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Five Questions with Jeffrey Shulman

In his documentary “On the Brink,” University of Washington business professor Jeffrey Shulman ’01, ’04 MS, ’06 PhD evokes the human impact of gentrification in Seattle’s Central District.

jeff shulman
Image: Courtesy of the University of Washington

By Jacob Muñoz
Fall 2019

What did you learn about the Central District from producing and directing “On the Brink”?

I was struck by the intense feelings of trauma, tragedy, and loss that residents in the Central District are feeling while the city is experiencing an economic boom. I lived in Seattle for 10 years before my work with Seattle Growth Podcast opened my eyes to a rich history that’s in danger of becoming history forever. Nationally renowned talents such as Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones and Sir Mix-A-Lot called this once-thriving African American community home. This rich history also includes racial covenants that formed the community and disinvestment in the neighborhood through redlining. Knowing how these communities were formed and starved of resources gives context to why displacement happening now is not just about simple economics. I’ve been struck by the reaction from audiences in cities from LA to New York who relate to what’s portrayed in the film. Seattle’s Central District story is truly an American story.

What do people need to understand about gentrification?

What many people see as progress means loss to community members who made big contributions to their neighborhood. A takeaway is that there’s a real human impact of “progress.” My hope is that by bringing attention to people who are struggling in an economic boom, we can find solutions that can include them in building a positive shared future.

How did your award-winning Seattle Growth Podcast develop?

Seattle is a dynamic city. I lived in the South Lake Union neighborhood, which has changed dramatically. Three years after moving away from the neighborhood, I didn’t recognize it. I set out to understand how people in Seattle are reacting to the changes around them. Seasons of the podcast have focused on homelessness, the music scene and finding community.

How do Seattle’s changing demographics fit with your role at UW’s Foster School of Business?

I teach, research and engage in service. My research primarily focuses on using game theory to look at pricing, product returns and marketing implications of cloud computing. Seattle Growth Podcast and On the Brink were acts of service, looking at what role business can play in serving the needs of the community in a way that leaves fewer people behind. It’s coming from an interest in how we as a public business school can be a positive force in a transforming the city.

How has your career been guided by your time at Northwestern?

Being exposed to different people and ideas at Northwestern sparked a curiosity that has guided me through all these different projects. I also learned the importance of community and looking out for one another at the University.

Interview conducted by Jacob Munoz, a junior from Ingleside, Ill., who is studying journalism and psychology.


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