Reflecting on a Changing Ballard


Ballard, once a Scandinavian fishing town and blue-collar community, is now a popular Seattle neighborhood. And rightly so–located just a 30 minute bus ride from downtown Seattle, Ballard has easy access to the city along with the benefits of bordering Puget Sound. Ballard has one of the Seattle area’s most beautiful beaches at Golden Gardens, and the Ballard Locks and adjacent gardens draw both tourists and locals.

In recent years, Ballard’s growth has meant that rents are skyrocketing and new construction–particularly of large apartment complexes and row houses–has been booming. Seattle has been one of the nation’s fastest growing cities, leaving residents to grapple with the issues caused by growth: housing affordability, the pushing out of old communities and cultures, and an overall need for smart growth.

FullSizeRender copy 3
A taste of Ballard’s historic apartment buildings.

The changes in Ballard have been disconcerting to many. How to support the community of Ballard and ensure that its history is captured and its future is planned for? Enter the Mapping Historic Ballard project. The project launched in November of 2015 and the completion celebration was held just two weeks ago. The outcomes of the project are a testament to a community and an unsurpassable resource to the future, both as a research tool and as an information base of community planning.

FullSizeRender copy 2
An example of Ballard’s newer construction.

What the Mapping Historic Ballard project has accomplished is a fascinating resource for Seattlites and other communities alike. Ballard’s fight for smart growth is by no means unique. Check out some of the amazing tools the Ballard Mapping team created:

  • You can see the complete inventory here. Volunteers photographed all buildings older than 50 years, and used an app to record details. (Click “improve this map” in the lower right corner of the map, or click here for a full version with key.)
  • Maps with sliders that allow comparison of old and current views were created for 1904/2016, 1937/2016, and 1996/2016.

The Ballard Historical Society hopes to combine this trove of information with other materials, like a series of oral histories, that can be linked to the map. Growth can be unavoidable, but allowing for growth while retaining the cultural of a place is invaluable. Ballard wouldn’t be Ballard without the Scandinavian imports store, the Safeway on 85th festooned year-round with Scandinavian flags, and the tiny fisherman’s cottages tucked here and there in the neighborhoods. This isn’t just a neighborhood within the Seattle metropolis. This is Ballard. And this place matters.


FullSizeRender copy
Small house to construction site to row houses–a common sight in Ballard.
Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.
Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.
Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.
FullSizeRender copy
Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.

8 thoughts on “Reflecting on a Changing Ballard

    1. It’s so true! And it’s hard to know what to do about it (if anything). I was glad that the Ballard community could rally around the idea of documenting what’s here now.


  1. I’m just not crazy about these modern squared-off apartments and condos being built among the bungalows and brick rowhouses. I wish the architecture harmonized.

    I get it; 50 years from now these new houses will be targets of their own preservation campaigns. But it’s jarring to see the mix of architectural styles in a neighborhood. I see it in Indiana, where I am, as well.


    1. I agree, it’s a little jarring. Some are better placed than others. The scale is the most off-putting, especially with the huge apartment towers. What I like least is that these aren’t local and or unique. But I’m hoping the Mapping Historic Ballard project will cause people to think carefully about smart growth here.


  2. What must be kept and what can be tolerated to be thrown away?

    What is legacy that is longer lasting than the 70 year duration of one human life?

    Many people, cultures and villages have wrestled for centuries with these questions around the world. The answers depend on the local populations.

    It is a sign of affluence that issues of shelter, food and jobs are not at risk in these discussions, is it not? 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s