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Public Art Project Reimagines Development In Seattle's Central District

Simone Alicea
This official-looking sign is part of an public art series called "Coming Soon: Africatown." This one depicts a fictional new development at Pratt Park and the adjacent Bryant Manor in Seattle's Central District.

If you walk around Seattle's Central District this summer, you may see some official-looking signs about new developments in neighborhood parks. But look a little closer, and you'll find they're not what they seem.

With new construction around the neighborhood, developers' signs advertising future apartments or retail spaces are ubiquitous in the Central District.

For example, there's one on the corner of 20th Avenue South and South Washington Street advertising a new multi-family dwelling.

"You see a big 'Coming Soon,' and you know your typical kind of Rhino 3D screenshot rendering with a person jogging and another person with a child. Everybody white in the image," said artist and landscape designer Sara Zewde.

Zewde is part of a team of artists and designers who are responding to changes in Seattle's historically black neighborhood. They have erected similar signs in Central District parks.

One located at LaVizzo Park, just down the street from the new development, seems to show a future version of the park walkway that includes tall Moorish archways. The sign also says "Coming Soon" and includes official-looking logos for black-owned project developers and partners. Everyone depicted in the rendering, socializing in this envisioned new park, is black.

"You see elements of, you know, there's a local tradition of drum lines but also the pan-African traditions of carnival," Zewde said.

The project and its partners are all fictional. The idea is to reimagine development through a lens of black and African culture.

In addition to addressing gentrification, the project is also inspired by and a response to the efforts the Africatown Community Land Trust, which is starting to develop its own property at 23rd Avenue and East Union Street. 

In a neighborhood where the black community has felt disenfranchised by new development, Zewde says the signs are like a portal to a parallel universe. But maybe, she says, one that could be possible.

"There's a really thin line between fantastical and reality," she said. "Putting people on the moon was fantastical, but we did that. So, you know, building a building that has African culture infused in it doesn't seem that fantastical in a sense.

Landscape designer Azurra Cox also worked on the project. She said she has already seen people thinking the fictional projects are real.

"We're hoping that the edge between fantasy and reality keeps kind of blurring and shifting," Cox said. "It's about provoking imagination and kind of making people question what they see and what is possible."

The signs will be up through the summer at LaVizzo, Pratt and Powell-Burnett parks as well as the Midtown property at 23rd and Union.

The team has also created a website to solicit feedback to help inform community-led development efforts in the future. 

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.