duwamish

Carol Smith's picture

Learning from the Duwamish River Communities

Seattle is a city built on water – its identity, its celebrated beauty, and much of its economic lifeblood comes from its relationship to Puget Sound and the rivers that flow into it.

But the Duwamish River, which runs through the center of Seattle’s urban industrial core, is not the one you see on post cards. Now named one of the largest Superfund sites in the country, it is also the river in the backyard of more than 38,000 of Seattle’s poorest and most diverse residents.

The goal of my 2010 National Health Fellowship project was to identify the community health issues that face the people living in two neighborhoods – Georgetown and South Park -- which face each other across the toxic river in the middle of the Superfund site. 

The thinking was that by identifying these problems, we could call out the issue of accountability, and more importantly point the way toward creative solutions for a portion of the population the greater Seattle community has historically ignored. The backdrop for the story was a looming multi-million dollar Superfund decision about how best to clean up the river, and to what extent.

The precipitating event for the story, though, was the closure of the bridge that links the two communities, effectively cutting off easy access to downtown Seattle a few miles away. To me it seemed the perfect metaphor for the attitude of the larger population toward those struggling to carve a life on the banks of the river that built the prosperous city down the road.

Byline: 

Can "Eco-Industrial Districts" help make Seattle sustainable?

A potentially far-reaching step toward making Seattle and its economy truly sustainable went unrecognized by news media this week: King County declaring its intention to partner with the city to create "Eco-Industrial Districts." A likely first candidate: The Duwamish River corridor in south Seattle, home of a Superfund site but also some grand visions by environmentalists, community activists and others.

The King County Council, prodded by councilman Larry Phillips, passed a resolution Sept. 13 that was welcomed by Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin:

"Seattle’s industrial core is a unique and extremely valuable resource and critical to the long term economic health of the region. The City Council’s interest in (eco-industrial districts) has a dual purpose, both to strengthen our industrial core and to improve the environmental quality of the Duwamish river corridor."

It's been a few years since the city council passed an ordinance intended to help preserve easily gentrified industrial areas. It's a threat we explored in our 2007 series on the Duwamish. But the city hasn't done a whole lot since then to proactively encourage high-wage industry to stay in town.

The whole idea of these eco-industrial districts is that new and cleaner industry can dovetail with efforts to green up -- literally and figuratively -- some of the city's grittier and yet economically important areas. Here's how the county's press release conceputalizes them: