Architectures For and Against Gentrification in Seattle’s Central District

Authors: Gregory T Woolston*, University of California, Santa Cruz
Topics: Urban Geography, Ethnicity and Race, Cultural Geography
Keywords: architecture, urban planning, real estate, gentrification, Seattle
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 50
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper considers architectural aesthetics both ​for​ and ​against​ gentrification in Seattle’s Central District, a historically Black neighborhood from which Black residents continue to be displaced and their built environment replaced. The new landscape, an architecture ​for gentrification, is read through a critical discourse analysis of architectural design proposals, urban planning guidelines, and developer marketing materials. Not only have these documents remade the Central District in the image of other (whiter) neighborhoods in Seattle, they also reproduce and commodify an aesthetic of multiculturalism. Following Stuart Hall (1991, 1992, 2000) and Sara Ahmed (2007, 2012), this aesthetic serves whiteness over actual difference. It is the “desire to hear ‘happy stories of diversity’ rather than unhappy stories of racism,” Ahmed (2007) explains in “Phenomenology of Whiteness.” However, recent efforts by activists, architects, and artists represent architectures against ​gentrification. For example, the Africatown Community Land Trust develops and designs spaces in a way that centers the Black and African diaspora community and history of the Central District. Their work has involved community design ciphers and public art throughout the neighborhood. Additionally, Wa Na Wari is a Black-owned home in the Central District that “supports a community elder while holding space for Black artists and storytellers in the neighborhood.” The spatial aesthetics created through the work of such groups resist the hegemonic transformations that are typical of architectural and urban design.

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