Technology and the urban exodus

January 22, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

By

Lindri Riveras

I was taking my emotional temperature as we were passing through Seattle yesterday but this wasn’t my first trip up I5 since moving back to my small home town 3 months ago. Did I miss it? Did I long to take my old exit home? Did I make a mistake when I sold my 1914 craftsman on Queen Anne and move to a rural house on a lake?

On this particular day we were headed north of the city to do some shopping for our family back in Chile. We had with us a childhood friend who had just moved back home too, but her circumstances weren’t quite the same as mine; she had come home to take care of her father who is failing from Alzheimer’s, while I had come home to save my soul.

As we were passing through downtown Seattle aka the new Silicon Valley of the northwest, I was pointing out with disdain that the city’s official bird had become the crane, as in building cranes. They hovered over the skyline betraying us with their Seahawks colored Christmas lights. I wasn’t moved. I was certain that my soul saving move back to my home town was indeed, soul saving but before all of this came my own history with the Emerald City.

I first moved to Seattle in the late 80’s after a post college stint in Georgia and Colorado. I had returned to Washington with my then boyfriend who was in the restaurant business while I worked as a long shore man. We were young and we owned Seattle, knowing every nook and cranny and painting the town every shade of red you can imagine. But after I got sober in 1994, I experienced a quieter side of the city.

At that time I was still living in an old Norwegian fisherman neighborhood called Ballard. With its dive bars and blue hairs that were the fodder for Seattle humor, it was a quaint historic avenue with one very nice Italian restaurant. It was manageable and a true ‘walking’ neighborhood and on Saturday evenings my friends and I would stroll the six blocks to the main street, past the shops, then down to the canal to sit and look at the fishing boats.

By 1999 I had finished my second degree while recovering from a broken heart and figuring I’d wreaked enough havoc in Seattle, I made my first move back to my small home town. My dreams of a quiet life had turned me into a mummified single and very quickly I learned that small towns are great for raising families but not so great for unattached women; therefore, after a stint in South America, I came back with my new husband but he decided that his opportunities were in the big city. Without much thought, we rented out my house and headed back to Seattle and my old stomping grounds where we found a nice affordable apartment on Queen Anne, near the Space Needle. Economically diverse, it was very much like my Norwegian neighborhood, a great place to walk and just across the bridge we could now see the cranes begin their work on consuming Ballard.

That’s when ‘they’ began to tear shit down. They tore down the Denny’s where we had fellowship after our meetings, then the bowling alley. In their place sprang up a plague of retail space with apartment/condos above.  At first there were just a few, but then they kept going, ripping out my history bit by bit from week to week until I couldn’t remember what stood in the new hole where cranes and backhoes were devouring dirt and replacing it with pieces of construction.

With new zoning laws the developers were buying up property, petitioning people to sell, with a promise of a no hassle/full price offer, totally obliterating single family homes. Up sprang those land use proposal signs of impending doom notifying neighbors of some deadline for a hearing on a new construction project and that change was happening. Personally I hate change. I hate progress. I felt helpless, sad, but mostly angry. The developers always win. My tiny Norwegian neighborhood had sprouted bars and restaurants and boutiques resulting in sky high housing prices. The blue hairs began to die off and I was no longer in charge of the night life. Just who were these young people and didn’t they know I was here first dammit!

Beautiful, historic neighborhoods are currently being transformed into space age square box multifamily housing units selling at upwards of $700,000 to $800,000 so that you can live on top of your neighbor with not even a yard for your designer dog to poop.

Daily, I felt myself becoming bitter. It was creeping across the bridge to my neighborhood: generic square boxes, people willing to sell off their back yards, alleys filled with new front doors and traffic was becoming unbearable. The congestion was so bad that on days when food trucks filled farmers markets in my walking neighborhood and signs boasted the newest, biggest Trader Joes, a simple trip to the drug store couldn’t be done without first circling my own block a few times.

 

“Real-estate analysts from both Zumper and the Urban Land Institute ranked Seattle as the eighth most expensive city for renting in 2014. US Census data put us at the 10th most expensive city, but says our median rent jumped by almost 11 percent between 2010 and 2013—the highest of any major city in the country. Other analysts, like the research firm Reis, Inc., say our rent increases aren’t quite as dramatic as San Francisco’s, but are still roughly double the national average.” Source:  The Stranger

 

And just who was filling up these square boxes? Computer techies. Microsoft had come of age in the mid 1980’s, and then Google, along with an extensive list of tech companies began to slowly gentrify our little neighborhoods. But this was something more, something worse, a development of epic proportion; this was the new Silicon Valley. Amazon, and homegrown boy Bezos had come to take the city and with it they brought hordes of Bromazons. Brogrammers, and young people weaned from their mother’s breast to a hand held device, completely devoid of interpersonal skills. Any without any interest in the preservation of a city they had never known. These post Regan babies have it all, Millennial Hipsters with their Kate Spade wives, living the dream with full benefits, vacation pay, and enough money to purchase a home or pay rents my generation couldn’t and still can’t touch. Could it be true, have I become middle aged, intolerant and jealous? Yes, but only when I leave my house.

 

From his book: “Seattle and the Demons of Ambition” author Fred Moody makes an ominous observation as he describes his visceral first impressions of Bezos and the Amazon empire’s entry into Seattle:

“Now it looked like Seattle, not even a century and half old, was just going to have two (Microsoft and Amazon) of them in ten years. The world was full of thousand year old cities that had never been put through anything like this. Where would it end? Seattle had been through booms before, but his one was homegrown and it was going to be immeasurable by any normal Seattle scale. I sat there staring at the amazon interface on the screen, getting what felt like a privileged glimpse into the future. It was a religious experience – I felt at once awestruck and fear struck, the recipient of Revelation, unable to tell, unable to tell whether grandeur confronting me was marvelous or horrifying”

 

In the data being released, Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman evaluated hiring at Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon using information found on LinkedIn to get a sense for how job growth was affecting home prices in various cities.

Over the past year, Redfin found that home prices in Seattle have increased 12.7 percent while technology hiring increased 21 percent. At this rate, Seattle is growing faster than any other city evaluated by Redfin, including Silicon Valley. For perspective, home prices nationally inched up only 6.5 percent while tech hiring increased by only 3 percent across the country. Source: GeekWire

 

 

A few weeks ago online, this caught my eye, apparently Amazon is planning to bring in another 3,500 brogrammers. Amazon’s Seattle location happens to line the Mercer corridor which is the primary east west route to I5 just north of downtown, an area called South Lake Union. The city still has yet to complete their multiyear long project, widening the route to deal with the already existing gridlock. The article stated that the mayor of Seattle, the city council, and the city planners are not prepared for an influx of new techies and they literally have no plan to deal with the continued boom. Because of this, I dreaded driving. Behind the wheel of my car I morphed into this resentful, raging, eye rolling, hand gesturing, judgmental middle aged woman. And don’t even honk at me because I will get out of my car and explain to you why you are not entitled to get your way at the four way stop every time.

I was beginning to feel like my soul was dying. The yoga pants, the Trader Joes, the condos with retail space, the food trucks and farmers markets, the strollers, the restaurants coming and going. Block by block, house by house I drive and watch as my city was being shredded. It’s people and historical value, my memories of when I was queen of the nightlife were being cast out by this new demographic of icy-cold-entitled-millennial hipster-yoga pant wearing-Starbucks sipping-Kate Spade wives-Techies, and all I want to shout is, “Can you please use your fucking turn signal?” The most dangerous thing in Seattle isn’t crime or drugs, it’s a millennial behind the wheel with a smart phone in her hand.

One day, on our trip north to shop, my friend, who had come from Ojai California, was saying she would have liked to move to Santa Cruz, but the same thing was taking over that city. Familiar with Portland, she explained that the Rose city was also going down in the flames of gentrification, losing everything distinctive about the eccentric younger cousin of Seattle. Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, talk about a disappearing middle class! Loss of single family neighborhoods and the struggle to maintain affordable housing are now a part of the national narrative and back in the summer when I was at my soul’s end, feeling the horror rather than the marvel, I bribed my husband, literally, to sell our house and leave Seattle. I told him if we could move back to my small home town we would buy him a new truck. He bit and I also let him pick the house, on a lake where he can fish, I can kayak and…I. am. freaked. out.

I’m freaked out because I don’t like change, and this is big change, but it will pass. I took my emotional temperature one day while driving up I5 and gone is that soul crushing anger and resentment towards the city that belongs to a demographic with whom I don’t care to share the air. There is nothing I miss about Seattle, except my friends but in an ironic twist, it’s the millennial-hipster technology that keeps us connected.

On the day we left the Emerald City behind, our moving van pulled out of Seattle around 4pm and it took me over an hour to go the 2.7 miles from our old house to the freeway.

End of story.

Beginning of new story:

These days you can find me on the lake in my kayak; it’s the pink one with the matching life vest.

 

 

*Ballard was a blue-collar neighborhood of Norwegian fishermen and other working-class people — the cast members of “Deadliest Catch” drink at a bar there, said resident Mr. Stoesz. Many of his old neighbors, which included a retired librarian and a grocer, were forced to move outside of town. 

Stoesz was able to stay, but he is now paying $1,800 for a two-bedroom townhouse, which he shares with his daughter. “Now, everyone around me is the same, same age, same demographic, many are tech workers,” said Stoesz. “It just sucks. The city is losing its character.”

 

 

 

 

 

Lindri Riveras 

Lindri Riveras lives on a beautiful lake in Washington State with her husband and two rescue dogs. Lindri had traveled extensively throughout Latin America and is bi-lingugual in English and Spanish. She has taught ESL to immigrants and refugees from Latin America, Vietnam, Eritrea and Somalia at home and abroad. Lindri is the founder and owner of Gallipot All Natural, Handcrafted Skincare, a small, local company founded on the idea of sustainability and simplicity.

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