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Just another metropolis

There remain only hints of Seattle's scrappy, provincial heritage of fish, timber, and frontier commerce – of even the sonic and binary booms that propelled the modern city to greatness. Seattle no longer feels unique.

When I first came to live in Seattle in 1990, one had only to look from the streets to the water to see the city's essential history: slow-moving tugs towing rafts of logs like floating islands; Japanese-flagged freighters laden with raw timber destined for the Tokyo construction industry; husband-and-wife gill-netting boats, laying nets across the tide for Puget Sound salmon. Squint, and you could almost see Seattle as it was in the 1850s: a sheltered deep-water harbor on the edge of a limitless forest of massive Douglas firs and cypresses, with an abundant fishery on its front doorstep. Given such lavish natural resources, it would be hard for a city founded here to fail. Add a railroad connection to the interior (James J. Hill's Great Northern transcontinental line reached Seattle in 1893, in ample time for the Klondike gold rush of 1897) and the place was bound to enjoy the kind of extravagant and unruly success that is both the blessing and curse of the American boom town. Yet – even in 1990 – there was a rootedness to Seattle that evaded most boom towns. The cautious, Lutheran, Scandinavian character of so many of its settlers perhaps helped; likewise the Lutheran, Scandinavian quality of its weather. Manic elation is difficult to sustain under the low grey skies of the Pacific Northwest, and Seattle was never likely to emulate the dizzy excesses of Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Hemmed in by parallel mountain ranges to the west and east, its livelihood grounded in tall trees and deep water, the city stood at an odd, proud, provincial angle to the rest of the U.S., insulated by its geography from the crazes and fashions that took hold elsewhere. Entirely predictably, the city's first "big" business was Henry Yesler's steam sawmill, built in 1853 on Elliott Bay at the foot of what is now Yesler Way. Docks, mills, salmon canneries, and shipbuilding yards quickly assembled themselves along the waterfront, forming a basic infrastructure that shaped Seattle's development for more than a hundred years. When William Boeing, president of a family-owned timber company based in Aberdeen, Wash., entered the aircraft-manufacturing business in 1916, he moved into a bankrupt yacht yard on the Duwamish River, where he employed shipwrights to construct his first planes. Built on the "stick-and-stringer" principle, with light wooden frames sheathed in fabric instead of timber planking, early Boeings, such as the Model C training seaplane, were like featherweight avian boats (lovely examples of these shipshape planes hang from the ceilings of the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field). So the pedigree of the 787 Dreamliner is thoroughbred Seattle, reaching back to the fir forest, the mill, the delicate skills of the boat-builder with his spokeshave and chisel. When I arrived here, I cherished this kind of logical continuity. No city I knew seemed on such comfortable and unselfconscious terms with its own beginnings. I warmed to Seattle's downtown, its modest cluster of skyscrapers rising from streets still dominated by turn-of-the-century brick-and-stucco examples of far-west neoclassical swank. Rebuilt after a fire leveled most of the business district in 1889, Seattle had Roman dreams of the grandeur yet to come, and its hotels, clubs, department stores, and theaters were designed like palaces in the reign of the emperor Hadrian. In a region of logging and mining camps, of here-today-and-gone-tomorrow, Seattle meant to stay for the ages. From early on, Seattle had a canny grasp of how to act as a provincial capital. Its potential hinterland was vast if underpopulated, stretching to Alaska in the north and beyond the Rocky Mountains to the east, a nearly boundless territory of isolated, makeshift towns, whose inhabitants might reasonably look to Seattle as their center for shopping, entertainment, medical facilities, and higher education (the very large and highly ranked University of Washington began life as Territorial University in Seattle in 1861, just 10 years after the arrival of the first settlers). The behavior of the city during the gold rush was typical: When prospectors swarmed through, en route for the Klondike diggings, Seattleites mostly stayed home, preferring to make reliable fortunes from the miners rather than chance their luck in the gold fields. Stores sold clothing, shovels, pans, sluice boxes, and hydraulic equipment to the stampede of hopefuls, and for those few who returned with money in their pockets, the city laid on whorehouses, dives, casinos, restaurants, and burlesque shows. Seattle effectively turned Alaska into its own client-state, making the last open frontier dependent on the city for shipping, supplies, and services, and handsomely enriching itself in the process. Few cities have enjoyed such a long-distance reach into their hinterlands. In the mid-1990s, I conducted an experiment. Driving eastward, I stopped at towns along the way, trying to find out where allegiance to Seattle's big-league sports teams, the Mariners and Seahawks, gave way to support for the Minneapolis teams, the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. At the 500-mile mark, Missoula, Mont., was solidly for Seattle. I crossed the continental divide near Butte and drove on to Billings, where, with 830 miles on the clock, I saw a travel agency advertising weekend packages to Seattle, with hotel, Mariners tickets, and a show at the 5th Avenue Theatre thrown in. A day or two later, I was more than a thousand miles from Seattle, at a barbecue lunch on a North Dakota ranch, after a long morning's calf-branding. Minneapolis was now 600 miles away. I asked my neighbor which baseball team was most closely followed in these parts. "Seattle Mariners," he gruffly said, as if I'd asked a silly question. Seattle's reach is that long. The Montana novelist Deirdre McNamer had a piece in The New York Times Magazine not long ago, describing how she and a Missoula friend would drive to Seattle to get their hair done. Five hundred miles for a haircut. It's been a long while since I last saw a gill-netter at work off Seattle's waterfront, a laden timber freighter heading north, or even a log tow. Puget Sound chinook salmon are now listed under the Endangered Species Act. Market changes and Clinton-era restrictions on logging in federal lands have drastically reduced the visibility of the timber industry. Most of the lumber mills, whose acrid steam used to give the coastal Northwest its characteristic smell, have closed down during my time here. Seventeen years ago, Seattle was still, if only just, a regional city, connected with its hinterland by a complex skein of cultural and economic threads and tendons. Grunge rock – the music for which Seattle was becoming famous when I first arrived – provides a nice example. Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, the founding members of Nirvana, both came, in Cobain's words, "from the bowels of a redneck logger town called Aberdeen, WA," but it took Seattle, the local metropolis, with its clubs, record producers, and studios (not to mention its ready supply of heroin) to broadcast to the world the band's drum-heavy strain of back-country Weltschmerz and fury. Like the wood-products industry, the rock scene depended on a close, symbiotic relationship between the outlying counties and their provincial hub. Since then, Seattle has become a post-regional city, paying far closer attention to the hourly fluctuations of the Nasdaq and Nikkei indices than it does to what's happening in its immediate vicinity. Increasingly divorced from the hinterland, it now seems to float more in virtual space than in the regional space which – until surprisingly recently – used to define and sustain it. For both the hinterlanders and many old-guard Seattleites, this uprooting has been a painful and incomprehensible process, alienating them from the city they'd long regarded as theirs by right of birth. Microsoft came here with its 28 employees from Albuquerque, N.M., in 1979, for a tangle of reasons. Bill Gates and Paul Allen were returning to their hometown; the high-tech side of Boeing had warmed the bed for the nascent software industry; the University of Washington was turning out a steady supply of graduates in computer science; the growing satellite cities of Bellevue and Redmond on the east side of Lake Washington offered cheaper office space than could be found in the Bay Area (which was considered as a possible alternative); Gates' Seattle network of influential family and friends could be counted on as a deep pool of advisers and investors; and the out-of-the-way character of the city provided the right atmosphere in which to develop a then-experimental – and always congenitally secretive – company. Microsoft's impact on Seattle was already making itself felt on the streets when I arrived. Its young workforce, androgynously dressed in cargo pants and T-shirts, topped by Velcro-fastened outdoor gear from Eddie Bauer and REI, looked like a culture in the making. Their air of perpetual studentdom was reinforced by the way Microsoft called its headquarters "the campus," and they worked eccentric, student hours, "pulling all-nighters," which explained their seemingly permanent attachment to paper cups of espresso coffee. Caffeine was their acceptable vice, as cigarettes and Martinis had been to earlier generations, and a symbol of their sleepless labors at the keyboard. Had Howard Schultz (who bought out Starbucks from his former employers in 1987) not existed, Seattle would have had to invent him. Not since the great influx of blue-collar workers who came from the south and east to work for Boeing during the Second World War had Seattle seen such a tide of incomers. The college-educated migrants of the 1990s, most from the urban east coast and California, generated a riot of new construction: For them, pastel-colored condo blocks, mountain-bike shops, Starbucks on every other corner, kayak schools, and assembly-required furniture showrooms sprang suddenly into being. Outside of Abu Dhabi in the 1970s, I'd never seen so many tall cranes maneuvering ponderously against the sky. The rise and rise of Microsoft had an intense magnetic force, drawing into its field dozens of small software outfits, angling to be acquired by the "big M." Departing executives, retiring from Microsoft when their stock options vested, set up their own Seattle-based enterprises, such as Rob Glaser's RealNetworks. Other businesses, such as Expedia.com, were spun off from their parent company (Microsoft) but stayed in the area. Seattle, swarming with qualified job-seekers (the inept waiter at one's restaurant table almost invariably turned out to be a recent arrival, with a degree in computing), became the perfect site for Internet-related start-ups, from Amazon in 1994 to Zillow just last year. (Zillow is a site where, dear to Seattle's moneymaking heart, you can surveil your own and your neighbors' houses and check their current market prices.) By the mid-1990s, it was far easier to find obliging venture capitalists (or "VCs," like the Viet Cong) than it was to find a carpenter or plumber. For a period, the city seemed flooded with money in search of the next smart idea to be hatched by a couple of kids in a garage. Such a bonanza might have overwhelmed a smaller city, but Seattle was sufficiently big and diversified to seem on the surface rather underwhelmed by its latest stroke of fortune: having taken the gold rush in stride, it wasn't about to have its head unduly turned by Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos. It helped that much of the frenetic action was taking place across the water on the Eastside, in Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond, which indigenous Seattleites tend to think of as remote, like a chunk of southern California that has unaccountably washed up on their shore. Boeing, the grizzled giant, supplied a counterbalance: Even now, and even after its head office moved to Chicago in 2001, it remains Seattle's biggest employer of local labor, outstripping Microsoft by a ratio of almost two to one (60,000 to 35,000). With queues of container ships anchored in Elliott Bay, waiting to be unloaded at the docks on Harbor Island, and the Alaskan fishing fleet headquartered at Fishermen's Terminal on the Ship Canal, it was possible, if you chose your vantage point with care, to pretend that the city was going about its business as usual, more seaport and manufacturing center than Silicon Valley North. It took the ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization in late November 1999 to fully expose the deepening rift between the old city and the new. It was the delirious top of the boom, with the Nasdaq set to break 4,000 by Christmas, and venture capital growing on trees. At the "Battle of Seattle," the headlines and pictures were overly concerned with black-masked "Oregon anarchists," smashing the windows of chain stores and looting them; but what I saw was an enormous, mostly local, all-age crowd of men and women – welders, machinists, dockers, store clerks, fishermen, timber-industry workers, students, marching together under the aegis of the union federation AFL-CIO, in a peaceful and sometimes witty demonstration. "Globalization" was the catchword of the moment, but the real target was much closer to home. These were the people whom the boom had left behind. The demonstrators were protesting Seattle's leaping rents and house prices; the unfathomable workings of the "new economy," in which companies were valued not on their ability to make money but their capacity to spend it at a hell-for-leather burn rate; the marginalization of once-prized manual skills; the takeover of the city by alien, baby-faced stock-option millionaires. Earlier in the year, a fleet of primrose-yellow vans had appeared in the streets wearing the livery of the newest extravagantly bankrolled start-up, MyLackey.com. The lackeys, capped and braided like bell-boys, ran errands and did chores. The company name, however facetiously meant, was incendiary, suggesting as it did a gleeful return to an upstairs-downstairs master-and-servant society – which was exactly what the WTO demonstrators feared, for they knew all too well on which side of the baize door they were expected to belong. On the morning of Nov. 29, when I was driving my then seven-year-old daughter to school over a high freeway overpass, she was excited to see a banner strung from the boom of a mammoth crane, and held in place by men dangling gymnastically from ropes, a hundred feet above the ground. One waved to her as we passed by at eye-level. The boom was aligned due north and south, and the banner showed two enormous arrows. The southward arrow pointed downtown, and said "WTO"; the northward one said "DEMOCRACY." Where had democracy fled? To the – relatively – blue-collar city of Everett, Wash.? To Canada? To the arctic wastes? It was impossible to tell. Since I moved here, greater Seattle – which includes the moraine-like sprawl of tract housing and subdivisions along the urban corridor on Interstate 5 and the Eastside cities and suburbs – has grown in population by 37 percent, from 2.4 million to 3.3 million. In a far-flung state, considerably bigger than England, Seattle, broadly defined, holds slightly more than half the total population and its votes. The governor and both Washington's U.S. senators are liberal Democrats whose elections were bitterly fought by the state's timber, mining, ranching, farming, and construction lobbies. Resentment of Seattle's financial and political power has intensified as its numbers have risen: One needn't travel far out of the city to find it viewed as the Great Wen, William Cobbett's name for London in 1821 – smug, tyrannical, leaching the life out of its suffering hinterland. Far from despising the hinterland, Seattle loves it, if anything, too dearly, calling it "the environment." At weekends, Seattleites disperse into the environment to pursue such urbanite pleasures as skiing (but not snowmobiling), fly-fishing, hiking, mountaineering, bird-watching, kayaking, and sailing. No city in history has so proclaimed itself as the place to come if you want to get closer to nature (its latest promotional slogan is the grating coinage, "Seattle – Metronatural"). So the hinterland presents itself to the conurbation as a giant recreational park, whose every last vestige of wildness – stands of old-growth forest, salmon spawning habitat, bear and cougar territory – must be vigilantly preserved or restored, whatever its long-time residents might have to say about the matter. Seattle, which likes to flaunt the title of "America's most educated city," knows best. As soon as one leaves the suburbs of Seattle, incomes fall precipitately, as if off a cliff. An air of quiet – too quiet – distress pervades once-prosperous timber towns such as Forks, on the Olympic Peninsula, whose best hope now is to divert tourists, meaning Seattleites, on their way to hike in the rainforest that Forks used to cut down with chainsaws. An underpatronized cafe in Forks isn't a bad place from which to contemplate the host of cultural luxuries to which Seattle has recently treated itself – the new opera house, the just-reopened and greatly expanded art museum, the dazzling public library designed by Rem Koolhaas, the new downtown sculpture park, the state-of-the-art symphony hall, new baseball and football stadiums, the botched fantasia of Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project – or to reflect on Seattle's latest political controversy, which was about whether to replace the aging and earthquake-vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct with a $3.4bn tunnel. As people on the make snub and discard those who've helped them on the way up, so do cities, and Seattle, disentangling itself from its roots over the past 20 years, has made many enemies, but seems unconcerned – and no wonder. Its stake in the expanding commerce of the virtual world is big and growing bigger. As the nearest port in the continental U.S. to Tokyo, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, it looks to the rise of China with more equanimity than any other American city (and, for the same reason, it views the nuclear ambitions of Pyongyang with more apprehension). Cyberspace and Asia beckon. But this is a very different city from the one I settled in in 1990. Most days, I take myself off to Fishermen's Terminal, a mile from where I live, to buy a cigar at one of the last remaining proper cigar stores in Seattle and wander its 76 acres of clanking masts and spars. So much water, scattering the reflections of dock pilings rooted in deep mud, is consoling, and so are the smells and sounds, of paint and sawdust, the churring of power tools, the old skills of patiently mending nets and diesel engines. I like the boats, and the people who tend them – reminders of what work used to be, of what Seattle used to be. But I'm not fooled. Five years ago, the terminal – the U.S.'s last dedicated fishing port – began opening berths to yachts and cruise vessels. The fleet of trollers, gill-netters, and purse-seiners is an increasingly marginal part of the Seattle economy; like my cigar, it's fast turning into a quaint anomaly and a draw for tourists in search of a splash of local color to take pictures of, a taste of old-fashioned "real" life in this virtualized city. Given the present strength of salmon runs in southeast Alaska, the fishermen will continue to make a decent living, at least for the next year or two, helped by the growing discrimination of consumers and restaurateurs who reject cheap farmed fish in favor of expensive wild ones. So the oilskinned fisherman survives by courtesy of the Amazonians and the Microsofties, much like the Sussex thatcher who's kept in business by London owners of weekend cottages. The cigar butt is flipped into the dock, making circles in the water like a rising fish. For me, it's back to Seattle's present, to the screen blossoming to Windows XP, the black Thermos mug emblazoned with the green Starbucks logo, and the peculiar silence of a 21st-century boom city minting money, intermittently broken by the distant whistling noise of incoming 767s on their glide path over Lake Union. It seems to me – as it never could have seemed in 1990 – that I might be anywhere.

Jonathan Raban is a British writer who lives in Seattle. He is the author of Waxwings, My Holy War: Dispatches from the Home Front, and Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings, among many other books. His most recent work is Surveillance: A Novel. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 7:13 a.m. Inappropriate

The New Nowhere: As I sit here sipping my not too cafeinated black tea I contemplate Raban's words. Not heard on these pages is my new mantra of 'f*** you Bill Gates' every time my Vista/Office 2007 hiccups, which is all too often. Bad thoughts, but at least I no longer live in 'that' City, which makes them manageable.

Here in the hinterland, the 'edge city', life moves on. Sure, it might not have the fusion intensity of an inner city, but as science has shown us, such reactions are hard to manage. A slightly less ambitious, if still creative, drive can be a very good thing. If there is a quintessential NW town these days, it may well be Portland, though I suspect it too will not lag Seattle by more than a decade.

Geographic isolation can stifle vibrancy, not to mention honesty. And Seattle, the kid sibling in the family of American Cities, has not been hurt by its hand me downs, it has been affected.

There is much energy that can result from the gravitas of a new element, even a member of the periodic family so unstable as Seattle. Electrons fly off in every direction in a chain reaction and the future emerges.

Nowhere is not new, it too changes and passes.

Godspeed!

-Douglas Tooley
Tacoma, WA

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 7:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Red Letter Day: Welcome to the Northwest Jonathan. Since you've only been here since 1990 you probably don't yet know how gauche it is to mark the day you came to live here as a turning point in the history of Seattle. The major defining point in the history of our city was that day in 1974 when I moved here.

JamesD

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 9:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Newbies!: Actually it was 1969, when I popped out at Swedish Hospital.

Jonathan, please tell me you don't throw your cigars into the SHIP CANAL! Disgusting.

I love the new, bigger Seattle.
mhays

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 9:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Poetic, but Trite: 1990? Wasn't that already the beginning of the end? I mean, how much of the "real history" of Seattle did you actually participate in?

I don't know. I moved here last year and I can't get seem to find anyone that will talk about the history of Seattle without coloring it with so much trite nostalgia, idealization and repressed NIMBYism that it's pretty much incoherent (I say "repressed" NIMBYism because liberal Seattlites would never admit to simply not wanting to share something - they would rather couch it in terms of some type of class struggle or trampling of the authentic by the capitalist simulacrum).
kayvaan

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 10:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Insular attitudes: There is a big difference between "Old Seattle" and "just another metropolis." The city's identity has changed, but it still exudes all kinds of character.

The real tragedy is the disconnect between Seattle and the rest of the region. Jonathan is spot-on when he writes that Seattle "seems to float more in virtual space than in the regional space which – until surprisingly recently – used to define and sustain it." Many of the younger voices of Seattle – journalists, bloggers, The Stranger – seem to regard the rest of the region as if it were the moon. Take the Inland Empire: now here's a great place for wine tasting and golf, but the people there are only deserving of condescension, pity at best. This wasn't the case 20 years ago.
My Hammy

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 10:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Darwin's Law alive and well in Seattle: How about November 28, 1944 at Providence Hospital? To a Seattle-native mother and a sailor from St. Louis?

This evolving old guy knows that cities also evolve. What living thing doesn't? Complaining about how Seattle isn't like it was when is like complaining about getting old. What's the alternative and what's the point?

From my point of view, Seattle is, all things considered, a better city now than it was then (whenever your "then" was). There have always been things about Seattle that are less than perfect; don't get me started. There have always been things that complainers could complain about. Attention complainers: Name me a perfect place on the planet then move there...or, quit bitch'n and do something to make the place better.

I especially dislike people moving here and beginning to rant about how we natives and our city are somehow deficient. This place is what we make it. That "we" includes natives and those who found their way here for whatever reason.
hsi-pi

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 11:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Windbag ego: Jonathan,

Thanks again for pointing out our region's shortcomings. I also muse over the good old days now gone. Yes salmon & logging are pretty much dried up now (they're interrelated you know). But hark back with me to the days when industrial waste was pumped into the Duwamish River, raw sewage was piped into Elliot bay, and virtually every neighborhood had it's very own landfill! Yes my friend, we once had it all and foolishly let it slip through our hands.

Currently I am looking for a new area to settle in, one that is not so tainted with modernization and latte's. My thoughts currently hover over some small logging outposts in the Northwest Territories where I believe there is a lack of logging restrictions and British travel writers. Unfortunately I have yet to find a location that far north with a proper cigar store, but let me know if you're interested anyway.

Thanks, Mike Hardiman
Seattle, WA
moh

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 11:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Fundametrolism: I hereby coin the term "Fundametrolism"

fun·da·me-tro·lism (fŭn'də-mětrol-ĭz'əm)
n.
a usually religious-seeming movement or point of view characterized by a desire to return to a nostalgic and idealized version or vision of a city or town, by rigid adherence to that vision, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to evolution and growth

eg. "Fremont sucks now"

:)
kayvaan

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 11:33 a.m. Inappropriate

There ought to be an 's' at the end of Seattle: Welcome to Crosscut, Jonathan.

As someone who arrived way way back in 1992, I can say with authority that rebirth is as much a part of Seattle's character as are the mountains and water. The Seattle of the 2000s feels different than the whirlwind of the 90s, which was different from the sluggish city of the 70s and 80s, which wasn't much like the wide-eyed town of the 60s, and so on.

On the positive side, this continual metamorphisis ensures that we'll always have a steady supply of grizzled old men cursing the next wave of transplants and pining for the Seattle of yore. I expect I'll join their ranks in a couple decades. If the city ever runs out of these guys, then we're in trouble.
Sean

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 11:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank you: Articles like this one are why I love Crosscut.

Mr. Raban, this article goes a long way toward soothing my anger over the ending of Surveillance. Spot on.

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 2:01 p.m. Inappropriate

When we turned into a big city: Good article despite the disagreement, Jonathan, and good debate!

Seattle has "turned the corner" into a big city, or "world class city" in today's parlance, many times.

1914 brought the Smith Tower. Downtown Manhattan here we are!

In WWII we were a leading part of the war machine.

1962 was when the world found out about Seattle (then mostly forgot).

1967 and 1968 brought the Sonics and Pilots (am I getting that right?).

1976(?) was the Seahawks and Mariners at the new Kingdome.

In 1982 we stepped out with several fancy new condo towers and doubled our Downtown hotel inventory. The Columbia Center was breaking ground, giving us one of the world's tallest non-NY/Chi towers.

1987-1992 were the biggest Downtown building boom in our history. Convention Center, Bus Tunnel, several of our biggest towers, lots of housing. I believe that was our heaviest population growth period.

Until supplanted by the 1997-2002 building boom, arguably. Renewed retail district, tons of housing, hotels, EMP, lots of offices...

Today is just a slightly early version of our once-per-decade Downtown boom. Our metro population growth is actually pretty moderate now by the standards of the past few decades.
mhays

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 2:31 p.m. Inappropriate

Raban keeps Seattle fresh: I've enjoyed JR's writing very much for some time now. Fresh and individual, he is one of the best attractions of our city. (Tho I too did not like Surveillance much).
I think we had more fun when we weren't so affluent. (I've been here since 1936) And it is harder to live well when rich - no sharing is required. Maybe the changes demanded by global warming and the end of oil will be helpful for our sense of humanity...
Jeffdo

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 3:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Fresh enthusastic immigrants enroute: Although I share the sense of loss that the writer and others have stated, I bet there are fresh newbies arriving today that will remember 6 July 2007 as the good ole' days in a decade or two. When my wife and I first visited Seattle in August 1995 (moved here in Nov 95) I remember this big sign on 1st Avenue proclaiming that new condos were available for $99,000. They must have been studios but I said to my wife "boy ... those are overpriced." I think back to those days with great fondness but ultimately what matters most is today and what we should do for tomorow.

Keith

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 3:15 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: When we turned into a big city: Seattle Pilots played here in the glorious summer of '69.

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 3:43 p.m. Inappropriate

_: Glorious? Well, thank you. But actually I was born in March.

mhays

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 3:44 p.m. Inappropriate

oops: Oops, that was a response to Knute's reply.

mhays

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 4:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Raban's sharp probe: Every time someone criticizes Seattle, you catch a glimpse of the real density issue here: this town is crowded with straw men.
Contrary to JamesD's snarky implication, nowhere in Jonathan Raban's piece does he suggest that the turning point in Seattle's history was when he arrived from jolly Old England. In fact, the piece refutes that by calling up our rich, pre-Rabanical past. He's a writer making first-hand observations about how he's seen the city change since he arrived. He offers some context. He's mostly sticking with what he knows. Good for him.
Mike Hardiman seems to have Chamber of Commerce sensibilities. Raban said something critical about Seattle! Horrors. He then flips it by saying that Raban isn't critical enough because old blue collar Seattle was a city of nasty polluters. (Hey, guess what? So is the current Seattle.) This follows a very predictable formulation in recent discussions about the city and its soul: You either believe the present is good and the past bad, or vice versa. It's urban Utopians versus retrograde mossbacks. Poster Kayvaan weighs in by implying that Raban is guilty of "fundametrolism," which is defined as a yearning for a nostalgic past as expressed by someone who thinks "Fremont sucks now." (I'm not sure how you categorize people who think Fremont has always sucked.)
But Raban has more complicated, less black and white views than his critics imply. Painting him as a nostalgist is silly. Few regional writers have had a less nostalgic view of Northwest culture. In his book Passage to Juneau, he sails from Seattle all the way to Alaska and hardly meets anyone he likes. In fact, his greatest sympathies seem to be with fellow misanthrope George Vancouver. As a result, the book is frustrating, but yields fresh insights.
Raban is writing about the consequences of being disconnected from the land and water, from history, from culture, from the sources of prosperity. If that hits a sore spot, let's hope returns to the subject with a sharp probe.

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 6:42 p.m. Inappropriate

That was the town that was...: I was 13 when we moved to Kenmore from Arizona in April 1963. What made the new area different, aside from green versus brown, wet versus dry, hilly versus flat, and this weird thing called junior high school versus first through eighth grade schools, was food.

In Phoenix, Mexican was a staple. Two, three times a week, authentic (always the Number 5 no matter the restaurant) or Ma's faux "enchiladas," it was a given we would eat Mexican. Here, you couldn't find a can of refried beans for love nor money! No tortillas or salsa or anything - strictly meat and potatoes.

Fast was Dick's, Dag's, Herfy's, or Zesto. McDonald's and Burger King hadn't gone national, and perish the thought of a "Taco" (Bell or Time) garnering anyone's business.

If you went out to eat, it was red meat or occasionally salmon at Ivar's. The odd Italian or Chinese places were considered almost too exotic for the Seattle palate. Speaking of Ivar's, the Acres of Clams on Pier 54 at the foot of Madison (the address remembered from all the radio and B & W TV commercials) was seafood at its best.

In 1963, Seattle was a town you could call home. No Mexican, but Ma taught me how to pry oysters off a rock and slurp them down on the beach; I was good for the moment. And we dug clams without worrying about tide color.

The biggest big league sporting attraction was the Seafair Lake Washington hydro races (you got in free in those days). Ollie Bardahl, Slow Mo Shun, and Pat O'Dea were summer. The Huskies occasionally did something football-wise until Jim Owens had the forward pass outlawed by the Republican legislature. Salmon punch cards were free, and the Milk Fund Salmon Derby saw every man and boy on Elliott Bay with a plug-cut herring.

No freeways (I-5 was under construction), condos, national retail chains or fake tourist attractions like George Benson's waterfront streetcars. OK…Frederick & Nelson was owned by Marshall Field & Co. And the J. C. Penny Company but it had a unique local flavor since James Cash Penny would bop into town to hang with his pal, transportation and banking magnate Joshua Green, both of whom were well into their 90's.

The Viaduct served tens of thousands of working-class jobholders who commuted from reasonably priced homes north of the ship canal to industrial jobs in South Seattle and along the Duwamish, the Smith Tower was it for office buildings, King County was governed by a three-member commission with one member a full-time dairy farmer from Carnation, and Leo Lassen called balls and strikes for the Seattle Rainier's at Sick's Stadium.

Boeing and Weyerhaeuser called industrial shots; Seattle First National and Joshua Green's People's National Banks called financial shots; Swedish, Providence, and Children's Orthopedic Hospitals administered shots; and Rainier Club members pulled the strings and orchestrated the shots.

Gentlemen (every man sought to be one) bought suits at Frederick's or Lundquist-Lilly. Ladies (every woman was presumed to be one) took tea at Frederick's dining room and bought school clothes for the children at the Bon Marche. Macy's was in New York, and Nordstrom was a shoe store soon to join with Best Apparel.

The Seattle Times was solidly Republican, and the P-I was solidly yellow and very Hearst. Jean Enersen was nowhere to be found.

Ivar Haglund, J.P. Patches, Stan Boreson, Emmett Watson, Charles O. Carroll, Edo Vani, the Gai brothers, Art Oberto, Lan Roberts, Hugh McIlhenny, Royal Brougham, et al.

Channels 4, 5, 7 (when you could get it), and KJR, Seattle…Channel 95 (you who know are humming it now). Channels 11 and 13 were Tacoma (of the aroma) and unwatched save for Brakeman Bill.

A town worth living in!

The Piper

Posted Fri, Jul 6, 9:54 p.m. Inappropriate

I found Mr. Raban's BADLANDS & PASSAGE TO JUNEAU important: in locating me when I came to Seattle in 1994 after a long stints in publishing in New York, some years of back to school in L.A., etc. BADLANDS helped explain why cheap runs so deep in Seattle. Judging by his piece in Crosscut, he appears to have imbibed the local version of cool aid, that is, the stuff that the yokels in Ballard use to denature cod into lute fisk, instead of the age old salt and vinegar brine. Or perhaps accomplished authorhood is the formaldehyde that keeps him from looking a little more closely at odd phenomena such as $ 150,000 a year crane operators and $ 100,000 a year ILWU members, and Boeing mechanics, monopolies that you don't see marching for better wages for farm and WALMART workers, coming out against the WTO? and who benefit hugely from NAFTA and Globalization, and trade, and that Puget Sound, for far longer than 50 years, has been a military industrial hub for what is now the world's one and only hegemon? The answer to this peculiar development, where a defanged unfortunately entirely non-international Labor comes out against WTO, can be found by doing something other than spending ones days moping on the Ballard docks. Besides, what have the dear old timers, whose passing Mr. Raban mourns in the same chords as Knute Berger, actually accomplished since the territorial governor Stevens broke the treaty with the Duwamish? Well, turned the Duwamish and many another spot into a super fund site, cut down most of the trees, made the water impotable, the local fish inedible without endangering one's well being; that is, ruined what some ten thousand years of geological and weather changes.

One detail I found fascinating in Passage to Juneau was Mr. Raban's notion that the indigenous totem pole was much influenced by the galleon figures on the prows of the first Spanish and British ships who explored these parts, and so remain the first and only successful hybrid of a culture that accommodated itself to the conditions peculiar to this part of the world and its future conqueror-destroyers. The nostalgie doesn't strike either as deserved or earned.

What both Mr. Berger and Raban find not to their liking is the normal boom and bust of the U.S. economy. Unless the country turns socialist, something I dearly wish, and decides on a less unequal distribution of income... come the day.
-
http://www.roloff.freeservers.com/about.html
mikerol

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 1:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Fishermen and Auto Mechanics Rule: What Raban is bemoaning sounds like it is about the latest wave of corporatizing in Seattle. Our city has been through this cycle countless times before. Logging, fishing, Pan Pacific shipping, Boeing, and now this current cycle of middle management and bio-tech start-ups. Seattle has "been there and done that" a number of times and eventually completes the cycle with the inevitable down swing and a few years later a return to stable times.

But, there are parts of this latest cycle that dismays me. Growth used to mean good wages and stable neighborhoods. Now, many working class families can no longer afford to live within city limits. The majority of new home development is aimed at the mythic Microsoft millionaires instead of the guy who lubes your car or bakes your bread. Growth for growths sake alone is only good for those that reap the financial gain. For everyone else it too often means lower wages and possibly an hour or two hour a day of commute time.

If you look back at what has made Seattle great you can see it's been the working people.

Jazz clubs in the CD. Being able to fish in Elliott Bay. Painters like Graves and Tobey. The culture(s) of the Pike Place Market. Houseboats. Sailors. The Dog House Restaurant. I'll take Elliott Bay Bookstore anyday over a Borders. The same applies to Sunfish Fish and Chips over any chain restaurant. I want Seattle to throw the myth of trickle-down economics out the window and instead look at what's best for the entire community.

Culture isn't at the mall, it's in the everyday people.
Pinko

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle in 1970 - you shoulda been there....: Hello --You moved to Seattle in 1990? When I first moved onto Capitol Hill in 1970 as a hip, young bride, Broadway Avenue East was a quiet little street with one fancy little furniture store, Keeg's, and an A&P; (now a mega-QFC) where regular white bread was 29 cents a loaf. Three brash young guys bought their first coffee roaster and sold great coffee in a small Pike Place Market store -- the first Starbucks'. Costco was unheard of, and so was Microsoft. Life was tranquil and traffic was lazy.

We bought our last family home there in 1985 for $195,000. It was a l906 humdinger on Capitol Hill, with lots of huge trees, oak floors,rhodies and tons of charm. I finally sold it last year. It was 'remodeled' with plastic black ebony floors, fake plastic exterior wood, a concrete media room, with all former landscaping scraped clean to be replaced by a couple of spindly bushes and redwood bark. It sold at $1.5 million. You couldn't pay me to live there now.

I have now lived in Santa Fe, NM for the last four years and feel reborn and reinvented, my sons have moved to Portland, Oregon which is now one of the finest cities in the US. We miss the 'good old days' in Seattle, but aren't looking back. Such a shame. Long-term city planning by forward-looking creatives is apparently now out of fashion in Seattle.....we got out just in time.
jchaden

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 9:02 a.m. Inappropriate

the natives are rolling their eyes: I couldn't get past the first paragraph

The only massive cypress trees I've seen around are the non-native leland cypress that my neighbor planted to block my view of the metropolis (Seattle).

Technically cedar may be some form of cypress but native speakers always refer to native cedars as cedars. Why couldn't Raban?

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 9:09 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: ed Letter Day: A correction JamesD. The major defining point in Seattle history was June 25, 1975 when "I" arrived at the 9th and Stewart Greyhound Station.

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 9:14 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: the natives are rolling their eyes: About the cypress trees...I have to agree.

Who in his or her right mind would eat salmon cooked on a cypress plank??? But a cedar plank is something else entirely. And we mulch our gardens with cedar bark.

Cypress sounds hot and muggy, as in those gardens in Florida. Cedar sounds chilly and dank as in the woods around here.

Raban's use of the term must be a hold-over from his old country origins.

But the rest of his essay is worth reading, so don't hold his vernacular against him. At least he didn't spell labor or color with a "u."

The Piper

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 9:55 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: the natives are rolling their eyes: You're right, no one from Seattle would call red cedars "cypress," but a lot of people do use the term when referring to cedars, just like some people refer to evergreens as "pines." And some kinds of cedar, like Alaska, are commonly called cypress. There's a lot of confusion about cedars, cypresses and junipers in common useage. Cypress Island in the San Juans was named by the Spanish for the junipers they found there. Arthur Lee Jacobson in Trees of Seattle says "Neither 'cedar' nor the similarly-used common name 'cypress' refers to any one genus of trees." Both cedar and cypress are often used without being technically correct. I agree that the term clunks in the local ear.

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 10:11 a.m. Inappropriate

No nostalgia, no "bemoaning": The point of the piece, as I saw it, was the very recent (i.e. since I came here, only 17 years ago) transition that Seattle has made from being a regional to a post-regional (or de-regionalized) city. I wasn't at all "bemoaning" the change, merely observing it. The most curious thing about Seattle is how its connections to its working hinterland persisted into the late 20th century, and were still visible to me when I arrived. Since then it has broken free of its original roots, and, in the process, become a bigger, more complicated, and, to me, more interesting place to live in. What I was trying to convey was both the importance and the speed of that structural transformation.
I hoped that my last sentence would carry an ambiguous sting. I don't think that Seattle now resembles everywhere else so much as that other cities feel to me increasingly like Seattle--which was why I listed the string of famous Seattle brand names in that sentence. And it's not just Starbucks, Boeing, and Windows XP; it's the manners, the dress code, the culture, the hush of the digital economy, in which Seattle effectively sets the tone and pace for other post-regional cities around the world. Last November, I spent a week in Oxford (England, not Mississippi) and was astonished by how all that ancient ecclesiastical architecture failed to mask the fast-growing similarities between here and there. Ten years ago, that trip would have entailed some high-voltage culture shock. Not now. Go from Forks, WA to an English village of similar size, and you might be on another planet, but from Seattle to Oxford is an incredibly short hop. In this sense, I see Seattle as a template for the way cities are changing--and for the often acrimonious divorce between those cities and their regional hinterlands.
In my defence, I'd also point out that the piece was written not for Crosscut, but for a London-based newspaper with an international audience (hence my preference for cypress over western red cedar) for whom Seattle is likely to be just a name on a world atlas. So I sketched the place for strangers, in broadbrush outline, as a city that has undergone a sea change in recent years, of a kind that other residents of other cities might see in their own mirror.
As for 1990, I just happened to arrive here on one of those dates--like 1897 or 1941--when Seattle was going through one of its intermittent metamorphoses, triggered mainly by the arrival of Microsoft eleven years before. I'm not "nostalgic" for that--or any other--date; just fascinated by the city's continuing evolution (which means neither improvement nor deterioration.)
--Jonathan Raban

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 10:37 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Windbag ego: Raw Sewage "piped" into Elliott Bay??? You can say dumped, channeled, deposited, flushed, tossed, chucked, pushed, posited, or proffered...but please...not piped!

The Piper

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 11:03 a.m. Inappropriate

Ship Canal Mud: If you really want something disgusting try digging in the accumulated muck at the bottom of the canal - it is definitely a wiser choice to let sleeping 'dogs' lie on those items.

For other 'dogs', go visit the area during a heavy rainstorm, euphemistically called a 'CSO' - a combined sewer overflow. That was hasn't been solved yet.

I believe they have solved the mysterious syringe problem - bad plumbing at the new S. Lake Union Swedish. I believe that one took more than five years to trace. Who knows what sorts of flesh eating bacteria got cooked up during the summer months downstream from there during the warmer months - including that fairly famous case with the champion rower.

-Douglas Tooley
Tacoma, WA

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: When we turned into a big city: January 3, 1986

Via Orange County, Eugene Oregon and noteworthy stopovers in Western Mass and Eastern Tennessee.

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 11:30 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: the natives are rolling their eyes: I'm afraid Mr. Raban's Americanized spelling is due to me, when I edited the Financial Times version for our use. I did a search and replace for "ou" and a few other Britishisms.

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 1:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Why I love living here: Wow! Bull's-eye! This is great! I'm batting 1.000! As a matter of fact, the responses to this article are an example of why I love living here.

Where else would there be such a thing as crosscut.com where writers like Raban (who I first discovered in the pages of Granta many years ago) and Mossback (who I first discovered in that other, weekly, newspaper in Seattle) not only contribute articles of their own but also get down and dirty with the rest of us Great Unwashed and thrash it out in the "Comments" column?

I must admit I don't comment on many articles but I often read the comments just to watch as they degenerate into meaningless babble as if they were the effluvia of those proverbial one million chimps that are kept busy trying to rewrite Shakespeare! To witness the specter of two pros like Raban and Mossback as they wade into the murky depths slashing away at us nattering nabobs is a sight well worth the price of going through all this twice!

Speaking for myself, my intention of pointing out the importance to Northwest History of the year 1974 was meant to be a good-natured nudge-nudge, wink-wink to Mr. Raban as well as a bait for all the virtual piranhas who cannot resist going after the raw and bleeding corpse of the Good Old Days! The ploy appears to have worked beyond my wildest expectations! Ye-ha!

Anyway, enough is enough. I love the Northwest, I love Seattle, and I love my neighborhood too much to ever want to leave. I loved it when I arrived in '74 and I love it now, I love the history (even the parts left out of the history books like the IWW and the opium dens), and I love the future (not just because after a few more years of global warming I'll be living on ocean-front property).

Sure, the Twin Tee-Pees is gone but now, just down the street, we have the world's best samosas at Kalia. Stadiums will come and go as will sports teams, governors and employers, people will move to town and people will move out, but the Northwest (not just Seattle, Portland, Spokane, and Boise, but Bickleton, Bruceport, Yachats, Dubois et al.) is a magnificent and unique place to live.

Raban's piece is an insightful addition to the literate map of the Northwest.
JamesD

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 2:57 p.m. Inappropriate

gold in them hills;: raban is a treasure. agree or not I always enjoy his pieces!

sunshine

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 5:32 p.m. Inappropriate

words failing on cedars: Mr Raban

You should be educating your international audience about the western red cedar not pandering to their assumed ignorance.

How about the cedars of Lebanon? You can even see them in Paris. ps

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 8:16 p.m. Inappropriate

the other side: Good post. I have a 1933 Yakima telephone directory which lists more cigar stores than churches. Some Seattleites hate smokers more than the Sonics. Maybe that's the other way 'round. How about an article for Harper's or New Yorker on our eastside wineries?
Ta,
Sid
Sid58

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 8:45 p.m. Inappropriate

New Seattle smugness replaces smugness of old: I grew up in the Seattle area, left and lived in 8 different cities for 17 years, and came back. Mr. Raban captures why I love living here even more than when I was grewing up. Seattle is everything it once was, plus it has become much more of a real city. Sure a number of the old haunts are gone, but they've been replaced by new haunts.

But he also puts his finger on what is quintessentially Seattle - its smugness. The smugness of old judged every outsider's worth on how far away he lives from Seattle (pity the poor Portlanders who don't live here, but still they were better than San Franciscans, who were most definitely better than an Angeleno, those BMW driving materialists . . . !). This old smugness has been overshadowed by a new smugness flavored with wireless and tech wealth and savvy. A smugness of the new Seattle economy that views the old Seattle economy as dead or, worse yet, irrelevant.

The old industrial workhorse Boeing is rescendent, but with its high tech aeroplanes is an honorary tech company, and nevermind the Superfund sites all around its old plants. Weyerhaeuser, "the Tree Growing Company," is still the second largest company by revenue in the state, yet it gets nary a mention any time a top Washington public official starts waxing with pride about successful companies in Washington that have a global presence. As if the tech economy made forest products a thing of the past! Unfortunately not, though that was the original vision. And trusty old Weyerhaeuser Company never gets any credit for being among the first paper companies to perfect recycled paper, though back in the 60s no one wanted it, viewing it inferior!

While not as dominant a part of the economy as it once was, industrial is still alive and well in this state contrary to some of the above posters. While the overall fishing industry has shrunk, here in Seattle Fisherman's Terminal is actually seeing a resurgence.

Maybe it's because people have limited bandwidths to think in more than just their narrow silos, but to make this place work we need to still be mindful of the old economy, in addition to our infatuation with the new. While density is a good thing - building up instead of out as the region grows - we should resist the urge to rezone every industrial parcel into a sculpture park.

Posted Sat, Jul 7, 11:49 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Raban's sharp probe: Knute,
Please don't dig that much into my post - you'll give me credit for presenting a partially formulated argument. I merely meant to poke fun at Jonathan's article for seeming contradictions and for making base observations of Seattle from his allegedly upturned nose. I found the article trite and get irritated with the Seattle intelligentsia for kisses this guy's ass. Jeez, kinda ruins it when you have to explain it.

Take care, Mike
moh

Posted Sun, Jul 8, 11:57 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: company size: Costco and Microsoft are our two largest by revenue. If you consider Boeing Commercial Airplane Group local, you could say Weyerhaeuser is #4. Unless I'm forgetting someone.

Personally, I'd love to see the tree-cutting business fall dramatically. We could easily get by with much less wood. Smaller houses, more apartments, less paper...
mhays

Posted Mon, Jul 9, 9:18 a.m. Inappropriate

interesting discussion... here some further thoughts..: i
well, i'm not bothered by cypresses instead of red cedar, though i wish folks would still wear the bark in winter, and i miss juniper trees! mr. raban disavows the significance of crushing and tossing his cigar on the ballard docks. o.k. but if he were au courant he'd know that fisherman's terminal is resurging [a word one scarcely can use it has rapidamente aquired all these entendres]
and being renewed. i grew up along the north sea and had a father who ran a fishing fleet, and loved being dockside in that part of the world, and so have a certain connection to the baltic seeming fishing fleet in ballard. but once the fishes have all been caught by the u.s. and the japanese industrial fleets... as they have been in the sea of cortez.... and so many other places around the world....

i recall shipping into walvis bay [namibia] in spring 1973, for an easter weekend of loading copper ingots, and spending the weekend in swakopsmund [blackheadmouth], and being transported back to the year 1900 in Hamburg, seeing women dressed in my grandmother's style. the point being that emigrants, then, become the most conservative while whence the emigrated from, changes... the foundational backwardness of seattle which persists....

architecturally, Seattle has been a national copy cat ever since its one original craftsmen cottage contribution, a west coast phenomenon dependent on the pacific rim location. modernism surged [!!] here, too, in 1910 or a few years later, the decisive year. the current international style that can also be found in oxford u.k.... think back on the resistance that rem kolhaas library design encountered! how what remains of the old mercantile style in pioneer square was saved chiefly at the behest of a french restaurateur! when was the southwestern side of Queen Anne Hill turned into something that resembles post WW II German innocuous rebuilding style. this is a city without an eye, and its one vantage point, along the waterfront, is marked as such.

How much "living" did it take to make for a phenomenon like Jimmy Hendrix? What has been the effect of the shutting down of the after hour clubs in the CD ghetto? Is now of the city's quashing of all ages teen venues? Whenever you run into the "keep our kids safe" ideology you know that repression, under the color of kindliness, is about to throttle you! i suppose the perennial problem is that of shedding the imprint that the cookie cutter has imposed on you. the degree of individuality a culture will permit. seattle's need to adorn itself with non-home-grown worthies does not speak well either of its self-confidence or of any kind of real openness to anything profoundly new, different. this is still a profoundly provincial place, and not in the good sense.

johnC make an interesting point about the foundational industries. obviously, the railroad and the port need to be mentioned here, the port was once, early 80s, technologically the most advanced. others have just caught up meanwhile. the ground traffic situation has improved little since the railway came across stampede pass. molasses. no alameda corridor to ship those containers to the hinterlands.

but i am not sure about the disconnect with the hinterland. it still penetrates in the form of unpaved alleys with its overhang fruit trees, which the "natives" leave unpicked as they go to whatever supermarket.

though i suspect that mr. raban is right in observing that the hinterland is not worth an owl's hoot to workers who are as interchangeable as the architecture.
seattle's insecurities, too, are like the national insecurities
mikerol

Posted Mon, Jul 9, 10:03 a.m. Inappropriate

no butts in our lake!: If you want to help preserve our Seattle, stop throwing your nasty old cigar butts in the lake!

sculler

Posted Tue, Jul 10, 12:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Perspective from a younger Seattle native: It seems like every few years someone writes an article like this (I remember a big "Is Seattle Losing Its Soul?" feature in the Weekly or the Stranger several years back) and the range of responses is always the same, consisting of people who moved here last year and think everything is just fine (how would they know?) and people who moved here 30 years ago or were born here and wish to dispute the exact date of the most recent change or claim that it's just another instance of Seattle's "boom and bust" history, or say sure it's changed but it's better now (evidence that there is indeed Prozac in the water.) Always the most rare reaction is my own, which is that I agree completely that Seattle changed quite a bit in the '90s. I was born in Seattle in '81, so the Seattle of the '80s and early '90s was the only Seattle I knew, making the change in the second half of the '90s much more noticeable to me than it apparently is to those who have been here longer and see the change in the '90s as being just the same as previous changes in past decades. The point is that despite the previous changes Seattle still felt unique and regional up until the '90s, and that the change in the '90s was different, it was the final change to a city that does not feel unique or regional (which is by its nature a permanant change; the old feeling of Seattle is now extinct). To me this could not be more obvious, so I'm always glad to see articles like this one but baffled and frustrated by the responses.

Posted Tue, Jul 10, 12:35 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Perspective from a younger Seattle native: Definitely, some of our uniqueness has gone away. But, while the uniqueness was good, I also like that we're more worldly and connected to other places today. And physically the city is infinitely better -- denser and more active. Seattle was a quiet city in the 80s, with far more parking lots than even today and, with a couple exceptions, a lack of vibrant urban districts. (Since the author is from Britain, I'll point out that we have many years to go before our urban districts are as consistently good as theirs!)

mhays

Posted Tue, Jul 10, 12:40 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Perspective from a younger Seattle native: I liked that Seattle was a quiet city. It was the only city of its size that was like that. Now, it's like every other city. The point is, anyone who wanted a typical metropolis had plenty of big cities they could choose to live in, but there was only one Seattle. But for some reason, people who wanted the metropolis chose not to move to one of twenty other big cities they could have chosen from, and instead moved to Seattle and proceeded to transform it into a typical metropolis. So when people respond to those of us who preferred the old Seattle and say "Sure, but a typical metropolis is good too," I say, then go live in one and leave Seattle for those of us who like Seattle (except now it's too late.)

Posted Wed, Jul 11, 8:51 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Perspective from a younger Seattle native: If I moved to another city, I'd be making that city change. How would that be any different?

It's not realistic to expect a city to remain "quiet" and small. Look backward and you see double-digit percentage growth for the Seattle metro in every decade. Naturally you'd expect that this might continue.

I also disagree that this is a bad thing, or that we should feel guilty about not moving away. We should have regulations to mold that change toward what we like and what's sustainable, aka growth management, zoning, tranportation infrastructure investment, etc.

As for small cities, Tacoma is a good bet and very underrated. While it's growing and revitalizing too, it'll always be the smaller, less-dense, cheaper alternative to Seattle.
mhays

Posted Wed, Jul 11, 10:04 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Perspective from a younger Seattle native: The U.S. Census figures for Seattle population.

1960 557,087
1970 530,831
1980 493,846
1990 516,259
2000 563,374
"Look backward and you will seee double-digit growth for the Seattle Metro in every decade." Well now that the safety valve of the Suburbs and East King county has been maxed out under GMA maybe Seattle will see the double digit growth it needs to become as "dense" as it acts.

Speaking of Density, where is the Crosscut story on KC ordinance 2007-0350 gving an exclusive, non-competitive bid to a developer in an island property in Maple Valley against the wishes of the city. 2,000 homes and a 30% increase in population in a rural SE King County town with NO transporation dollars and no mitigation fees, The County keeps all of the money. What's the matter Crosscut? Afraid to take on Ron and Friends?
Cameron

Posted Wed, Jul 11, 11:43 a.m. Inappropriate

But What Do We Mean When We Say "Seattle"?: Bolstered by the figures in Richard Morrill's article yesterday, I think our use and perception of the city in which we live is changing. Seattle, narrowly defined by its city limits and its 600,000 (?) population, seems increasingly less important than the Puget Sound Metropolitan Area--that amorphous, polycentric mixture of recent sprawl and long-established communities, which, more and more, is beginning to remind me of a smaller, ribbonlike London.

Case in point: I know a couple who currently rent an apartment on Queen Anne and are now looking for somewhere to buy. Both have freelance incomes (she's a technical writer, he's a sculptor); neither is faced with a daily commute, but she needs to travel regularly to Redmond, he to his downtown Seattle gallery. First they looked at Bremerton, but rejected it. Now they're house-hunting in Tacoma Old Town. I don't think they're planning to leave the "city" as they use and imagine it, so much as to move from one quarter or neighborhood of it to another, as a Londoner, faced with the same economic choices, might move from Earl's Court to Ealing or Tooting Bec. A dozen years ago, the natural place to look would have been Beacon Hill or Georgetown; now it's Bremerton or Tacoma.

A more trivial example. Not long ago, I rarely crossed the perimeter of I-405 except when I was driving way out of Seattle--to Montana, or Vancouver B.C., or Portland (or SeaTac airport). At some time since 2000, looking for Sunday lunch with my daughter or a friend, I'd find myself torn between Indian in Redmond or dim sum in Kent--and, yes, I know about the carbon-footprint implications of this; please don't harangue me on the subject! The distances involved are greater (though not very much) than comparable London distances, but the drive-times are shorter. My own conception of the "city" has enlarged to take in neighborhoods I used to think of as beyond my ken.

I'm curious about how other people's "mental cities" (or "soft cities", to plug the title of my 1974 book on the subject) have adapted to the rapid growth of the PSMA. When you think "Seattle", how far afield does your own city stretch? Is it changing, or is it static?

--Jonathan Raban

Posted Wed, Jul 11, 1:32 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: But What Do We Mean When We Say "Seattle"?: My house is the Center of the Universe!

OK perhaps not, but dontcha think it makes a great headline! Just like we often read in the morning newspaper (you know which one I mean)!

I must admit that my personal Seattle City Limits are flexible. Yes, I'm guilty of incorporating Tacoma, Bellevue, Everett and the entire megalopolis if only as a kind of shorthand, especially when dealing with non-Seattleites.

My perception of Seattle is getting smaller. Just yesterday I took an out-of-town friend out for lunch. My original destination of choice was in Little Saigon. Unfortunately parking is always difficult and, worse yet, the place turned out to be closed. After trying two more restaurants downtown and Capitol Hill that were either too crowded or had no parking, I simply brought my out of towner to my own neighborhood where I knew I could find easy parking and a wide choice of eateries.

It's not just dining out. My neighborhood hardware store has everything I need in a reasonable amount of floor space (not so much that I feel like I need to rent a car just to find the light bulb section). The folks who work there are friends and neighbors who have been over for dinner or who I see at the market. I can't remember the last time I went to one of the Big Boxes. Likewise veterinarian, dentist, grocery store, library, halal butcher, mechanic, farmer's market, plumber, … the list goes on.

Of course there are plenty of reasons to leave my part of town. For example: a raw foods/vegan meal, a concert of early music, a film series, a boat ride, several bookstores, a day at the beach, or a performance of an Indian raga or an Iraqi oud maestro (although there have been a few of these in my neighborhood lately). All of these and more can easily be had without leaving the official city limits. If Seattle, with such a cornucopia of cultural delights, is "Just Another Metropolis" then the world is in pretty good shape. I guess we had better get out of this hand-basket it often seems like we are in and enjoy the twenty first century!
JamesD

Posted Wed, Jul 11, 1:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Growth is change. But, is that news?: I entered Kindergarten in Seattle (more accurately, Shoreline) in 1951 and graduated from the UW in 1969. Then off to see the World, including a couple of years in London studying architecture and urban planning.

First point I'd like to make is that, unlike London, Seattle is definitely NOT amorphous. It is very strictly defined geographically, and it's various suburban communities have there own identities, many of them having become satellite cities (Bellevue, Renton, even sweet little Edmonds) in there own right. (Greater Seattle is also tiny compared to London or the equally amorphous and gigantic "Los Angeles.") Sure, they're all part of the "Greater Seattle/Tacoma conurbation, but that absorption - or is it melding - process is taking place all over the World. It just happened to have happened first in London. Of course, if you're speaking to an audience in London, you'll speak of this greater metropolis simply as "Seattle," just as I, when describing to friends here my adventures in southern England, will refer to pretty much everything between Cambridge and Oxford as "London." But, to me "Seattle," the city of communities such as Green lake, West Seattle or Capitol Hill, and, of course, "downtown," lies between Lake and Sound, and 145th St. N. and it's southern border (which I've forgotten).

I believe the point I will most likely take issue with, once I read your whole article, is that Seattle once perceived itself (as opposed to was perceived by outsiders) as a regional (or to use the Word most beloved by New Yorkers , "provincial") hub, or even capitol. Seattle's founders chose a native American word as it's motto - "Alki" - which means "by and by" (as it was explained in our 5th grade local history course). The implication, of course, was that Seattle would become the Gotham of the West, by and by, and not just a thriving urban outpost capitalizing on its rich natural resources. (Seattle's local timber resources were used mostly to build Seatle. It was left to Tacoma and Everett - and the Weyerhauser corporation - to turn those trees into a major export.)

World War II created the Boeing that employed, in the mid-60s, one tenth of every human living between Everett and south King County - 110,000 employees at its peak. The vast majority of these people were highly educated engineers and equally skilled technicians, craftsman, machinists, etc. who migrated up and down the West Coast (between the many aircraft companies in southern California and Boeing), following new contracts and projects. This is Seattle's real, unique and constantly renewed resource - it's impressive collection of human brain power attracted first by Boeing and now by the whole regional "tech" industry spawned by Bill and Paul.

Finally, the Seattle World's Fair - Century 21 - announce to a somewhat bemused World that Seattle was taking its rightful place among the World's great cities. Do you, Jonathon, recall your thoughts upon hearing about the Seattle Worlds Fair? Probably different than mine - a high school kid at the time who was thrilled at the concept of "his" city becoming great. (I've traveled a bit since then and gained a bit of perspective.)

Anyway, nothing about the way the city has developed in the decades since I left (in 1985) has shown me that it has departed from the course it's founders and early residents set for it. It's gotten bigger, livelier, more densely populated in the urban core (Hurrah!), has pushed suburban tenticles ever deeper into once-beautiful forest land (Boo!), and, most importantly, it's gotten very much richer. And, now it's got the next World Series-winning baseball team.

Richard Jarvis
Bethesda, MD
rmj711

Posted Wed, Jul 11, 1:40 p.m. Inappropriate

smaller seatte;: seattle has gotten smaller as far as I am concerned. I,ve lived in ballard for twenty years. for many of those years I would be forced to leave for good resturants and other services; movies,bookstores,etc. now because of growth all of those things have come to me, I rarely have to leave and am happy about it.
no doubt seattle has changed( I,ve been here forty years) much I think for the better.
sunshine

Posted Wed, Jul 11, 5:47 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Perspective from a younger Seattle native: King County has plenty of room to grow. Not with unchecked sprawl, but with infill and smaller-scale sprawl. Townhouses, small house lots, apartments, condos, mother-in-laws, etc.

As for Seattle itself, I think going from an estimated 486,000 in 1986 to 582,000 in 2007 (or was that 2006?) is pretty impressive. Cities that grow more quickly are usually doing it through basic sprawl, not infill.
mhays

Posted Wed, Jul 11, 6:59 p.m. Inappropriate

the article and the question: A fine précis of Seattle's economic history, and one with several useful reminders.

Mr. Raban, I enjoyed your use of the Mariners to gauge the city's influence across distance for your European audience. A handy chart on the web tells me that if you're about 1000 miles east of London, you're somewhere in the Ukraine. If to the NE, you're in Finland. If to the SE, you're in Naples. How many countries, languages, and cultures have you passed through? Even by the American West's standards of distance, we are a long way from a whole lot of the U.S.

It's also good to be reminded of our boom and bust history. Haven't actually had one of those busts for quite some time though. Mostly just some slower on the way to faster. I arrived in this burg during the last good bust. And while I, too, on a bad day, can channel Emmett Watson - though never as thoroughly as Mr. Berger - some of the commentators above should bear in mind that the early ‘70's in Seattle were not all sweetness and light. If anyone would like a taste of the bitter, I can share a story or two.

The piece is also a reminder of what happens when writing intended for one audience ends up in front of an entirely different one. That first sentence drew from the stream the I've-been-here-longer-than-you crowd like leeches to mammalian leg. Seemed to impair their reading skills as well.

But to answer your question, Mr. Raban:
I've lived within the city limits all these decades and for many years my nose was way too close to the grindstone. When I finally stood up and looked around, man, I found whole new freeways that I did not know were out there. The geometry of the city has gone up, but what's gone out…. Well, that's just growth. (Now how about that as an example of Seattle smug?) And, holy smoke, there's a lot of it. Growth, that is. I'm not gonna vouch for the smug. And what goes on out there is, to me, somewhat mysterious. And, man, I dread the day I get the summons to jury duty in Kent. That's some place half way to Tacoma fer cryin' out loud!
Dewams

Posted Thu, Jul 12, 2:35 a.m. Inappropriate

I guess that's just how it goes....: Upon reading Jonathan Raban's excellent essay I respond with a subtext. My experience.

I arrived in Seattle in 1973 (my birth). I attended both private and public schools. Graduated from Garfield High School and went off to college before returning to Seattle in the mid 90's. I became a became a carpenter and proceeded too re-aquaint myself with my hometown as an adult.

I was intrigued. In my estimation "Sleepless in Seattle", "Singles", Starbucks and the ‘Grunge' scene had introduced the Puget Sound area to the rest of the country, if not the world. In those days it was a rare to meet someone my age (late twenties) who actually grew up here. It was my first introduction to the profound shift that was occurring. Microsoft, sure, but popular culture provided the landscape in my world. The kids At Linda's bar on Pine St., for the most part were not ‘from here'.

I do not mean to state my qualifications. I merely lament the dilution of a regional culture. My culture.

Northwesterners. We wait at street corners for the light. We support hopeless sports teams, we lose our sunglasses. Grey skies. Beautiful summers. Grey skies.

It's sad to see it go. A regional identity is long in the making. Has it become an anachronism?.
chaden

Posted Thu, Jul 12, 9:57 a.m. Inappropriate

How could I forget....: In my list (above) of stores/services in my neighborhood I am ashamed to say that I forgot to include the space travel supply store! I'd like to see some other metropolis come up with one of those!

JamesD

Posted Thu, Jul 12, 8:17 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: I guess that's just how it goes....: I was born here and went to Garfield too. Wouldn't wait for a walk light if my life depended on it, assuming no cars were coming. Jaywalking is a sign of a healthy city.

mhays

Posted Fri, Jul 13, 4:19 p.m. Inappropriate

More Totem Poles!: There's nothing quite like the northwest self-awareness of the not-so distant past, however fantasia it rolls, we seem to only grow a greater identity through the steady diet. More power to it! Nowhere else in the lower 48 can claim the distinction of a daily 6am happy hour directly in front of a statue of the city's native namesake. I could stand a few more of those absurdly regional nods and their like and fewer of the cheapo multi-story trailers with cafe entrances masquerading as condominiae myself. If it makes me a sentimental, then ok.

Posted Wed, Jul 18, 1:15 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: But What Do We Mean When We Say "Seattle"?: Good question. Matthew Stadler, James Howard Kunstler, and Robert E. Lang talked about something very similar for an hour on Weekday with Steve Scher on KUOW.

The archive is here: http://www.kuow.org/defaultProgram.asp?ID=12066
David

Posted Wed, Jul 18, 4:52 p.m. Inappropriate

~ Jay Licata ~ Seattle Native Born Poet: Some very nicely crafted and excellent thoughts
about a " Duwamish of the mind " -
this place that we all have caught glimpses of.
However,
What i remember most about growing up here in Seattle,
is the taste of dirt from my parent's backyard garden,
that i ate as a toddler, with sweetbitter glee,
and that hence came to inculcate me,
along with the scent of saltwater, Puget Sound,
and the foghorns of childhood fantasy. 7/18/07

"Seattle"

This romance…
This love
This Seattle.
Born on her hill
As was my mother
As was she...
And now
Her Ladyship,
Still too young
To dance with Chicago,
She dances with me
As old man New York sits
While I waltz
Flush with glee.
And later,
Not far from the Sunday Ballroom Cathedral
of her hills,
In the riverlands of the Duwamish,
I sweet sleep deep,
Craddled in the folds and holds,
Of night harbor music
and the lyrical tapestry
of her arms...

"The Two Best Poets in Washington State Since 1889"

Win, place and show
The second best poet is silver
And this be poetical,
Upon myself bestow.

The gold is Richard Hugo,
My neighbor at West Seattle High,
A generation before me,
With forty years of overlap
Under the same Seattle sky.

Indigene sons of Washington soil
Born, bred and begotten
Within the same Seattle mile,

Where tugboats would toil
And foghorns were heard,
With Liberty ships
Through the Ballard Locks
In single file.

We were the lads
In the Spring
Of Evergreen's history,

While the carpetbaggers
Of the poetry business,
Didn't arrive until the Fall.

Still, our Big Mountain
Is big hearted
And all are welcome -
Come one and come all!

Though one must remember
That Lady Rainier, you see,
Dances her best
With Richard and me,

And only the honor
Of her embrace
Can place bards and poets
Upon the high mantle
Of Northwest native grace.

So come ye troubadour and penman
And pay your homage and due,
To the land of Cascades and Olympia,
With lines, couplets and sonnets
And a chapbook or two,

As nimbus and karma,
And the aura and muse
Of poet Richard Hugo,
Place a blessing upon you.

Thank You,

Jay ( JayLicata@gmail.com )

http://www.jay-licata.blogspot.com

Posted Wed, Jul 18, 7:01 p.m. Inappropriate

You are both correct, and both wrong: As newbies, you probably did not notice what was happening around you on that fateful day in Seattle in 1974. The city was in the midst of its worst economic depression (hard to even imagine today), and 25% of King County adults were out of work.
At the Seattle City Council, a new young councilor, a former commercial banker, had the bright idea that if all environmental, historical, zoning, planning and traffic regulations were just eliminated, then the healing power of unbound free market capitalism would solve all our problems. Of course, as we've now come to learn, it was his actions, more than any other over the intervening thirty years, that caused the untold misery, greed, despair, and exploitation we have endured.
His name was Norm Rice.

Uncle Mike

Posted Tue, Jul 24, 3:43 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: But What Do We Mean When We Say "Seattle"?: Yes, that was an interesting discussion, although it was a real mistake including Kunstler who virtually would not engage either with Stadler or Lang, both of whom spoke soberly about the facts at hand, while Kunstler raged and fantasized about a post-oil america and destruction of the suburbs. Should someone who hates our downtown library so fanatically be given any platform in Seattle? Better if Knute B. or Raban had been on the program. Some interesting things were said by Stadler and Lang, but mostly I was fearful for that Steve Scher would have aneurysm.

RobCrowe

Posted Tue, Jan 1, 5:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Missing Book: Important omission from list of works at the foot of the article "Bad Land" 1996

about settlers and the railroad in Montana - one of his best books and relevant to Seattle.
a1an

Posted Thu, Jan 3, 12:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Tacoma's got what you're missing: While Seattle has been obsessed with glittery silliness for some time (see 1960s, Space Needle) I agree that its taste for the modern has grown far worse After Microsoft. Many of Seattle's projects are commendable in their originality and execution, but it has become the projects that define Seattle more than its history, with few exceptions. One has replaced the other.

Tacoma is different. It's historic character is largely intact, thanks in large part to the fact that for a very long time, nobody cared enough about it to tear down its decrepid old structures and build anew. Once Tacoma's fortunes finally began to turn in the early 1990s, the regional mentality had shifted to valuing the preservation of historic character.

Tacoma has improved immensely over the past decade. It's really quite nice. (Yes, I know that you, Seattle, will continue to happily sneer down your collective nose, stubborn in your blind insistance that Tacoma is still the stinky, crime-ridden city it was 25 years ago. That's fine, your ignorance keeps our house prices somewhat reasonable.)

But unlike Seattle's futuristic projects, Tacoma's improvements have mostly been made within its historic character, evidenced both by the reuse of treasured old buildings (see brick warehouses turned into the UW-T campus or Union Station remade into a federal courthouse) and by new developments that pay architectural homage to the past (the new museums).

Furthermore, while Seattle continues to marginalize blue-collar industry, having long ago blocked the Port from expanding and now having "world-classed" South Lake Union, Tacoma continues to encourage blue-collar growth, limiting residential and commercial development in its expansive industrial lands. Port jobs may not be as glamorous as software engineering, but they pay about the same, and the historic character isn't driven away. Hip Tacomans (who are far less cool than Seattle's hipsters, thank god) have bestowed the nickname Grit City on their hometown.

I think that grit is exactly what the author is missing in Seattle. Maybe spending some time in the shadow of Exit 133 would be just the thing. Not that we care.

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