The economic boom affecting the Emerald City is ruining Seattle as we know it. Here’s how we can change that.

In May, Dan Savage wrote, “Demanding a halt to the macroeconomic forces that are reshaping/destroying the city isn’t realistic or achievable.” It sure looks like he’s right.

Savage had said, “We are powerless to ‘save’ Capitol Hill” and that folks being driven from the city by rising housing costs should just stop complaining, move to more distant neighborhoods and lobby for public transportation which could arrive in a decade.

In the meantime, they can just commute ninety minutes each way to their low paying jobs.

The truth is that Seattle’s dramatic transformation is radically affecting the quality, affordability and style of life here for nearly everyone. We’re amidst a huge boom, largely driven by Amazon but expanding as more Silicon Valley companies join the San Francisco-ization of our Emerald City.

According to The Seattle Times, “In 2014, King County smashed a 24-year-old record for the number of newcomers – and we’re on pace to set a record again in 2015…off to the fastest start of any year yet.”

Seattle Traffic

Seattle Traffic

Traffic’s evolved into a huge mess – into, out of and across the city. Housing and rental costs are rapidly increasing, forcing many people away and making moving difficult. Homelessness is up 21 percent from last year. Amazon’s hiring of white males is raising the city’s 2010 ranking from the fifth whitest nationally; The Seattle Times just reported, “King County is the whitest of the nation’s 20 most-populous counties.” As many of these men move into the new, pricier developments on Capitol Hill, they’re driving out the gay community and contributing to an increase in hate crimes. It’s also making straight dating more and more difficult and growing the prostitution industry.

The Biggest Problem

The biggest problem here is that neither construction companies nor the corporations driving them are being asked to invest in public transit or significantly fund programs that support lower income folks struggling against rising costs. Nor is there any realistic vision or framework for implementing rent control or requiring effective development of affordable housing.

The City Council itself is politically divided and somewhat restricted legally in addressing these problems to sustain the quality of life here. Worse yet, the Washington State Legislature is nearly completely broken politically. Its Democratic leaders remain more representative of corporations, such as Microsoft and Boeing, than of citizens; while the Republicans remain shifted deeply, dysfunctionally to the right. The recent state Supreme Court’s requirements to reform the education system have been met by a scrapped together, last-minute budget without any reform to our tax system which remains the most regressive nationwide. State schools chief Randy Dorn called the Legislature’s budget “unconstitutional” and asked the Court to act against it.

Community conversation around these issues is scarce. Local public radio station KUOW mostly streams national shows, incessant ads and funding requests, and bizarre BBC newscasts for England. Management of Westlake Park, where many public gatherings and marches begin, has been assigned to a private company which plans to regulate activist speakers into a tiny corner.

Many of the technologists Amazon has hired reflect Jeff Bezos’ libertarianism. The Seattle Weekly recently reported, “The little f*ckers don’t vote.” This is true of Bezos as well, who chooses mostly to make annual PAC donations. And, Amazon PR almost never comments on anything publicly, staying quiet as government remains aimless, ineffective, and out of the way of the company and its real estate developers.

Print Headline Since Censored by Seattle Weekly

Print Headline Censored Online by Seattle Weekly

Savage‘s points are largely true. The quality of life in Seattle has already declined drastically the past few years and will get significantly worse by 2020. However, I disagree with him saying “bitching, moaning, and slapping up…posters…is a waste of time.” Let’s review the most significant problems and discuss what we need to do to restore the city’s greatness and prepare it for the future.

Traffic and Gridlock

Seattle’s status as a world-class city now extends to its traffic. Studies rate the city fourth worst nationally. From 2011 to 2013, average I-5 commutes from Federal Way to Seattle have increased from 57 to 69 minutes, and from Everett to Seattle from 62 to 80 minutes. The Seattle Times reports the average commuter is delayed 23 minutes daily, or 89 hours a year.

Mercer Traffic by Seattle Transit Blog

Mercer Traffic by Seattle Transit Blog

Furthermore, Amazon’s massive growth and construction in South Lake Union has created huge congestion in the heart of the city. Amazon’s now on track to occupy roughly 10 million square feet – that’s 25% – of the city’s premium office space. Cheezburgr President Scott Moore told GeekWire, “Traffic has become intolerable over the past year in the Mercer corridor.” Columnist Danny Westneat writes, “It’s terrible…if you have to pass through Amazonia,” and GeekWire’s John Cook adds it’s “…as difficult these days as bushwhacking jungle in Brazil…it’s getting to the point where you can’t really move around this city.”

If you think the problems in the city today are bad now, Amazon’s local headcount will likely be two to three times larger within five years; it’s acquired office space here for up to 71,500 employees. And the company’s made no comments about investing in public transit or supporting the regulation of housing costs.

Currently, Seattle ranks twelfth nationally for public transportation, providing less than half of San Francisco’s trips per capita. Last year, Seattle dropped to 13th place in our most bikeable cities.

As Bertha, our failed multi-billion dollar tunnel digger for cars, sits idly above ground, the only positive transit change coming is the light rail extension from Westlake to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington. Sadly, the streetcar that will run above ground on Capitol Hill is pathetically built to sit in traffic with cars.

Housing Costs and Demand

Grist recently counted 75 construction cranes in downtown Seattle, many of which belong to developers building beyond basic zoning rules by paying the city small fees to avoid having to integrate any affordable housing units.

Given all the corporate job growth and new residents, rents are rising faster than anywhere in the country except Denver. The Capitol Hill Blog reports that Seattle rents increased 8.3 percent last year and 12 percent on Capitol Hill. Zillow says Seattle rents are up 5.8 percent already in 2015, to an average of $1,850 per month. In a number of cases, landlords have pushed out tenants by increasing rents from 50 to 150 percent. Median home prices have reached $500,000 in King County, up 19% since March 2014.

Not surprisingly, finding an apartment within the city is extremely competitive. One friend whose sister found her a mother-in-law apartment had to compete with fifty other applicants.

Many people have had to flee to distant neighborhoods further from their jobs, which is what Dan Savage encouraged. The Seattle Times reports others are moving even further: to Pierce County, Shoreline, and Everett.

Housing costs may also have driven the dramatic increase in homelessness found recently: “At least 3,772 men, women, and children were without shelter during the three hour street count,” 21 percent more than last year. Some of these people sleep on the sidewalks near Bill Gates’ foundation while he remains more interested in eradicating polio far away.

Diversity, Wealth Gap and Culture

As I wrote in “You’ve Got Male,” Amazon is predominantly hiring men. As a result, Seattle is increasingly male, impacting city culture and making the straight dating scene (and the lesbian dating scene I’m told) increasingly challenging. My reporting spawned a number of follow-ups, the most popular being, “Amazon is Killing My Sex Life” by Tricia Romano. Later she tweeted, “Further proving @reifman’s thesis about too many men in Seattle — Waiting for bus to Amazonia: 7 dudes and me,” which reflects the time I found myself in a coffee shop with 18 men and just one woman.

Recently, an Amazon employee tweeted a photo of her group playing its annual kickball game; almost all were men.

Amazon group playing kickball. Crop excluded two women on a bench.

Amazon Group Playing Kickball (crop excludes two women on a bench)

In “Broverwhelmed: Gender Disparity in Seattle,” Kathryn Robinson wrote that the culture within the company and around South Lake Union can be pretty negative. Crosscut’s Knute Berger recently suggested Amazon’s dominant male employee base might be what’s driving “Seattle’s sex industry[‘s] … explosive period of growth.”

In their diversity disclosures, Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook report about 85 percent men in their technology divisions. I heard a rumor that Amazon’s is closer to 95 percent but the company refuses to disclose this or its racial makeup. In “‘Amageddon’: How Amazon’s culture is taking a toll on Seattle’s future,” I quoted the Rainbow PUSH Coalition calling the company’s reports, “…intentionally deceptive.” Last month, founder Rev. Jesse Jackson criticized the company for having an all-white board of directors.

Generally, growth in a city leads to diversity in culture and the arts, but Seattle is becoming more homogenous, filling with white male technologists as artists, minorities and those with lower incomes are pushed out. Both The Seattle Times and The Stranger have criticized Amazon for failing to participate philanthropically in the community and the arts. Columnist Danny Westneat asked, “Once you can’t get on the bus anymore because it’s filled with badges, you do start to wonder: Are we a city or an office park?”

To Amazon’s credit, it pays its new employees significantly more than the average Seattle resident. As Capitol Hill’s buildings are quickly torn down and rebuilt, rents increase, and Amazonians can afford to move in while many in the established gay community there have had to move out.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon is part of a growing culture clash which The Seattle Times’ Romano wrote about in detail. There’s been a rise in hate crimes against the LGBT community which Bloomberg recently attributed to the growing technology scene. Artist John Criscitello began running an activist campaign against these changes which is what garnered both applause and critique from Savage.

Two John Criscitello Street Posters

Two John Criscitello Street Posters

While I agree with Savage that these changes appear unstoppable, his criticism of the enthusiasm behind Criscitello’s efforts dismayed me and others. Ultimately, he came around, “Pointing to the harm being done by those forces and demanding policies to mitigate those harms is realistic and achievable.”

Seattle Pride Protest Organized by Criscitello

Capitol Hill Pride March Organized by Criscitello

In addition to Criscitello’s art, there’s been a couple of satirized versions of Amazon’s recruiting video about life in Seattle:

Said Romano of Capitol Hill: “Luxury apartment buildings … with one-bedrooms that rent for more than $4,500, seem to open weekly, filling up with more affluent residents, many of them tech workers. Once the province of the starving artist, a fifth of the neighborhood’s households now make more than $100,000 a year. In 2000, only one in 17 crossed that six-figure threshold…”

While she says more than 200 bars and restaurants have transformed the neighborhood, Crosscut reports “Rarely a week goes by that another small bar or restaurant or shop doesn’t get priced out of business…”

Growing affluence has filled city traffic with BMWs, Audis, Teslas and Porsches, but has not been equally distributed. The wealthy are getting wealthier and the lowest 20 percent of earners have seen their incomes decline during our economic “recovery”. We see these class divisions in stark relief in the almost weekly gun violence and killings in the Central District, just minutes from the remodeled Ferrari dealership. Burglary has grown too, reaching a record number of robberies last summer on Capitol Hill (my house was robbed as well.)

The Emerald City’s Environment and Climate

brown lawn

My Neighbor’s Dried Out Lawn

Amidst all these changes, we’re not taking much action to preserve our beautiful environment or join the fight against climate change. In February, Reuters reported Puget Sound’s orca population was at 80, “down from 98 in 1995 and well over 200 in the 19th century.” The state’s Department of Ecology reports they are “… among the most PCB-contaminated mammals on earth. Puget Sound harbor seals are seven times more contaminated.” This may be related to our poorly regulated development.

There were near historically low levels of snowfall in the mountains this winter as skiing and snowboarding in the region barely happened. The month of June set city heat records. New York Times columnist Timothy Egan wrote about these changes, “For starters, brown does not fit an emerald city,” calling “…every homeowner’s lawn…the color of a baked potato.”

How to Lead the City Into a Brighter Future

All of us as residents need to force a change in conversation and dialogue. It’s time to speak out against the outrageousness of corporate passivity and government ineffectiveness on these issues. I encourage you to raise conversations about these issues with your acquaintances, friends and employers — not just those that agree with you but everyone.

One of the most positive developments I’ve seen is the diversity and energy of candidates in the new City Council races organized primarily by district. Kshama Sawant’s leadership on wages and housing costs has been powerful and we need more candidates like her willing to lead on reforming the focus and operation of government.

Here are the three most important issues that we need to act on:

1) First, we need to invest deeply in public transit across the city including light rail, bicycle networks and ride sharing. The Legislature just funded $15 billion in highway projects with our regressive tax system while leaving $16 billion for public transit to be approved or rejected by voters. The City similarly plans a minor $930 million transit levy for later this year. It’s time to challenge both bodies to restore the quality of life in Seattle by reforming our tax system and aggressively funding massive public transit. The state has allowed our tax system to languish for years as what Rep. Ross Hunter called, “…one of the worst tax codes in America” and it’s time to demand it be redesigned, now. Within the city, aggressive development fees (also called linkage fees) must be assessed on all recent, current and future development to fund appropriate expansion of transit systems. I’d also support retroactive assessments on developers and corporate beneficiaries who’ve managed to avoid significant fees over the past five years of massive construction.

2) Second, the City needs to regulate the rapid increase in rental costs and require ongoing development of affordable housing as part of new residential developments. Linkage fees should support the city’s low-income housing programs but developers should also be required to include a portion of low-income units within every new building. Such a plan would support diversity and integration across the city. Furthermore, landlords should be required to comply with restricted rental increases for a portion of their apartments. This will maintain affordable rental capacity for more tenants.

3) Third, we need to encourage Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, Google and Facebook to collaborate on bringing more women and minorities into their expanding businesses. The City can establish fees on real estate developers and more profitable corporations to fund programs and scholarships that give underserved groups technology experience as kids. As the State reforms the tax system, it can fund scholarships at the university level.

In January, Intel announced it would apply $300 million internally to encourage diversification and in March, Apple said it donated $50 million for diversity programs and scholarships. It’s time for us to push our Puget Sound technology companies to take bold actions together.

Conversely, it’s time to condemn Amazon and Jeff Bezos’ lack of concern for the well-being of local residents and its passive exploitation of the city and state governments’ ineffectiveness. It’s also time for us to encourage our own employers to step forward and direct reforms. Just because Amazon is silent doesn’t mean that smaller business leaders can’t lead conversations for change. Keep in mind, Bezos’ company is wrecking our city for employees who he typically burns out in one to two years before they leave for replacements. Amazon’s using Seattle as a vessel for profit — unconcerned about the health and diversity of our city.

In his transit piece, Westneat appropriately asked, “Will government leaders get their acts together and figure out how to provide services with all this growth?” Not unless we begin demanding that they do. It’s time to reject the dysfunctional leadership in the Legislature and inaction of the City Council. It’s time they shift their focus from the desires of corporations and their lobbyists and begin focusing on sustainability and quality of life for Seattle residents.

Savage was right to highlight the ongoing drastic negative impacts on our city but he was wrong to overlook the need for empathy over the harm to existing residents and their demand it stop now. While he did acknowledge he plans to remain in his Capitol Hill mansion advocating for future reform, he made sure to mention that, “Gold’s Gym is so overrun with straight boys these days that [he’s] pretty sure we’re going to get pushed out of Seattle’s ‘gay gym’ pretty soon.” Instead, perhaps it’s time for him to interrupt the workouts of all those Amazon men to ask them to tell Jeff Bezos to start leading investments in restoring the health, diversity and mobility within our city.

Posted by Jeff Reifman

Jeff is a technology consultant based in the Pacific Northwest. Check out Portland Wild, a visual map-driven guide to Portland's public art, its Heritage Trees and its Little Free Libraries.

37 Comments

  1. Apologies, folks – the comments were accidentally turned off by default. They are now on. Thanks to BoingBoing for posting this (http://boingboing.net/2015/07/10/how-seattles-economic-boom-i.html). I’ve also now posted a list of news articles and statistical reports (http://jeffreifman.com/2015/07/10/seattle-references-for-how-our-success-is-ruining-the-emerald-city/) I used for the story.

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  2. Building is expensive.
    Therefore, only the rich can build.
    When the developers come for your neighborhood, they will be wrapped in the cloak of “density” spouting the myth of “affordability”.
    Hold your ground.

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  3. The monorail passed in 2002, construction was expected to begin in 2005 with completion in 2009. In the six years since the projected completion, additional lines and expansion of the network were slated and would be up and running right now. Combine that with the current expansion of light rail, and the fact that our bus system is the 9th best in the country (though over burdened because of this shortfall, and crashing like a falling meteorite)–and we wouldn’t be in this mess.

    You could live in a surrounding more affordable neighborhood and be downtown as fast as you could drive 20 years ago, to go to work, play, or catch a show. You could also more easily afford to live in the city, because this realistic commute option, would make city housing less of a coveted overpriced premium.

    Thank Martin Selig, the top highrise developer in Seattle, who just purchased the Federal building, and is building apartment towers across the city. He was the number one funder of the I-83 recall initiative back in 2004 that stopped the monorail. Apparently he realized you can make more money putting people in half a million dollar plus crackerbox condo’s downtown, which most people can’t afford. Those that can are treated to a wonderful life of wage slave debt.

    Let’s see… How about we squash efficient rapid transit in Seattle, make it hard to get in and out, and around in. Housing in the city will then become a premium, and then we can skyrocket rents, and make a bundle of cash, while driving out a huge segment of the population who can’t pay up, and bend over. Not like these people live here, and are part of the character and former charm, of this once really cool city.

    My wife and I recently moved away. For people that lived on the Hill in the 90’s and on into the Ots, we were treated to a very special time, and saw just how unique this city was. It just got too depressing walking around neighborhoods we couldn’t even recognize anymore, and watching year by year as everything we loved about this place was manipulated by big business, instead of being shaped by the people who called it home.

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    1. Rodney Rutherford July 13, 2015 at 6:30 am

      I-83 didn’t stop the monorail. The voters opted to continue with the project at that point. It wasn’t until the next year that the flawed revenue projections were exposed and the project’s management was purged that the Mayor Greg Nickels forced the issue back onto the ballot, and the voters rejected the shortened initial line that was proposed as an alternative that we could afford with the taxes that had already been approved.

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      1. Voter rejection (following four different votes to APPROVE IT) isn’t WHY it failed – that’s the b.s. and unfortunate ending showing HOW it failed. Seattle leadership is the WHY… it is what failed, as per usual.

        “Without politicians’ careers on the line—without Ron Sims and Greg Nickels staking their political futures on the project—the monorail owed the political establishment nothing. (And that’s exactly what it got—from Sims, who worked behind the scenes to kill the project; from the Seattle Times, which treated every press release from monorail opponent Henry Aronson as a story; from developers like Martin Selig and Equity Office Properties, who funded the 2004 Monorail Recall campaign; and from the city council, which never really supported the project.) While monorail staffers and board members were justifiably proud of the agency’s grassroots heritage, the limitations of trying to build a transportation project without a political infrastructure should have been obvious. The monorail came from the people, and when things got tough, the support of the people wasn’t enough to keep it alive.”

        http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/build-the-monorail/Content?oid=4075

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  4. disqus_7ALvlx2MY6 July 11, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    Can you expand on the statement “The quality of life in Seattle has already declined drastically”, specifically how it jives with your assessment that new, more valuable properties are opening and, as you point out, BMWs and Proshes are on our streets. The latter specifically points to an increase in the quality of life for residents rather than the opposite.

    Also, I’m disappointed in your proscription of “regulating rents” [aka rent control] without a discussions of the possible drawbacks. A city where everyone’s locked in to place from our past sins of redlinining is not one we want to live in. People wouldn’t move given their rents are locked in place or otherwise go up slower than market rates, which both increase the costs on new residents and force stagnation for many low income people.

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    1. I think you missed a bunch of the reference links that back these claims up. I published a summary reference here: http://jeffreifman.com/2015/07/10/seattle-references-for-how-our-success-is-ruining-the-emerald-city/

      Regarding quality of life: traffic has declined terribly as described in the article with links and quotes. My suggestion for rent control over existing landlords is to require that part of their inventory be regulated not all of it. Read this: http://www.king5.com/story/news/local/seattle/2015/05/19/rent-increases/27568301/ or http://grist.org/cities/in-seattle-the-rent-is-too-damn-high/.

      Read about the hate crimes on Capitol Hill rising http://www.seattletimes.com/life/lifestyle/culture-clash-on-capitol-hill/.

      The Guardian wrote more on rising inequality: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/21/seattle-economy-worsening-inequality

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      1. disqus_7ALvlx2MY6 July 12, 2015 at 4:13 am

        Sorry, but quality of life is not all encompassed by traffic. Yes, traffic sucks, but to say that *quality of life* – that is, people’s lives are materially worse than in the past – is actually absurd. People’s lives are clearly better, which as I pointed out – you, yourself showed that QoL is getting better because there’s nicer cars on the road and nicer houses being built. If QoL was decreasing, we’d see worse cars on the road and a dilapidated housing stock.

        And again, you didn’t elucidate possible drawbacks to your rent control proposal. That type of rent control does not help with fixing any problems, evidently. Taking away market rate housing from buildings makes the rest of the units more expensive, thus forcing current rent control residents to never be able to move, which further entrenches the sins of our past with respect to redlining.

        It’s quite hard to take any rent control advocate seriously, when all of them to a T totally disregard any possible downside to their proposal, even though we know from other cities who have tried that rent control doesn’t help anyone achieve the vaules we want in our city.

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        1. NoSpamReceived July 31, 2015 at 4:37 am

          If I am landlocked w/in the same 4 square miles due to traffic, if I have to turn around & bail on plans due to traffic regardless of what brand of vehicle I am making a u-turn in, my QoL is impacted beyond a reasonable level. Just because *your* QoL ins’t unreasonably impacted, doesn’t mean others aren’t.

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  5. The first proposal makes sense except for retroactive taxation.

    San Francisco tried rent control. It just made problems worse (ask even progressive members of city council).

    Your third proposal is a decent one on the face of it, but I’m not sure what you mean by “encourage.”

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  6. Thanks, you’ve confirmed that my move away from Seattle in 2012 was a wise one. It’s not just the presence of so many problems. It is that the city seems to be working to make matters worse.

    Faced with one of the worst commutes in the country, the city’s ‘traffic calming’ ideologues have set about making matters worse. The arterial in front of my Phinney apartment went from four lanes to two. The billions spent on the Viaduct replacement will carry fewer cars rather than more. The billions wasted on light rail for a few routes means cuts in bus routes that went into place just after I (thankfully) left.

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    1. just curious, where did you move?

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  7. It’s all so simple — every problem in the city can be traced back to Amazon. The bastards are even poisoning the seals and orcas!

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    1. Thanks fevrshm, I’d only heard they try to sign them up for Prime to harvest them for Fresh.

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  8. Michael Russo July 12, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    Seattle is turning into a serious shit hole. I am moving my middle class ass out of this city of assholes and traffic jams.

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  9. Going to have to separate my thoughts by proposal:

    Proposal 1) I couldn’t agree with you more on making a big push to get more money for public transit. I moved here to work for one of the manufacturing companies from the East Coast and was extremely surprised by Seattle’s lack of a subway/ metro system back then. Now it’s just beyond frustrating to see how slowly the light rail is being built.

    ST2 is what’s currently being worked on and it would move along much faster if the funding was there. The University station is definitely almost done and looks awesome. I think the whole system would be done faster if more money was available for it.

    I find the proposal for ST3 that just came out to be a step in the right direction; however, it still needs work. If you go through the survey online to vote, they never put “at-grade” into common terminology and they only ask for you to prioritize 3. Given the spatial constraints of the Seattle/ Bellevue area, creating dedicated at grade lines will just make the traffic issues worse until people move out of their cars.

    Proposal 2) I agree on the rent control and affordable housing 100%. The low-incomes have already felt the pinch of the cost and many have moved out to the more affordable areas. Many of the middle class have as well. If you look around at apartment communities out here, part of the reason there are so many families living in them already is because of the cost of housing. Seattle’s housing prices are already very high, and it’ll only continue to grow as the city grows – look at the major cities on the East Coast.

    Proposal 3) As a female in the manufacturing area, the current work group I have has the most females I’ve worked with – 5 (including myself) out of 75. While “encouraging” (not really sure what you mean behind that) employers to hire more women and diversity, it doesn’t get around the fact that a lot of women aren’t going into the STEM fields. When I earned my mechanical engineering degree in 2006, there were 15 females in a graduating class of 102. I’ve been an active member in Society of Women Engineers and one of the biggest areas that’s focused on is outreach – how do we get more women into these fields? How do we keep women in these fields?

    The STEM fields do have a reputation for being less female friendly – the hours are long and it isn’t a picnic working with lots of male-egos. In order to survive in the tech fields, a lot of women have to allow themselves to be seen as one of the guys – which isn’t always pleasant.

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  10. disqus_7ALvlx2MY6 July 12, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    I agree. The point I’m trying to make is the following: if QoL is going down, then we’d expect people to live in worse houses, drive worse cards than the opposite. I think that’s self evident enough, but if not I’ll try to briefly defend it. When people are worse off, are sicker, less happy, then we’d expect that so too are their jobs and earnings, so we’d expect them to live in worse conditions and drive worse cars.

    And I dunno about anyone else, but if traffic is in my top 3 things that make me least unhappy, rather than dying from malaria or something, then I’m feeling pretty good.

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    1. Lansing Scott July 17, 2015 at 8:54 am

      That seems a very narrow metric of overall QoL. QoL for whom? If people who have lived here for decades or generations are displaced by new wealthy arrivals & have to move away for lack of affordability, if the number of homeless people is increasing, if the average person has to spend significantly more time getting from here to there, then for those people QoL is definitely decreasing. Your own mileage may vary, but hopefully you can understand how it impacts someone other than you.

      And if you want to hear people debate the pros & cons of rent control, go to Town Hall on Monday.

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  11. Fourth, the city needs to re-think its emphasis on ‘urban density’. Not only is that going to—duh!—increase the population density within the city limits, further adding to the horrible traffic, skyrocketing rents, endless construction of new apartments and condos with no thought for the existing renters who will subsequently be priced out of their homes, it’s also going to create a logistical nightmare when that huge earthquake the media likes to scare us about every few years with doomsday reminders actually happens. Imagine the nightmare it would be now—then double or triple it.

    Not that we should be surprised, I guess. For as long as I can remember, Seattle’s government has been more on the level of a junior-high-school student-body council than that of a major metropolitan city—and at best a small town with big-city aspirations. As long as rich white people are willing to throw money at it, Seattle’s government is more than willing to take it, damn the consequences to the people who were here first.

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  12. Scott Elliott July 12, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    With our Seattle transportation issues we only seem to talk about cars. There is another big side of this that we don’t address with all our talk of ST3 and Metro. That is the ever growing truck traffic being driven by the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. The ports need to step up and take responsibility for their impact on the roads. The ports have the bonding authority to do just about whatever they can get wall street to finance. RIght now good can not get into or out of the ports. Our Washington state farmers can not get space on trains to get their wheat to the ports due to all of the space being leased up in bulk by coal trains. I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass is a often closed in winter for delivering trucking cargo that results in billions in delays. There is a fallow railroad bed, known as the old Milwaukee RailRoad that is in public hands. It runs from between the two ports in Renton, near I-90 just east of Issaquah and reaches all the way to south of Spokane. It has a very even 1.7 grade at that could easily be built out to 150 MPH. The planned expansion of eastside light rail will come very near to the Old Milwaukee line at Issaquah. The ports could easily restore the Old Milwaukee line and lease excess capacity to Sound Transit, Metro and Amtrak. Imagine how moving all of this truck traffic off our Seattle and Freeway roads would reduce congestion. Imagine how a two hour train ride to WSU, the Apple Cup and Spokane would unite the state, reduce congestion, carbon pollution. With a one hour trip from the massive cold war runway at Moses lake it would allow the port to push freight out of Seatac to open up more lucrative passenger plane slots. This would put the ports at a competitive advantage if they can guarantee containers will be in Spokane on railcars ready for trucks or further rail transports regardless of weather or traffic. Now imagine the Ports building out a high speed rail line along I-90 that leverages cargo and passenger service. By combining the cost and solutions of cargo and commuter transportation together we can solve both problems at lower cost. Win-WIn-WIn.

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  13. Andrew Lerchen July 13, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    Good article except for the weird dig against KUOW. The station both reports and discusses local news and is ad-free (not sponsor-free). It does about as good a job as any outfit to promote awareness of the city’s growing pains. By the way, the BBC World Service presents world news.

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    1. If anything, it’s that local programming only runs during non peak-commute time. Hard to fault them for running their NPR/BBC/PRI content during commute hours, but Jeff’s point is that no one is really talking about these issues.

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  14. Can someone help me understand why Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon insist on having so many people physically located in the same city when their main products are software or Internet-based?
    I work full-time from home. With video and collaboration services, it works well. In fact, 3 of these 4 companies actually make video-chatting services.
    It saves the company money and keeps from disrupting the town that the HQ is located in.

    I mean, I understand Apple a bit more. They’re in the hardware business and need to keep their physical prototypes under lockdown, so there is a very tangible reason to have some many people inside the same UFO-shaped building.

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  15. I tend to agree more with Dan Savage then Jeff Reifman on this issue. Jeff is basically saying all of our problems are because of Amazon and current crop of tech workers. BS! The biggest issue is all of us NIMBY’s who failed to support mass transit when we had the chance back in the day, killed The Commons in SLU, failed to make the monorail work, and took our creative culture for granted (Capitol Hill should have been made a cultural district a long time ago). Btw, our Housing Levy is a failure. With this criticism aside, Jeff’s 3 solutions are spot on for getting some of these issues fixed. Good job, Jeff!

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    1. Thanks James – I think we’ve met before. Interesting take. I think you could be partly right but there’s also been a general political failure to configure a tax system capable of scaling our community infrastructure with companies such as Amazon & Microsoft. Those companies lobby against extra taxes or remain silent. So – we have the problems we have. Maybe we’re both right.

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    2. And the city council rejected the proposal to make University Ave pedestrian only, circa 1971.

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  16. In early July, Amazon misled the Associated Press that it had given “tens of millions” to Seattle’s affordable housing. The This isn’t true – it’s an exaggeration and a misstatement. The inaccurate statement was published on 300 news sites around the world. You can read more here: jeffreifman.com/2015/07/13/amazon-misleads-the-ap-about-seattle-affordable-housing/

    I’ve also now posted a list of news articles and statistical reports http://jeffreifman.com/2015/07… I used for this story which you may appreciate.

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  17. I feel like there isn’t enough nod to the trickle down, but focus is purely in “the city”. As people move further out, costs have dramatically gone up in Lynnwood, Everett, etc. and increases the traffic issues all the more. Bad Cycle. Just looking and affordable housing in Seattle isn’t enough, the surrounding areas need it too. Not everyone in those areas work in Seattle, but our costs are going up way faster than wages too.

    Transit issues go beyond just getting to Seattle, there are other outside of job hubs you can’t get to by bus or bike reasonably which plays into the back ups well outside the city. Also where bus lines exist, there are often not enough space in park ‘n rides limiting their use. This makes me nervous about the rail too. If the cycle repeats, people who would use the system still can’t because they can’t get to it.

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  18. As a theatre artist in town, I sit here baffled. I assume these guys move to Seattle partly because they heard it was a cool city, but they’re pushing out everyone who isn’t a straight, white, male techie, and not contributing to what makes Seattle so awesome. Go to a concert. Go see a play from some of the amazing companies in town. Why is it so hard to get these people involved in the city? Do they really just move here to work and watch Netflix?

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    1. As a senior member of the techie crowd might I suggest that the answer is more complex. First the boom is being fueled mostly by young engineers who have worked very hard to be at the peak of their skills and it is natural for them to pour all their energies into their careers at this point of their lives. One would expect a newly minted doctor to be focused on perfecting their profession. Long term this may not be healthy, but it is understandable. Second, don’t be fooled by Seattle boosterism. Most of them did not move here because of what you consider would hip. They moved here because of technological challenges they considered hip. Third, much of the arts available are not relevant to them. Sure a Greek classic of Shakespeare can be reinterpreted to today’s world, but interpreting a play with a view to an existential crisis, outsider coming of age or changing social norms does not connect with a sharply focused person who spends 80 hours per week solving complex problems with no apparent solution and in constant fear of falling behind their peers. This audience is too young and too over worked to sit through a dusty play that aging booms will attend just because it is good for them. Time and sleep is way too precious to spend eating your veggies. Fourth, there is substantial culture in the community, it just does not pay attention to existing institutions and norms. Art and culture in the tech community may be Cos Play, science fiction, “makers,” comics or dungeon and dragons, but it does exist and is probably more vibrant is both dollars and hours participated than the conventional Seattle arts market. While much of it may be unpolished, it is arguable of no less quality than an emerging traditional artist. The arts community does really need to reach out and speak to the sensibilities of this new audience if they want their support. That does mean work, change and risk by these artist. I do not recall ever seeing even a poster or an internal promotional email in a tech business for Seattle arts like I have seen for many other events. You do have to do at least basic marketing so there is even awareness. Are the companies performing a scene in the lobby of their potential customers at lunch times? No Buzz, no interest. Fifth, theatre is all about communicating and while the stereotypes of techies does not fit that mold, they are acutely aware of the need to communicate. Engage them with workshops. If you do engage them they will return your efforts with a surprising level of intensity. They do know how to be fan boys. The tech community is surprisingly interested in direct participation, not passive consumption. Invite them to be extras, playwrights, set decorators or promoters. Need an impossible to find prop or effect, task the tech community to “make” it as a way of creating ownership. The alternative is a shrinking traditional arts community and a city that ends up more like a frat house than an engaging vibrant city.

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      1. Yup, I used to be one of these guys until I burned out a bit. Now after I catch up on my sleep over the next decade, I might be ready to take in some culture and participate in whatever it was that was supposed to be cool here. Basically I’ve been really busy and now it’s time to focus on my health, get some rest, then see what’s left of the joint. Came here just like you said, because there was so much to do for so long.

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  19. Me: So you work for Amazon? Yes? Okay, well, have you seen the troll under Aurora Bridge? No? Oh, well then… they say it’s good luck to climb on it. You should go check it out.

    BTW, it’s good luck to piss on the troll. That’s really what we say.

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  20. Adelaide McAllister September 1, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    I lived in Seattle my entire life. I was forced to move due to the cost of living doubling in that last few years. I am sickened by it. I hate Seattle and will never go back. I have resentment towards any and all implants. I hate to be like that but they left their homes to invade mine. The traffic is horrific, the cost and the shear amount of people has ruined that beautiful city. I have a heavy heart that Seattle did that to not just me, but many many other people that called it home. Money is the root of all evil in this case. Seattle’s greed is sickening. One bedroom apartments 30 miles outside the city went from $950 a month to $1500 in 18 months. All the young people out of college are piling into one and two bedroom apartments. We are turning into New York, building micro apartments. Only $1000 for 300 sq. ft. Sick.

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  21. Dr. James Russell, PhD September 16, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    Glad that Amazon is cleaning Seattle up. Shame that some people just don’t like progress.

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    1. I blogged about your comment too. Want to reveal your real identity?

      Reply

    2. Rather than identify himself Dr JR resorts to homophobic slurs.

      Reply

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