A way forward: Sowing community solutions in the Chinatown-International District

Early 1970’s: Asian and Pacific Islander activities, including Bob Santos, mobilize in response to the building of the Kingdome Stadium to raise awareness about neglect in the CID.

In the first of a three-part series on health in the Chinatown-International District, we learned that data pointed to some unexpected findings:
– Diabetes is the leading cause of death;
– The neighborhood has experienced a 64% increase in young children since 2010; and,
– More people report having poor mental health than anywhere else in the county.

In the second segment, Safety, stress and public health: Chinatown-International District Neighborhood voices, we learned that 70% of residents experienced anxiety or stress as a result of feeling unsafe.

“When your environment, social network and existence as a community is under threat in every way, how can you lead your healthiest life?” – Valerie Tran, Healthy Communities Program Manager of the InterIm Community Development Association

For public health insiders, what starts to emerge is a very clear picture of the deep connections between place, environmental justice, institutional racism, public safety, mental health and physical health. Equally powerful is the resilience of the 3500 residents, 500 businesses and culturally-relevant community organizations that make up today’s Chinatown-International District.

Sowing solutions


It is here we focus our final segment—turning our attention to the solutions identified by members of the CID community and highlighted in the 2020 Healthy Community Action Plan.

We followed-up with Valerie Tran, Healthy Communities Program Manager of the InterIm Community Development Association (InterIm CDA) to talk about some of the highlights.

What stood out for you in gathering the perspective of community members?

Ms. Tran: 2015 and 2016 were particularly challenging for the CID community. While public safety has been a constant issue in the neighborhood, it became the focal point after Donnie Chin’s murder in July 2015. Donnie was a community leader and director of the International District Emergency Center. He was a civilian who dedicated his life to doing the jobs that many felt City departments were supposed to do for the CID. From the community’s perspective, his unsolved murder highlights the impacts of historic disinvestment, institutional racism, and what happens when the City fails to do its job in preserving and protecting neighborhoods.

In developing the 2020 Healthy Community Action Plan, I expected that community conversations and recommendations would revolve around specific health conditions. Instead, the conversations always found their way back to public safety and the fact that the physical and social conditions in the CID keep people from leading their healthiest lives. The need to improve public safety came across so strongly in all of the community conversations that it had to be at the core of our Plan. We can’t have a strong, healthy, and viable residential and commercial district if basic conditions for safety are not met.

What are a few of the approaches we should know about?

Ms. Tran: The 2020 Healthy Community Action Plan uses a public health lens to look at housing, community and economic development, environment, and public safety. It lays out nine distinct strategies. Here are just a few examples:

1. Activating neighborhood parks and public spaces: elders-in-garden

The CID has the least amount of green space per person compared to any other neighborhood in Seattle, and the green space that is available is often unsafe. This discourages our community from being physically and socially active outdoors and discourages patrons from spending time in the neighborhood. We received funding from Swedish and Seattle Parks and Recreation to invest in public spaces and safety, and we will work with community partners to host culturally appropriate programming, education, and activities in our three neighborhood parks (Danny Woo Community Garden, Hing Hay Park, and Donnie Chin International Children’s Park).

2. Promoting health and financial literacy: One way to stabilize and enrich our residential community is by ensuring that our residents are equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to make informed decisions about their health and finances. One way to do that is to bring this information and services to where people live. InterIm CDA, Swedish, and International Community Health Services are piloting a a resident-driven program called Set for Success: Healthy Lifestyles for All Ages. This program brings relevant education, programming, and resources to residents at our newest workforce housing development, Hirabayashi Place, to support our residents better manage their health and finances.

3. Improving public safety: In the second segment of this series, we discussed the findings of the neighborhood public safety survey which highlighted the connections between public safety and health. This summer, InterIm CDA and SCIDpda briefed Seattle City Council on the survey findings and recommendations, opening up further discussions with council members about how to implement the recommendations. We’re continuing to work with council members to engage them in this issue and look forward to seeing how we can build partnerships to improve the safety of the CID.

In what ways can others get involved in upholding this vision of a healthy, safe, and livable CID?  

Ms. Tran: First and foremost, we encourage you to get to know the neighborhood and understand its history. Remember that people live and work here; this is not just a place for lunch.

There are so many existing efforts in the CID that people can get involved in to promote health, safety, and livability of the community.You can reach out to us and our neighborhood partners* for volunteer opportunities.

You can also support the Donnie Project which provides culturally responsive emergency preparedness and first aid training to community members. This is an initiative to carry on Donnie Chin’s legacy; donations can be made to the International District Emergency Center (P.O. Box 14103., Seattle, WA 98114).

* Partners in the Healthy Communities Program include: Chinatown – International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA), InterIm CDA, International Community Health Services (ICHS), Public Health – Seattle & King County, Seattle Chinatown – International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), Swedish Health Services, and Yesler Community Collaborative (YCC)

** Infographics and images courtesy of InterIm CDA