“It’s a Southside revival, put your hands high
Let your arms be the pillars that be holding up the sky
I heard a few heads say that hip hop is dead?
No it’s not, it’s just malnourished and underfed.”
“Southside Revival,” Blue Scholars, 2005
Seattle is changing.
I’m from metro Detroit and I saw what happened to the region in the 1980s and 1990s. Nobody in my circle of friends and family really talked about it, except to express some amount of disappointment and regret.
Now I’m seeing some of the same patterns in Seattle, and again, nobody in the publications I follow seems to be addressing a big, underbelly-style demographic shift, a shift I’m calling the Brown Shove.
The Seattle I moved to in 2005 was a vibrant place with lots of quirky individuals. I worked at Display and Costume and met lots of artists and creative folks who saw their efforts reap great success.
But then they started moving from Seattle. The rent prices are insane here, driven by the influx of tech people (briefly: Amazon) moving into the area. Based on the demographics of my friends who have moved away, I’ve been referring to this as the Brown Shove. I’m acutely aware that the only reason we haven’t been priced out is because my husband is a software engineer. And I’m acutely aware that the reason he’s a software engineer, despite having a background in music, is at least in part because he fits the #seattlestereotypes of a charming technology fellow.
Seattle has a lot of nicknames, but the three that come to mind related to this Brown Shove are as follows:
- The Emerald City
- Jet City
- Rat City
None of these labels are inherently bad; I’m not looking to pick a fight there. And I’m not the first to bring up these nicknames and their relationship to a changing city. In a piece published on February 18, 2014, John Cook, editor and co-founder of Geek Wire, examined these dynamics:
A nickname can say a lot about a community — where it has been and where it is going. There’s a new Seattle emerging — one which is far distant from “Jet City” or “Queen City” or “Emerald City.” None of those really work so much anymore.
Also in February 2014, Knute Berger wrote about Seattle needing a new nickname, and he examined our history of nicknames in an excellent piece:
One hundred and fifty years ago, our sawmill town on Elliott Bay saw events that portended huge changes. In May 1864, a “cargo of brides” called the Mercer Girls arrived as potential mates for the male settlers, so the city could become self-propagating.
In October of that year, Western Union — the Comcast of its time — brought the telegraph to Seattle, connecting us with the newly wired world.
Our city is built on immigration and technology, and rapid changes have regularly turned over our collective identity.
The three names I pulled from Seattle’s nickname history strike me as particularly relevant because taken together, they help break down some of the pigeon-holes that we’ve been putting residents into. Rather than blaming techbros or hipsters, I think it would be useful for us to examine when we can actually fall into different categories at different points in our lives, or even different points in our day.
Emerald City residents: These might include folks who genuinely love Seattle at its core. This could be folks who love the natural wonders the PNWonderland provides, or people who enjoy seeing renewed vitality in the area. It includes people like me, who love the Emerald City, while still acknowledging there are many folks (read: our insanely huge, underserved homeless population, and other people slipping through the cracks) who might claim that this is nobody’s Emerald City.
“What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about the finer things in life?”
Jet City residents: These are folks who move into and out of our city. It could include people traveling a lot for their profession, or people who see Seattle as a stopping point on their travel routes. These folks often help me realize what an exciting, unique place we live in; how lucky I am to be alive right now.
“What does this city know about luxury, hmmm?”
Rat City residents: These are folks who might only see the bad parts of Seattle’s growth and change. This category would also include folks with self-serving interests who are pushing out families and children (have you READ the Seattle Public Schools news lately?) who don’t match up with their views of a new urban paradise. This label could also apply to the erased and marginalized populations that Seattle’s civic policies seem to be working to quash even more. (Ask your friends who have moved to Burien, Tacoma, or Marysville)
“It’s the hottest fires that make the strongest steel.”
For the record, I consider myself as belonging to different groups depending on the day, maybe even on the hour, so this reflection is by no means comprehensive. (TBH I could write a whole book just about the lessons in the Imported from Detroit commercial) (I have written a lesson plan about it, FWIW) (It’s totes Common Core aligned)
So I’ve been thinking a lot about how my background growing up in metro Detroit plays into all this. I’ve been thinking about Ken Jennings’ reflection on being beaten by Watson on Jeopardy, where he said he “felt like a Detroit Auto Worker in the 1980s.”
We need to know who we are and what we value so that we can ensure this city is a vibrant, exciting place for generations to come. We need to approach our residents’ needs from different angles.
I saw what happened in Detroit. I’m sick at the prospect of what things would look like if it happened here.
I’ll end with another quote from the Geekwire piece as well as Chrysler’s now-classic Imported from Detroit ad, which features a shoutout to the Emerald City.
It’s an odd mix of innovation (companies like Tableau, a Stanford University spin out that moved here from Silicon Valley) and progressive thought (legalized marijuana) and outdoorsy and can-do spirit (see the inspiring story of Peruvian Olympic athlete and Seattle resident Roberto Carcelen). There’s some awesome alchemy at work here.
The politics of Seattle haven’t quite caught up with the changing tide, but it will.
“Imported from Detroit,” aired during the Super Bowl and Grammy awards in early 2011.
Did you see how he walked through the darkened theater (“Keep Detroit Beautiful”) to join the gospel choir onstage?
“Add hard work and conviction, and the know-how that runs generations deep in every last one of us.”
This is our city. What will we do?
<3 <3 <3