Historic Higo Garden HubSeattle, WA
Funding from ArtPlace supports the reactivation of a hidden, historic outdoor space in Seattle’s Nihonmachi (Japantown) as a safe, accessible and sustainable community hub that will serve as a new cultural destination for The Wing’s walking tours and an economic driver for the entire neighborhood.
ArtPlace spoke with Cassie Chinn, Deputy Executive Director of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (The Wing), about the streetcar line that will soon run through their neighborhood and how it is impacting their project and community partners:
What is a thorny issue we’ve faced to date?
A thorny issue The Wing is currently facing, and will continue to face through 2014, is the City of Seattle’s major construction work on main thoroughfares in our neighborhood, the Chinatown-International District, including Nihonmachi (Japantown). Even as I respond now, the cacophony of large machinery and work crews can be heard throughout the streets and alleyways. The noise, barricades, caution tapes, and debris are ever present disrupting the experience of neighborhood residents, business owners, employees, customers and visitors alike. Surrounding businesses have reported a 30% loss in revenue since construction began last spring, and on days when crews are directly in front of their business, they comment that they might as well not even be open with sales are down 99%. A notice from the City this week signals water main, storm drain, and electrical installation occurring directly adjacent to The Wing with upcoming work on 8th Ave. and King St., the very corner where our building sits. With blocked sidewalks, closed lanes, and restricted parking, we try to alert and accommodate our patrons and drop in visitors as best we can, while also continuing to encourage them to visit and support our neighborhood business partners who are so direly affected by the construction.
The First Hill Streetcar Project, second to the South Lake Union Streetcar line that was completed in 2007, is part of Seattle’s plan to build modern high-capacity transportation to provide additional mass transit options, connect our diverse neighborhoods, and support economic growth. The First Hill Streetcar line will run through 6 neighborhoods and will no doubt allow for easier movement of residents and commuters in the future. The objectives of the project are admirable but not guaranteed. While weekly construction updates from the City have been useful, these are not enough to help sustain our neighborhood businesses—that rely on foot traffic from The Wing—through 2014.
How have we dealt with it?
As one of the cultural anchors in our historic district, The Wing is working hard to help our community survive this major public works project that will eventually benefit the entire city but not necessarily the Chinatown-International District. Our creative placemaking manifesto states the need for the arts to participate in issues of city wide concerns, not just matters of arts and culture. The Wing engages in cross promotional partnerships with neighborhood art and cultural retailers throughout the year. Right now, Holiday Shop-O-Rama in The Wing’s Marketplace is in full swing, attracting both new holiday shoppers and museum regulars as we host artist demonstrations, craft workshops, and book readings throughout this two-month long event. Shoppers who present receipts from other participating neighborhood shops and restaurants receive added discount in our Museum Marketplace store. This annual holiday event promotes shopping locally and supporting our neighborhood businesses. As a nonprofit art space, we are able to leverage support that will also benefit our neighbors to help create a unique holiday cultural and shopping destination.
The Wing participates in monthly meetings with the Seattle Department of Transportation and community stakeholders to stay abreast of the project and its impact on day-to-day operations. We participate not only to try to help make construction run more smoothly for our neighborhood, but also to advocate for ways to ensure to that future streetcar passengers get off the line to explore our neighborhood rather than just passing through. These meetings can be a useful platform to advocate for construction schedules that would best accommodate the Chinatown-International District, especially leading up to Christmas (the critical holiday shopping time for our neighborhood businesses) as well as during the upcoming Lunar New Year (when our neighborhood pops and bustles with yet another holiday celebration). Our experience and familiarity with marketing and promotion to help maintain visibility during construction hopefully helps counter a slow death by streetcar for the neighborhood. We hope that when the First Hill Streetcar line is up and running it will be a win-win situation for all and that we will continue to work alongside the City to promote The Wing and the small and independent businesses that contribute to the cultural and economic vitality of our neighborhood and the City overall.