The Case of the South Park Bridge: Infrastructure Concerns and Community Resilience in Seattle

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On a Tuesday evening in April 2010, South Park residents and local business owners gathered at the local Machinists Union Hall to hear King County representatives make a surprising and disheartening announcement: the South Park Bridge would close. The bridge was the main link between the largely low-income and industrial neighborhood of South Park and downtown Seattle, and supported traffic flow onto the main retail corridor in South Park. This traffic provided much of the customer base on which the small businesses depended almost entirely.

Planning for a replacement bridge had been progressing for the last several years, but the County had not secured the significant amount of funding necessary to replace the old and increasingly unsafe bridge. County officials told the group that the bridge would indeed close in less than three months.

The meeting provided time for the County to present the closure plan - the strategy for addressing the unavoidable consequences of closure, including less traffic for local businesses, major bus routes being rerouted, and the impact on first responders’ ability to get to the neighborhood in case of emergency. Residents also took the time to voice feelings of anger, sadness, and resentment. A gas station owner spoke of his fear he wouldn’t be able to support his family. Another resident vented: “We are tired of being marginalized. We are tired of being the last community to get anything, to receive anything, to be spoken to, to be asked about, to be taken care of”.