A Tale of Two Communities 


For years, Ballard has maintained multiple personalities. There’s old Ballard, with a rich history of fishing and Scandinavian culture, and new Ballard, with its onslaught of condos and hip restaurants and retail. There’s industrial Ballard, which welcomed creative types in search of affordable living spaces and blue collar workers in search of living-wage jobs, and there’s residential Ballard, which has embraced upper-middle-class outsiders intent on rehabbing its character-rich homes. Progress—and, let’s face it, gentrification—has inevitably favored modern ideals, but even the new generation of Ballardites worry about losing a piece of what used to be. “My grandma grew up here, so I used to hear stories about the old parts of Ballard,” says Kate Bergman, cofounder of the neighborhood blog -myballard.com. “It’s sad to see those things disappear, but on the other hand, it’s great to see Ballard thriving.”

It’s definitely thriving. Groups like Sustainable Ballard and Groundswell NW are focusing their efforts on preserving the community’s resources and parks. And yes, there’s the commercial aspect, too. “With more restaurants opening and more condos being built,” Bergman says, “it’s bringing more people, more money, and more energy to the neighborhood.”

Living Life Out Loud


The tiny triangle in the southwest corner of Capitol Hill bounded by Broadway, East Madison Street, and East Pine Street—and known as Pike/Pine—is home to 35 restaurants and more than 20 bars. And then there are the 30-odd retail stores, 10 coffee shops, half a dozen grocery and convenience stores and…. In other words, it’s dense. It’s dynamic. And it’s loud. “It’s definitely not a quiet neighborhood,” says longtime Capitol Hill resident and president of the neighborhood’s community council, Norma Straw. “There are parts of Capitol Hill that are quiet, but Pike/Pine is not one of them.”

Like most people who have moved to the area in the last five years, Straw was happy to trade peace for possibilities. Because for every obnoxious burst of noise at 3am, locals have dozens of options for living an active, urban lifestyle. “There are weeks when I go out every single night,” Straw says. “You have the spontaneity of saying, ‘Let’s go bowling at the Garage ,’ or, ‘Let’s go do karaoke at the Rock Box,’ or, ‘Let’s catch a performance at Velocity Dance Center.’ ”

Given that Pike/Pine is the place to live for restless revelers, the shadow of gentrification looms over the nabe. (For its part, Capitol Hill Housing is trying to provide affordable alternatives for lower-income residents.) But for now, the party is still hopping. “You can walk into any bar at happy hour and likely run into someone you know,” says Jason Lajeunesse, a co-owner of music venue Neumos. “It’s like a grown-up Sesame Street.”

Working Together to Live Diversely


Madrona has a rich history of neighborhood involvement. In the ’70s, concerned parents banded together to save Madrona Elementary from closure. Then in the late ’90s, a new generation of volunteers worked together to rebuild Madrona Playfield, the park that sits next to the school. “The whole thing was run down,” says 18-year resident Marie Doyle. “The school secretaries didn’t even dare walk through it to get to work.” And that spirit of engagement is still energizing Madronans today, as yet another generation of parents continues to put in work at the school, which now serves kindergartners through eighth graders. “They want to be a community,” Doyle says of her neighbors. “They want to get together and build things.”

But more than anything, they want to preserve the racial diversity of the neighborhood that was once home to the Seattle chapter of the Black Panthers. “A lot of people who have moved to Madrona came here because they like the diversity,” Doyle says. “They don’t want to live a homogenized life.”