OPINION: A Youth’s Perspective On Gentrification

by Nathan Chau


Growing up, I was very involved with the people and happenings around me. I was always aware of my surroundings; coming home from Head Start at Dunlap Elementary School right off Cloverdale and Henderson, I paid close attention to the street signs, the houses, and all of my classmates on the bus. But the South End of Seattle hasn’t been looking the same as it did 10 years ago. More and more of the small businesses I grew up around — like Hong Kong Seafood, Pho Bo, and Randy’s Restaurant off of East Marginal Way — are starting to disappear. And I’ve also started to notice more and more blueprints being posted saying “New Modern 2-story Townhomes” and images of new condos and apartments being built. 

Why, you may ask? Gentrification. 

Gentrification is described as “the process of changing the character and the culture of a neighborhood through the influx of more wealthy and expensive residences and businesses.” I started to notice things changing in the South End around late 2016 and early 2017, walking home from the local convenience store Speed-E Mart, seeing — for the first time — brand new homes being built in my neighborhood. I was amazed at how cool these houses looked. I was only in seventh grade, and I didn’t know much about gentrification. I started to realize these homes were for wealthy white people when I started to see my new neighbors. Around my area, there were lots of Black, Asian, and Hispanic people. But as time went by, I’ve started to see less of the familiar faces. I started seeing more white people around my neighborhood. My neighborhood was being gentrified, right before my eyes. At the time, I didn’t know much about what was going on or why this was happening. 

Now there are new apartments and townhomes almost everywhere you look, and you can see the process repeating with the new apartment buildings under construction around the New Holly and Othello neighborhoods. I used to live in a cul-de-sac right off of 51st Avenue. This was around the Kubota Gardens area. I lived there for about seven years but had to move in early 2019 because the landlord kept trying to raise our rent. I had to move away from my school, my friends, and my community. Why didn’t we move to another house in the South End? Because the cost of living in the South End has gone up so much over the past 10 years. We no longer were able to keep living here, so we had to move out.

The South End is a community that has historically been occupied mostly by POC. But according to the Seattle Times, white people have now become the largest racial/ethnic group in the South End. As the price of housing rises in the city because the big companies — such as Amazon — are booming, the wealthier people move south and buy these new spaces and cause the price of living to rise.

I believe it’s very important for youth to speak up about issues such as gentrification in the community because the stories that exist within our community and the memories that are documented by the small businesses and landmarks are being demolished. If gentrification keeps moving at this speed, the South End community we all know and love will be gone. A solution to help slow down or stop gentrification is to invest in the education system. I believe that if POC had more opportunities to get the education they need, they’d be in a position to make more money and could stay in their neighborhoods. 

Seeing my community stand together through tough times, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, motivates me to keep using my voice and expressing my opinions. Through the AGE UP program, I’ve learned about unfairness, sexism, and other topics that are not taught very well within schools while getting to play Ultimate Frisbee. AGE UP stands for All Girl Everything Ultimate program and is an organization of Ultimate Frisbee players that teach about real life issues while playing Ultimate in the South End. I wouldn’t know what to do without AGE UP and the South End community. I’ve felt love, joy, and appreciation within the South End. 

That’s why I choose to keep talking about this issue. I’ve experienced being pushed away from the South End. It doesn’t feel right not living in the space I grew up in. I am just a teenager, so there’s not much I can do alone to help fight gentrification. I know speaking up and expressing my opinion about this problem is way better than not saying anything at all. There is still so much I can learn about to further understand gentrification and how to stop it. But until then, this is my message: 

DON’T DISPLACE THE SOUTH END!


Nathan Chau is a young writer based in the Greater Seattle area. He is motivated and encouraged by the friends and family in the community around him.

Featured image: Construction site in the Mount Baker neighborhood. (Photo: Alex Garland)

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