dangerous for walking students.
In that vein, the Mount Baker Hub Fest theme was walkability of the neighborhood: “walk shed” of half-mile radius around Mount Baker Hub and the theme of Seattle Design Festival’s theme was “designed change.”
The mood was far from all serious, however as fun was also in plentiful supply at Sunday’s festival.
Tarik Abdullah, a chef and owner of Morning Star pop-up kitchen, said he enjoyed playing the scrabble game and Suleman performing. Abdulla was also attending his own food booth serving hot wings.
Although the festival’s focus was on community design and place-making, Abolins noted, the needed development comes in the context of gentrification in Seattle. He said, “Gentrification is a complicated subject. Its definition is elusive. The way to manage it is also elusive. “
While it’s challenging to address rising property values that come with place-making, the Mount Baker village is at less risk of displacing people due to development. The area is full of vacant space for businesses. The major issue for the neighborhood is a lack of economic development.
“We are really doing well on the affordable housing piece,” he said, speaking of 300-unit market rate new housing project on vacant land, 200-unit expansion of public housing, and a 100-unit “no-income” housing complex on industrial land being developed by DESC. All these projects don’t require the tearing down of existing units.
The missing part is a lack of people with purchasing power to benefit local business and art centers in the neighborhood.
To alleviate the pressure of property market on small businesses Southeast Seattle for Effective Development(SEED) is stepping in to help alleviate the pressure on small businesses in the area who could potential face rising rents. Director of Economic Development Lance Randall said SEED will sit down and discuss with developers and businesses to protect the integrity of the neighborhood through revenue generating arrangement for property owners.
“I think development is gonna happen, it is inevitable,” said Abolins who is an attorney with Advocates Law Group in Columbia City, “Our goal is to get people together and involved in the process with all our stakeholders. I think we can shape development in a positive way if we work together. “
Events such as Hub Fest are key to assembling community, according to Abolins. With hundreds of people attending the festival on Sunday afternoon, with between 60 and 70 festival goers packing Mt. Baker Plaza at any given time, the goal seems in the early stages of becoming attainable.