Through intimate interviews and cinematic portraits Even the Walls seeks to transcend the immediate question of relocation to honor the stories of Yesler’s residents and their neighborhood, before they are lost.
We used video to record the interactions, both past and present, that make Yesler valuable to its residents: social capital. Although not a marketplace commodity, social capital is Yesler's most valuable asset. One that residents worry will be destroyed after the renovations.
By traveling throughout the changing landscape of the once tight-knit community, and weaving in and out of personal vignettes, Even the Walls explores the diversity of experiences had while living in Yesler Terrace. In Yesler, neighbors watch each other’s children, take care of shared goods, and provide comfort and camaraderie.
These items are not taken into account during economic assessments evaluating the worth of a neighborhood. For many people, however, this is the most valuable thing they have. When these networks are taken away through gentrification or natural disaster, it can create tremendous mental harm. In her book, Root Shock, Professor Mindy Fullilove describes this process as the destruction of emotional ecosystems.
Not one resident believes their community will remain intact after the redevelopment, even though they have all have been offered units in the new mid-rise apartments. Many residents believe the 'feel' of the neighborhood will disappear when gardens, small pathways and front porches are replaced with condos, retail and office spaces. Some will stay out of convenience and attachment; others will leave, unable or unwilling to deal with the change. Once guardians of their own communities, the residents worry they will feel out of place and unwelcome in the new Yesler Terrace.
Even the Walls does not ask architects, builders, academics or public housing experts about Yesler Terrace and its “track record.” Instead it takes a more personal approach and speaks with the experts on Yesler Terrace and its efficacy: its community members. Those who know viscerally the reality of what will be lost and what we can gain by shifting our perspective from short-term financial gain to long-term prosperity for all members of our city’s communities.
Although linked to a number of politically-charged issues, the film’s storyline focuses on personal stories, seeking to foster empathy over sympathy. It avoids divisive thinking and finger-pointing, and instead exemplifies the life experiences we all struggle with, the joys we’ve known, and the desire for home, safety and belonging we can all feel.
Pieces of this article originally appeared in our sponsored post for the Seattle Globalist