How Highway 99 Removal Would Reconnect South Park with Mike McGinn and Coté Soerens

How Highway 99 Removal Would Reconnect South Park with Mike McGinn and Coté Soerens

On this midweek show, Crystal is joined by Mike McGinn of America Walks and Coté Soerens of Reconnect South Park to learn about their work with the Freeway Fighters Network. Mike shares a broad overview of the movement’s efforts to remove crumbling highway infrastructure while addressing the climate, health, and equity issues these concrete structures have caused. As a resident of Seattle’s South Park, Coté reflects on the throughline of Highway 99 running through the middle of her community – connecting a history of red-lining, displacement, and racism to the present-day impacts on the neighborhood’s livability, pollution exposure, and life expectancy. Mike and Coté call out the lack of imagination exhibited by the country’s attachment to highways and paint a compelling vision that replaces underutilized thoroughfares with vibrant, connected communities.

About the Guests

Mike McGinn

Mike is the Executive Director of national nonprofit America Walks. He got his start in local politics as a neighborhood activist pushing for walkability. From there he founded a non-profit focused on sustainable and equitable growth, and then became mayor of Seattle. Just before joining America Walks, Mike worked to help Feet First, Washington State’s walking advocacy organization, expand their sphere of influence across Washington state. He has worked on numerous public education, legislative, ballot measure and election campaigns – which has given him an abiding faith in the power of organizing and volunteers to create change.

Find Mike McGinn on Twitter/X at @mayormcginn.

Coté Soerens

Coté Soerens calls herself a midwife to a thriving local coffee shop that has become a hub for community organization and activism. Living in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, a community filled with immigrants and people of color where opportunities are limited, Soerens felt called to create spaces of belonging. In 2017, while hosting a dinner for neighborhood friends, Soerens realized that, even without secured funding, she had all she needed to create a local coffee shop, where local youth could find employment and where neighbors could meet to discuss local issues and organize.

Soerens, along with the neighborhood, has even bigger dreams. Reconnect South Park initiative’s dream is to ultimately decommission the highway which cuts the neighborhood in half and to reclaim those 44 acres for equitable development.

Find Coté Soerens on Twitter/X at @cotesoerens.


Freeway Fighters Network

Reconnecting Communities Campaign | America Walks

Reconnect South Park

South Park Joins Growing Movement to Dismantle Freeways” by Agueda Pacheco from The Urbanist

Seattle residents drive movement to tear out Highway 99 in South Park” by David Kroman from The Seattle Times

Feds award money to study removing Highway 99 in one Seattle neighborhood” by David Kroman in The Seattle Times


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes.

Well, today I'm thrilled to welcome two guests to the podcast. The first, Mike McGinn - you're used to hearing him on Fridays, as we do weeks-in-review. But today we are talking about what's in his wheelhouse, really, in America Walks, the organization that's helping to build a nationwide movement to reconnect communities divided by wide roads and overbuilt arterials - that hosts the Freeway Fighters Network, which calls for increased investment in walkable, equitable, connected, and accessible places by divesting from polluting highways.

And Coté Soerens with the Freeway Fighters Network - representing a broad coalition of public and private sector leaders, community activists, and multidisciplinary professionals - dedicating ourselves to championing design, equity, and policy principles that center people before highways.

Welcome to you both. As we get started, I just wanted to start with you, Mike, and what got you involved with this work?

[00:01:53] Mike McGinn: Oh my God, it just depends where you want to start. Probably a big starting point for me was the realization, as a climate advocate, of the role of transportation in climate emissions, which - when I was working in the mid-2000s on Seattle's Climate Action Plan, transportation was 40% of all emissions because we had hydropower. We'd already gotten off of coal. What's fascinating now is that as the nation is getting off of coal, which is great and renewables are the way to go - it's just the cheapest, best way to go - that's now what's happening nationwide. Transportation is now the largest source of emissions. But then once you start getting into it, even the littlest bit, you also see tremendous equity issues, like who has access to the transportation system. Right now it requires a car mainly - and if you have to walk, bike, and use transit, you're denied of a lot of opportunities because we've built a system that's very hostile to getting around that way. And oftentimes it's hostile because it's wide, fast roads, it's freeways that have divided communities, lack of sidewalks, not having bus lanes, they're not prioritizing transit, all of that.

So huge equity issues, huge health issues as well. Apartment buildings tend to be, and residences tend to be near those wide roads - and all the pollutants you breathe in has tremendous negative effects on the health of everyone living nearby. And again, that's an equity issue as well. We intentionally do this. You'll hear people argue for this - the apartment buildings belong next to the arterials to protect the single-family neighborhoods. So in other words, the people of lower incomes need to breathe more pollution so that we, in the leafy green neighborhoods, who are better off can breathe less pollution. It's - yeah, the whole thing is just an extreme failure of public policy, and planning, and building for the future. And of course, it's not even a good transportation system. Obviously when you're excluding a huge portion of the population that doesn't drive because of age, because of ability, or because of income - already it's bad. That's not a way you raise all boats, so to speak. That's not a rising tide that lifts all boats. It's something that divides us, but it's also extraordinarily wasteful and expensive.

Which kind of brings us back to the freeway work as well. We're at the stage now - and the Alaska Way viaduct on our waterfront was an example of that - where after you've had that concrete structure around for 50 or 60 years, it's ready to be replaced. It's gonna fall down. It's gonna take a big expenditure to replace it. And what more and more places are realizing is - Let's not replace it with another highway. Let's replace it with a surface street, or maybe no street at all. And let's put the dollars we would have spent into rebuilding this inequitable, polluting, climate-changing monstrosity of infrastructure - let's put the money into walking, biking, transit, or geez, how about affordable housing? How about letting people live back in communities again - live near jobs and services? And those are all the arguments. We've had no shortage of arguments - good, really good ones - why we should do this. We're starting to see them take hold, but the US still has not let go of its highway-building mania with all its negative effects, but we are starting to see some cracks, so to speak, in the unity that's been around highway building for decades. And we're actually seeing the beginning of a freeway removal moment, and at the very least, we should be stopping highway expansion, and I get to do that work now at America Walks, too.

[00:05:26] Crystal Fincher: And Coté, how did you get involved in this work and why is it important to remove freeways?

[00:05:31] Coté Soerens: Well, I got involved in this work by living in a neighborhood that was cut in two by a highway that was never actually very popular. For residents in South Park, this portion - it's a portion of Highway 99 State Route - was fought very proactively by the residents of South Park back in the '50s, but Washington State Department of Transportation at the time decided to go with it anyway. What I do love about this movement of highway removal and walkability is basically the emergence of a new imagination, nationally, around how life should be lived. It seems that if you look at the time that this highway in my neighborhood was built back in the '50s, the imagination then was - Let's expand car availability - and there were different values that were being worked at the time. And now, 70 years later, we want different things as a society, we need different things. We tried the car designs, urbanism, and we have found that it's not equitable, it's also horrible, and also - it's funny - you have to pay a premium for a walking score of 90. Now it's like a privilege to live in a walkable neighborhood.

So back to the question how I got involved in this. I've lived in South Park for 10 years. I've raised three boys in this neighborhood and South Park, actually, it's a pretty interesting place in Seattle. It's been a red-lined neighborhood back in - if we get a little wonky with history - back at the turn of the century. And then I feel that I find this history of South Park fascinating because it seems to be a history of government consistently missing out on what residents of our community are saying. It seems like - We hear what you're saying, and yet we don't care. We're gonna move forward anyway. So this story has been replicating itself around this highway. Back in the 1900s, South Park was a farming community - it was its own little town in Seattle. And it was a thriving neighborhood of farmers that actually started the Pike Place Market, which is very famous nationally. And it's always been a community after - the Duwamish were here originally in the ancestral lands - then it's been a community of immigrants, and it's been a community of Italian immigrants back at a time where Italians were not considered white. And in the planning map of the town, of the time, South Park is seen as "hazardous," which is a word that has been used in planning before to say it's non-white. And now that it's environmentally challenged, we see the word "hazardous" and would say - Oh wow, yes, of course, there is a Superfund in it - there is the Duwamish River. But if you go back to the time - no, it was a farming community, which changes the meaning of "hazardous."

So at the time, Seattle wanted to annex this little town of South Park into the city with very different expectations than the residents had. So at the time, Seattle City Council thought - Well, there is a river in the park that is really good for industry. So we're going to annex this neighborhood to make it industrial and push out all the residents. The residents, on the other hand, were thinking - Whoa, if we get annexed to Seattle, we can get better permits for our sewer system and other amenities. So they both entered into this "agreement" and with very different expectations. Now, the City of Seattle - wanting to make this place industrial - what got accomplished out of that was the Duwamish River became a Superfund site and then industry was started popping around. And by the time the plans for the highway to cross this residential core were conceived, it was thought of as a very convenient way to discourage the residential - so that we could continue with the work of making this area industrial. So all the protests of the time, in the '50s, of residents were sorely ignored. That highway didn't make any sense and it still doesn't make any sense. It's a very redundant grid. Many people don't know this, but when we talk about removing the portion of Highway 99, people think that we're talking about this other one - this 509 - which is what people use to get to the airport. And it's not that one. You can still get to the airport. It's a portion that connects I-5 and 509 and it goes right connected to it.

So I'm totally not answering your question, Crystal, about how I got involved. So the way I got involved was Cayce James and the City at the time, put together a group of people - stakeholders in the neighborhood - to walk around the neighborhood. And we were making different tours of different places around the neighborhood - the community center, the library. And on every stop, people will be talking about problems caused by this portion of the highway. So I remember looking around to my tour partners and saying - Hey guys, you all realize that all these problems go away if you just shut the dang highway, right? And the reaction was a reaction that I often get, which was to look at me and say - Cute, moving on. They really didn't think of this as a viable solution - to just cut an underutilized highway in order to resolve issues such as pollution, safety, lack of walkability, lack of access for kids to their school, and other problems this highway creates. And what that did for me was to see firsthand the problems with the illusion of permanence. People do see a highway and they think it's been there forever and it will be there forever. They don't think about it like - No, this was actually an expression of certain values that we hold as a society, and when our values change, we can also change our built environment. We can change the highway.

At some point, I remember Cayce James, who hosted this tour around the neighborhood, reached out and we started talking and she said - Hey, you know what? I've been thinking about this too. I think it's possible to remove this highway. So we started talking and then we got connected with the folks from PlacemakingUS, who I just mentioned this idea - Hey, Madeleine Spencer and Ryan Smolar. Hey, how about - I've been thinking about removing this highway. What do you think? They said - Hey, there is a whole movement across the country on highway removal. And we were connected with Freeway Fighters, and then we started learning that across the country, so many communities were having this idea of reconnecting communities, thinking about land differently, really considering the opportunity cost of having a highway crossing the neighborhood.

For us in Seattle, we have had problems with affordability for a long time. The City has not been effective at creating policy that will stabilize the real estate market and actually preserve cultural space, preserve housing, affordable housing - particularly for communities of color. When thinking about this portion of the highway crossing South Park, you can see 44 acres of land that could be utilized in a different way. That, to me, creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity to actually make more land for equitable development. So for all these reasons, I am particularly excited about getting this highway out of our neighborhood. And another thing that I need to mention is that this highway - it's so interesting how it was designed - it goes through every single place where kids play. It goes right next to the community center, the skate park, the library, and the elementary school. It seems to have been designed to cut children's life expectancy by 13 years, which it does. There are studies about this. So I can talk to you for three hours about reasons why this highway needs to be removed.

[00:12:35] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it's really important. It makes a difference. And both of you touched on the racialized history of highways and just the impact that this has on communities, on families, and particularly on health. Transportation is the number one polluter in our state, in our area. And what you just talked about - I feel like sometimes people hear statistics and they don't really apply it to people's lives. But when you talk about a life expectancy that is that much shorter - in Seattle - it feels neglectful. It feels criminal almost. It feels wrong that we know that these types of harms are being forced upon our children. And we aren't taking that into account so often when we have these repeated conversations every single year about what highways we're gonna build, expand, put in. And these are conversations that aren't just - they certainly absolutely started in the '50s and we started that whole domino effect rolling. But now we have the chance to review what we're doing to make modifications, whether it's Highway 99 in South Park, whether it's the Interstate Bridge Replacement between Washington and Oregon. We had this out - and Mike McGinn is notorious and has been pretty much vindicated, it looks like - for fighting against the Highway 99 tunnel in Seattle. But we seem to so easily dismiss the negative harms that this has on neighborhoods, on affordability, on health, on just our quality of life. How do you view just the importance of really taking all of these factors into account as we make these policies, Mike?

[00:14:19] Mike McGinn: Well, first of all, I just have to say that as a mayor, you're not supposed to have any favorite neighborhoods. But if I had a favorite neighborhood, South Park would be pretty darn close. I spent a lot of time down there as mayor, but I also spent time there before mayor - my kids played basketball in the rec leagues and I played ultimate frisbee in the schools. And I'd be down there in those playing fields at South Park Community Center. And yeah, you're right next to the highway. And that highway doesn't carry that many cars either. The reason people confuse it with 509 is because it's not really that useful a section of highway, but it certainly carries enough cars for the noise and pollution to be meaningful. And it's also not at all surprising, tragically, that it's a community like South Park that gets a highway like this. What you see is - when you look at where freeways were built across the country, they almost always went through Black or Brown or poor neighborhoods - because that was where there would be the least political resistance to building it. And they oftentimes would get a little more convoluted in the route to avoid wealthy neighborhoods. So it's worth thinking about that - would you - and take a look at where the, take a look at the property values near big bustling highways and the ones further away. I'm not talking about downtown, which has its own economic thing - but even there, the properties right next to the highway were the last to develop. And the ones that are a few blocks away developed faster. And if you look at Seattle, the wealthiest neighborhoods are the furthest from the highway. So we built a system that was designed to speed people in and out of the city at the expense of other people.

And the equity issues are really tremendous. And South Park - it's a textbook case, really, of that - when you see all the highways going through South Park. And then of course they're under the airport and everything else - under the airport flight routes. So you'd like to think that decisions about how to build a transportation system and how to route highways and all the rest were based on rigorous analysis of the data - what's the most public good we can generate from this. And certainly we dress it up that way - that there's a plan and it was done for a certain way. But anytime you dig into it, you found that it's really a reflection of who did have power in the political system at the time and who did not. So we speed the commute of people from wealthier places and we subsidize that with the lungs and health of poor people where those highways go through. And if it were your neighborhood, you wouldn't stand for it. So of course South Park would like to see it removed.

And we're talking about SR 99 here, right - which is kind of a weird route - it's not 509, but they intend to extend 509 to connect with I-5 right now. This is underway. And when that connection is complete - they've been working on this for years - they call it now the Puget Sound Gateway Project, used to be called the SR 509 extension. It's been labeled nationwide as a highway boondoggle - it's a nationally known highway boondoggle - the 509 extension. That's gonna siphon off tens of thousands of cars a day from I-5 to send them to a back way into Seattle, which is not gonna be that fast 'cause that back way is gonna run right into the First Avenue South Bridge, which is always backed up. And so where will that traffic jam be - at the First Avenue South Bridge? It's gonna be in South Park again. I mean, honestly - WSDOT should rip out 99 just as an apology for building the 509 extension 'cause they're actually making it worse right now.

[00:17:55] Coté Soerens: So you do have, yes - the equity issues are so blatant when you look at the highway grid in Seattle. Even if you have wealthy neighborhoods next to the I-5, you have sound barriers and other appropriate ways to mitigate the effects of it. But there are things in the history of this particular portion of the highway that are really painful. For example, the land upon which it was built - it was conveniently left vacant by the Japanese internment. Much of that land was built on homes that belonged to Japanese farmers. There is a house actually that was transported from South Park to the Hiroshima Museum of the Japanese-American Experience. So there are these undertones to this highway that, in a way, make it a monument to racism. And as we are removing monuments across the country, this one might be one of the ones that we can remove.

But also what I find very concerning is the lack of imagination - 'cause that's also part of it. I don't see anybody at Department of Transportation being - Hey, let's be as racist as we can. I think it might be, it is often an issue of - We know to do highways, so we're going to just do highways. And when it came to the decision of building this portion of 99 across South Park, the history of it tells us the story of residents making their case that it shouldn't be built. And Washington State Department of Transportation said - Yeah, we know, but we already started. We have the plans, we're about to start, so we're gonna do it anyway. And it was supposed to be a federal highway, but it was so underutilized - as it is today - that nearly six years later, six years after its completion, it was demoted from a federal highway to a state route, which to us is a smoking gun right there. Yes, it's a very irrelevant piece of highway in the grid. The need for a new imagination, the need for people to think of a better way to live life that does not rely on highways and to be able to invite departments of transportations across the nation to think differently about transportation - I think that's a really great opportunity that this movement has. And I think that Pete Buttigieg has really, really done the movement a favor in the sense of making this idea more mainstream in ways. There is a lot of room to grow, of course, with the Reconnecting Communities Initiative, but I'm actually hopeful about the ability of people in communities to think of new ways about how to build their communities. I'm really hoping that this is a good means for neighborhoods and cities to think differently.

[00:20:34] Crystal Fincher: Now, I want to talk about the how of this really - 'cause there's still a lot of people, and a lot of the general conversation for people who don't follow this for their job is - Hey, you know what? You just said that this highway will take some pressure off of I-5 and man, I'm sick of sitting in traffic on I-5. So isn't that a positive thing? And wow - this is supposed to connect people and help people get from A to B faster? What does it mean to remove a highway? Does nothing go in its place? Where do those cars go? Is it going to be a burden for everyone? How do you answer that, Mike?

[00:21:12] Mike McGinn: Well, the first thing you have to realize is that we've created - if the idea was that by building a freeway system through populated places, we would make transportation work really smoothly - I think we got about 50 or 60 years of evidence that it's a failure. Any economically successful place cannot possibly accommodate all of the mobility needs of its residents through limited access freeways and through single occupancy vehicles. And it's not a question of ideology or even climate or health or anything else - it's really just a question of geometry. A car that holds 1-1.5 people per trip on average - there's not enough room for all the cars, which is why we also saw so many downtowns kind of get the parking crater around their downtown office buildings, where you got - parking lots had to be built to accommodate all the vehicles. And it's not something that can be met.

The other thing you do when you do a system like that is you really encourage everybody to sprawl out over the landscape. Whereas before you needed to be within a closer proximity for transit to work, or maybe walking to work, or streetcars to work - now you can live in more distant places. So those freeways then fill up again, 'cause what you've done is you've filled up the landscape with people that have to drive, right? They have to spread all over the place. So now once you do that for 50 or 60 years, as we've done, it's kind of reasonable for people to go - Well, how could you do something differently? We're now at a point where people, for most of them in their lifetimes, have not lived in an environment in which that wasn't true. But we can look at other places around the globe, or we can look at smaller units of our country, and see where many more people are moved by a combination of walking, biking, and transit - particularly if you put the housing closer to the destinations. So that's what we haven't done.

Now, what we've seen, now let's just - now that may sound all pie in the sky. Well, that'll take forever to build all that transit and do all that housing. But let's take a look at SR 99 on the waterfront. How many times did we talk about the Carmageddon that would come when the viaduct closed, as it did for lengthy periods of time for construction reasons, and it never materialized. And it didn't materialize because actually a lot of those auto trips are by choice. People could choose a different time of day. They could choose a different place to go. They could combine trips, or they could choose an alternative like transit. So what you saw every time the viaduct was closed was that in fact, everything worked a little more smoothly, believe it or not, because people - it turns out people have brains and they will not mindlessly drive into traffic and they will adapt their behavior. And that's what we see happen again and again - not just on the Seattle waterfront, but every place this is predicted.

And those cities that have removed highways, what they find is that the Carmageddons don't materialize, but they regain this land just as Coté was talking about. They regain this land for, really, all these other great purposes. One of the best purposes would be housing - what we know is so many people - our young people, our immigrant and refugee communities, our Black and Brown communities that have been lower income communities, service workers pushed out of the city by higher housing prices. What if we started investing those dollars in making it easier for people to drive from further and further away? We say easier, but you got to own a car for that. You got to pay all the expenses of that. What if instead we put people closer where they could actually use transit and could be taxpayers in the city? What a crazy concept, right? Okay, so for all you fiscal conservatives out there, WSDOT isn't paying taxes to the City of Seattle for all that land. So if you're a fiscal conservative, you should love this idea because you bring a bunch of new housing in there - you got sales taxes, you got property taxes, you've got all the other taxes that people who live in a city pay as taxpayers - and you have all the economic activity that goes along with that. And you've reduced household expenses because people can live in a place without a car. This is - the fiscal prudence of this alone - if you are not convinced by health or climate or anything else, if all you do, if all you care about is hard line, bottom line, dollars and cents considerations, the last thing you want to do is invest in a freeway through a populated part of your town.

[00:25:52] Coté Soerens: That's why this is such a great idea because you have arguments on every side. So yes, we do need - there are more progressive causes that are pushed by these initiatives such as affordable housing and environment. But also fiscally - I really - I'm worried about seeing the City of Seattle consistently spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on mitigation strategies to deal with this highway - that is underutilized. One of the reasons we decided to move forward with this Hail Mary initiative - let's see if we can pull it off - was when we saw the traffic counts. Hey, this is not something that is necessary to anyone we are aware of. Again, there is a feasibility study underway, but so far with the data we have, we calculated that it would maybe add 7 minutes to a commute, which again - compare 7 minutes to 13 years of life expectancy of children. This is the youngest neighborhood in Seattle, but nothing in the built environment will tell you that. Most children live per square foot in South Park than anywhere else in the city. Also there is - particularly in South Park, because of the disinvestment that the City has practiced over South Park - because they want it to be industrial, so we have like 100 years of disinvestment on affordable housing and other amenities - and we pay the same taxes.

There are people - the residents in South Park have consistently had to organize to make things happen in this neighborhood. So you have generations of immigrant families who have really put sweat equity in the development and livability of South Park that now are being pushed out. That to me was a tragedy and something I felt we needed to do something about. So making more land available in this neighborhood for families who have invested their lives here to be able to remain and thrive in place - that, to me, is a big win that this project could bring, among other things. But I love what you said, Mike, about the fiscal aspect of this - the amount of revenue that we will bring as far as property taxes, businesses. Somebody at the Legislature, Washington Legislature, mentioned this opportunity cost that I thought it was a really important point when we think about land being used for cars.

[00:28:06] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, really for cars versus the community. And you're right, it absolutely makes a humongous difference. It is absolutely fiscally responsible and it has a stimulative effect to the local economy. There's just a - gosh, I'm trying to remember this study - I'll find it, I'll try and put it in the show notes resource section. But there was a study done for local business owners, who we all - who employ most people in cities, small businesses employ most people in the area - and they asked them to estimate how many people arrive to their stores and shops via car, versus via foot, on bike. And they all overestimated how many people arrived by car to the tune of 4-5x as much. They estimated 60, 70, 80%, and it was uniformly under 20%. I think people underestimate how much a community connection makes a difference to the local and regional economy. And that's absolutely something that makes a difference. I live in an area close to a freeway that really cuts us off from a significant portion of the city, or just makes it really, really inconvenient. And is a 5 minute detour by car, is a 20 minute detour to 30 minute detour to walk around - and just walk across the street, walk three blocks one way, if there was not a freeway there.

What does it mean to South Park? And you talk about the opportunity with the additional land - South Park is, as you said, the youngest neighborhood in Seattle with almost a third of the residents being under 18. What will it mean to kids and families, and really the future of this area and region, to be able to reclaim that space?

[00:29:54] Coté Soerens: Well, we'll see because - so something that is really important to mention is that the process that we're engaged in right now is a community envisioning process - to provide the opportunity to South Park residents to say what ought to happen in these 44 acres. So we have - because we're part of this neighborhood and we've heard people speak for years - we have a hunch that it will be about affordable housing, first and foremost, but also places for children to play. Infrastructure for kids is not great, and it's actually - compared to other places in Seattle - it's upsetting to see the quality of the community center and the playgrounds. Again, I have three school-aged children and I have stories about the places they have access to play, or the places we have access to bike. It's very dangerous to bike, to connect from South Park and other places. So the opportunity of these 44 acres - to actually let the neighborhood have a say on what the built environment should look like - I think it's incredibly powerful. And it's one of the benefits of engaging a whole neighborhood into a community envisioning process, which now we have just started the contract with the City to begin this process. There will be three or four big meetings and we have partnered with very skilled community organizers and - that do understand the importance of clear communications across the neighborhood and the ability of people to say their opinion in an equal playing field with others about what ought to happen in this 44 acres.

In the Reconnect organizing team, we have shied away from saying what needs to happen because we are basically quarterbacking the project. We are kind of bringing the resources together and bringing the platform together, but the conversation needs to occur within South Park by South Park people. So I have opinions about what I would like to see on this 44 acres, but I think the most powerful work will happen when everyone in the neighborhood is given the chance to say - I would like this to happen, or I'm concerned about that. There's some people who are concerned about - Hey, if we shut that portion, then will the traffic be diverted to 14th Avenue South? How are we going to deal with that? Those are all incredibly important questions. So what is important right now - the way we see it at Reconnect South Park - is the dialogue. How are we able to host a democratic dialogue within the neighborhood is the most important. And then at the end, the story of government completely ignoring the voice of the residents and not being accountable to it, does the story want to change? And also we, as residents, also can use a dose of imagination as well. 'Cause for many of us, it's been like - Oh, there is a highway there, whatever. No, hey - you deserve better. So engaging people in that conversation - that I think it's - I'm a retired therapist, so I see things as therapeutically speaking. So I think that's a nice therapeutic process for this neighborhood's healing.

[00:32:56] Crystal Fincher: Excellent. That makes complete sense. So as we get close to drawing this conversation to a conclusion - Mike, for people who are looking to get involved, who understand the importance, or just want to make their voice heard here - how can they get involved? And also as importantly, as we consider the several city council candidates - including in District 1 in Seattle, which includes South Park - what should we be looking to hear from those candidates, and how can we hold them accountable to listening and serving this community?

[00:33:33] Mike McGinn: Well, the question answers itself, doesn't it? But let's just first start by saying - to celebrating the fact that there is now a grant from the federal government to study this, the Reconnecting Communities grant. But a study is a long way from success. And there will be powerful interests locally that will fight to maintain the highway. We're already hearing from the Port that somehow or another this is essential to them, but I'm sure they're not prepared to pay the costs of all of those shortened lives. It's not worth that much to them. So I think you do have to understand that there will be a fight here. And you'll never be able to push this through the State Legislature in that fight without strong local champions. So first of all, support Coté and everybody down there in South Park in the effort. It's gonna take public demand. Second, let's get people on the record. Do we need a highway in South - do we need that SR 99 in South Park? Get them on the record. And I really think it's not just the city council candidates, but the mayor as well. 'Cause if you can get the City united around that, there'll be a fighting chance with WSDOT. But that's gonna be extremely difficult - because let's be really clear that it is not just the Port businesses. It's a lot of labor unions down there at the Port too that believe in this stuff. They've still got 1950s and 60s outdated notions of what should happen and that highways are good. So against that combined political might, it's really gonna take a significant public demand to move elected officials. And now's the best time to make those demands as elections are occurring.

[00:35:11] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at and in the episode notes.

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