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The Dark Side: Seattle, Capital of the Hipster Boom

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Many houses and shops in Seattle display signs — some in Arabic, Spanish or Korean — with welcoming messages: ‘Hate has no home here’; ‘No matter where you are from, we’re blissful you’re the neighbour’; ‘All business acquire regardless of race, religion, nationality or passionate orientation.’ The rainbow dwindle was everywhere when we visited during LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) Pride month. It was on every street corner, and in the window of the Dr Martens shop, which was selling a higher-priced prismatic range. It flew over the Starbucks domicile and on the Space Needle, a building built for the 1962 Universal Exhibition, surfaced with a drifting saucer. It flew at City Hall, just next the stars and stripes.

Seattle wears its openness, toleration and farrago like a metropolitan badge of honour. It voted overwhelmingly — 87% — for Hillary Clinton last Nov and has led the certified plea to Donald Trump’s emigration policies. Besides being imperatives, these are also blurb arguments, levers of expansion and rival advantages.

‘We have a suggestion of farrago and inspire talent, regardless of where it’s from,’ pronounced Brian Surratt, conduct of the city’s Office of Economic Development. ‘We wish every talent. Having that muddle of people coming together really helps to kindle a kind of mercantile vitality. we consider it’s vicious to the mercantile success.’ Samuel Assefa, creatively from Ethiopia and a city formulation connoisseur from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), is Seattle’s executive of formulation and village development. He said: ‘Historically in the US, you go where the jobs are. Ford builds a plant in Detroit, you go to Detroit. You work there for 30 years, 40 years, 50 years. Now, a 25-year-old artistic would go to the place where they wish to live. And the things that attract artistic immature people are peculiarity places like Seattle with nature, creativity, toleration about culture, outside activities, night life.’ Both Surratt and Assefa mentioned the same economist, Richard Florida, in support of their position.


Attracting talent Florida, a highbrow at the University of Toronto, may not be a domicile name and is widely criticised by his peers, but he has had a big impact on metropolitan decision-makers for 15 years. He first set out his conjecture in 2002 in a bestselling book, The Rise of the Creative Class. It is sincerely simple: The old economy (industrial, manufacturing, extractive) will disappear and be transposed by a ‘creative’ economy. Rather than trying to attract businesses by building motorways and discussion centres, charity taxation breaks and financial incentives, cities should entice talent. That means people who innovate, invent or differently use their egghead collateral to create wealth: artists, engineers, journalists, architects, means administrators, financiers, lawyers, researchers, IT specialists, medics. People like Surratt and Assefa, who both have degrees from prestigious universities and earn inexhaustible salaries ($132,000 and $167,000).

According to Florida, the artistic category represents 30% of the US’s economically active competition (probably an over-estimate), but accounts for 70% of its spending power. To attract the best, he suggests the candid solution of refashioning the city in their image. They are generally immature and good paid and don’t wish to live in the suburbs like their white-collar predecessors. They value dynamic, European-style city centres — ‘vibrant civic cores’ — where they can cycle to work, find restaurants open at 3amand buy satisfactory trade products. Florida argues that what they quite value is ‘the vibrancy of street life, café culture, arts, music and people enchanting in outside activities’ and vital alongside ‘people of opposite backgrounds.’ Competitive cities should acknowledge these demands and renovate their images by building cycle lanes, unison halls and museums, fighting taste and appropriation top-class universities.

Florida reduced his conjecture to ‘the 3Ts of mercantile success’: technology, talent and tolerance. Then, bringing together manifold information sets (percentage of homosexual couples, foreigners and manifest minorities; series of obvious applications and start-ups; suit of graduates), he determined the Gay, Bohemian and Talent indexes and produces a frequently updated joining list so cities can sign their progress. He after extended his analysis complement to Europe and Canada, gaining new business.

His methodology appealed to members of the artistic class, gay to be presented as the solution to a country’s problems: the media, metropolitan decision-makers and business leaders feted him and invited him to pronounce at conferences around the world. Each new book (he publishes one every two years) generates fresh compliments and invitations, so his recommendations have come to represent best use in the general foe between cities: from Sydney to Paris and from Montreal to Berlin, every collateral now wants to be dynamic, innovative, intelligent, creative, tolerable and connected.

Dozens of US cities looking for a solution to deindustrialisation have employed Florida and his consultancy, the Creative Class Group. Other cities, already posterior the artistic path, have felt irreproachable in their strategy and increasing their efforts to attract trust workers. Seattle is such a city; its mayor invited Florida to broach a harangue there in 2003.

From old economy to high tech The Emerald City, as Seattle is known, and its segment prolonged depended on the old economy: lumber, shipbuilding, shipping (it has one of North America’s busiest ports), and generally the aerospace industry. The many successful internal company used to be Boeing, which had its bang years after the second universe war. Back then, nonetheless businesses did not broadcast a adore of diversity, they paid decent salaries that enabled the investiture of a black center class. In 1970, 49% of African-American households in King County, where Seattle is located, owned their own homes, aloft than the inhabitant normal for the whole competition (42%).

Today that figure has depressed to 28%. John Fox, founder of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, which has been fighting gentrification, said: ‘It’s given of the high-tech boom. In the mid-70s, with the mercantile downturn, Boeing fired thousands of workers, machinists and engineers. The competition declined, genuine estate marketplace and land cost plummeted. And from 1977 to 1981, we saw an liquid of collateral into US center cities, generally Seattle. We saw an blast of bureau expansion and an liquid of immature professionals and couples.’

The next proviso was all about attracting talent. In 1986 Bill Gates changed Microsoft’s domicile to Redmond, northeast of Seattle. Microsoft’s campus then had just 800 employees in 6 buildings; currently there are 44,000. In 1987 Howard Schultz bought out the Starbucks Coffee Company and founded Starbucks Corporation in Seattle. In 1994 Jeff Bezos combined Amazon, the online bookseller that became an e-commerce giant. In the early 2000s, when Florida’s bestseller came out, Seattle was fifth in his altogether Creativity Index and already seemed the antecedent of the complicated city. Its traveller bureau deliberate changing its nickname from the Emerald City to ‘[email protected]’. Florida is lustful of citing Seattle as a ‘truly artistic place’ that ‘puts all 3Ts together.’ The city repays the compliment, quoting him in counterclaim of its policies.

Over the past 15 years, Seattle has determined itself as a challenging aspirant in the fight for talent among US cities, doing its pinnacle to do the 3Ts. Its city formulation programme has certified the acclimatisation of former factories into smart offices for cosseted employees. It has combined cycle lanes and village organic unfeeling gardens for them. It encourages entrepreneurial suggestion by the StartupSeattle programme and the Startup Weekend, an annual eventuality at City Hall. It fights institutional injustice by the Race and Social Justice Initiative. Businesses are concerned too: In partnership with the Seattle Theatre Group, Starbucks gives immature artists ‘a possibility to shine’. Amazon promotes farrago in the workplace under the Glamazon (for the LGBTQ community), [email protected], Black Employee Network, Amazon People with Disabilities, and Amazon Warriors (for former members of the armed forces) programmes.

All this paid off: Seattle took fourth place from Austin in the 2012 Creativity Index and in the same year Travel+Leisure magazine awarded it the desired pretension of best city for hipsters, beating its west-coast rivals Portland and San Francisco. In 2016 business information and selling company Infogroup judged Seattle the many hipster US metro area by counting its tattoo parlours, bicycle shops, eccentric cafés, micro-breweries, preservation stores and record dealers. According to a internal magazine, Seattle is now ‘a place where people come to innovate, be their loyal selves and, for the many part, be around like-minded people.’.

Affluent, white and male The city attracts graduates from around the world, and its competition expansion rate has accelerated in new years: In the 12 months from Jul 2015, 21,000 new inhabitants arrived, holding the sum to 700,000. Over time, the competition of the former Jet City is apropos some-more rarely qualified, affluent, white and male as it attracts engineers, IT workers, selling and information specialists, promotion professionals at Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks, and employees of Google and Facebook’s engineering centres and many internal start-ups. According to a new survey, Seattle has 118 men aged 25-44 for every 100 women in the same demographic. In some areas, such as the Central District, the commission of the competition who are black has depressed from 73% in 1970 to reduction than 20%.

Seattle has always tangible itself in antithesis to the Silicon Valley model, where many of the Internet giants have built self-contained complexes in the suburbs with restaurants, hairdressers, and sports and medical facilities. In Seattle, many companies are in the city centre in former industrial and working-class neighbourhoods. Amazon’s website puts it in terms Florida would approve: ‘We done a unwavering choice to deposit in Downtown Seattle, even by it was cheaper to pierce the domicile to the suburbs … about 15% [of employees] live in the same zip code as their bureau and about 20% walk to work.’ The company is so unapproachable of its city campus that it runs twice-weekly visits. There’s a three-month watchful list.

Amazon now owns 33 buildings in Seattle and has other new projects including 4 150-metre towers and 3 huge, conjoined, potion spheres, which the company has announced as the offices of the future, designed around employee wellbeing. These biodomes, havens of immature amid the downtown traffic, will be home to 300 category of plant, trees, a vital wall, a pool and dangling bridges enabling program engineers to strech assembly bedrooms perched like birds’ nests.

Some 44,000 people work at Amazon’s Seattle HQ. The company takes on staff at such a rate that it has signs in the street directing recruits. It has widespread out in the South Lake Union district with the help of Vulcan Real Estate, which was set up by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. Vulcan sole Bezos 11 buildings in 2012 for over $1bn. South Lake Union, once a obstruction of warehouses, workshops and automobile dealerships, now looks like an alfresco selling mall, with ideally embellished foliage and new, conscientiously clean, sidewalks. The streets are dull at weekends and in the evenings, but full of blue-badged Amazon employees at lunchtime: immature people of every race, in t-shirts and shorts if the weather is good, going to food trucks and restaurants that offer exotic, organic and gluten-free menus.

Inventive developers, and prices In other former working-class neighbourhoods nearby, cranes and diggers are busy. Lot by lot, developers are demolishing the last working-class homes and building complexes to interest to a worldly clientele. Among the many new projects is an unit retard with a rooftop unfeeling garden, a village space for pet grooming, and a kitchen where veteran chefs give cookery demonstrations. Another offers village organic duck rearing, a solarium with hammocks and a poker room. Another has a cat and dog spa, home brewing equipment, and a woodworking seminar for hobbyists. The prices are inventive: The smallest studio apartments in these oppulance buildings lease at $1,500 a month.

Property conjecture used to be cramped to the executive districts but it is now swelling outwards as City Hall justification zoning regulations and authorises the construction of unit blocks in places where there used to be houses. Linda Melvin said: ‘It’s called “ballardisation”.’ She lives in the Ballard district, which gave the materialisation its name. ‘Developers buy up two or 3 houses, then put up a building with 15 or 20 apartments which they lease out for a fortune. That means immature spaces disappear, there’s nowhere to park, there are jams in the street and the genuine estate marketplace goes up.’ She referred to the new geometric blocks as Lego boxes. We upheld one with such small, retard windows that it resembled a prison. ‘Developers call those micro-apartments. They’re for students and singles.’ A singular room functions as bedroom, kitchen and showering room. They cost $800-900 a month and are the cheapest accommodation, unless you nap in a tent in a park or under a motorway bridge, as 10,700 homeless people in King County do — a record figure, up by 8% on 2016.

Since the Amazon boom, Seattle’s genuine estate prices have been rising 10% a year. John Fox said: ‘Landlords can boost your lease whenever they want. Rents are going sky high. Working-class people can’t means Seattle any more, so they pierce to Renton, Tukwila or Orillia. They are being replaced by high-tech workers, [yet] we need waiters, cleaners and cashiers.’

Almost nothing of the low-skilled workers we met (many of them women from racial minorities) lived in the city. They all had to transport many miles to their jobs as supermarket cashiers, Uber drivers, private nannies, fastfood workers and bank confidence guards. The city council’s decision to lift the smallest salary to $15 an hour by 2021 will not keep gait with housing cost inflation. Kshama Sawant, a Socialist Alternative politician who was inaugurated to the city legislature in 2013 along with 7 Democrats, is the first revolutionary to enter City Hall given 1877. She has a PhD in economics, upheld Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries in 2016, and is an disciple for despotic lease controls. She said: ‘Capitalism is so unqualified as a complement that it can't even residence its own needs. The marketplace forces of capitalism are not structured in such a way they can yield affordable housing to all the workers who are indispensable [for the economy] to work. It’s a standard instance of the contradictions of capitalism.’

Florida’s artistic city is among her contradictions of capitalism. Some policies that seem on-going and are encouraged by ethical, health or environmental concerns penalize the operative class. Encouraging racial and passionate diversity, which attracts the immature and talented, indirectly produces less socialdiversity. Taxing paper bags and charging tolls on one of the bridges opposite Lake Washington, dictated to assuage congestion, harm the operative bad most. The coming of a cycle line or a ‘green’ unit retard is mostly a sign that rents are about to go up.

‘Inequalities are huge’ The many unusual instance may be the fight against obesity. Seattle followed the instance of other ‘intelligent’ cities such as Berkeley, Chicago and Philadelphia, and introduced a taxation on sweetened drinks in Jun 2017. The taxation of $1 on a 2-litre bottle is directed at carbonated drinks, renouned with the operative class; the city legislature spared hipster favourites such as lattes and frappuccinos, which are also calorie-laden.

Retired counsel Toby Thaler said: ‘Social inequalities [in Seattle] are huge. Our taxes are regressive. People all over the universe contend “Seattle, resplendent light of liberalism”, but we have one of the very misfortune taxation structures for regressivity. Real estate lobbies get their people into City Hall. The rich compensate a smaller apportionment of their income than the bad and the center category in this state than in any other state.’ Thaler lives in Fremont, a district experiencing ballardisation, and campaigns for the left wing of the Democratic Party. He’s vicious of the city’s disaster to levy an impact price on genuine estate developers, distinct many other cities. Many working-class groups support this demand. Susanna Lin, of the Seattle Fair Growth association, lives in the Wallingford district, recently invaded by developers. She said: ‘You can’t just let the developers build and build and build, and not also build schools, and not also deposit in transit, and not also deposit in sewers, in roads, in fire protection.’

Elected city officials are banking on the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) — nicknamed the Grand Bargain — as an choice to holding on the lobbyists for Vulcan Real Estate, R C Hedreen Co and City Investors LLC, who give easily to their electoral campaigns. Under the HALA plan, City Hall has concluded to change its construction code and authorize serve high-density housing in former low-rise zones, gratifying a direct from the developers. In return, developers must embody 2-9% affordable housing in plans (depending on the district) or compensate a tax.

This will meant ‘50,000 some-more units of housing over the next 10 years’ pronounced Surratt, ‘and with this boost in supply, residence prices will fall.’ Susanna Lin is unconvinced: ‘It’s always the same: some-more and some-more growth. Part of the disappointment with this thought is we don’t trust it will actually work. It’s going to boost [developers’] profits. That’s one issue. The other issue is that it has been top-down.’ Eighteen of the 28 cabinet members obliged for the devise represented the developers’ interests and just one represented internal associations.

As you go easterly in Washington State, into Grant and Adams counties, rainbow flags turn rare, then non-existent, as do yoga studios and record stores. In these farming and industrial areas, where many of the traffic is transcontinental trucks, electorate corroborated Trump, as they did in 24 of the 25 lowest counties in the state. Here Seattle’s progressivism is an visitor judgment that promotes farrago within a artistic bubble, neglects attention in foster of a connoisseur economy, and advocates immature expansion when the internal economy depends on complete lumber and mining industries.


Benoît Bréville is emissary editor of Le Monde diplomatique.

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