Seattle and Portland: 'cities of the first move'

It's official: Seattle is a powerful magnet for young people, tied with D.C. at the top
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Single in Seattle. (Chuck Taylor)

It's official: Seattle is a powerful magnet for young people, tied with D.C. at the top

Seattle emerges, according to urban experts, in a tie with Washington D.C. as the top post-recession mecca for the young. Portland came in fourth in the Wall Street Journal survey. Third place went to New York, and fifth place to Austin.

It's easy to see why Seattle and Portland would score so well: diverse high-tech sectors, cultural life, access to nature, and strong university presences. Portland excels in nightlife, transit, quirky culture, and "West Coast hipness." Portland lacks jobs, however, an aspect that D.C. does well at, especially as a regulation economy grows. Besides, "Barack Obama is America's coolest boss," says Richard Florida, the "Creative Economy" guru and one of the experts in the survey. Seattle has cool companies to work for, ones that play on a big global stage.

Previous magnets are losing their draw: Naples, Florida (sagging economy), Las Vegas (real estate bust), Charlotte, N.C. (banking suffering in the meltdown), and Los Angeles (car culture is a turnoff).

If you go back about 25 years, Seattle was a classic city of the last move. It was the kind of place that was too sleepy and too much a company town to be a good starter-city, right after college. Folks who moved here were ready to settle down, have kids, find good schools, join the Municipal League, and generally put down roots. They may have started out in a big, but too expensive place like LA or New York, or one hard to break into like Boston. They may have then tried a small town for a change, finding it too confining. Seattle would be "just right."

The psychology of people making, in their minds at least, a "last move" is a very civic and engaged state of mind, since people of this mindset expect to stay for decades. Seattle politics through the 70s and 80s very much reflected this, and the city was a national leader in such things as historic preservation, humane programs for the poor, creating arts organizations, and environmental causes. Quite different is the population of the first move: younger, more ambitious, more about nightlife than neighborhood institutions, not ready to care a lot about schools, probably going to move to another city soon. All kinds of diversity, energy, and cosmopolitanism also come with the influx.

Another mental shift the region needs to make is to realize that we are much less a city where people stay a long time. Instead, we are one of the leading cities of newcomers and transient residents. According to the 2000 Census, 31 percent of Seattleites have lived in the city for five years or less. Only Austin scores higher in the newcomer percentage. Seattle gets 'em while their young and restless, rather than seasoned and ready to settle down.

The predicted "Manhattanization" of Seattle may not have taken place in skyscraper count, but it has happened in our souls.


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