Comments re: Livable South Downtown Land Use Initiative

In Cộng Đồng, LittleSaigon - Seattle on 2008/09/05 at 20:07

Synopsis of The Vietnamese Public Comments Report on The Livable South Downtown Land Use Initiative


City of Seattle Mayor: Gregory J. Nickels

City of Seattle Council Members: Sally Clark, Richard Conlin, Tim Burgess, Jan Drago, Jean Godden, Bruce Harrell, Nick Licata, Richard McIver, Tom Rasmussen

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights

The Seattle Immigrant and Refugee Advisory Board Co Chairs: Jesús Ybarra Rodríguez & Shankar Narayan


Civic Engagement and Participatory Process of the Livable South Downtown Land Use Recommendations

We are writing in regards to the Livable South Downtown Final EIS and Land Use Recommendations as they impact the Vietnamese and their co-ethnic communities. The first part of our report is its bilingual synopsis followed by a whole section for both observation of past events and detailed recommendations.

The comments below are drawn from the attached comments made by Dr. Jeff Hou (July 2008) through his works in the International District over the years with various student groups at the University of Washington. We also did extensive research, and communicated with many activists, citizens, and scholars regarding the issues of urban planning and democratic participation, as well as utilized “Notes” of events and contacts for these observations.

Synopsis of The Vietnamese Public Comments Report on The Livable South Downtown Land Use Initiative

We are disappointed by the Department of Planning and Development’s (DPD) lack of thorough and inclusive outreach and the City’s inadequate public engagement strategies, particularly as regards marginalized ethnic groups. These groups experience many predicaments due to multilayered barriers to meaningful participation at individual, structural and socio-cultural levels. Some prominent vulnerabilities include language, status, uneven access to communication technologies, and the defenselessness of local stakeholders to outsiders. At the same time, the requests to be responsive as well as to use creative methods for dealing with barriers while working with the grassroots to solicit opinions for more inclusive engagement were not taken seriously even though suggested in the public meetings.

The Livable South Downtown Land Use Initiative (LSDLUI) has not been inclusive and empowering due to its business- and technical-oriented approach conducted with largely elite group participation. For instance, the commercial tenants and residents in Little Saigon/International District have very little voice in the establishment and management of Washington State Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce [WaVA—formerly Vietnamese American Economic Development Association (VAEDA) ]. The board of directors composed of the hand-picked representatives are (1) insulated from public accountability as WaVA board members cannot be voted out of office, and (2) deliberately removed from public democratic channels of accountability. However, they provide an excellent mechanism to package, market, sell, and thus restructure Little Saigon as a cultural commodity. Furthermore, the various excluded groups in the community did not have any say or approval as to whom were the consultants with the necessary appropriate skills and cultural competence to engage with these socially excluded populations regarding studies on the economic and other critical impacts.

There is an imminent threat that urban land will be reclaimed from low-income residents by the City through an active participation in the urban real estate market, through public/private partnerships rather than the exercise of legal governing powers, by reconstructing new urban territories and repopulating them with the wealthier classes.

Summary of Recommendations

We urge that the Mayor, the City Council and the City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development:

(1) investigate the strategies and recommendations proposed by the “Community Open Space Initiatives” for the Little Saigon and Dearborn area of the University of Washington, Department of Landscape Architecture (2005) and other astounding urban collaboration projects around the country and Canada; and

(2) examine successful models of public engagement based on “structured deliberation” used in ethnically diverse regions such as Chicago or “The Vancouver Agreement” of Department of Western Diversification [of Vancouver, British Columbia] in 2000.

Regeneration or smart growth strategies need to involve image management in order to bring the Little Saigon neighborhood into the mainstream. The City should budget for management professionals for the inclusive and democratic participatory process. Proposals should not come only from professionals approved by the DPD officials. Furthermore, their expertise and advocacy should not involve the use of “pseudo-participation” approaches (i.e. informing, therapy, manipulation, placation, consultation). Reforming the current processes to ensure that affected people are adequately informed about their possible displacement, can only be a short-term policy corrective.

In the near future, policies addressing the question of displacement will need to move beyond a focus on damage control. We would like to establish an institutional reform that entails the institutional mechanisms for informing stakeholders and seeking their approval prior to any act of displacement. Furthermore, the long-term City and State policy objective must be to separate development from displacement. Any policy actions that have displacement as an outcome cannot qualify as developmental. The LSDLUI should be the creation of wealth through investing in Little Saigon’s that, in the longer term, will reduce its dependency on outside capital, helping to make its future more sustainable—not only economically but also culturally. Last but not least, a just system of urban and social planning requires a perspective which goes beyond risk management, and which does not automatically pathologize cultural differences stemming from the ethnic concentration. It is only by adopting such an attitude and philosophy that the City of Seattle can fulfill its moral and social responsibilities to all of its residents.

Vietnamese Version

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