Nearly 80 people paraded through the streets of Beacon Hill Tuesday evening, pointing out neighborhood eyesores to city officials.
Common concerns included graffiti, overgrown trees and abandoned buildings.
“Is there a light up there?” a woman called as the procession passed a tree growing over a streetlight.
“I don’t know!” the other walkers called back. A few people carrying clipboards took note.
The walk was the second of five Find It, Fix It Community Walks scheduled this summer as part of Mayor Ed Murray’s plan to reduce crime.
Carlo Caldirola-Davis, who works in the Mayor’s Office and helped organize the walk, said it was rooted in the popular “broken windows” theory: “If a community looks uncared for, people are more likely to commit criminal activity there,” he said. If people alert the city to broken windows in their neighborhoods, the city can more easily fix them, thereby reducing crime.
The walk began in the parking lot of an abandoned building at the corner of South Orcas Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, an area flagged by the Seattle Police Department for its car prowls, car thefts and burglaries. Amid police cars and television cameras, a crowd gathered around a makeshift podium, where officials proclaimed the city’s successes.
“You really only want one thing, and that’s having a safe community,” Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell said. “We’re heading in the right direction, and I just need you to believe that.”
Councilmember Sally Clark presented the city’s new Find It, Fix It app, with which people can report potholes, graffiti, and other neighborhood flaws from their smart phones.
From the parking lot, South Precinct Captain John Hayes led the group on a half-mile tour of the neighborhood.
City officials carried clipboards to record people’s safety concerns. A few complained about uneven spots on the sidewalk. A man in a wheelchair told Mariko Lockhart, director of the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, he got stuck while making his way home at 11 p.m.
The group stopped a few times to swarm features of the neighborhood that Hayes pointed out as he passed: a vacant building marked with graffiti, a street light blocked by a tree and a yard covered in tall grass and blackberry bushes.
At one point, Hayes led the group to the middle of a small intersection. As a line of cars backed up, Hayes asked the group to assess the houses on each corner based on their susceptibility to crime: “Does that house have great visibility?” he called out, pointing to a house surrounded by a white fence. “No!” the group shouted back. “How about the shrubs? Do they make it easy for someone to hide?” “Yes!” the group responded.
He also stopped to introduce various city officials. Darren Morgan of the Department of Transportation talked about overgrown trees. “If you’ve got tree questions, I’m the one to ask,” he said. Idris Beauregard, from Seattle Public Utilities, talked about graffiti.
The South Precinct’s muscle was in full flex as people marched across Martin Luther King Jr. Way. A police car with flashing lights drove beside Captain Hayes as he led the group through a red light. After looping around the block, the procession jaywalked across the street again, this time bringing a light rail train to a halt.
David, a five-year resident of the neighborhood who declined to give his last name, said he doubted the day’s action would have any long-term impact.
“Politicians,” he said. “It’s an excuse to show they care.”
“The input is very important,” said Nessy Borge, one of several members of the nearby Filipino Community Center who joined the walk. He said it’s important for policy makers to get first-hand experience of the neighborhoods they serve.
Caldirola-Davis, of the Mayor’s Office, said the event highlighted the city’s array of resources. Representatives of seven city departments, including the Office of Economic Development, Seattle Public Utilities, and Seattle City Light, walked among the crowd.
In order to clean up the neighborhood in the future, it will be important for residents to know, for instance, that the Department of Planning and Development, not the police department, coordinates with businesses to paint over graffiti.
Lockhart, of the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, defended the assumption that aesthetics influence safety by bringing more people outdoors.
“People aren’t using their own public space because they’re turned off by the litter and the weeds,” she said.
But no matter the approach to crime, she said, gathering neighbors together in the name of public safety is useful. People often ignore crime in their neighborhood because they feel isolated and afraid, she said. But when they see that other people are concerned, they’re more likely to speak up.
“Clearly, this alone wouldn’t make a big impact,” she said. “But as part of a bigger, comprehensive approach, this is important.”