Seattle’s Transformation Myth
The Seattle Times published another hand-wringer recently about the death of old Seattle. About 1,000 people move to Seattle every week, pushing out the lumberjacks. The loss of Seattle is topic number one in cloud town. Traffic and homelessness are the leading concerns but there are plenty of gripes underneath those two.
The argument misses the larger trend of newcomers trying to transform Seattle. Few people have tried harder than Seattle newcomers. The Suquamish tribe and its ancestors had a good thing going for 10,000 years. Then Arthur Denny arrived, appropriating land for mills, stores and banks. Then the Yukon gold prospectors. Then the Boeing engineers…
So today we have the brightest software developers in the world coming to Seattle to start their careers. More than 50% of them are foreign born. So the level of isolation native Seattleites feel goes beyond education and income to include language and culture.
Suquamish culture was predicated on a transformation narrative. According to Suquamish myth there once was a world before humans where everything had the power and ability to take any form or do anything. Eventually, a firm order was imposed on the world by The Changer, enabling human beings to take their place in the world. Today many long-time Seattle residents would appreciate a firm order on Seattle’s old way of life.
Seattle’s recurring theme is that newcomers bend the environment to their needs. The Montlake cut, the Denny Regrade, the floating bridges, the Highway 99 tunnel, a $54 billion light rail system, and the Amazon biospheres are vanities of commerce.
Amid the grumbling of the Seattle residents living in financial stasis, there is also recognition that newcomers add dimensions beyond wealth and traffic. This is the unsung benefit of Seattle’s boom decade. New ideas, perspectives and ways of living are coming to the area. Newcomers fervently believe in the transformation myth. That’s what brought them here. And they exhibit what the Suquamish called the power and ability to take any form or do anything.
So welcome newcomers. You reinforce the myth. Seattle may be welcoming 1,000 people per week, but the outlook, both native and newcomer, hasn’t changed.