Kathy Laughman believes in community. That’s not just your TV sitcom version, however. She’s committed to an older, more deeply rooted communal idea–where people living and working in a neighborhood share resources, and support the success and the very survival of each other. Kathy is inspired by the years she spent in southern France where she was taken into membership in such a community. We’re fortunate to have her back home and leading the Montlake Business District Development project, for she is bringing that classic concept of community with a French touch to her role.
Kathy first came to live in Seattle in 1970, found a staff position at the UW, and bought a home in Montlake for proximity to her work, and for love of the drawbridge, the beautiful parks, and the architectural details of the homes. Later, after gaining an advanced degree in design and working in the local garment industry, she was wisely hired by Nordstrom to work on the Fauçonnable product line. Following much travel to France, Europe and Asia on Nordstrom’s business, Kathy rented out her house and was on her way to Nice, France to oversee creative design for the company for seven years. It was in Nice that she first experienced what she perceives as real community.
Kathy explains: “People there had a sense that it was their responsibility to take care of each other. Here, there was a tendency to see that as butting into other people’s business, but over there, they see themselves as responsible for each other. It’s simple things, like I would leave for work in winter … and I wouldn’t have my neck scarf on. The concierge would notice it and remind me that I should go back up and put my neck scarf on so I wouldn’t catch a cold.” She goes on, “The local businesses, many of which have been in their location for generations, believe that it is their obligation to see that their customers are happy.” This commitment, she says, extended to such actions as a shop owner accompanying her home, carrying her newly purchased floor lamp up the stairs, unpacking it, placing it, and making sure it worked. Kathy laughingly offers that: “This is a level of service that not even Nordstrom will give you!” She doesn’t see this as “just about customer satisfaction, but about a sense of community. He wanted to make sure that I was being taken care of….Their idea is that if an individual succeeds, it is good for the community, so its really not so much being generous and self-sacrificing, it’s in everybody’s interest to take care of everybody because then the group prospers….”
Responsibility for enhancing the community within neighborhoods extends to City governmental bodies as well. Laughman recounts, “Nice is definitely organized into neighborhoods and the City spend its tax dollars on landscaping, seasonal decorations, repairing the roads, keeping the sidewalks clean, with proper crosswalk signage and street lights. They take safety and welfare of the people in each community very, very seriously. And they put their money where their mouth is!”
Kathy Laughman thus sees the need in Montlake for the same reciprocity among business owners, residents, and City government. That general principle shows up in how she’s led the Montlake Business District Development Project. For example, she’s engaged the Montlake Business Association (MBA) in a series of meetings to gather the business owners’ ideas for development of downtown and uptown Montlake. Business owners have had roles on the project committee including meetings with the City and hiring the project consultant. Juan Lopez of Glam & Tonics and Carla Leonardi of Café Lago have been particularly active.
In the same spirit, Laughman has made sure that the project engages Montlake residents in the business district development plans and in support of its business owners. She has sought to provide the community with regular project-related information and progress reports via the Montlake Flyer Intrepid Reporter postings. She has assured opportunities to gather concerns and design ideas from residents through community meetings and comment options on Montlake.net. Further. She has helped lead the residents’ efforts to support our Montlake businesses– the Blvd Market & Service Station that have been seriously threatened by WSDOT’s late-declared needs for 520 bridge reconstruction. As Kathy declares: “We support them—they support us.”
Then there is, finally, the reciprocity with that important third party—the City within which our neighborhood exists. Here Kathy Laughman becomes mildly militant. She says, “We pay taxes to support City services; they provide us with the services our businesses and residents need.” Sometimes, of course, “they” needed to be reminded. As project lead, Kathy has assured that Montlake has made and maintained strong connections with representatives of SDOT, City planners, and the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods that funds the project. It’s no accident that we’ve had the opportunity to explore ideas for the future of our business district and neighborhood, tell our side of the story about what’s happening to Montlake and just possibly persuade the City representatives to be our champions. Laughman makes sure those representatives are at the table and quickly informed of what’s happening, what outcomes the community wants, and what’s needed from them.
Yes, we’re lucky to have Kathy Laughman in Montlake. She is helping us live into a model of community like the one she first experienced in southern France. It calls each of us to get engaged; to support and look out for each other, whether business owner or resident; to expect a fair share of service from the City government commensurate with the taxes we contribute. Kathy’s seven years abroad enriched her life and deepened her understanding of community, no question. We in Montlake are the lucky beneficiaries. Thanks Kathy.
*8th report of the Montlake Business District Development Project
**Coming soon, an update on the Montlake Business District Development Project –what’s happening, and what’s known and unknown about what’s coming.