Leadership Tomorrow 2018 explores equitable growth with Amazon & Africatown

John Schoettler, Wyking Garrett, Doris Koo and Diane Sugimura discuss our history of inequity and the consequences of growth toward creating solutions for affordability and inclusion.

Amazon holds more office space in Seattle than the next 40 employers combined, employing more than 40,000 people in the city alone.  Because of their massive economic magnifier effect with every employee supporting an estimated five service workers, Seattle’s downtown brick and mortar retail sales are up 20% annually on average over the last five years.  Even department store sales are up — 224% compared to pre-recession performance.  And Seattle’s median income is growing faster than any other city in the country with unemployment at a near record low.  We are delighting in our growth.

Yet, with our growth, we have also seen housing prices skyrocket, setting new record highs for rents and sale prices.  Seattle’s median home price has doubled in five years and rents have increased 65% in less than seven.   The impacts of this growth have been economic and cultural.  In the Central Area neighborhood alone, the African American population has dwindled from 73% to 23% in a single generation, driven out in part by redevelopment, rising prices and a self-reinforcing diaspora.  Given the history of redlining and systematic racial bias in lending practices, the negative impacts of our current booming economy feel particularly problematic.

Negative consequences of growth is a choice.  As homeowners and renters we impart influence with our decisions on where and how we each choose to live, what retail stores we support.  And as leaders, we have a choice in how hard we work to surface the challenge of guiding our growth equitably.

Leadership Tomorrow, founded in 1982, drives servant leadership in the Puget Sound region through an annual training program focused on the core seven pillars of society and issues of race, racism and equity.  The opening day for the 2018 class, held at the Northwest African American Museum, focused on the opportunities to combat the negative consequences of urban growth.  The goal was to surface individual responsibility and systemic challenges in perpetuating inequity, toward identifying sustainable solutions across public and private sectors.  Amazon’s head of Global Real Estate, John Schoettler along with the former Director of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development, Diane Sugimura, openly discussed the role of big business in city centers and what role policy must play in managing the negative impacts of that growth.  Community builders Doris Koo and Wyking Garrett challenged both, demonstrating the importance of activism and giving voice to marginalized communities.

FIX founder, Shannon Loew, is on the Leadership Tomorrow Curriculum Committee and with the Neighborhood & Communities subcommittee teammates Bill Block, Marlene Chen, and Frank Nam, created and facilitated the day’s program.