Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Northwest Reflections: Changing Seattle

When I graduated from University of Washington in Seattle many years ago, I packed up my car, invited a friend to join, and drove across the country. I couldn't wait to start post-college life on the East Coast.

The Northwest (Seattle and Portland, my hemisphere) felt like such a backwater after I'd had a taste of Paris, London, and New York. While traveling through Europe after spring quarter abroad, I had to explain to Europeans that Seattle and Portland were on the west coast of the United States, "north of San Francisco."

Times sure have changed.

Today Seattle is experiencing explosive growth, and people are pouring in from all over. Almost every day I meet fresh young faces (and some middle-aged) who have moved here in the last few months or years. Many don't even know anyone here when they arrive.

Besides techies (Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia, etc.), I'm meeting newly transplanted baristas, hairdressers, sales clerks, poets (okay, baristas and sales clerks :), many of whom live in shared housing because this city is so expensive.

To say that Seattle is experiencing growing pains is an understatement. 

Some joke that Seattle's new city bird is the crane.
The Not So Good
Our major roads and highways are clogged much of each day with crazy-making traffic, and our developing transit system will take well over a decade to catch up with demand. The City isn't managing its growth all that well. The cost of living is shooting skyward (the median Seattle income is less than the income estimated to maintain a comfortable life here), squeezing out the lower and middle classes. Charming and quirky low-rise buildings and homes are being torn down and replaced with often not-so-charming big boxes. The pollutant load into our waters is growing. And the list goes on.

As a Seattle-born, Portland-raised, lived-in-the-Northwest-most-of-my-life gal (I lasted less than 3 years on the East Coast; I needed REAL mountains nearby), I'm finding all this rapid change unsettling. Our wonderful corner of the world, which I didn't fully appreciate fresh out of college, is totally discovered. 
On the map. The word is out.

(Lest I be insensitive, my sympathies to the native peoples who lived here for millennia before us European-American interlopers arrived and mostly destroyed their world/lifeways. My ancestors only landed here 148 years ago.)

Pioneer Square, Seattle

It's inevitable that cities change, evolve, grow or shrink, look different than they did 50, 100 years ago.  Everything is constantly changing. That's life on Planet Earth.

While the change has been building, seemingly overnight it feels...different around here. 

Often I hear people refer to "Pike's Market" instead of Pike Place Market.  Or radio announcers tell us to take "the 405" (CaliforniaSpeak) instead of just 405

It's much harder to find relative solitude in nature on the most beautiful and relatively close-in hikes in the Cascades on a weekend. It's often a steady stream of humanity and dogs on popular trails, sometimes with music blaring from an Ipod attached to a belt or pack. Litter (wrappers, food, etc.) is increasingly common along the trail. Parking at the trailhead? Good luck if you arrive after about 8 a.m.

I have to admit this rapid growth is starting to bother me. Mostly it's the traffic and crowds; our infrastructure isn't in place yet to sustain the quickly rising population. But I don't like hearing myself sound like a cranky curmudgeon. 

The Good
Change keeps us fresh and alive. With all the influx of talent and energy, there's a vibrancy in the region that's new. Wonderful restaurants and cafes, scads of great little coffee shops/bakeries, and lots of cool bicycle shops are opening around the city.

Coyle's Bakeshop, Greenwood neighborhood
More money is being funneled into the arts (although there have been some recent gallery/venue closures that are disappointing). There's a convergence of ideas, music, food, and theater that's exciting. At the opera this season I noticed more Millennials in addition to the usual gray-haired elders. This is good for the future of Seattle Opera.

And the Seahawks! When we went to the Super Bowl after the 2005 season, the national media treated us like Seattle was in a foreign country. In 2014, much different story. We're cool now!

Many of my good friends migrated to the region from places like Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Mexico, Michigan, and California. My life wouldn't be as rich without them to share local adventures and good conversation over coffee/tea/meals.

Some like UrbanVisions, a sustainable real estate development firm with an environmental/green ethic, are re-imagining the city with creativity, vision, and energy. Because growth is happening and will continue. (We just wish everyone had the same vision)

And despite it all, on most days I still usually feel like this living in the city of my birth:


So please, if you catch me kvetching (a very un-Seattle word) too much about traffic or crowds on the trail, give me a gentle nudge. Seattle and the whole region needs our thoughtful input on maintaining livability with the crazy growth. Complaining only goes so far; constructive criticism is better.

As Bob says:

 You'd better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone
'Cause the times, they are a-changin'....

How about you? (You really read all the way to the end here?)

Are you a lifelong Northwesterner? Moved here recently or years ago? What do you think about the changing Seattle/Northwest? Millennials, does it look different from your perspective?

I'm truly interested in hearing what you have to say. Jump in with a comment below!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.  
Bainbridge-bound ferry from downtown Seattle's Colman Dock ferry terminal
Bring back Galaxy Gold, the Space Needle's original color!

Make Your Voice Heard
There are some big plans in the works that will shape the future of Seattle/the region. While the Seattle Comprehensive Plan Update has already been drafted and the comment period is closed, there will still be opportunities for public involvement through 2016. Sound Transit, the Puget Sound region's light rail transit agency, is putting together a major funding initiative (ST3) for the fall 2016 vote. For more information and ways to get involved, click here.





JoJo said...

That's funny you came to the NE and that's where I'm from but I moved to the west coast when I was 24. I lived in SF for 10 years, then in Pierce County for 12. I love it there, I miss it and wish my husband could've moved west. That said, I know I'm remembering through rose coloured glasses. The traffic is a horror show. 'Friday light' in the morning becomes Friday gridlock from Everett to Olympia. I never ventured anywhere on weekends b/c of road construction, so I stayed put in my house in Bonney Lake. Then suddenly my life took a big turn and I was moving back to Cape Cod. Now I am kicking myself for never venturing out on the weekends. I didn't do or see half the things I wanted to.

Anonymous said...

Age I think can influence how we view change. If the current buzz/growth around your area was happening when you were younger than you might have never headed East because it was all 'happening' in your town. As we get older it's easy to reminisce about what was:)

In saying that though heavy traffic is never fun and it would be noble to think the town planners are taking the environment and community into mind when planning all this growth. I've never been to Seattle but every time I see pictures of it (such as your blog) and its beautiful surrounds my fingers are crossed that day! I live a few hours drive out of Melbourne, Australia and it too is undergoing massive change with a new skyscraper built each week. Traffic is now total gridlock - even on sleepy Sundays. I reckon your getting out into the 'hills' is the perfect way to live with this change.

Cheers Sylvia

Ron Mitchell said...

Your heartfelt view puts me right there. Nice post. I agree with your happiness!

jill said...

Hi JoJo! Yes, we often seems to switch regions and then return later. And yes, the gridlock makes getaways a source of stress if you don't leave REALLY EARLY or late. Cape Cod sounds pretty darn nice! I visited a couple times when I lived in Boston.

Hello Sylvia!
You raise excellent points. I'm sure my middle-age makes me view things differently, and I hope to hear from some of the recent college graduates who've moved here and see how they view things. It's probably all pretty exciting if you're young and new here. I think the city/town planners are really trying to shape a livable future, since Seattle prides itself on its liberal, environmental ethic. However, I think they are allowing too much density too fast in some parts of the city that can't handle the large population increases yet. So flattered you found me from Australia! An old boyfriend spent a lot of time with friends in Melbourne and he raved about what a great city it was - I used to have a Melbourne T-shirt he brought home for me. I've been down under to New Zealand, but hope to make it to Australia some day. Cheers back!

Lainey Piland said...

I'm right there with you, Jill! I was born here and have lived here all my life. Not in Seattle, but on the Eastside, which is close enough: Redmond, Woodinville, Kirkland, Bothell, Carnation, Monroe... and I'm alarmed at how quickly our region is growing. I especially felt the pain when my husband and I were shopping for our first home last fall. I was completely floored that I was unable to afford a home in any of the towns in which I grew up. Not even a crappy fixer-upper home was within reach! So we were pushed further out, and although we ended up buying a lovely and affordable home in Lake Stevens, I still wish we could live closer to work, and closer to the places where we grew up.

I drove past a very sad sight recently. There's a property in Redmond that sprawls across the northern slope of a hill overlooking the Sammamish Valley, and I remember as a child looking out the window of the car as we drove past, and being entranced by the tall old trees, beautiful rhodies, gorgeous gardens and curving lawns with hidden hidey-holes in the bower of greenery, enclosed by a leaning split-rail fence. The house was barely visible, hidden by all of the vegetation. A few months ago, I drove by and found that the trees, the rhodies, the lawns, the house, were all gone. Instead, I saw bulldozers sitting on a bare dirt lot, still sadly enclosed by that same fence. There's going to be a subdivision built there, of what will surely be a dozen or so million-dollar homes. This same scenario is playing out all over our region, and it makes me very sad! I know the region is growing, and we need to accommodate the growing population, but the change is hard to see.

Sorry for the novel-length comment here! This subject is a hard one for me. :(

Marilynn Windust said...

I am one who believes we must embrace change. So much comes with it like diversity energy and opportunity. I applaud your ability to see that as noted in this post, rather than just being a "curmudgeon." Too often I hear people lament about "the good old days." And if you can quote Dillon, then I will quote Carly Simon, "these are the good old days." And from one of my favorite work leaders, "either get on the train, or get off the tracks." Great post Jill!

Dave Wenning said...

My pedigree: Born in Tacoma, raised in Gig Harbor, then educated at U-Dub. I loved living in Seattle and going to school there. After Gig Harbor, it was mecca. Then came graduate school and a nine-year stint in Iowa where I learned about farming, severe weather and treatments for the "bloody scours" advertised on TV. I couldn't wait to get back.

In 1968, Seattle had a huge bond issue to build a light rail system, a new stadium and several parks and rec fields. There would be federal matching money for the light rail. When it failed and needed to be downsized, Seattle chose the stadium. The federal matching went to Atlanta. The rest is history. For thirty years, Seattle built, then tore down and rebuilt stadiums.

Of course, those stadiums did help make Seattle what it is now, a little bit. They also brought more traffic. I think a turning point was when Boeing packed up and left town claiming they couldn't get their customers to the store because of the gridlock.

I think Seattle became a tech hub while no one was looking. It did not happen because of tax cuts, corporate subsidies and other political ploys that claim to stimulate business. See Boeing. It was probably because of Microsoft and an educated work force. (Education is something politicians like to cut to provide corporate subsidies.)

Although the rail system is now coming along slowly, Seattle still struggles mightily with things like monorails, viaducts and tunnels. It's not easy being a major city wedged into a narrow corridor.

Despite all of this, I would gladly live there again. What made it great in the 1960's, there's more of it now. The SSO, the Arboretum, the Market, UW, it's still mecca. Given the chance, I'd move there in a minute.

jill said...

Ron, thanks for you feedback! Appreciate it especially from a fellow writer/blogger extraordinaire. :)

Marilyn, Thanks! Thanks for reading my blog regularly and commenting, much appreciated. And your active embrace of life and new adventures/places is an inspiration to me.

Lainey, That's so sad about that beautiful woodsy home/yard with the rhodies being destroyed for yet another subdivision. And that you couldn't afford a home where you grew up. Sigh. I couldn't afford to buy my home today if I was looking to get into the market; feel fortunate that I was able to buy a home when I did. Thanks for your comment!

Dave, love your perspective, given your history and long view on the region. Yea, I still wouldn't want to live anywhere else. Travel, yes! Live....this place is too much in my bones. And yes, Seattle's geography makes the gridlock much worse. Until the next huge earthquake....:) :(

Anonymous said...

We were only joking when we used to refer to Seattle as the new but more affordable San Francisco. But here we are, still more affordable then SF and we are actually have a second migration of tech types who are driven out the other even pricier SF market to ours that is still more affordable. Kind of shocking. There are those who gloat and camp on Zillow to enjoy the rising value of their property but guys if you aren't planning on moving out of the area all you are really getting is higher property taxes. Seattle is great, I was born here, I love my view property with a nice yard bought when you could still do that but at some point enough will be enough.

Yes its getting crowded with hikers blaring "their" music, highly annoying but there is is. Something about being scared by silence and darkness and (apparently) under the impression that toilet paper, cigarette butts and cans will be picked up by "someone" Darling your mom isn't following you so pick up after yourselves. Humm, obviously not CampFire Girls.

Eastern Oregon, parts of eastern Washington still offer wide open spaces, silence and plenty of critters. Longer drives, better experience. And tech is expanding so there will be jobs. Worth thinking about.

Anonymous said...

To date your best blog posting. The Irony of wanting millienials to be car free but then making access to the mountains impossible via mass transit ! It took my husband nine hours to get to Seattle from NHalem !

Three transfers and a hitched ride to Concrete.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Jill. This is something I think all of us Puget Sound residents are being forced to confront. And I don't think there are a ton of easy answers, though passing the Sound Transit bill this fall is one.
I was up at Green Lake recently and it was the first time I was in a Seattle neighborhood (not just downtown) in a long time. It was kind of strange. There was still a lot of the cool/odd people that are part of the Seattle I remember growing up in the area in the '80s and '90s, but then there were all the out-of-town techie types who aren't bad or anything, they just aren't apart of the Seattle I remember.
That said, it certainly isn't a bad thing. The blue collar nature of Seattle - and much more slowly in Tacoma - is certainly becoming a thing of the past, but as long as the area continues to try and plan for the traffic and sustainable housing then I think it is exciting to think of the future possibilities.
I'll stop rambling now.
As far as my Puget Sound credentials: I grew up in Kirkland and now live in University Place.

jill said...

Hey Veronica/Craig (not sure which one!), thanks for your comment! It's great to get different perspectives. I see mostly people who grew up in the area are responding, but at least one didn't. I don't know how much my (middle) age is affecting my viewpoint, too. But yes, there is a lot of excitement now around the region. Sure hope ST3 passes this fall. I'm a little concerned that they are putting forth a package that is too big and expensive, and that it might have an easier time passing if they broke it up. The initial RTA was voted down in the 1990s and had to come back revised and scaled down. It's also a primary source of income for me (working on Sound Transit environmental documents), so I have all the more reason to want it to pass!

Laura said...

Jill, your posts so often resonate with me, this one especially. I struggle with my conflicting instincts about the outdoors - wanting to share all the beautiful places in our wonderful state and develop new friendships with fellow hikers, and conversely, despising the crowds, noise, and damage that come from the intense overuse many trails are seeing. I also certainly don't appreciate the traffic and skyrocketing prices driving many people away from the Seattle area. Change is unavoidable, and I appreciate seeing a positive perspective with the negative!

I arrived in the Seattle area during the last big tech migration. My family moved to the area from central California in 1994. At this point, I certainly consider myself a native of Washington and not California, but I know there are some that would disagree!

jill said...

Hey Laura,
Thanks so much for jumping in and providing your perspective. And if you came as a child with your family and mostly grew up here, I'd say you qualify as a "native." :) Regardless, I appreciate your comments/feedback and yes, I'm conflicted in much the same way you are. It occurred to me recently that perhaps there will be a day in the not-too-distant future that even day hikes in popular areas might need to be permitted on a quota basis like The Enchantments are now. I can't see how that would be implemented or checked, though, at least with current budgets. Maybe it is in a way now with trailhead parking unavailable. Just bouncing ideas/thoughts around.