My host in Seattle was Historic Seattle, Inc. This is an unusual organization, in that it is in part a membership based non-profit organization (like most preservation groups). But it is also part public development authority of the City of Seattle. This second role has allowed them to undertake some wonderful historic real estate development projects over the years. A great recent success story is the redevelopment of the Cadillac Hotel.
But the public event they hosted was at the Good Sheppard Center. The GSC was built in 1906 by the Sisters of the Good Sheppard as a home for “wayward girls.” It finally closed in 1973 (although I doubt that it was because there were no more wayward girls by then). After strong neighborhood resistance to turning the 11 acre site into a shopping center, the City of Seattle acquired the property and turned it over to Historic Seattle to redevelop.
Today the Good Sheppard Center is a incredible complex housing a charter school, non profit offices, artists live-work spaces, an experimental garden, and, most recently restored, a wonderful small theater area. This last space is in big demand for musical performances, public lectures, and other events calling for an intimate space with great acoustics.
If for whatever reason you’re interested in reading the text of my presentation, Historic Seattle has posted it on their website.
Historic Seattle is now headed by Kathleen Brooker, formerly the executive director of Historic Denver. Kathleen replaced long time Historic Seattle executive director John Chaney. And obviously both John and Kathleen are people who get it.
But I met two more in Seattle. The first is City Council member Sally Clark. Sally chairs the Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee of the Council. And is Seattle ever lucky that’s the case. Here’s why she impressed me: 1) she is obviously very smart (and in case you’ve never noticed that’s not always true of elected officials. You don’t have to be a Mensa member to be elected to the city council.) 2) She understands what the problems are; 3) She understands that the problems are complex; 4) She doesn’t pretend to have all the answers; and 5) She is inclined to evaluate possible answers on a systematic, rational basis.
That might not seem such a great endorsement. But how many of your city council members possess those five characteristics? Damned few I expect.
And the second one who “gets it” is a young woman reporter for the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce. Her name is Shawna Gamache, and she covers architecture, engineering and city government. Now I didn’t actually meet Shawna, but we exchanged emails, talked on the phone and I read her blog, SeattleScape. I have occasion to talk to local reporters with some regularity. But it is rarer than you might think that they have both a nuanced understanding of and a passion for the areas that they are assigned to cover. But the sophistication of the questions that Shawna asked, and the commentary in her blog demonstrated to me that she’s one of those who get it.
You know it isn’t really necessary that everyone in a community “gets it”. It’s only necessary that there are a few articulate voices who do. And having a city council member and a young reporter is a great place to start.