On Sept. 15, Touchstones held its Inaugural Tour of Rainier Beach during the 2nd Annual Rainier Beach Art Walk. Touchstones is a grassroots neighborhood project that reveals the history, heritage and people of one of Seattle’s most unique neighborhoods. The tour visited 15 historical locations including a Buddhist temple, an urban farm, a donut shop, World War II housing for workers and many more—uncovering the heritage and people in the most diverse neighborhood in Seattle—some say the country.
As a participant of the tour, I had an opportunity to experience the Seattle neighborhood as few have. With its density, urban diversity and small businesses, Rainier Beach felt like one of New York City’s burroughs.
Despite this, Rainier Beach is largely stereotyped as the “hood” due to its high crime rates. According to spotcrime.com, there have been 292 reported crimes in Rainier Beach since July 23, 2012. The crimes reported ranged from theft, assault, robbery and vandalism.
But Cheryl dos Remedios—Touchstones co-chair who is a Rainier Beach resident—believes the neighborhood has enormous potential to improve, especially with its celebrated diversity and efforts by Touchstones as a part of the larger “A Beautiful, Safe Place” initiative.
“The project not only overlays art, history and community development, but also hopes to strengthen outreach and marketing efforts for Rainier Beach,” said dos Remedios. Dos Remedios and Cassie Chin—who is the other Touchstones co-chair and Deputy Executive Director of Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience—led the two-hour long tour.
“[The tour] offers the opportunity for people to come down to our neighborhood and experience it firsthand,” dos Remedios added. “This is such a better way to get a feel for a place rather than reading about its crimes in the newspaper.”
Through this project, Rainier Beach residents and community stakeholders hope people will begin to understand how they can contribute to improvement efforts.
The Rainier Beach Tour is particularly unique because it combines emerging technologies with the art of storytelling. There is a quick response bar code—also known as a QR code—sticker at sites, where participants can use the provided iPod Touch or their own iPhone to scan the code and learn more about each location. This is all made possible by support from the City of Seattle Department of Information Technology (IT).
When asked as to why the IT Department decided to help fund this project, David Keyes, the City of Seattle’s Community Technology Program Manager who was present at the tour, said, “We wanted to support greater use of electronic tools for civic engagement, especially where they can help enable broader diverse participation.”
Though Keyes lives near Rainier Beach himself, he uncovered new attractions in his neighborhood such as Mapes Creek Walkway. He said it was great to walk the tour with others who had different knowledge and interests. His most memorable experience was during a lunch stop at a sub shop where the storeowner taught him how to write “Hello, my name is…” in Korean.
“I hope people take time to do this, even a part of it, and that they contribute their stories,” Keyes said. “This project has incredible potential to increase connections to this part of the city and our neighbors here. I hope it encourages people to get involved in many community improvement activities underway.”
According to dos Remedios, Rainier Beach just completed an 18-month process to update a neighborhood plan, which included four large community meetings, many smaller meetings and online surveys. She urged community members to be more involved in putting all the great ideas into action.
With the success and positive feedback of the tour, dos Remedios said Touchstones will most likely to be hosting the Rainier Beach Tour every September from now on.
The Touchstone co-chair said it’s important to have events like the Rainier Beach Art Walk so everyone can experience Rainier Beach as a beautiful, safe place.
“As tragic as the recent violence has been and as much as we feel for the families and friends, there are also many, many positive things happening in Rainier Beach,” dos Remedios said. “[And] Touchstones is an opportunity for us to share those many good things.”