Architecture and neighborhood design have consequences on human activity and relationships. Redesigning public housing has a significant impact on residents who have lived, in some cases for generations, within specific architectural and human systems.
Across the United States, low-income, urban neighborhoods are being redeveloped to benefit middle-class and upper-class housing, business, and cultural interests. The results can be seen as "positive" with updated buildings, improved transportation, reduced crime, more robust economies, and new parks and other amenities. But often, individuals, families, and entire neighborhoods are displaced or destroyed in this process, commonly known as "gentrification." Merriam-Webster defines gentrification as "the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents." Gentrification is taking place in many major American cities, with the biggest impacts made between 2000 and 2010 in Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Seattle, Washington. In those cities, 50% or more of lower-income areas have been gentrified.*
First built in 1941, the 30-acre Yesler Terrace, located in downtown Seattle, was Washington's first subsidized housing development as well as the country's first racially integrated public development. In 2013, the Seattle Housing Authority began a far-reaching redevelopment plan that would do away with 561 units and rebuild the site with approximately 5,000 housing units of which 1,800 will be subsidized for both low- and moderate-income residents. The plan also includes parks, a walking loop, community gardens, and improved connections to local neighborhoods, environmentally sensitive housing units, and business and office space.**
The Seattle Housing Authority has guaranteed that all current Yesler Terrace residents, in 2016, have the opportunity to move into the new development; however, residents face temporary dislocation during construction. Critics of the redevelopment note that such dislocation will disrupt the lives of vulnerable residents, including education, healthcare access, and other services.*** The short film, Even the Walls, co-directed by Saman Maydani and Sarah Kuck, depicts residents of Yesler Terrace as the demolition begins, exploring their thoughts and feelings about relocation. While some residents look forward to new and updated housing, others resist the change, and most lament the loss of a neighborhood that has been their home and refuge—in some cases, for generations.
Connections to National Standards
Common Core English Language Arts. W.9-10.3 and W.11-12.3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
Common Core English Language Arts. SL.11-12.1.c. Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies Standards. D2.Geo.2.9-12. Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions and their political, cultural, and economic dynamics.
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies. D2.Geo.5.9-12. Evaluate how political and economic decisions throughout time have influenced cultural and environmental characteristics of various places and regions.