Behind closed doors, far from public scrutiny, the project of remaking Seattle continues apace. The latest idea to ooze out of some pot-smoke-filled back room is a reported recommendation. in the oft-delayed report by Mayor Murray’s developer-dominated “Housing Affordability” committee, that single-family zoning be eliminated in some neighborhoods.
This has certain neighborhood activists – ones who haven’t been paying much attention – aghast. Everyone else understands that ship sailed a while ago. The real battle now is over how many multi-unit buildings can be squeezed onto a former single family home lot, how tall the buildings will be, and how many inches of setbacks the buildings will need from each other or the street.
The remaking of Seattle over the past decade has already been so complete that the city is virtually unrecognizable to a 20th Century resident. Today’s Seattle is hotter, drier, more crowded and congested, less friendly, whiter, younger, far wealthier, much more expensive, and far more hostile in every way to people who aren’t wealthy. Like it or hate it, our city really is undergoing a complete transformation – one nobody actually voted for at any point, but one that is making a number of people very, very rich. That’s why it’s happening.
The natives, however, have been getting restless. Longer-term residents are up in arms about housing costs and traffic. Newcomers are discomfited by all those homeless people and by the difficulty of finding a good bottle of 1787 Château d’Yquem. And everybody is voting for all nine city council members next month.
And, so, it’s time to make the natives feel good about past and future decisions already decided, and to let the rest of the world know that even without a professional men’s basketball team, ours is now truly a World Class City ™. Not like before. Not like Jet City (don’t make me laugh) or Emerald City (hard to pull off when you’ve bulldozed the urban canopy). Seattle needs a new brand, one that tells the world that this time, We Mean It.
Which is why we’re getting…SeattleLand!
“SeattleLand!” evokes many of the strengths of the old Seattle, but without the annoying people, most of whom can no longer afford to live here. You get the trees (only a short drive away!), the hills, the water, and the ten, er, nine, er, six months a year of rain, er, low clouds of the old city, all in a new, improved theme park: SeattleLand!, a happy, vibrant place whose sole purpose is to inspire you to buy real estate.
Viewed through the lens of SeattleLand!, local headlines that don’t seem to make sense suddenly do. We now have (hideous) rainbow crosswalks on Capitol Hill not to celebrate LGBTQ Pride, but to mark Capitol Hill as SeattleLand!’s gay-themed neighborhood, although many gay folk can’t afford it any longer and hate crimes are up sharply against those who can. Ditto for Ballard – SeattleLand!’s historic Scandinavian-themed neighborhood, now packed with luxury condos and sixteen actual Scandinavians. Or, check out SeattleLand!’s University District, where real students come from China, Japan, Korea, India, and, very occasionally, Washington State. Visit SeattleLand!’s Central District, the historic African-American neighborhood that by the year 2020 will only be ten percent African-American. Most especially, visit downtown SeattleLand!, whose central public space, Westlake Park, is now managed by and for SeattleLand!’s big downtown businesses. Shoppers welcome.
If you have any doubt whatsoever that Seattle has become a for-profit theme park, consider the steep one-day admission price, the pricy junk food, the exorbitant parking. And the ubiquitous cartoon characters walking around, waving signs for the newest condo grand opening up the street.
Coming Soon: SeattleLand!’s fabulous new multi-billion-dollar, 1.5 mile waterfront attraction! The most expensive underground combination mall/aquarium in the world!
This is, of course, not remotely sustainable, for the same reason that Disney-style planned cities like Celebration, Florida never develop as anything other than novelties or retirement communities. Real cities aren’t built on real estate bubbles. Real cities have economies based on working people; they don’t price working people out of the region.
The ones that can afford to price out whole demographics are tourist meccas or global finance centers, and even the most deluded local booster must concede that SeattleLand! is not Manhattan, London, Tokyo or Hong Kong, It’s not even Los Angeles or San Francisco or Maui. Instead, ours is a medium-sized regional hub, a two-hour plane ride from the nearest genuinely large city.
To devote Seattle’s entire public policy apparatus to pretending otherwise is simply nuts. It’s also a recipe for collapse. But that’s exactly what’s happening. When the inevitable bust arrives, the people getting rich in SeattleLand! will retreat to their comfortable lofts, somewhere in the heart of a real city far away. We’ll be left with the mess.