Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Our Members

Many thanks to Jonathan Ezekiel and Constance Nelson & Robert Weaver some of our many supporters.

ALL MEMBERS »

Seattle's dizzying change? Get used to it

Our city's identity has always been an ephemeral one. Nothing has changed.
Seattle's skyline: Changing all the time.

Seattle's skyline: Changing all the time. JoeinSouthernCA/Flickr

Lately, I've been struck by how many people have come up to me and said something to this effect: "I moved here six years ago, and man has this city changed!"

The lifecycle of a Mossback has sped up. The rate of change is such that you can be an instant old-timer before you have fully unpacked, let alone learned to navigate the streets. ("Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest.")

The people I've talked to aren't nostalgic for old Seattle, whatever that is. For them, that was the town of Paul Schell, the WTO and the Commons. It was a time before food trucks, Twitter and the Great Wheel. Ancients might remember a thing called the Kingdome.

The people I'm talking about are too young to experience nostalgia. It's more like bewilderment, their heads spun by the rate of change. Half a decade of the Great Recession put a gap between the last boom and the current one – just enough of a breather to start to get used to things.

Then, blam! Big mega-projects underway like tunnels, train lines, freeways, bridges and massive redevelopment spilling out of the permit pipeline.

The current boom is such that even dedicated urbanists, who worship at the shrine of density, have said, "Wow."

You can play the game of count-the-cranes. You can see holes in the ground filling up. You can experience the dug-up streets, the shut-down sidewalks, the gridlock, the detours, the cyclone fencing that wraps each new development in netted gift wrap. You watch the cookie-cutter high-rises rise and the Amazonian cheechakos wandering the streets in small support groups as if trying to extend life beyond work and Whole Foods.

As ancient as cities are, they are also ephemeral. And Seattle's sense of itself is even more so because of its youth and its embrace of change from Day One. The Denny Party landed in late 1851, and by 1866 the town had its first historic landmark crisis when Henry Yesler, the man whose steam-powered sawmill brought industry to the city, decided to tear down the mill's modest log cook house.

This structure had become the budding burg's first civic space. It had served as Seattle's hotel, courtroom, church, entertainment venue, restaurant, jail, political gathering spot and coffee house. It was City Hall, Town Hall, the Courthouse, Starbucks and Microsoft rolled into one. In short, everything a frontier village needed, save a brothel. Many settlers lamented its destruction because it embodied the collective memory of Seattle's start-up days.

In its July, 30, 1866 edition the Puget Sound Weekly noted that "There was nothing about this cook house very peculiar, except the interest with which old memories had invested it. It was simply a dingy-looking hewed log building, about twenty-five feet square, a little more than one story high, with a shed addition in the rear, and to strangers and newcomers was rather an eye-sore and nuisance in the place – standing as it did in the business part of town, among the more pretentious buildings of modern construction, like a quaint octogenarian, among a band of dandyish sprigs of Young America."

One might mark that moment as the first expression that budded, a century later, into Seattle's historic preservation movement. That movement boldly insisted that the past was an important part of the future – and obsession with both became a legacy of Century 21-era civic dialog, one acting as a measuring stick for the other.  You cannot have progress without a past.

By the early '70s, activists had rescued Pioneer Square and the Pike Place Market from the wrecking ball. The city had grown and sprawled beyond the cookhouse's capacity to serve it, but as time marched on we learned that having a past – and tangible links to it – made us richer. A few old anchors among the "dandyish sprigs" sprouting in downtown, Belltown, First Hill and later South Lake Union were good for civic life and business.

Nostalgia got stronger after the boom years, kicked off by the Klondike gold rush in 1898 and punctuated by our first world's fair in 1909. By the 1920s, the Seattle Times was running columns about antediluvian Seattle "25 years ago."


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Thu, Aug 14, 7:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks.

I always find it amusing when folks get their shorts twisted up because - OMG - the city is changing! It just doesn't fit into their cubby hole of expectations. If you're not open to it you end up sounding like another old guy complaining about those new fangled things.

Lily32

Posted Thu, Aug 14, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Change is one of the exciting things about this city. And yes, it's been constant as far as I can remember...the mid-70s.

Is it better to live in a city that's already great, or one that's always moving in that direction as we are (despite some steps backward)?

The current boom might be the largest. But there are numerous other candidates, whether the topic is growth/development or otherwise. The early 80s and late 80s were both pretty epic. The late 90s maybe even more so. And how about 2005-2009? What about the advent of the cruise throngs, or the emergence of Microsoft?

mhays

Posted Thu, Aug 14, 9:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Crappy buildings, crappy buildings, crappy buildings.

Seattle = LA North

Posted Thu, Aug 14, 12:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Without the good weather

mspat

Posted Thu, Aug 14, 10:52 a.m. Inappropriate

cheechakos? That's not even a Salish word! I had to look it up.

Frybyte

Posted Thu, Aug 14, 12:19 p.m. Inappropriate

All the more reason to cling to those immovable rocks in the stream around which the incessant waters of time flow.

Seattle has always had a "bust-and-boom" economy. The bigger the bust, the bigger the boom that follows, and vice versa. With every boom, we remake the landscape.

With Boeing busts mostly in the past, does the mother of all busts still await us, centered in Redmond?

Everybody suddenly wants to live here, but when they finally do, here will no longer be "here".

Posted Thu, Aug 14, 2:16 p.m. Inappropriate

No, it will be centered in South Lake Union...

Mickymse

Posted Sun, Aug 17, 1 p.m. Inappropriate

No, it will be centered along the Cascadia Subduction Zone...

Posted Thu, Aug 14, 1:24 p.m. Inappropriate

A bit more nostalgia: the Smith Tower was the tallest building west of the Mississippi.

Archie McDougall’s hiring hall for loggers was still active in the Pioneer Square area. (Occidental Ave I think.)

A kid could get into a matinee for 25 cents and watch endless loops of “The Great Escape.”

Being a kid in Seattle was great fun in the late 50s and early 60s. Learned a lot just by watching others. Things some never learned until they were adults… Would not have missed it for anything.

Looking forward to no Viaduct and a new SR99 tunnel. Things change and I am glad. Keeps things interesting.

Posted Thu, Aug 14, 2:56 p.m. Inappropriate

A healthy attitude! ....and I agree. Things change - get over it already. Adapt or become a fossil cliché.

Treker

Posted Fri, Aug 15, 4:17 p.m. Inappropriate

The issue is less about change, and more about quality vs. quantity. The quality expectations of today seem oriented to flash, but not substance and long-term quality.

Posted Thu, Aug 14, 10:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Knute

I am sorry to be rude but can you please take some time off to see the rest of the world. It is no use being steeped in local history if you cannot put it in any broader context. Visit London and you will see a city that has transformed itself in less than two generations from the remnant of a fading empire to the most ethnically diverse city in the world. Visit China and you will see cities of 10's of millions that have grown 10-fold in a generation. Visit Africa and you will see countries that were total basket cases a little over a decade ago that now have some of the fastest growing economies in the world. Even in Republican San Diego county, you can see what the powers of a combined income and sales tax can do in terms of developing infrastructure for a growing population. By comparison Seattle is a conservative and constant backwater that undergoes change remarkably slowly. While Scandie's and Olsens may be long gone, our city's Scandinavian heritage still ensures that we have as much in common with the steady and unchanging folks of Wisconsin and Minnesota as with the truly fast changing cosmopolitan centers of the world.

WSDW

Posted Fri, Aug 15, 11:23 a.m. Inappropriate

It's the loss of views, the sense of scale, the ceding of community to tourism. A city that was once affordable and easy to get around in has become expensive, over built, and clogged. To often decisions affecting the quality of life in Seattle are determined by those in power who want more money to sustain a bloated city/county workforce. Increased parking rates and tickets are just one example. There are countless others. With a majority of residents from some where else though, Seattle even in its current disarray seems wonderful. If they only knew what it was like to be able to afford an apartment, or to get from north Seattle to Pioneer Square in 10 minutes. And the views that were once available from 1st Avenue and the Market. Or by driving by Lake Union on Hwy 99. When the viaduct comes down you.ll never see the waterfront expanse again without paying for a high priced cocktail.

chapala21

Posted Fri, Aug 15, 2:21 p.m. Inappropriate

And what about the Frederick & Nelson doorman?

gabowker

Posted Sat, Aug 16, 7:22 p.m. Inappropriate

......and Frangos for Dog's sake! Hat and Boots, the Queen Ann Blob, and of course, the Twin Tepees ---the town is just going down hill I tell ya.

Lily32

Posted Mon, Aug 18, 8:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Few remember that Frangos were originally Francos, an acronym for FRederick And Nelson COmpany. When the Spanish Civil War came along, FRANCO sounded a little too partisan, and the "G" took the place of the "C".

Candy is still sold under this brand name, but despite the manufacturer's protestations, anybody who ever ate the originals knows that the stuff peddled today tastes totally different and decidedly inferior.

gabowker

Posted Mon, Aug 18, 8:30 a.m. Inappropriate

The best thing was the streetcar ride from downtown to Sick's Stadium on a sunny or even cloudy Sunday for s Seattle Rainiers doubleheader. Mount Rainier in sight over the outfield fence. Of course other ballparks preceded Sick's Stadium and they, too, were demolished in their own time---just as the Kingdome later would be demolished.

The present building boom is dizzying. Many of the buildings, regrettably, are ugly and pedestrian. Ordinary citizens' tax dollars are being eaten in record amounts to subsidize transportation and other capital projects which mainly benefit their private sponsors. But some of that historically has accompanied growth in all major cities.

Nothing wrong, in the meantime, with nostalgia for the time when
Seattle was less a tourist theme park and a more authentic place. The destruction of Yesler Terrace, and displacement of its residents, for yet another commercial development has been particularly difficult to accept.

Posted Mon, Aug 18, 1:33 p.m. Inappropriate

The Yesler Terrace 'redevelopment' travesty was approved unanimously (9-0) by the City Council. Ordinance 123961 (September 4, 2012). 8 of the 9 are still in office, at least until next November.

Selected Coverage (and Council self-serving info):
http://www.seattle.gov/council/issues/yesler_terrace_bg.htm
http://crosscut.com/2012/08/24/urban/110182/yesler-terrace-seattle-city-council-public-housing/
http://realchangenews.org/index.php/site/archives/6963
http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2019056290_yeslerterrace03m.html
http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2012/09/04/city-council-unanimously-approves-5000-unit-yesler-terrace-project

louploup

Posted Tue, Aug 19, 12:05 a.m. Inappropriate

How did we live so many decades without resorting to the idiotic word 'authentic' to refer to what was real?

Posted Mon, Aug 18, 4:55 p.m. Inappropriate

You got your Sound on one side, and your Lake on the other. There's no place to build but up. Up is no place to live if you are a janitor or a hash cook. Within a decade, all of what used to be called "the working class" will live elsewhere and the folks living up in the towers will be lonely. Their espressos will be served from vending machines, and their food will be delivered by UBEResque little white vans having been prepped in Federal Way.
Ballard has already died.

JimBow

Posted Tue, Aug 19, 12:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Oh boy JimBow, you nailed it.

Posted Tue, Aug 19, 11:16 a.m. Inappropriate

The sky is falling!

Jeesh.

Treker

Posted Wed, Aug 20, 1:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Read this:

http://pedestrianobservations.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/zoning-and-market-pricing-of-housing/

We need to stop restrictions on new housing.

andy

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »