I was angry at the damage done to the dreams of Capitol Hill business owners this summer by political agitators. But President Donald Trump’s offer to step in and take control gave me no comfort, and when last month he retweeted Brandon Straka’s statement, “Leave Democrat cities. Let them rot,” I found my blood boiling. Those agitators attacked property; Trump attacked place.
We geographers debate the meaning of place — is it just a collection of people? Does it exist only in our imagination? What is the essence of this place we call Seattle? Twice in my life, I have had the opportunity to leave Seattle — at the beginning of my career and at the end, after retirement. I chose each time to stay.
But now, I go to my neighborhood park and find myself getting upset at the campers and the trash. Licton Springs in North Seattle is being formally recognized as sacred space to Native American people, and yet it is under a siege of disrespect and desecration. So I set aside my assumptions and anger to walk in the park and talk to the campers. Their stories are as varied as I would find in any human community, so I wonder how we will develop meaningful policy when it cannot be one size fits all. But at least, after meeting and talking to them often, I know them now as my neighbors.
In my modest neighborhood, I also grumble at the newcomers whose three-story Legoland houses drove out the single mom from the rental she lived in for eight years, jacked up housing prices and took down the shade trees. “Stupid Amazon,” I say. But then, I meet some of the residents as they walk by and they seem like good people. I know them now as my neighbors.
Seattle was always a place of crazy growth, ripe with new ideas and recent arrivals but as racist as they come. My mother-in-law told me about the nearby Japanese-American store-owners who lost everything and were forced into incarceration camps. I read about the anti-Chinese violence. A friend described growing up in the Central District before it was gentrified and his own Black family then being forced out. I knew redlining would have prevented them from living where I do now, yet still I see more Black Lives Matter signs in my neighborhood than Black people.
I want Seattle to move ahead in justice and beauty. I think people should invest themselves in their neighborhoods, so I am on my community council, and we do a lot of talking. Maybe we make some small differences, too. I hope so. There are people in the city with strong opinions, certain about solutions. I envy them. But I wonder if I am part of Seattleites caught between those bookended passions, caring about this place but at a loss about what needs to be done. Meanwhile, I ask myself what do I believe? Little pieces emerge: I don’t hate Amazon. I want it to stay. I am excited about the Kraken. I want the light-rail system to work and not go bankrupt. I don’t want anyone to get shot anymore.
I look out over Lake Union and think about the old-guard here who still puts an “s” on Boeing and views unlimited hydros as the bees knees. I think about the new technocrat arrivals. I think about the people on mattresses in those tents. And I think about residents fighting for their neighborhoods’ quality of life. I think about all this and know I won’t leave it to rot. It is the beloved city.