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Saturday, October 5, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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New Seattle map: There goes the neighborhood

Seattle Times staff reporter

Do you know the border between East Ballard and Central Ballard?

Did West Seattle's Gatewood neighborhood disappear?

And where, besides under a microscope, is RNA?

A poster-size map from a Chicago company purporting to be the first to show names and boundaries of nearly 100 Seattle neighborhoods has run up against one simple, undeniable fact: It's impossible.

"Unlike some cities, Seattle doesn't set neighborhood boundaries. They're ever-changing," said Brent Crook, a division director in the city's Department of Neighborhoods.

Although Seattle has long prided itself as a city of neighborhoods, those neighborhoods expand, shrink and even change names.

A section of North Seattle along Greenwood Avenue North, for example, has been called Broadview, Greenwood, Bitter Lake — depending on who is doing the labeling.

"I've seen my area go from the 'CD' to 'Madrona' to 'Greater Madison Valley' and now 'Madrona Park,' " said Natasha Jones, Department of Neighborhoods spokeswoman.

This week, the department asked the map makers, Big Stick, to stop describing the $25 map as "endorsed by the City of Seattle" — a pitch Big Stick has been using on its Web site. City employees did provide comment and suggestions early in the process, but didn't review or certify the finished map, Crook said.

Big Stick's glossy, colorful map is leaving some residents scratching their heads and is sure to puzzle people who can't find long-familiar neighborhood names.

"I can't believe they left out Gatewood," said Mac Hoover, senior pastor of Gatewood Baptist Church, on California Avenue Southwest.

To back his point, Hoover pulls out a local history book with a 1916 photo of a jitney that shuttled people from the end of a West Seattle streetcar line to "Gatewood," clearly marked on the jitney's windshield.

On the map, Hoover's area seems to be at the corner of a neighborhood called "Morgan." Hoover, who has worked at the church for 17 years, is familiar with the nearby "Morgan's Junction" business district, but said, "I've never heard of an area actually called 'Morgan.' "

The map triggered a similar reaction at University Heights Center, a community center north and west of the University of Washington campus, in an area the map calls "RNA."

"This is the University District and always has been," said Richard Sorenson, the center's executive director, puzzled by the designation "RNA."

The acronym stands for "Roosevelt Neighbors' Alliance" and is a part of the University District, said Karen Ko, a neighborhood center coordinator who suggested the designation "RNA" to the mapmakers.

Although she disagrees with the boundaries shown on the map — and doubts many residents there actually call their neighborhood "RNA," she wanted the group to get recognition for efforts to improve the neighborhood and stand guard against encroaching development.

By the way, notes Ko, the "Roosevelt Neighbors' Alliance," shouldn't be confused with the "Roosevelt Neighborhood Association," which is farther to the north in an area the map simply calls "Roosevelt."

Some names stem from neighborhood efforts to create more positive images. Uptown replaces Lower Queen Anne, and Belltown trumps the Denny Regrade.

Big Stick's president, Christopher Devane, expects people to disagree about neighborhood names and boundaries. "It's probably why we're the only ones who've gotten involved in this."

His company has published maps for Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee and plans to map neighborhoods in the country's 20 biggest cities. Of the cities completed, only St. Louis has formal neighborhood boundaries, Devane said.

Devane knows his Seattle map will draw mixed reviews, but he apparently doesn't scare easily. Big Stick did, after all, publish the "All-World Monster Map," showing home areas for the likes of Bigfoot, King Kong and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The Seattle map is beginning to show up at local bookstores, but can be ordered from the company at www.bigstickinc.com.

Devane, who includes a toll-free number on his maps, is used to people calling with questions or corrections. He said nearly everyone who calls, even if they disagree, has been "polite and friendly and helpful."

Last year, he put out a second version of his Chicago map, adding about 40 neighborhoods in response to comments on the first map and new community-building efforts in run-down areas.

Seattle city officials declined Devane's suggestion to sell the map at neighborhood service centers.

He had also hoped to give a framed copy to Mayor Greg Nickels during a visit to Seattle next week, but an aide to Nickels said the mayor doesn't have time.

Crook, at the Department of Neighborhoods, said many may disagree with the alignment Devane presents, but they'll also learn the names of some smaller neighborhoods and get a general sense about which parts of the city they're in.

"For what they're trying to do, this may be as good as it's going to get," Crook said, "but it isn't something we would try."

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com.

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