Public Testimony re Dearborn Project by Prof. Lynne Manzo

In Cộng Đồng, LittleSaigon - Seattle on 2008/09/22 at 11:00

Public Testimony

on the

Dearborn Project

provided by

Lynne C. Manzo, PhD

Environmental Psychologist

September 22, 2008

My name is Dr. Lynne Manzo. I am a resident of Seattle and I am an Environmental Psychologist. While I am also a professor at the University of Washington, I am testifying today in my capacity as an environmental psychologist and a private citizen.  My particular area of expertise is in the lived experience of place – this includes the study of place identity, sense of place and sense of community, and those dimensions of the physical environment that make a place more desirable and livable.

Today, I am making a statement in response to the City of Seattle Analysis and Recommendation of the Director of the Department of Planning and Development” on Application Number 3001242, a proposal for 1400 South Dearborn Street by Darell Vange, Ravenhurst Development. My comments also refer to the project designs for “Dearborn Street,” “Design Review Board #8” dated July 24, 2007.

In its recommendation, the Dept of Planning and Development has not fully defined or explored the project impacts nor has it completely conditioned the project to address impacts as they are required to do by the Municipal Code.  A project of this magnitude should be carefully and fully examined. I therefore respectfully urge the Hearing Examiner and the City Council not to approve the proposed Dearborn Project until further investigation is made into the following areas and steps are taken to better address these issues in the design:

I. Impact on Cultural Vitality of Surrounding Communities

  • Greater consideration of the neighborhood context, and the impact of the development on the community from a socio-cultural perspective and on its cultural vitality is essential. This includes examining the effects of the development on the place identity, and sense of place of the adjacent communities as cultural landscapes.
  • Census data and other research show that the surrounding communities, composed mainly of immigrants and ethnic minorities (see Figures 1-5), have unique needs and concerns, including the need for culturally-specific and appropriate goods and services and there is no evidence for the adequate consideration or provision of this in the current proposal.
  • The site of the proposed development lies immediately south of “Little Saigon” or the western portion of the Chinatown-International District.  This district is a critical ethnic enclave which has historically served to mitigate negative psychological impacts of the displacement of refugees and immigrants, has provided alternative and culturally appropriate economic structures for immigrants and has facilitated the preservation of cultural traditions (Mazumdar et al, 2000).  Research other Little Saigons in California shows that a culturally-sensitive built architectural environment is critical for fostering community identity and immigrant adaptation (Mazumdar et al, 2000).
  • Figure * shows the percentage of foreign-born residents in the area surrounding the site, and Figure * shows the . The above-mentioned findings on immigrant adaptation, certainly apply to Seattle’s Chinatown-International District and Jackson Place neighborhoods, both of which are occupied by foreign born residents. The development as proposed does not take this reality into account in any demonstrable way.
  • Research also demonstrates particularly strong concerns among local residents, business owners and community leaders that neighborhood revitalization efforts reflect the fabric of the area as a cultural landscape.  (see especially Abramson, Manzo and Hou, 2006). This development does not reflect the local cultural landscape in any measurable way.
  • The proposal states that provisions would be made for “neighborhood-oriented shops” (Analysis & Recommendation of the Director of DPD for APPLICATION NO. MUP 3001242 p 3) yet what this means exactly is not made clear. There is no provision or mechanism in place that would ensure that local small-business owners would gain these smaller retail spaces, rather than other generic chain stores.  A Sunglass Hut is rather different from, and serves a different clientele than, a Vietnamese resident-owned small appliance shop, for example.
  • Census data and the site’s proximity to the Yesler Terrace public housing development demonstrate a need for affordable goods and services. Research shows that the poor fare badly in the big-box economy (Mitchell, 2006). In contrast to the popular idea that such stores offer more affordable products, a 2005 Consumer Reports study indicates that independent shops can offer better prices than their large chain counterparts. This supports findings from a 2003 Consumer Reports study that independent pharmacists provided a higher level of health care and personal attention than that offered by chain drugstores.
  • Impact on low-income immigrant communities – Research reveals that small business owners can thrive in ethnic enclaves which offer mini-economies that facilitate economic integration into the host country (Portes & Manning, 1986). The introduction of chain superstores may threaten these local mini-economies.
  • Based on the research data cited above, it is evident that culturally considerate and economically appropriate neighborhood developments are a matter of social and environmental justice.

II. Impact on Community Identity and Sense of Community

  • Put info from Hummon here:  Research on Community Identity indicates that it is `grounded in both social integration and environmental experience’ and “appears to build particularly on the personal meanings of life experiences and the public images of local culture” (Hummon, 1992, p. 262). The current proposal
  • The City of Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan for Managing Growth 2004-2024 states the following goals:

“Create strong and successful commercial and mixed-use areas that encourage business creation, expansion and vitality by allowing for a mix of business activities, while maintaining compatibility with the neighborhood-serving character of business districts, and the character of surrounding areas.”  (p 62 – LUG17)

“Prioritize the preservation, improvement and expansion of existing commercial areas over the creation of new business districts.” (p 62 – LU103).

The scale of the proposed project, particularly its reliance on national and international retain chains, currently stands in contrast to these stated goals (See Section III below for details of research demonstrating this)

III.  Impact of the Scale of the Project – Human Experience of the Streetscape

  • Further examination of the appropriateness of the scale of the project for the surrounding community, based on empirical evidence (research) on environmental perception and the need for human-scale streetscapes.
  • The project contains 696,000 square feet of retail.  The majority of that retail space is dedicated to stores that are 17,000 square feet or larger. The Target store alone is almost 170,000 square feet – a size close to all the existing retail in Little Saigon combined.  A project of this scale is completely out of character and scale for this neighborhood.
  • Scientific evidence on environmental perception and the pedestrian experience of the streetscape indicates that large, monolithic projects are more readily perceived as insular and disconnected to the larger community (Gratz & Mintz, 1998; Jacobs, 1995; Project for Public Spaces; 2000)
  • The proposed project includes 72,000 sq. ft. of structured plazas, private sidewalks, and private streets, and while it is stated that these are both internal to the site and open to the public, the design plans show that many more are internally oriented to the site.  For example, elevated walkways and seating areas that do not connect well to the street and consequently a smooth flow of pedestrian movement. Moreover, those spaces that are open to the public are either not well placed or do not include the valuable amenities that decades of environmental psychology research on public spaces suggests is needed for successful urban public space (Whyte, 1980; Project for Public Spaces, 2000; Carr et al, 1992).
  • Plop n’ Drop – Research indicates that larger-scale development projects such as the proposed Dearborn project that are built all at once, face greater challenges in fitting into the neighborhood context than the more organic development of Main Streets that evolve over time and are revitalized, and that reflect a strategy that some scholars have  called “urban husbandry.”  (Gratz & Mintz, 1998).
  • Human Activity – Formal, written Design Review Board priorities include a concern that “New Development should be sited and designed to encourage human activity on the street.” (Analysis & Recommendation of the Director of DPD for APPLICATION NO. MUP 3001242 p 5).  More can be done in the current proposal to ensure that human activity on the street is encouraged, not the least of which involves curtailing the further accommodation of vehicular traffic. As the Design Commission has previously noted, it is important for the proposed project not to “degrade the pedestrian experience.”
  • Design in Relation to Human Activity on the Street – On the one hand, the Review Board approved transparency requirements along Rainier Avenue, recommending that there be “an accompanying condition that the areas lacking transparency be treated with high quality architectural materials.” On the other hand, the Board also approved the “departure from the prohibition against placing a loading dock along the Rainier Ave.” These recommendations seem somewhat contradictory; increased vehicular traffic at the loading docks will diminish transparency, even if below grade. Moreover, it is not clear how green walls and different façade textures will facilitate transparency.
  • Human Scale – The Design Review Board also states that “The design of new buildings should incorporate architectural features, elements and details to achieve a good human scale.”  (Analysis & Recommendation of the Director of DPD for APPLICATION NO. MUP 3001242 p 5).  However, the current proposal allows for design elements that are decidedly not to human scale. For example, signs for the anchor superstores are allowed to be720 square feet and 250 square feet, a scale that is clearly not pedestrian or human oriented but geared to vehicular traffic, particularly on nearby highways.  Not only is this not to human scale it is evident that such signs and stores are clearly not catering to the local neighborhood market.
  • People-Oriented Open Space Guidelines – Research based open space guidelines call for sittable space, (Whyte, 1980; Marcus and Francis, 1990) openness to the surrounding context MORE HERE…. [check the ped walkway mentioned in Analysis & Recommendation of the Director of DPD for APPLICATION NO. MUP 3001242 p 9]

Based on the above data, I remand the recommendation back to the Department of Planning and Development so that a more adequate and complete analysis and recommendation can be made before this proposal goes to Council.


Literature for the Public Hearing

on the

Dearborn Project


Provided by

Lynne C. Manzo, PhD

Environmental Psychologist

September 22, 2008



List of Figures

Figure 1

Racial breakdown in the Chinatown-International District as compared to the remainder of Washington State reflecting the majority presence of ethnic minorities in the area near the Dearborn site

Figure 2

Map of foreign-born Asians in and around the Dearborn site, including Chinatown-International District and Jackson Place

Figure 3

Percent Asian Population in and around Dearborn site, including Chinatown-International District and Jackson Place neighborhoods

Figure 4.

Ancestry of Asian Population in and around the Dearborn Site

Figure 5

Years of Entry for the Foreign-born Population of the International District

Illustrating that many residents are recent immigrants.

Figure 6

Percent of Households with No Earnings in 1999

Demonstrating Extent of Low Income Households in Vicinity of Dearborn Project Site

Figure 7

Percentage of Families Below the Poverty Level

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