David Seater and Merlin Rainwater from Central Greenways do some advocacy work.
David Seater and Merlin Rainwater from Central Greenways do some advocacy work.

Brie Gyncild has lived in Capitol Hill for 27 years, and the thing she loves the most about the neighborhood is its walkability — people going to different places on foot every chance they get. There’s light rail, the streetcar and the Metro bus system. And yet, Gyncild just loves walking around on Pike, Pine and Broadway, where she runs into friends and gets entertained by cute dogs, people moving mattresses and window displays.

“The neighborhood still has a ‘villagy’ feeling,” she said. “I just love that your default is to walk. And then, if you have to go a little further where walking is not going to work, then you start looking for other options. But you count on your feet to start.”

But with all the changes in transportation, development and gentrification going on in Capitol Hill nowadays, will it still have that village feeling in the future? What will happen with the community when automatic cars, drones and huge buildings are all over the area? Will it still be welcoming, LGTBQ-friendly and diverse?

To discuss these topics, Gyncild and other members of the community participated in a panel discussion organized by Seattle’s One Center City team Monday evening at the Erickson Theatre.

With rent prices increasing slowly but steadily due to development in Capitol Hill in the last five years, many panelists — including Capitol Hill Housing CEO and panel moderator Chris Persons, Capitol Hill Farmers Market manager Ivy Fox and Transportation Choices Coalition executive director Shefali Ranganathan — agreed the main challenge for the future of the community is affordability.

“In five years, you’re going to have more people moving in and rent prices will continue to go up unless we put a rent cap amendment,” said Seattle Central College student Nickey Mitchell.

Mitchell, who has lived in Seattle for five years, can’t afford living in Capitol Hill, so he had to look for a place somewhere else near the Othello Link station. Things get even more complicated for young students like him, as the money they save in housing ends up going to high transportation expenses.

“A general college student who goes to a community technical college lacks the funding to be able live in the Hill properly, unless they have three, four, five roommates in a studio,” Mitchell said. “We students don’t have a real way to afford living here. In the past, not liking a math class was a problem for us. Now the problem is that transportation costs make that we can’t afford going to a math class.”

The event participants also expressed their concerns that if both old-time residents and newcomers can’t afford living in Capitol Hill, it will lose its sense of community and identity.

“We could end up with this homogenous wealthy neighborhood, where people don’t have this sense of history or rootedness in the community,” Gyncild said.

Gyncild, who is also a spokesperson and advocate for Central Seattle Greenways, praised the event for providing residents a space to debate about the future of the neighborhood.

“One Central City gives us the structure to have a conversation about our vision for the future,” she said. “I’m constantly talking to people who feel overwhelmed by the changes that have come to Capitol Hill. They feel hopeless and out of control. They don’t even recognize their own neighborhood. But together we can plan what our open spaces, our alleys, our sidewalks, our streets are going to look like.”

David Seater, with Central Seattle Greenways, attended the panel discussion on Monday to promote street safety.

“We’re a grassroots group of neighbors who are advocating for safe streets in our neighborhood for people who are walking, biking or taking transit. Our priority is to make streets safer for everybody—lower speed limits, improve crosswalks,” Seater said. “Personally, I’d like to see more protected bike lanes, especially in the Center City area. A lot of people in Capitol Hill would like to bike to their jobs but they don’t do it because they say it’s very scary because of dump trucks, cars and buses. We should work with the city more to help people feel safe.”