Downtown Seattle’s crime and inequity issues may improve, but a key ingredient is missing, officials say

ByShannon J. Cortes

Mar 18, 2022

Seattle-area officials and city planner Richard Florida agree: The prognosis for the recovery of COVID-19 in the downtown core is good, if stakeholders can improve housing, inequality and crime.

Hundreds of members of Seattle’s business community gathered Thursday for the Downtown Seattle Association’s annual “state of downtown” address, where Florida was the keynote speaker.

“I was taken on a walking tour of your downtown 25 years ago, and your downtown didn’t look so nice, sorry,” said Florida, author and professor at the University of Toronto which does research on urban planning.

Speaking from the Hyatt Regency Seattle downtown, Florida said the city’s heart had been “run down” but has since grown – largely thanks to its creative industries – into a bustling city center that would withstand the changes accelerated by the pandemic.

“When I compare this downtown today to what I saw 25 years ago, you’ve already done the heavy lifting. You have already built your town centre. You have already positioned this city for success,” he said. “We have a tough road ahead of us, but together you can do it.”

Florida’s optimistic outlook was echoed by Jon Scholes, president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association, who shared the group’s annual economic report.

“We still have a lot of work to do, no doubt, but we have some bright spots,” Scholes said, sharing excerpts from the report that said residential rentals, leisure travel and other economic drivers in the center -city were progressing towards or even surpassing the pre-pandemic period. levels in 2021, while returns to office space have slowed but increased in recent weeks.

Beyond the effects of the pandemic, however, stakeholders agreed that the main obstacles in the inner city were public safety, housing and inequality.

“Real action begins with a coordinated and overdue focus on public safety,” said Mayor Bruce Harrell, who joined the event remotely, noting his administration’s recent efforts to increase police response. downtown.

During a panel at the event, City Attorney Ann Davison, City Councilwoman Sara Nelson and King County Regional Homelessness Authority CEO Marc Dones discussed how to handle public safety and to provide mental health, addictions and housing services to those in need downtown.

Davison, who took office in January and is committed to fighting crime, and Dones, whose commitment is to provide services to homeless people, agreed that the missing piece to solving the crises of the crime and homelessness in the city is collaboration between partners.

“I fundamentally believe that we interrupt the cycles of violence and crime by addressing the material needs that drive the cycles of crime,” Dones said. “People steal bread because they are hungry, not because they are angry with others.”

“I totally agree that there needs to be a role for the criminal justice system,” Dones said.

Davison agreed with Dones, noting that a lack of communication between agencies contributes to creating gaps in providing services to those in need.

“What we need to make sure we’re doing is to assess what will work for the individual,” Davison said. “It’s an important element because the longer we ignore someone, and the fact that something isn’t working for them, the longer we’ve worked their way into healthy relationships, to feel a sense of purpose, to be a person they know is a contributing member of society.

“And that’s really the ultimate goal.”

But, says Dones, for these relationships between agencies and community partners to be meaningful, they must materialize into actual housing for those in need.

“It cannot be theoretical; it’s real brick and mortar that we have to build somewhere,” Dones said.

To help make some of those tangible changes, Florida is recommending converting some of the city’s office buildings to housing and addressing pay equity issues for essential workers.

“I just looked at your housing and you’re one of the most expensive places to live in the country – you’re not quite the Bay Area, but… the city is approaching $1 million, the median price housing amounting to $915,000,” Florida said. .