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How The Light Rail Will Change Rainier Valley

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[Photo: Matthew Rutledge]

Rainier Valley is one of Seattle's most culturally, racially and economically heterogeneous neighborhoods. For many Seattleites, it carries the reputation of being a crime-ridden home to low-income families, immigrant communities and housing projects. Even Mayor Ed Murray identified the Valley as a problem area upon coming into office. However, such an image is becoming increasingly misplaced with the changes that have been occurring since the introduction of the Link Light Rail that connects Rainier Valley to downtown.

Martin Luther King Jr. Way, a boulevard that has often been compared to a placeless strip mall, has begun to see dramatic change as a result of new developments already occurring around the light rail stations aligning it. The City Council approved plans this week to upzone the area surrounding the Mount Baker light-rail station in order to increase density, allowing some buildings to be built up to 125 feet tall. The plan aims to use the light rail stations as a way to attract new investment and create more walkable, vibrant urban centers in a concept known as 'urban villages.' Yet such urban development plans will not affect everyone equally.

A prime example of the contrasts created by the changes occurring around the Mount Baker station. More developments, such as the Artspace Mount Baker Lofts, will likely be built in the place of businesses like Philly's who may not be able to afford the new rental prices. The Artspace Mt. Baker Lofts are one of the first developments built around the Mount Baker station with the intention of creating an urban village. It is part of a plan to make the neighborhood less car friendly and more pedestrian and bike friendly.

Although the Link Light Rail is supposed to make for shorter commutes and connect disenfranchised communities to economic opportunities in Downtown Seattle, this has not proved to be the case for everyone. Low-income renters bear the brunt as land values around certain stations have skyrocketed more than 500 percent. Several reports have called to attention the displacement the Light Rail has caused for predominately African-American and Asian families who have been forced to move to the suburbs as more affluent groups begin to invest in Rainier Valley.

Only time will be able tell the full impact the Light Rail will have upon the Rainier Valley and whether or not the area will still be synonymous with cultural diversity two decades from now. In the meantime, be on the look out for a boom in new developments occurring in South Seattle.

(a) An example of an empty lot adjacent to the Mount Baker station that will likely be home to new developments. (b) An example of efforts made to create a sense of place, such as organizing community events sponsored by Sound Transit.

Written by Alyssa Campbell
· City Council Approves Controversial North Rainier Rezone [RVP]
· On The Wrong Track [DC]