On Tuesday, June 23, 2015, Seattle’s historically LGBTQ neighborhood, Capitol Hill, unveiled 10 rainbow painted crosswalks in honor of Seattle Pride Week. The total cost for this project was $66,000, or $6,000 per crosswalk, a price the city was happy to pay to mark the neighborhood a safe space for the LGBTQ community and remind newcomers and longtime resident’s of Capitol Hill’s colorful roots. The crosswalks were a great success for Pride Week and prompted the city to install more throughout the neighborhood in a more permanent capacity.
Not long after Pride Week, the rainbow crosswalks of Capitol Hill sparked a group of unknown painters to grab cans of paint and color a few crosswalks in the Central District. Two areas of crosswalks are now painted in red, green, and black stripes, representing the Pan-African flag. Seattle’s local King 5 News interviewed members of the group of painters and residents who could confirm that it was mostly a neighborhood-wide organized effort.
“This neighborhood used to be predominantly black at one point in time,” Central District resident Tiffany Jones told a K5 News reporter. “It’s a sense of pride. It’s our culture. It’s who we are.”
In an attempt to respond positively to the Central District crosswalks, the city of Seattle has since posted a list of Community Crosswalk Guidelines, outlining the rules and costs of coloring crosswalks to represent your neighborhood in Seattle and encouraging community members to take part in this social project by submitting ideas to city hall. The Central District crosswalks appear to follow physical guidelines that the city laid out (such as that the paint must be in vertical or horizontal stripes), but were obviously instated without being sanctioned and slapped with the $25 per square foot price.
“That’s gay pride, this is African American pride,” another resident told K5 News. “There is no difference.”
Though home to one of the most culturally and racially diverse zip codes in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is also known to be predominantly white and segregated in most areas of the city. Back in mid-August of 2015, Black Lives Matter activists voiced some of these unsettling facts of racial segregation and oppression when they disrupted Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ speech in Seattle. Side-stepping city hall to paint the Central District sidewalks appears to have initiated a similar conversation about the visibility of black residents in Seattle.
While everyone loves the rainbow, Seattle is already widely known for being an LGBTQ-friendly city outside of just Capitol Hill. Residents “going rogue” and painting the Central District crosswalks colors of the Pan-African flag is a much louder effort to celebrate a more greatly overlooked population of the city.
“You spent $66,000 on the rainbows,” said Jones. “Spend $66,000 on the black flag.”
The crosswalks have remained colorful for nearly 2 months now, and while some residents voiced that the painters “should’ve gone to city hall and asked,” the Seattle Department of Transportation recently issued a statement that the Central District crosswalks are here to stay. As for other neighborhoods, we’ll have to wait and see what colors residents choose to represent their communities.
I think this is a good thing for Seattle. The city has been known for its racial segregation and its ignorance of racial issues. Today, with the growth of Amazon and other tech companies, the city is more white and male as it’s ever been. As a woman and former New Yorker, this is more depressing to me than ever. But the city’s response to this public act of racial protest, when it could have so easily (and literally) been washed away and made into something small, indicates to me that maybe there’s hope for change.