UW News

June 23, 2021

Ahead of Pride, UW’s Manish Chalana describes the changing neighborhood of Capitol Hill

As an urban historian, Manish Chalana studies how cities, and neighborhoods within cities, retain their character in the face of change.

How, he says, “neighborhoods remember themselves.”

photo of Manish Chalana

Manish ChalanaKiyomi Taguchi / UW News

An associate professor of urban design and planning at the University of Washington, Chalana has researched cities around the world, how development can alter the face and fabric of a community, and the role governments can play in the process.

In the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, which grew to be the center of the city’s LGBTQ community after World War II, Chalana has written about the designation of a “conservation overlay district” in the Pike Street/Pine Street corridor. The city design regulations stipulate how, for example, the facade of an older building can be retained at the base of a newer, taller structure.

As the city has encouraged higher densities, the influx of development on Capitol Hill over the past decade has meant higher rents, for residents and businesses alike. The area has become more affluent, with fewer of the modest and “gritty” establishments that were more common in the 1990s and even early 2000s, and newcomers may not always see it as primarily a gay neighborhood, Chalana said. Meanwhile, LGBTQ communities are growing in other areas, such as West Seattle and Tacoma.

A map of the city's Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District

A map of the city’s Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District

“The fact that gay people can move anywhere is a great sign of progress,” Chalana said. “But gay neighborhoods are still relevant, still needed. They are important for community-building, and for people to have support systems, especially for people who come from places where they weren’t supported, or who aren’t comfortable being out.”

And it’s not as if the changes on Capitol Hill are all bad, Chalana adds. Capitol Hill is still a vibrant neighborhood with a rich history.

“Change is integral to all cities,” he said. “Capitol Hill is still a gay neighborhood, but it’s a different type of gay neighborhood. It remains the gay heart of the city.”

For more information, contact Chalana at chalana@uw.edu.

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