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Making a Home in Seattle's South Park Neighborhood

When Coté Soerens moved to South Park nine years ago, she was instantly enchanted with the area's community feel, what she refers to as its neighborliness.

"What we lack in material resources, we make up in neighborliness. That's something Seattle as a whole should pay attention to." -- Coté Soerens

South Park is tucked in Seattle's southwest corner, adjacent to the Duwamish River, a toxic superfund site, and underneath the flight paths of both the Boeing factory and SeaTac airport. South Park residents like Soerens are keenly aware of the air, water, and ground pollution they deal with on a daily basis. But Soerens finds so much to celebrate in her community, and she's working with other residents to amplify the many cultural assets she loves.

Vivian and Marcie talk to Coté Soerens about how she came to the neighborhood, and what she's doing to help preserve and support South Park's unique attributes.

Coté Soerens 2022



Originally from Chile, Coté Soerens came to the US at 25 and has since started a number of initiatives in the private and nonprofit sector, her favorite of them all being Resistencia Coffee, the neighborhood-owned and operated coffee shop in the heart of South Park, where she lives with her husband Tim and their sons. Coté is a passionate and committed community leader who, in addition to Resistencia, works on a number of projects aimed at elevating the neighborhood identity and the voices of South Park residents, including the Urban Fresh Food Collective and the South Park Arts & Culture Collective. She also serves on the City of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative advisory board, and the Cultural Space Agency Council, both focused on increasing access to community-controlled spaces for communities of color in Seattle.

Visit Resistencia Coffee or learn more here

Learn more about South Park Arts + Culture Collective here




Hey, I'm Vivian Phillips


And I'm Marcie Sillman. And, and this is double




DoubleXposure is a podcast where we plum the deepest depths and the tiniest cracks of our world to understand how culture and creativity shape our lives.


Today, the first in a series of conversations about art culture and community in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood. We'll meet Coté Soerens. Vivian. It's great to see you.


Hey Marcie, it's always good to have an opportunity to connect


It's summertime in Seattle. When that can mean a whole lot of things, we've seen hot this summer. We've seen rain the summer, and I was really delighted because the weather forecast people, the scientists say that we're not gonna have a smoky or as smoky a summer as we've had in the past. So that is good. And it's especially good for being outside. And I, I have to say one of the things I love about Seattle among many is the summers and the long nights and the chance to sort of just get out and everywhere you go here, there's something beautiful to look at, not just scenically, but also artistically. We've got so much public art. And I just wanna put in my plug for folks who never go down to the Olympic Sculpture Park, that that's such a joy in the summer to be out there and look out at Elliott Bay and the mountains and a sunset.


That place is beautiful. It is absolutely beautiful. And it doesn't feel like it's in the city. You know, it feels like you have traveled somewhere to go to that place of serenity. Speaking of public art as we're recording this, I was just listening earlier to the news about the Elephant Car Wash sign that sat at Denny and Dexter, I think is where it was for what, 40 plus years, if not longer, it might have been longer than that. And Amazon has stated that they want to secure the sign and make it accessible for public art. And I'm trying to envision where that might, <laugh> where that might go. I can't imagine it going into the biosphere down on Sixth Avenue. <laugh> you see all the plants and then you see a pink elephant in between.


Is the sign at the Museum of History and Industry right now?


I believe that's where it is currently. Yeah.


For people who have never visited Seattle, the Pink Elephant sign is a vision of neon. It's a giant pink elephant, and we have a lot of those neon signs.


We have had a number, the Pink Elephant Car Wash sign, I think is the latest. We had the Rainer Brewery sign, the big R that is preserved by MOHAI, Museum of History and Industry. There's the Wonder Bread sign that still stands on, on top of the building where Wonder Bread Bakery would. Yeah. It's homes now it's, you know, a development, but they still have the Wonder Bread sign on top of it. So I guess we have a passion for making neon public art, and now I'm kind of with it. It works for me.


I'm with it too. The other thing I've been thinking about, and this is not gonna happen in time for summer, unfortunately, but in the City of Seattle, we have an unintentional island West Seattle, because the West Seattle bridge has been shut down since before the pandemic started, they've found cracks in the foundation. And I think that they're finally hoping to open it up in September. It's not a new bridge it's patched. And I still think it's one of those things where I'll hold my breath. But another place that I really love to go is over to the Coleman Pool. There's a giant saltwater pool on the west side of West Seattle and I’m a swimmer. And it's just such a, you're like floating out there and the water's warmer than Elliott Bay, but you kind of feel like you're swimming in Elliott Bay.


Yeah. Oh yeah. I, you know, frankly, I was surprised that the west Seattle bridge needed to be decommissioned and fixed. I mean, I thought they built things the last for 50, 60 years, but unfortunately that was not the case. And I think just leading into this conversation that we're about to have the South Park Bridge was decommissioned for, I don't even know how long and really separated that neighborhood from the, the rest of the city for a long time.


South Park is I feel like the furthest Southwest corner of the city of Seattle and it's down by the Boeing plant. And it is adjacent on the very toxic Duwamish river. There are ways to get to South Park, but the bridge went right over the river. And you were in downtown South Park. I think it was out of commission for at least four years, if not more than that. And for a community, it really was a blow to all the commercial enterprises down there. Yeah.


After you're talking to, uh, Coté I was just a little curious about the actual demographics in South Park and, you know, she describes it and you'll hear this in the interview as one square mile. And it's actually a pretty healthy community. When you think about it, there are 24,000 residents in South Park and the median age is 37 years old. So when she said she saw a Tesla in the neighborhood, and that was kind of an indicator of how things had changed. I was like, oh, let's see how old these people are. <laugh> that live in, in South Park, but it's a very, very interesting community, I think, uh, was also noting that the kind of the employment mix is 78% white collar and 21% blue collar.


Well, it's interesting Coté Soerens and her husband, Tim moved there as she tells us about nine years ago. And they have opened a place called Resistencia Coffee and, you know, resistance, I think probably resistance to gentrification, among many other things. But they immediately, as you'll hear in this interview, Coté is a, like 120% energy kind of bunny, she's working it. And I got to thinking about neighborhoods and coffee shops and cultural hubs, and I think it's all kind of personified and Coté Soerens.


I think you're right. Let's take a listen. How long have you been living in South Park? And, and how is it that you landed in that neighborhood?


I'm a newbie actually in comparison. I've been here for nine years.


And how did you end up making South Park, your neighborhood home?


So I'm fresh off the plane. I've been in the states for 16 years and I landed in a part of Seattle that was quite, um, homogeneous and out of nowhere, somebody mentions South Park and I was very intrigued. So I came to check it out and learned that it was the Latino neighborhood in Seattle. Not only that, but ever since the Duwamish were displaced, <laugh>, it's been a neighborhood of immigrants and it's such a small neighborhood. And there are so few reasons to come here that if you are here, there is a reason for you to be here, which leads to people saying, hi, asking your name within three minutes of you walking down the street, you would struck three or four conversations, which was such a change from what I had experienced in the rest of Seattle.


Coté. Did you say you've been there for nine years? Yeah. What kinds of changes have you seen over that period of time?


Well, I saw Tesla the other day. So there goes the neighborhood <laugh> And a delivery from Restoration Hardware. <laugh>


You're telling me, gentrification is finding its way down to South Park


Absolutely. I know people all over the city and the people that I knew who lived in North Seattle and who had access to means were talking about South Park as this great opportunity where you could go flip houses, you know?


Well, yeah, it would be inevitable right in this climate. Um, South Park, as you have already articulated is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Seattle. So how do you see that reflected in businesses and other organizations that make South Park their home?


We have, I think the most concentration of Mexican restaurants per square foot, <laugh>, they're like eight in one block, Hey, let's open a Mexican restaurant in South Park, a great idea. I don't, this is where I say I'm a newbie, cuz I think there are people who have been here for longer, who grew up here who have really felt the effects of the use of tiendas that were serving the Latino community that are no longer here. I got here right after the bridge had opened. So it was on the wake of all the depression of the core during the years that the bridge was closed. The new wave of businesses of course has been quite different. <laugh> so there's still many Latino owned businesses, but still people are very friendly and committed to doing their best. You know, so at Resistencia, we were very aware of these tensions and part of the reason to open the coffee shop was this is a gentrified neighborhood. There will be a hip coffee shop, that that's inevitable. So how about we have it be neighborhood-owned and that is very intentionally serving the neighborhood today.


Can you give us a bit of an overview of the kinds of cultural groups that exist in the South Park area beyond the Latino community?


Oh, Yes. Well, one group that actually has been present for decades and has been very invisible is the Humira community. There is a large amount of people who own homes here who were part of, some of them were part of the Habitat for Humanity opportunities by um, 20, 30 years ago. Others just love living here <laugh> were able to purchase homes, but that is a tight knit community that has been here for decades. Uh, the Japanese community was a pillar of the farming community back in the forties, fifties, or were part of the wave of farmers at Pike Place Market that ended during interment, which is one of the most painful stories that I've heard in South Park that, you know, we have this highway, this state route 99 crossing in the middle of the neighborhood, much of that land was quote unquote, conveniently available after the interment. We get the Latinos here, right? <laugh> but how do we make it so that, uh, you know, the, the emerging east African community and also the, the, the Black community in this neighborhood and others are equally visible.


You came right after the bridge reopened, which was a real barrier, I think, and a protection in a way for South Park to keep those cultures intact, to make sure that people could afford to buy homes there. And so I'm wondering how the gentrification that we were talking about earlier has affected the ability of people who maybe have lower incomes or are subsidized by federal dollars. How has it affected their ability to stay in this community?


It’s impossible for some to do so, especially, uh, newcomers who like younger people who have been attracted to this neighborhood, they just can't afford it, period. Um, so they won't find spots near South Park. I talk about the South Park diaspora, the people who grew up here wanted to stay connected, but couldn't live here, but they still want to be connected. What we had in South Park for years was what is called naturally occurring affordability houses that are affordable because they are in quote unquote a less desirable area, which actually is a friendlier environment for some members of the community who for example, are undocumented and cannot access benefits from the government such as affordable housing. That is, that is government sanctions. So the market in Seattle is becoming insane and deregulated. We have had to organize ourselves to see how do we acquire, but in communities of color, we are not as familiar with real estate investments and how real estate works. So it's an uphill learning curve. <laugh>, you know,


Let's talk a little bit about your involvement in the project called El Barrio and, and tell us all about how that came about and why it's important to your neighborhood. First of all, what is El Barrio? It's a pretty big deal.


It’s a huge deal. So one of the biggest challenges in South Park is access to actual physical space we’re a square mile neighborhood with a huge deal of energy, people wanna do things, they all wanna organize and do their projects. And one pain points that I have had forever was there is no space to do these things. So that's kind of what got me into wanting to open the coffee shop in the first place was like, Hey, we need space for things, right? So we found this little spot in this building in the corner of South Park. It's the main corner in Cloverdale on 14th Street, my husband and I got, okay, we have our Resistencia Coffee, we're forming, we're rolling. We're doing all of our thing about place-making here. And there were other businesses there. And one of them was the South Park Hall, right. Which is the only arts venue in the neighborhood for a long time. Then COVID comes in. And of course the event space industries completely bonkers gone right? Now by then we had gathered this group of 20 residents who cared about the arts and cared about space. So as the situation with the South Park Hall became more dire, it seemed that the only way forward would be to buy the building, which is bananas and crazy. Like it's a huge building in Seattle. And here I am talking as if it's possible. <laugh>


Well, it seems more than possible because it actually happened, right?


Yes. That's the crazy thing. So, so at the time I thought, okay, we had a little bit of, um, of a translation problem. The owners of the building, we know they care about, uh, preservation and we know they care about the neighborhood, but there was a little bit of a translation problem in talking to women like me. I didn't think it would, it would be feasible to have a serious conversation about it. Maybe that's unfair to them, but the stake were so high that I didn't wanna risk it. So I call on our friends at the Cultural Space Agency. So, I reached out to Matthew Richter. Okay. What do you think? And Matthew actually have the huge vision of the urgency of the matter. Basically, brought it into awareness that, Hey, this corner is developable, that means that if it goes into the market, all of these spaces are gonna be gone. So we applied and we were one of the 11 projects yeah. That were granted funded. It makes sense. It's a, it's what is called in real estate that performing asset, basically a building that has income from rentals. So it was a no brainer as far as like a good investment.


What I think is really interesting about this and, and this whole story, Coté, is that you went from looking at a space where you could really use it, like activate this space. And then we, we come into COVID where space activation is dead, but you still wanna preserve this space for the community. And community ownership was the way to do that. And to make it accessible. I might say for the long term, if you own it.


Our music is courtesy of Big World Breaks, many thanks.


And this year we welcome our sponsor LANGSTON, cultivating Black brilliance from their home at Seattle's Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in the historic Central District. Our conversation with Coté Soerens continues.


You have said in the past that the neighborhood work that you do is beautiful, but that it can also be very messy. And maybe by messy, you're talking about all the little details, but maybe there's more to that messiness.


People, people, people <laugh>,


It's messy because of the people we all have ideas about what is good. We all have ideas about, you know, what our points of partners are. I kinda wish that we had a better practice, especially in Seattle, to be more curious and more generous, to ask more questions before we get all very sick <laugh> about things. I think the messiness comes from, you know, when people don't understand something, they get very anxious or very suspicious. That's where the messiness comes from, I think.


You were talking a little bit earlier about some of the broader challenges in south park, incredible pollution, pollution of the water of the Duwamish River, actual soil pollution, air pollution. There's also the poverty level in, in South Park. And I'm wondering how cultural activity and in particular like arts and cultural activity can help address this. For example, how, how can artists and creative people give their input into bigger policy issues?


That is a incredible question, Marcie. I think, I mean, there's so many ways in which that can happen, right? I mean, once raising awareness, I cannot feel that, you know, some mom raising three boys in South Park, I see how people who don't live in the neighborhood utilize the space. They drive through it as if nobody lived there. You know, like if you go on Marginal Way, I bike everywhere with my kids, they drive through that as if it was nobody there. You know? So I kind been thinking about this campaign. I'm like, Hey, yo, we live <laugh>. Um, but raising awareness of the richness of this neighborhood, as far as like cultures or the humanizing of this area, I think, is really important for the rest of the city to understand how their decision making around certain things affect this area. The repairing that needs to have an environmentally, place-making is a huge need in this neighborhood.


And I feel that place making and the arts go together like honey and tea, just so I kinda wish somebody would do a project of looking at the neighborhood and how we walk the neighborhood from the perspective of a three-year-old, you know, that would help us all. <laugh> from the perspective of my little ones, helping on the bike and going to a park is something that any kid in Seattle can do. For us. we would love to go to the river, but I'm freaked out about them playing in the sand, getting to the river. We have to go through an on ramp <laugh> highway ramp once my, my three-year-old, actually, he's now five, but getting to his balance bike from my house, which is less than a mile away to my office. And he went through the ramp on his balance bike. There are ways to draw attention to the built environments. I believe that artists can do very well and how that affects actual people, how the air pollution affects people. <laugh>


You mentioned the fact that you arrived in South Park, right after the bridge reopened. And you know, South Park is in many ways, this phoenix that just keeps rising out of challenge after challenge, after challenge, you know, and being right there behind, uh, Boeing, you know, it's just like, you don't even know that thing is over there, that little prime piece of property over there where it's so culturally rich, but what do you see, Coté, as one of the biggest challenges that faces you and your neighbors, and what's the best path toward meeting and overcoming these challenges?


Ai yai yai. Cause we have the challenges of gentrification, you know, the ownership. When there's a problem, we rise, right? Like, so we are very resilient when there is a crisis. We rise. One of our biggest challenges I think is, uh, actually to overcome a little bit of, um, scarcity mentality that has pinned groups against each other, for example. Cause I think that we're operating from a place of abundance sometimes. So again, people, people, people like, how are we talking to each other? How are we being generous to one another? Those are really important. And so there is neighborliness, how do we sustain this spirit of neighborliness? When we start getting more ambitious initiatives?


Are you saying holding on to the kind of those basic values, but also being inspired for more?


Yeah, because some, for example, like I feel that a lot. So community engagement is so difficult, right? And I feel that people underestimate how technical community engagement is. For example, none of us would think about going to do heart surgery because we don't know how to do heart surgery <laugh>, you know, but when it comes to community engagement, it seems that we all feel like, yeah, we can do community engagement and it's not like that. You know, there are steps that need to be followed if you skip them, boom problems arise. Right. So I kind of feel that we have an opportunity with projects, huge projects like Reconnect South Park, for example, which is to decommission the highway or, and reclaim land for equitable development in which we have the opportunity to review, what are our values as a neighborhood? What are the things that bring us together and in such a polarized society today, in which Seattle, the thing is one of the most difficult, um, the exercise of looking at what are the things that bring us together and how do we lead from those common values, to actually take on the root causes of the problems we have.


Cause I I'm, I'm appalled at how much we spend time and resources on mitigation. We don't dream big enough, but when we dream big enough, the journey is very difficult to get there. You need those common values, right? So that is something that I'm really excited about with this particular initiative that we're working next, which is Reconnect South Park to, we have this opportunity of like, what does reconnecting actually reconnecting means instead of like, Hey, this is our values. These are things we care about. We care about our kids. Yes. We care about environmental justice. Yes. We care about solidarity. You know, like what are these riches and how do we encourage them to restore a lot that has been ravaged from this land? <laugh>,


Coté, you've talked about so many wonderful things in your neighborhood and it's clear your passion for South Park is huge. I'm wondering for people who have never visited or are wondering about it, what do you think is one thing you'd most like people to know?


What we lack in material resources we make up for with neighborliness. And that is a gift that Seattle as a whole should pay attention to.


Well, that was wonderful. And I <laugh>, I think you're right. It is something Seattle should pay attention to you.


Not tell the story. I used to live in Wallingford. I lived there for three years, man. After three years, my neighbor from across the street, we were getting off the car and she comes like, Hey guys, um, can I ask you something? Like, yeah, what's up? I was curious if you don't, if you wouldn't mind. Of course, but don't feel, but I was wondering if you could come to our house for dinner on Friday? So that to me is kind of like North Seattle <laugh>, you know, like after three years, this lady grabs every courage, every ounce of courage, she’s got to invite us over for dinner <laugh> whereas in South Park, when I first moved here with Lucas. Lucas, my 11 year old, he was like three. We would sneak into these birthday parties for kids <laugh> on any given Saturday we'll grab the bike.


Cause you can always tell when there's a birthday party going on at South Park, you always know.


Oh yes. There's incredible bouncy house. So we will grab the bike, look at the night and people would be so generous. They would be like, come in, come in. They will give us like a huge piece of cake. It was the best.


Coté Soerens. Thank you so much for sharing some time and your perspective on your neighborhood with us. We really appreciate it.


Well, you know, I got a big kick out of listening to Coté talk about how neighborly the feel is in South Park. And I laugh because honestly every single time I have driven through South Park, and I have to admit to the fact that I'm usually driving through, I'm not intentionally going to South Park, which I, I, I would assume is the case for a lot of folks, but it’s usually on the weekends and you always know when there's a birthday party going on, you know, like she said, bouncy houses and balloons and all that. And I can, I can see why it would be so easy to kind of slip in to a birthday party, especially, you know, with small kids, but being welcomed in, the way she described that I, I thought was really interesting and fun.


South Park is the second of the four neighborhoods that we're focusing on this season of doubleXposure. And I have to say, I have so enjoyed the conversations we've had. We, we talked to a teacher that y'all will meet in the next episode at Concord Elementary School, which is one of the first schools in the City of Seattle to roll out the creative advantage arts program. That's really trying to create equity in arts education, across the district. And Jessica Peña Manolo is just of livewire. I mean, as lively as Coté. And then we met a couple of, of folks who opened up essentially a dance studio, but these are professionally trained ballet dancers. And they've opened a big conservatory in South Park. And the more I hear about South Park, aside from loving the people we talk to also makes me wanna go down and eat.


Right? What did she say? Eight Mexican restaurants on one block. I'm not mad at it. <laugh> I have at least gone to, to, to have Mexican food in South Park. It's been a long time, but I'm, I'm ready to head back there. One of the other things too, that I thought was really interesting is we explored that neighborhood and that community and the role that arts and culture plays in building community, is really how seriously and intentionally that neighborhood has taken arts and culture. There is a website that I would invite people to go check out. It's called South Park creates dot space. And it's a place where you can find out all about South Park, the arts and culture collective, which is a beautiful thing. It's a small neighborhood, but they have created this arts and culture collective, which means that to me, what it means to me is that they are very, very intentional about making art accessible to all of the neighborhood residents.


Accessible and also art that comes out of the cultures that have formed the people who live in the neighborhood. And I think that intentionality really is not just about the art, but embracing their stories, their ancestors, who they are and moving that forward, which makes the community, I think super exciting. One of the places that you could go to, but don't gentrify it.


<laugh> Don't gentrify South Park. Well, good luck with that, but <laugh> but you know, there was one other thing too, Marcie, that I just wanted to mention that came up in this, uh, conversation with Coté. And that was, it was a new fact for me. I may have known this at some point, but it resonated when she mentioned the fact that it was a Japanese farming community prior to the internment and that heritage and making sure that that heritage is respected is, is remembered and shared, I think is another interesting role that neighborhood connections play, and place-making is a part of how that can all happen too.


Really exciting. And so stay with us for the next few episodes focused on South Park. We haven't packed our bags to relocate there yet, but you know.


We've been talking about it. <laugh>


Thanks for listening.


Thank you.


DoubleXposure Executive Producers are me, Marcie Sillman


And me, Vivian Phillips. We get production support from Hilary Northcraft, Randy Engstrom and Calandra Childers.


Support for doubleXposure comes from Pyramid Communications.


And we're especially proud to support Crosscut Media’s Black Arts Legacies Project, highlighting the role of black artists and arts organizations throughout our cultural landscape.


If you like what you're hearing on this episode of doubleXposure, be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast app and check out our website,

South Park with Cote Soerens
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