ITucked away in the tree-lined Northeast corner of the City of Tacoma is the community of Salishan. At the heart of this 200-acre community is the WSU Pierce County Learning Center at Salishan.
Both are unique, and both are about to undergo significant transformation.
Salishan was built in the early 1940s to provide 2,000 temporary housing units near the Port of Tacoma to support the nations war effort. Following World War II, Salishan became public housing and has served for decades as the gateway for many immigrants and refugees who in most cases have gone on to become part of Americas mainstream. Today 855 of the temporary units remain, housing a multi-ethnic community in which eight languages are spoken.
WSU joined the community in 1996 when it opened the WSU Salishan Learning Center, one of six learning centers funded by the state legislature and the only one located in an urban community. Through the learning center, individuals from Salishan and neighboring communities can take computer classes, practice computer skills, work toward a WSU degree through the Distance Degree Program and participate in a variety of 4-H programs and activities. In August, the computer training programs got a real boost when the Salishan Learning Center became one of two pilot sites in Washington State for digital satellite Internet access.
With WSU Cooperative Extension and other community partners, the Tacoma Housing Authority is bringing new hope to the old community in the form of a revitalization plan based on a $35 million HOPE VI grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HOPE stands for Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere. According to Peter Ansara, executive director of the Tacoma Housing Authority, Salishan is the largest HOPE VI housing revitalization project in the nation both in terms of land mass and number of units.
Preserving the sense of community while replacing nearly all of the housing at Salishan will be the major challenge, Ansara said. Work starts next year on the phased removal of the old wood-frame row houses and construction of 1,200 new homes and supporting facilities. The new Salishan will be made up of mixed income housing ranging from subsidized public housing to market-rate homes available for purchase. The revitalization will also bring a number of amenities to the community, including retail shops, a community farmers market, a senior assisted-living center and a technology center that will be the new home of the WSU Pierce County Learning Center at Salishan.
This really is a community, Ansara said. Thats a term we throw around a lot these days, but this is more than a housing project, this is a neighborhood. The people take pride in Salishan. They dont want to stay in public housing, but they do want to stay in the Salishan community, he said.
Ansara believes WSUs presence at Salishan is one of the anchors that will cause residents to tough out the construction and remain part of the neighborhood.
WSU is one of the cornerstones that make people want to be here, he said.
According to Cooperative Extension agent Olga Fusté, the Learning Center and 4-H programs contribute to the sense of community by helping residents bridge cultural and language barriers. Whether its computer classes or the weekly sewing classes, the learning experience also provides a social experience for Salishan residents.
The women who participate in our 4-H sewing classes come as much to learn about each other and their different cultures as they do to learn about sewing, Fusté said.
There is more to Cooperative Extensions involvement than providing a sense of community at Salishan. Cooperative Extension Pierce County helped establish the community garden that is a centerpiece for community pride and activity. Faculty from the WSU Puyallup Research and Extension center are being asked to be involved in the restoration of Swan Creek that winds through the neighborhood. They would assist in efforts to restore water quality and preserve it as a salmon-bearing stream, while also improving community access to its banks.
Ansara would like to involve WSU Puyallup faculty in expanding the community garden and possibly adding a greenhouse to allow residents to raise crops year round. The garden will provide produce for the new farmers market, and a source of income for those who grow it. Kids in Salishans 4-H programs already make and sell honey and spice-infused oil and vinegar products in neighboring communities.
WSU Puyallup is one of the states best-kept secrets, Ansara said. Its an amazing resource.
When construction is complete, the WSU Learning Center at Salishan will be housed in the new Technology Center literally at the front door of the community, working in partnership with Tacoma Community College, Bates Vocational College and others to serve the community.
Partnerships are critical, and having good partners is absolutely essential to our success, Ansara said. Washington State University Cooperative Extension is a good partner.