“Beacon Hill est omnis divisa in partes tres…”

On the Beacon Hill mailing list today, Mike Cheney asked the question:

“Why has the hill been broken up into 3 sections? You have north beacon, mid beacon and south beacon. Seems like creating divisions in one huge neighborhood could lead to prejudice and a further division of neighbors. Aka my neighborhood is better than yours kind of thing then you end up with even a bigger problem.”

This is an interesting question. Why is Beacon Hill divided into three parts on the city’s neighborhood map, informal as it may be? Unlike Mike, though, I wonder why it’s not divided even more. The Hill is huge. Look at a Seattle map. Beacon Hill is too big to be one neighborhood–it’s really a meta-neighborhood, a large area containing several smaller neighborhoods. North Beacon has its own personality that differs from South Beacon and Mid Beacon. Each area has concerns that the others do not have. For example, North Beacon has sidewalks almost everywhere. South Beacon… not so much. So it makes sense that South Beacon would have sidewalks as a priority, while people in North Beacon would prioritize other things.

A successful, sustainable neighborhood is, ideally, defined by a five-minute or 1/4 mile walking distance from center to edge, and being relatively self-contained and walkable. It would contain about 5,000 residents, and local schools and businesses to serve them. Basically, it’s an area that is small enough that people can easily access local services within the neighborhood, while being large enough to support those services. (It sounds a little small by sprawling modern Seattle standards, but small neighborhood units like this used to be in place here. Look at any old Seattle neighborhood that was built-up before the 1930s, particularly along one of the old streetcar routes, and see how every half mile or so there is a small clump of old commercial buildings, now mostly used as residences. The rise of the car and modern zoning practices have killed a lot of the old neighborhood business districts.) Incidentally, this is approximately the same size as a census tract.

Look at a map: a walk down Beacon Avenue from north to south is more than five miles. To get some perspective–as the crow flies, five miles north of the North Beacon business district “junction” is the University of Washington. Five miles east is Mercer Island. Five miles west is Alki Point. Five miles northwest is Queen Anne. All very different places from Beacon Hill. You can see that Beacon Hill is a pretty huge area! Even dividing it into three zones gives you three “neighborhoods” that are larger than the ideal neighborhood unit.

Each area is going to have its own unique concerns and issues (for example — people in the area near Beacon and Stevens care about what happens to the Stevens Place (Triangle) Park on Beacon, but people who live three miles south on Beacon don’t have any particular interest in that issue), and I don’t believe that recognizing that is a bad thing. I think even smaller neighborhoods on Beacon Hill would be useful, if it meant that we had more of a “community” within our neighborhoods. Folks in South Beacon already feel somewhat marginalized by the focus on North Beacon, and eliminating divisions within the Hill would probably worsen that perception.

Please tell us what you think by commenting here on the blog.

8 thoughts on ““Beacon Hill est omnis divisa in partes tres…””

  1. Regarding inclusion/exclusion, I think we all live in tension. We all share a common humanity, yet we also are all individuals. We’re simultaneously connected and divided from each other. As individuals, we can build closer relationships–community–with others through the things we have in common. However, when we make a connection with another through something we share, someone who doesn’t share that common bond is automatically excluded.

    Myself, I think perfect inclusion is impossible, at least this side of the grave. The best we can hope for in our communities is to be aware that the things that draw some of us into closer relationships will also be pushing others away and to make an effort to seek out common connections with those in the minority.

  2. I guess what I want to know is, why is dividing Beacon Hill into multiple neighborhoods being exclusionary, any more than dividing Seattle into neighborhoods is? If it’s OK to treat Beacon Hill as its own entity with its own interests, isn’t it OK to do the same with North Beacon or even, say, “Stevens Place neighborhood”? What is the difference?

  3. I tend ot agree with Wendi, in so far as I think it’s possible to divide ourselves into North, Mid and South for some things… without necessarily ignoring the fact that we are all Beacon Hill residents. I mean, just because we identify ourselves as Beacon Hill residents doesn’t mean we don’t also see ourselves as Seattleites too, for example. I feel I’m capable of being a “Mid-Beacon Hill resident” without turning in my “Greater Beacon Hill resident” membership card.

    I tend to be a proponent of smaller, walkable neighorhoods (and the sense of community that comes from them) though, so that is probably the main reason I’m in agreement with Wendi’s assessment.

  4. It’s an interesting sentiment that putting a label on something seems inherently divisive to some. At what level is it no longer divisive? If “Lockmore” is divisive, and “Mid-Beacon Hill” is divisive, what makes just “Beacon Hill” not divisive? What makes “South Seattle” not divisive*? What makes “Seattle” not divisive?

    Is Wallingford divisive? Fremont? The “Cascade” neighborhood? Eastlake? I imagine ALL of those neighborhoods could fit comfortably within the overall dimensions of Beacon Hill. And the differences from one end to the other are significant.

    * Actually, this generality used in the media annoys me much more than any narrower-bound locality name — news reports seem toss around “South Seattle” in reports where, had they occurred elsewhere, they’d have used the “Lower Queen Anne” or “Crown Hill” or “Interbay”. And I think that contributes to the stigma, fear, and repulsion that much of this area seems to have against “South Seattle”.

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