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Belltown: An Urban Community

Hello all! I’m Matt Loar, the recently-elected secretary of the Belltown Community Council, and this is my first post on BelltownPeople.com.

By now I’m sure that many of you have read the article over at Seattlest entitled “Belltown: Seattle’s Genuine Melting Pot.” While I was generally happy to see the author’s obvious love of Belltown, I had to take issue with certain implications.

The author starts out with “Earlier this week, Seattle’s Parks and Recreation department sent out a press release regarding the latest effort to create a park and a community center in the middle of Belltown, the decidedly funky and urban neighborhood right in the heart of the downtown corridor. Many of us here at Seattlest looked upon this release as another attempt to whitewash the reality that is Belltown.” The author seems to think that this is all a conspiracy by City Hall to destroy the bohemian character of Belltown.

If only.

The Belltown Community Center is the only project financed by the Community Center Levy passed by Seattle voters in 1999 that has not been completed. It is now within sight of completion only due to the relentless efforts of several long-time Belltown residents. Unlike any community center elsewhere in the city, the Belltown Community Center will receive no funding from the City for operations – the City is putting operations out to bid by non-profit organizations and expecting the operator to recoup their costs through user fees.  Likewise, the Bell Street Park Boulevard is financed by the 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy. Rather than an attempt to “whitewash” Belltown, these projects reflect an effort by our neighbors to get the City to give Belltown its due as one of Seattle’s most densely populated neighborhoods and one which the City expects to absorb more of Seattle’s population growth over the next two decades than any other neighborhood, more than doubling our population.

The author goes on to say, “What’s heartening is that even after 20 years of such efforts, Belltown hasn’t changed one bit. It is every bit as rambunctious, sketchy, dangerous and feisty as it ever was.” I can get behind every one of these adjectives – except “dangerous.” I love Belltown’s character – that’s why I chose to live here. I frequent several neighborhood bars as well as the 5-Point and the Hurricane (and the Lucky Diner which I first tried tonight). I don’t mind the hot-dog vendors on the street corners or the loud drunks on 1st Avenue on the weekends. But when I hear of bartenders I know being mugged on the street after locking up their bars, or see crack being bought and sold in the open at 3rd and Bell, those are things I am not ready to accept as just a part of urban living. When I have ladyfriends visit me, I dutifully escort them to their home, car, or bus stop. But I’d like to think I do this out of chivalry rather than a legitimate fear that some harm will befall them.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but the first time I attended a Belltown Community Council meeting I looked around and thought, “Why are all these old people here? Do they live in Belltown?” As a matter of fact, they do. Belltown is a melting pot in many ways – not just the yuppies with the hipsters with the down-and-out – but also retirees and, surprisingly enough, some families. Belltown is conveniently located adjacent to downtown, which is already the region’s largest jobs center and expected to become even more so, as well as the up-and-coming South Lake Union. If we expect to meet our climate and sustainability goals, we cannot afford the messaging to be “Got a bun in the oven? Well, you’d better pack up and move to Mercer Island, because Belltown is no place to raise a kid.” I am confident that we can be a neighborhood that is inclusive of everyone while still having a reasonable level of safety.

I am very interested to hear my neighbors’ perspectives on this. There are two events coming up this week: on Tuesday night the Belltown Business Association is having a “Best of Belltown” event at – wait for it – the Crocodile Cafe. Wednesday night at 7 PM the Belltown Community Council has its monthly meeting at 314 Bell Street. I encourage you to attend one or both of these events and express your views of what Belltown should be. Belltown is what we make of it.

4 Comments on "Belltown: An Urban Community"

  1. Hi Matt! So so glad that you posted here on Belltownpeople and good luck with your new post as secretary of the bcc! Thank you for your service to our neighborhood. I too am excited for a community center and park boulevard. Both of which will continue to make our neighborhood one that is just as vibrant during the daytime, as it is on the weekend nights.

    Also, my husband Jesse and I are giving birth to our first child this month and we plan to stay in Belltown for a long while. We are excited to raise our children in the city and continue to be apart of this growing neighborhood. We look forward to meeting you on Tuesday night at the Croc.

  2. gan photography | June 12, 2011 at 1:06 pm |

    Great comments Matt. To state that Belltown “hasn’t changed one bit” must have been done by someone who is either blind or has never been in Belltown.

    I think Belltown has great potential and is really coming into its own. We’re part Art, Music, Urban, Food & Drink, yet only six blocks from Pike Place Market and even closer to the waterfront. We’re one of the most “micro” of Seattle’s micro neighborhoods.

    As a resident downtown Seattle for almost 17 (Belltown for two), we have the momentum, residents, and planning to make this neighborhood stellar.

    Again, great posting and we appreciate your support.

  3. I was pretty pissed off when reading the article. First, the BBA (a VOLUNTEER organization) organized the Best of Belltown event, not the city.

    Second, like you said, it was a levy from 1999… and it’s OUR raised money, not the govts!

    Uuugghhh… But as I commented, I was wondering how long it would take for a negative outlook on the positive change occurring in Belltown to pop up. Seattlest won.

  4. Mike Mello | June 14, 2011 at 10:59 am |

    gan photography:

    I found your statement to be quite offensive, as a resident of Belltown and one of several people who are blind who call this neighborhood our home. To generalize that blind persons are not aware of changes in the world that we live in is just plain ignorant and shows your lack of understanding of the dichotomy of Belltown and the people who live here.

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