The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) is hosting its national conference in Seattle this year and its kickoff event tonight is free and open to the public. The topic is “Suburbanization of Poverty” for the panel at Benaroya Hall from 6pm to 8pm.

The full conference is for paid attendees only, but is peppered with events that are open to the public. On Wednesday, Jeff Speck will give a talk titled “Autonomous Vehicles & The Good City” from 3.15pm to 4.30pm at Benaroya Hall. On Friday, Chuck Marohn is headlining a Strong Towns Debate at 8pm to 9.30pm. The full schedule is available here. The Urbanist will be live tweeting the conference’s core sessions.

The panel on suburbanization of poverty is a fitting way to start the event since that issue is increasingly prevalent in Seattlle. In a Sightline guest piece, David Goldberg reported:

“The Pacific Northwest is an expensive place to be poor,” says Scott Bernstein, who has spent much of the last three years studying trends and solutions to poverty in North America.

And in many ways the region’s suburbs are even more costly for people of lesser means, notes Bernstein, founder of the Center for Neighborhood Technology and lead author of the organization’s Urban Opportunity Agenda. That is despite the lower rents that draw low-wage households to working class suburbs from the cities of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC, and their rapidly rising rents.

In many suburbs, transit is sparse or non-existent, so car ownership is all but mandatory to reach the scattered jobs. And cars are costly. “People end up holding onto older cars and paying for repairs, or paying more to get a newer car,” Bernstein says. “Portland and Seattle are leaders in expanding transit, but most of that is in the core and some inner suburbs.” Services like home weatherization programs and job training, present in central cities, are often missing in suburban locales.

In Seattle, that displacement takes the form of low-income people of color being pushed from Seattle to south suburbs where rents are cheaper but commutes are more grueling. The event hopefully will shed some light on solutions.

As Golberg reported, here are the presenters at tonight’s event:

  • Dow Constantine, King County Executive
  • Chenoa Egawa, Ceremonial Leader and Activist (Coast Salish of the Lummi and S’Kallam Nations of Washington State)
  • Rebecca Saldaña, Washington State Senator
  • Elizabeth Kneebone, Fellow, Brookings Institution
  • Scott Bernstein, Founder, Center for Neighborhood Technology
  • Charles Ellison, Correspondent, Politico
  • Kim Powe, Climate Justice Director and Acting Deputy Director, Puget Sound Sage
  • De’Sean Quinn, Councilmember, City of Tukwila
  • Gene Duvernoy, Founder, Forterra

You may recall that Forterra has been active in trying to help Africatown gain ownership of the Midtown Center to develop it in an inclusive way for communities of color in the Central District.

Displacement Tensions Come To A Head At Midtown Center

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  1. “In Seattle, that displacement takes the form of *low-income people of color* being pushed from Seattle to south suburbs where rents are cheaper but commutes are more grueling. ”

    Why not merely “low-income people?” Gentrification is not merely a racial thing. There have been plenty more low income white folks driven out of town to the burbs.

    • I chose that wording because gentrification isn’t color-blind. People of color are at higher risk of being displaced for a number of reasons related to racism, from historic redlining to on-going racial bias in lending practices making it harder for them to get and keep a mortgage.

      Redlining denied Black families both the ability to access to high value neighborhoods generations ago and the ability to build wealth in their homes since redlined areas were passed over for investment. That’s a big reason why to this day Black household wealth is a fraction of White household wealth–something like a tenth.

      This isn’t to discount the problem of low income white folks being displaced and driven to the suburbs, but to recognize the uneven playing field.

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