26 July, 2008

Gentrification of Seattle - Goodnight Twilight Exit

Location: Central District
Mood: uncertain

I don't know much about sociology, and I don't know much about real estate development, and I don't know much about the politics of "class displacement". But what has been, and continues to be happening in downtown Seattle is a progressive displacement of lower-income and run-down housing and businesses with construction of luxury townhomes. I have a million opinions on this topic, but I cannot say that I have many facts.

My lock-step liberal viewpoint says that we should be preserving "the old" and maintaining the feel of the city, and not converting it into a homogenized, high-density housing development. Seattle seems to have this unsettling trend of destroying that which is the neighborhood so that more people can live in said neighborhood. During my time in North Seattle, I watched as the Maple Leaf Community became little more than an urban sprawl of Northgate - with businesses gradually being replaced by townhouses. What's left? Where can you walk? There are still some neighborhood fixtures there, sure - but not like there used to be.

And in the Central District, which I must confess was a bit scary to me back in 1999, things have slowly gone through a transformation. The hallmark of that process was probably the introduction of the Trader Joe's maybe 5 or so years ago. Once that happened, it was like sticking a giant yuppie flag in the ground and saying "This Neighborhood is Ours".

And the latest piece in the CD puzzle to fall is the Twilight Exit - a dive bar that everyone knows. The Proposed Land Use Action says it will be "subdivided into four parcels". And the developers will surely build 2 or 3 million dollars worth of townhouses on that plot.

The confusing part to me is that I am really not sure how I am supposed to feel? Am I sad because yet another "local dig" is going to turn into a characterless residence for people who want to be "close in"? Or am I glad because another questionable corner with a seedy hangout is going to be upscaled - continuing the facelift of a neighborhood that is a bit of an eyesore? The latter serves my personal interests of safety and property value increase, considering that I am now a resident of the general area. The former serves that slightly nebulous goal of "keeping things the way they used to be" with a side dish of "not letting the developers make a killing on everything".

But what is the right view here? Is the "preservation goal" really serving anyone's best interest? Or is it just anti-greed, anti-corporate bitterness for the sake of itself? Is the "pro-gentrification goal" really making the neighborhood safer and more pleasant? Or is it just displacing one class of people so that another can own the land, and potentially even increase tension and crime in the community because of resentment?

As I said, I am now a (town)home owner in the very neighborhood about which I am writing. I cannot say I am a "proud" townhome owner, because I didn't envision myself becoming part of that whole development machine. But (selfishly?) I wanted to be "close-in" like so many other people, and my financial situation did not afford me very many (or any) viable options that were not townhomes. So, I write this fully aware of my hypocrisy.

And I am conflicted.


  1. Not that this will help your confusion, but there was just a story in the Wall Street Journal about gentrification...http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121642866373567057.html?mod=djemRealEstate or if thats too long-

  2. High priced properties bring in high taxes.

  3. Inman Wheelright29 July, 2008 11:45

    Those upscale types that move in will bring in a world of raucous, degenerate, libidinous vices with them. Soon there will be roving gangs of repressed middle-class youths terrorizing the good citizenry, and the back-alley cockfighting and games of chance will be spilling onto the busy thoroughfares. It's a dark, dank place to which you will be soon travelling. And the clubs will spring up where the hardware stores used to be. They are easy to spot because there will be brown paper bags or cardboard taped over the windows. I can only imagine the heinous perversions that will be perpetrated in those establishments of debauchery and sin.

    Beware, beware.

    Or maybe it will all turn out ok. I've been wrong before.