Unity Near the U

Ravenna

Even for the people who reside in Ravenna, it’s hard to quantify exactly what makes it such a great place to 
live. “It’s just my home,” says 25-year resident Susan Gregory.

Some love the tree-lined residential 
streets and their proximity to the University District. Some appreciate the lack of a bustling business center that might congest their otherwise quiet streets. And some are energized by the community involvement; 15-year Ravennan Patti Colescott says residents’ efforts to clean up a rash of graffiti five years ago brought the once-sleepy neighborhood to life. “We had one of those red wagon groups, where the city gives you red wagons and supplies, and then it’s up to the neighborhood to make it happen,” she says. “So once a month, we would meet at Bagel Oasis, and then we would all head out in different directions to work.”

The graffiti disappeared, but that sense of unity remained: Now Ravenna’s fiercely protective community members are gearing up for a fight against a high-rise development tentatively planned for the western edge of the ’hood. They’re worried it might add the wrong “flavor” to the area, Colescott says, but more important, it’s just too big. They like things just the way they are in Ravenna, thank you very much.

A Small Town No Longer

Kirkland

A lot of midsize communities like to claim they sport a small-town feel, but Kirkland backs up its big talk. Two years ago, the city canceled its annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge in Lake Washington, citing budget constraints. Instead of letting the seven-year-old tradition die, though, fans of the frigid event staged a (metaphorically) stripped-down version without the city’s involvement. “We thought, ‘It’s a public park. As long as we don’t accept liability, why can’t we tell everyone to meet down at the park and do our own polar plunge?’ ” says Kirkland Weblog founder Janis Rabuchin. “We got the word out, and more than 100 people showed up.”

The question the Eastside waterfront enclave faces now, though, is whether it will be able to hold on to its self-proclaimed small-town designation much longer. This June the long-discussed annexation of the Finn Hill, Kingsgate, and North Juanita neighborhoods becomes official; adding those portions of unincorporated King County will boost Kirkland’s population by 33,000. The city’s design review board approved a controversial redevelopment of the Kirkland Parkplace shopping center in December. And developer Stuart McLeod, who opened Milagro Cantina in downtown Kirkland last winter, plans to expand Hector’s, his bar and grill on Lake Street. “There’s lots of things in the pipeline,” Rabuchin says. “It will be fun to see what we look like 10 years from now.”

Waterfront Destination

Madison Park

East Madison used to be the dividing line between wealthy Madison Park and working-class Madison Park; you had your pricey homes to the south and your modest beach houses to the north. But most of those little homes are gone, torn down and replaced by stately manors. “As a result, a lot of areas on the north side of Madison have become like the south side,” says nine-year resident Bryan Tagas. “There’s not that much difference anymore between the two.”

The two sides have a lot more in common than tony homes, though. For one thing, Madison Parkers are a welcoming—and liberal—bunch. (“It’s a very friendly neighborhood to walk around in,” Tagas says.) And for another, they love their comprehensive collection of retail amenities—so much so that it’s hard to pry them out of their perch between the Arboretum and Lake Washington. It’s a destination neighborhood, and one that tends to ensnare anyone who moves there. “I always say that we have everything but a bookstore and a liquor store,” Tagas says with a laugh. “I’m not even kidding when I say that you could live here and never have to leave the neighborhood.”

Driven to Survive

Montlake

For being a decidedly quiet residential neighborhood, Montlake is on the verge of a traffic uproar. Parking has always been a problem—particularly during football games at nearby Husky Stadium and the massive annual Greek festival at St. Demetrios Church on Boyer Avenue East. But congestion is what’s on residents’ minds now, as the Washington Department of Transportation ramps up plans to rebuild the 520 bridge to the Eastside. “Everybody’s worried about the bridge and what’s going to happen when cement trucks are rolling through the neighborhood every 10 minutes,” says Julee Neuhart, longtime Montlaker and chair of the local welcoming committee.

Montlake residents have expressed concern about construction at the north end of the neighborhood, where the DOT is also considering building a second bridge that would connect to the University District. But they’re also bracing for the inevitable onslaught of drivers from Madison Park and Madison Valley who will lose direct access to 520 when the Lake Washington Boulevard ramp closes as part of the rebuild. “They’re worried that 24th Avenue, which is a pretty quiet little business district, is going to look more like Aurora,” Neuhart says.

The locals’ outcry over the roadwork will no doubt strengthen their reputation for being shrill nimbyists, but they’ve got good reason to complain. Virtually surrounded by parks and water, Montlake is a little slice of nature in an urban setting. “If you’re a city person,” Neuhart says, “I can’t think of any other neighborhood that beats it.”