For decades, people have wondered what Bellevue would be when it grew up. Would it simply be an affluent "Greater Seattle" neighborhood? A Twin City, a suburban St. Paul to Seattle's Minneapolis? Would it be the Anaheim of an Eastside Orange County? The San Jose of the Silicon Forest?
In the '90s, it was identified as part of a new entity, the Edge City, where under-the-radar urbanization was shaping a new kind of suburban economic powerhouse. As skyscrapers rose across Lake Washington, they raised vague questions in the minds of Seattleites about the upstart of Pugetopolis: What's happening over there?
It turns out, a great deal. Bellevue set a course to be a grown-up city, and took a huge step by finally approving the route for East Link light rail through downtown, new infrastructure that will expand and re-shape Bellevue dramatically. The city now has a central park, expanded retail and office space, vastly increased density, a huge downtown population of young people. If its downtown still feels somewhat sterile, the overall picture is of a city that is definitely headed for a post-suburban some place.
The most significant change since the 1990s is that the city is now more racially and ethnically diverse than Seattle itself. The population shift is due largely to immigration. As Eric Scigliano reported in his recent story "The Eastside Express Lane to the American Dream," by 2010 "More than 30 percent of Bellevue and Redmond's populations were immigrants, up from 13 percent in 1990--a larger share than Seattle's 17 percent." That near tripling of the foreign immigrants' share of the population is increasing. To give an idea, Bellevue's 98007 zip code, which includes the Crossroads and West Lake Hills, is 43.8 percent foreign born, matching Seattle's south end 98108 zip code (South Beacon Hill, Georgetown) with 44 percent. The immigrants are of all races and such stats certainly put to rest the image of Bellevue as Blandview.
Crosscut and Seattle Magazine recently co-sponsored a panel discussion in downtown Bellevue on Eastside immigration, and one thing that emerged in the discussion was that the reality and vision of Bellevue has gone from one based mainly on affluence to a future city that is more truly a mixing of peoples from around the world drawn to Bellevue by great schools and high-tech jobs that are transforming the old white-bread culture of the Eastside. As a result, the aspirational models for Bellevue are now higher than a rainy version of Anaheim or suburban echo. If Seattle's first settlers called their city, "New York Alki," meaning "New York, Someday," Bellevueites like Mayor Conrad Lee, a Chinese immigrant himself, can legitimately start thinking in terms of a city evolving towards being a new Vancouver, or even San Francisco, both cities cited during our panel discussion.
Vancouver is closer and perhaps more relevant, though all major West Coast cities are being shaped by Pacific proximity. The Eastside's immigrants, like Vancouver's, include many affluent and well-educated people from Asia. They seem to have brought a kind of entrepreneurial energy that captures the classic spirit of communities determined to improve their lot. This goes beyond the Chinese. One of our panelists, Natasha Savage, founder of the Eastern European American Chamber of Commerce, half-jokingly warned the mayor of Medina, one of the region's wealthiest enclaves, that the Russians would soon be coming to his neighborhood.
The scale of change in Vancouver, however, is even beyond the impressive leaps of the Eastside, and gives a hint at what could be in Bellevue's future. An analysis of Vancouver's demographic course predicts that not only will the metro area's white population be a minority by 2031 but that only one out of four Vancouverites then will even have a grandparent who was born in Canada. Sixty percent of the metro area's population will be non-white, most from China, South Asia, the Philippines, Korea or West Asia. The report is based on trends and birthrates, but the internationalizing of Vancouver that we've witnessed since Expo '86 only seems to be accelerating, and the impact is almost unprecedented in North America, says the Vancouver Sun.
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