Area where residents value learning

Residents of the University District take pride in its diversity and youthful vibrancy that only a college town can exude.

Since the University of Washington moved from downtown to this part of Seattle in 1895, it's had a close relationship with the streets that surround it. Here, the purple-and-gold elephant in the room sits on 643 acres, making up a huge chunk of the district.

"I think absolutely the most unique thing is the University of Washington in the center of our neighborhood," said Teresa Lord Hugel, executive director of the Greater University Chamber of Commerce.

The university creates an atmosphere of learning, research and exploration that spills over to the community, said Aaron Hoard, deputy director of regional affairs at the UW.

Residents often visit the university for lectures, museum exhibits, concerts and of course, Husky games.

And they stay in the neighborhood for its 200-plus restaurants, movie theaters, bookstores and numerous coffee shops and bars.

The district is bordered by Interstate 5 on the West, Portage and Union bays on the south and roughly following Northeast Ravenna Boulevard to the north and then down past the University Village shopping center, according to the chamber. The neighborhood is bisected by Northeast 45th Street.

In recent years, the city's revitalization campaign for University Way, also known as "The Ave," has added a greater police presence on the street, resurfaced the street and added trees and light poles.

UW architecture students even set up a temporary studio to assist local shop owners to redesign their storefront facades and apply for grants, Hoard said.

A longtime presence on the Ave has been Shiga's One World Shop at 4306 University Way N.E. The Asian gift store was founded by Andy Shiga, who died in 1993. The store is run by his wife, Toshimo Shiga.

When student demonstrations against the Vietnam War in the 1960s led to a rift between merchants and students, Andy Shiga, a peace activist, founded the University District Fair to ease tensions, said his son, Alfred Shiga.

"He always liked the interaction between the students," Alfred Shiga said. "I grew up reading books at the University Bookstore and got my undergrad degree in econ at the UW," said Shiga, 39, who now works as a real-estate broker in the University District. "I spent quite a lot of time walking up and down the street. If we were ever forced to move from the U District, we would probably just close," he said.

In recent years condominiums have been built or are under construction. The median price of a home sold in the area of Seattle that includes the University District was $430,000 in October, up 6.7 percent from the year before, according to figures compiled by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Since the majority of UW's nearly 40,000 students are commuters, there are excellent bus services to and from the area, Hoard added. Sound Transit's proposed light-rail link to the UW from downtown got federal government support, it was announced this past week.

For Ken Deering, who moved to the University District 29 years ago after graduating from the University of Washington, the area has a number of benefits.

"We spent two years here without a car. There are so many things you can do on foot," he said.

Deering raised two children in the neighborhood and said they benefited from the area's diversity. "I think it broadened their views about things, there is so much racial and ethnic diversity."

Resident and UW sophomore Heather Senn, 19, said she loves the restaurants.

"Whenever I leave the neighborhood with friends, I always say, 'Let's go eat back at the U District.' The food here is cheap and really diverse; you can get anything from Italian to Pakistani," she said.

"No one sleeps here. It's like New York. Whenever I walk at night here I'm not scared, there are always people around."

For Chris Curtis, director of the Neighborhood Farmer's Market Alliance, the University District was an ideal location to start the city's first neighborhood farmer's market in 1993.

Curtis started it with 17 farmers and 800 visitors on opening day. Thirteen years later, the Saturday market now is the city's oldest and largest and averages 50 farmers and about 4,000 shoppers on a market day. This year is the first year that it will run year-round, she added.

The University District also breeds tolerance, she said.

"It represents all of us, young and old, rich and poor. Plus I love the fact that the university has such a profound impact on the street."

The "Ave" in the University District is always bustling with people. Streets were resurfaced and trees and light poles were added in a recent revitalization campaign. (AMANDA SMITH / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

University District

Population: 22,817 (2006 est.)

Distance to downtown Seattle: 4.5 miles

Schools: The University District is served by the Seattle School District.

Recreation/museums: Ravenna Park, 5520 Ravenna Ave. N.E. A 50-acre wooded ravine that connects two picnic areas just north of the University District, it is a popular spot for hiking, jogging and picnics. The park includes a play area for children, a wading pool, ballfield, trails and tennis courts. Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, UW campus at 17th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 45th Street. Henry Art Gallery, UW campus, 15th Ave Northeast and Northeast 41st Street.

Fun fact: Why University Way Northeast is called "The Ave." The street got its nickname in 1919, when it was officially known as 14th Avenue Northeast. Locals felt a numbered street was not a suitable name for the principal business street in the University District, and gave it a pet name. And then the University Commercial Club ran a contest to rename 14th Avenue. Club member Arthur Quigley's "University Way" won the street name contest.

— Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf