Sex, sin, and farm animals

Seattle is of two minds about what kind of city it wants to be, but a sober analysis of trends reveals a one-of-a-kind civic vision that makes sense of apparent contradictions.
Crosscut archive image.

A pygmy goat, now a legal pet in Seattle. (Oklahoma State University)

Seattle is of two minds about what kind of city it wants to be, but a sober analysis of trends reveals a one-of-a-kind civic vision that makes sense of apparent contradictions.

Seattle is schizophrenic. The evidence is on two fronts.

One is nightlife. We're a town founded, like most frontier cities, on sin. But throughout our history we've wrestled with the devil, alternately tolerating and cracking down on drinking, gambling, and sex.

Sometimes that civic struggle has been embodied by a single person. A century ago it was Mayor Hiram Gill, who was elected on a platform of keeping Seattle a wide-open city with a well-managed vice district. That didn't prove popular with the womenfolk. When they got the vote, he was run out of office.

Gill made a comeback as a reformer promising to clean things up. Skeptics weren't sure he'd made a genuine conversion, but he said, "Who knows sin and how to grapple with it better than an old experienced sinner?" Voters bought it, and Gill became mayor again. Later, he was indicted for taking bribes from bootleggers. Old sins and sinners die hard.

Seattle continues to embody mixed messages. We want to be a "world class city," but imagine that such a city is without visible vice or mess. The contradiction is personified in those who move to Belltown for urban edge and then complain about the nightclubs. Sex, drugs, noise, boozing: Who said I wanted grit with my granite countertops?

Mayor Greg Nickels and City Attorney Tom Carr are stylistically softer than former City Attorney Mark Sidran, who once sought to sanitize the streets of street people. But these two also want to make Seattle safer for the denizens of the sky-sprawl which the city has promulgated downtown. The nanny agenda: Drive city strip clubs into extinction; expand no-alcohol zones; ban smoking and push bar patrons into the street; slap the night club owners around.

The famous Nickels/Carr late-summer nightclub sting ("Operation Sobering Thought") nabbed bartenders and bouncers. What "shocking" truth did the dragnet reveal? No, not that the police could be pounding more useful downtown beats. It was that on any given night, people are getting into clubs with fake IDs!

Every world-class city worth the name throws the book at perps like that. It's a hanging offense in Singapore (but then, so's chewing gum). Predictably, however, our City Council seems to be of two minds about what to do.

The second schizo conflict is over whether Seattle's a city or a farm.

While we aspire to dense Hong Kong-style development, we also are trying to be Green Acres.

The barn-yarding of our cities is a hot new trend. Keeping chickens, mainly. And what great timing. Given the threat of a deadly Avian flu epidemic – like the one just reported in China – now is the perfect time to address this threat by filling America's cities with tens of thousands of domestic fowl.

Here in Seattle, though, we go one better. City Council member Richard Conlin wanted to make it legal for Seattleites to keep pygmy goats. Not working creatures like the herd that was hired to eat the blackberry bushes at the University of Washington this summer, but as pets. Yes, mini-goats are the new Labradoodles. Yesterday, Sept. 24, Conlin got his wish.

Ah, miniature goats. Now it all begins to make sense. Seattle isn't conflicted by warring dualities but is engaged in a dangerous experiment – dangerous because we know what can happen when you combine sin and farm animals (think Enumclaw and horses).

It is also a visionary urban experiment to forge a unique niche. Our city is well on the path to becoming the first world-class sinless suburban high-rise gay-friendly goat farm – for millionaires.

What could be more metronatural?


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.