Why I’m against Koda Condos: historic racism, not historic preservation.

On Tuesday the 9th, I voiced my opposition to Koda Condos (a luxury development proposed on 5th & Main) at a meeting of the International Special Review District (ISRD) Board. The next morning, I made the Morning Crank. Here’s a snippet:

Last night, I attended back-to-back public hearings on two proposed developments, both of which could help address Seattle’s housing shortage, albeit in very different ways.
The first meeting was a special review board discussion of a proposed high-rise condo building in Japantown (part of the Chinatown International District), which would be built what is currently a surface parking lot at the intersection of Fifth Avenue S and Main Street. The project, which has to go through a special design review process because of its location in the historic CID, is, predictably, controversial.

The article goes on to highlight my colorful language, including my reminder to the ISRD Board of the “repeated bastardization of” the CID. I just want to clear a few things up.

  1. I oppose this project not because it’s in “the historic CID,” but because of the history of why the CID exists in the first place: decades of explicitly racist policies that forced people (who look like me) to live in neighborhoods that the federal government has determined to be “undesirable.” Not to mention deeds that (to this very day) say things along the lines of “No person other than one of the Caucasian race shall be permitted to occupy any portion of any lot in said plat or any building thereon except a domestic servant actually employed by a Caucasian occupant of said lot or building.” (Source)
  2. Sure, redlining and racial restrictive covenants have long been outlawed and unenforceable. Can we talk about the systemic racism within Policy and Planning that perpetuates to this day? I shouldn’t have to explain this one. (One of many sources)
  3. Why should the CID experience unprecedented gentrification when our whitest neighborhoods have de facto moratoriums in the form of single-family zoning? Forget housing policy for a second: we already took the hit for I-5, the Kingdome/Stadiums, the Multimodal Transit Hub, and the shrinking of our neighborhood by over one half. Don’t you dare tell me this isn’t because of race.
  4. Sure, these luxury condos are replacing a parking lot, and they’re a helluva lot cheaper than McMansions, but what is the long-term impact on the PoC businesses, nonprofit services, low-income residents, and community development in the CID? Have we forgotten what the activists before me have fought so hard for? Saying that the CID should take a luxury condo to increase the region’s overall housing stock sounds just like “all lives matter.”
  5. The median income in the CID is $22 grand!!!!! The most recent comprehensive plan identified the CID as the highest risk for displacement. This condo will only increase already rampant gentrification. Seattle is slowly losing this cultural gem, as CID families have been moving to Ethnoburbs for decades. (Source)

When I hear urbanists advocating for gentrification, they often do so under the guise of “greatest good, for the greatest number, for the longest time.” Underneath that veil of utilitarian morality, I see the same logic behind the Interstate highway system, urban renewal, and countless other racist policies in urban planning. A planning professor told me that planners are just a step above lawyers when it comes to ethics — we’re seeing that right here.

I consider myself to be an urbanist. I am a firm believer of the democratic right to the city. I think the single-family zoning concentration in Seattle is disgusting and immoral. (I even fought for the upzone of the U-District, a contentious issue within the CID Coalition.)

The exception to my urbanism: I understand that ever since Luther Collins and Arthur Denny began occupying Duwamish land, Seattle has been a city of white people, for white people, by white people.

You bet your ass I’m going to keep fighting for racial justice, even if it means opposing “viable homeownership options” in the form of luxury condos.

As I told the ISRD Board on Tuesday night: “in conclusion, fuck this shit.”

While the aesthetic of this building is very modern, its soul is quite derivative of the 1960s Brutalist Era. In unpretentious English speak: it’s ugly and exclusionary. Source: KMD Fartchitects.

Postscript: that article also mentioned that I’m a member of the Seattle Board of Park Commissioners. Just to cover myself: I disclosed that I was speaking as a private citizen, and not as a City commissioner (the whole reason I brought that up in the first place.)

Post-postscript: this represents the opinion of Marlon (and only Marlon!) This does not necessarily express the opinions of the CID Coalition.