Mayor Bozeman's Seattle slapfest: returning the favor

Turning Seattle's waterfront into a bourgeoisie theme park is the worst thing you can do for a port city's economy
Crosscut archive image.

Cranes at the Port of Seattle.

Turning Seattle's waterfront into a bourgeoisie theme park is the worst thing you can do for a port city's economy

Wonderful urban spaces are indeed a delightful and necessary thing, but they don'ꀙt necessarily pay the bills. Current Bremerton and former Bellevue Mayor Cary Bozeman, who apparently wanders around the state so he can be lead B towns (Burien, Bucoda, Bellingham — beware!) has decided that Seattle needs a 'ꀜquiet'ꀝ waterfront, where children can play and all is happy. And you people of Aurora: you'ꀙre apparently garbage. And ditto for Pioneer Square.

It'ꀙs a particularly elitist conceit that somebody else'ꀙs neighborhood must be trash if it doesn'ꀙt conform to the upper-crust standards of the ignorati — that class of civic leaders who seem to believe that money grows on trees, and that you don'ꀙt even have to cut the trees down to get the money, just gaze at them. Ergo, Aurora'ꀙs grimy work-a-day stretch is undeniably inferior to the sterile, concrete canyons of Bellevois. The latter is the Miracle Mile; the former the Tragical History Tour.

Mayor Bozeman says he means his Seattle slapfest in the nicest possible way. Seattle needs to live up to its destiny as the Emerald City so that our descendants don'ꀙt talk smack about us, and so that King County, which subsidizes the rest of the state with its wealth, keeps up the good work. And that'ꀙs why Bozeman'ꀙs broadside is so utterly quixotic. Our descendants will not thank us for the lack of decent jobs that will be the legacy of turning the waterfront into a carnival sideshow.

Seattle'ꀙs is a working port, generating more than 100,000 jobs, few of which require the job holders to say, 'ꀜDo you want fries with that?'ꀝ And that'ꀙs the potential problem with Mayor Bozeman'ꀙs grim fairytale vision. The kind of development he'ꀙs talking about will make a prettier port, but generate less long-term wealth. Gentrifying the port will generate short-term profits for developers and boost construction. But once that'ꀙs gone, you won'ꀙt see the kind of industrially flavored jobs that actually provide more family-wage sustenance than do parks, high-end salons, and high-rise condos.

In the curious counter-spin that is post-modern economics, turning the waterfront into a bourgeoisie theme park will drive up land prices, making it harder for industrial activity to stay there, and leaving us with fewer and fewer jobs that pay enough to let someone live in relative comfort. This has already happened at many other ports, such as San Francisco. Fisherman'ꀙs Wharf is a great place, but I wouldn'ꀙt want to work there.

The bottom line is there'ꀙs no particularly good reason why we need to become the San Francisco of the North, or the Paris of the West, or the Venice of the Pacific. Seattle'ꀙs success hasn'ꀙt been based on its weather or its views or its metropolitan ambience. It'ꀙs been based on generations of blue collar and middle class workers grinding out timber, ships, aircraft, and whatever else.

Parks and public spaces are wonderful and truly essential to a livable city. But they can'ꀙt always go where we want them to. What makes a city great is its people, and the people are at their greatest when they don'ꀙt have to claw and scrape to get by. Show me a city with a strong middle class, and I'ꀙll show you a good place to live.

But that will never be enough for the ignorati, who seem to delight only in harping on the notion that Seattle isn'ꀙt what it should be. Theirs is a curious conceit, complaining endlessly about the place where you live even though you can'ꀙt imagine living anywhere else. But this is the post-modern malaise of our time. No nation on earth has ever had as much, or complained about it more.

Knute Berger wants Bozeman for mayor, and the pressure on the port will only grow from the many who already got theirs. We might as well erect the billboard now: Will the last stevedore leaving the Port of Seattle please unplug the crane?


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About the Authors & Contributors

T.M. Sell

T.M. Sell is professor of political economy at Highline College.