For many years, Kristin O’Donnell has worked to make sure the voices of Yesler Terrace residents are present at City Council meetings, East Precinct crime prevention meetings and, of course, Yesler Terrace redevelopment meetings.
As a longtime neighborhood activist and resident of Yesler Terrace, O’Donnell is a central part of the neighborhood’s community council, which conducts its business in five languages so that most residents of the housing project, many of whom are recent immigrants, can stay informed and have input into issues affecting them.
We spoke with O’Donnell for a two part feature on the Seattle Housing Authority’s then-pending Yesler Terrace redevelopment plans back in 2011. Since then, Yesler Way and Broadway have been torn up and are being rebuilt complete with streetcar tracks and new bikeways, the SHA and City Council have passed the redevelopment plans, and some projects are already underway.
Now KUOW has a great feature on O’Donnell that’s definitely worth a listen:
Kristin O’Donnell loves meetings. “Absolutely my hobby. I do enjoy meetings,” she tells me over a cup of tea in the Panama Hotel. Meetings, she says, offer a way to affect change in her community. And besides, she likes to put on a show. “To a large extent community organizing is theater; it works just often enough that I’m hooked.”
So hooked is she, that O’Donnell goes to Housing Authority commissioner briefing meetings when Yesler Terrace is on the agenda; she goes to Residents Action Council meetings; she goes to Yesler Terrace Citizen Review Committee meetings; and she was a regular contributor as Yesler Terrace came up for discussion at meetings of Seattle City Council.
When she introduced herself at one of the last of those City Council meetings about Yesler Terrace, you could hear how O’Donnell felt about the future of the place she’s lived in for the past 40 years. It wasn’t her words, so much, but rather her breathing. Her tone. A mixture of resignation, perseverance, stoicism and maybe even a hint of defiance in her voice. And the almost merging of her own name with that of the place she loves.
“Kristin O’Donnell, Yesler Terrace. And I’ve been here before and so you know I don’t think this is a really great idea. You’re replacing a community that was designed to be a really good place for people to live, and a real neighborhood, with something that very probably will not be.”