I have spent 20 years working on public safety issues with the community and Seattle Police Department in the Chinatown/International District. We battle typical urban drug and crime problems as an urban neighborhood. I have learned fighting these problems demands constant vigilance and diligence on the part of the entire community. The cycle of negative street level activity persists month after month, year after year. Tired of the cycle, there are some who are doing the real hard work of community and economic development in the ID.
Great neighborhoods have great “champions” of change. Sometimes the efforts of our champions go unnoticed, especially by those who will benefit the most by their efforts. Two such champions are Nora Chan and Stan Wu, volunteers for Seniors in Action. Nora reminds me of my mother. She may be small in stature, but not her passion and tenacity. In contrast to Nora, Stan is taller and a self-described newcomer to the Chinatown scene. His voice holds the conviction and confidence of his ideas. Last summer, Nora and Stan embarked on a project to install surveillance cameras throughout the neighborhood. The cameras would be accessible via the web to community members who could then work with police on suspicious behavior and street level crime. Naïve about neighborhood politics, city bureaucracy and funding, they initially set an ambitious schedule to have surveillance cameras installed by the end of 2010.
A year later, Nora and Stan have yet to fully fund and implement the project. But like champions, they are meeting their challenges with determination and tenacity. They went door to door last month to get neighborhood leaders to a community meeting to support the camera project. They now appear to have the momentum and support of various community leaders to make the project happen. There will be a fundraising dinner for the camera project on August 28, 6 p.m. at the House of Hong restaurant. Look for the first cameras to be installed this year, which will be a testament to the hard work of Nora and Stan.
Nora and Stan are championing a project that will provide a tool to the neighborhood that can provide greater vigilance and diligence that has great potential to deter negative street level activity. But a new surveillance camera system is only one part of the strategy to improve public safety in the ID.
There is another group of champions doing their part. The Chinatown/ID Neighborhood Block Watch started a couple of years ago. Every Tuesday and Thursday evenings, a group of residents and community people walk the streets of the Chinatown/ID. Easily identifiable by their blue-colored vests, the group tends to number around 15-20 people. For two hours, they make the streets a bit safer for others. Some say it’s only 2 hours or it’s a waste of time. They are champions because they do not give into apathy and fear of retaliation. They are role models to those who point fingers at others to do the hard work.
Champions provide a vision for change or improvement, but also do the hard work of engaging different neighborhood groups, leaders and organizations. It is very hard work because building collaborations and partnerships in our community are often met with detractors who provide plenty of criticism and no real solutions. As champions, they face their challengers with vision, patience, tenacity and perseverance.
Public safety is often regarded as the top priority in Chinatown ID by residents, business owners and neighborhood organizations. But the level of diligence demonstrated by them needs significant improvement. Those most capable of providing leadership and support, choose not to.
Diligence and vigilance can be as simple as reporting a crime or suspicious behavior to 911. It can be supporting the new camera project. It can also be as simple as walking the streets of the ID.
If you want to do more or want information on the camera project, block watch or other public safety activities, please visit www.idea-space.info.