From the Archives ─ Forests, Housing, Mudslides
Linda Becker ─ March 1, 2022
Across Seattle─and really, the whole metropolitan area─there are competing crises. On the one hand, we have houses sliding down hills, on the other, a lack of low-income housing, and everywhere a need for environmental preservation. What we now call the Harrison Ridge Greenbelt in Madison Valley has been a site where those tensions have manifested in multiple ways over many years.
As the city grew, taking down the forests beloved by the Duwamish People, the need for more roads and more houses on these seasonally slippery muddy hills took over. One such case played out in our greenbelt. During the 1930s, when the city was still paving streets in the Madison Valley, the City planned a project that would have paved a street, 33rd Ave East, right through the woods, East Denny Way to East Harrison Street. A landslide ended that plan; the scars it left are still in evidence. (For more about this history, see Catherine Nunneley’s Greenbelt - madisonvalley.org.)
In the late 1960s, developers approached the neighborhood with a design for a 25-unit low-income housing project funded through Model Cities, a federal program to build public housing that was part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Besides buildings and play areas, the plans included the excavation of the woods for a parking lot. Who knows what might have happened if the plan had been approved─perhaps a parking lot buried in mud? The City Council responded to protests from the community by rejecting the project.
Beginning with a Neighborhood Matching Fund grant in 1993, community groups including schools and the Community Council have worked to restore the forest, pulling ivy and clematis from trees, digging out blackberry, and planting native trees and understory shrubs. Lately those planting efforts have included strategic use of fallen trees and branches to create something like terraces, to slow down the seasonal runoff and stabilize the slopes with a restored woodland.
Footnote: This restoration project is one of many projects across the city supported by a partnership between Seattle Parks and Forterra.