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“How Amazon Took Seattle's Soul” (nytimes.com)
217 points by OrwellianChild 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 213 comments



Old Seattle was an interesting place, but also a much rougher place. The SLU was mostly warehouses, junkies and prostitutes. South Seattle was the real hood, not the semi-tamed version it is now. Wallingford was a hippy commune where someone might walk into your house and take a nap.

Blaming Amazon is a total cop out. The death of "cool Seattle" started before Amazon was even a thought in Bezo's head.

It's also funny that many of the people complaining about this issue were first wave gentrifiers pushing out people before them in an effort to get to the hot neighborhoods. It's frustrating how many Seattleites refuse to admit their own hand in this process. Never mind the fact that your Ad Agency's contract with Amazon allowed you to buy that house.

Anyways, everyone in the region knows the "new Seattle" is Tacoma. So if you really want that "dive bar but might get stabbed" vibe you can move there?


> It's also funny that many of the people complaining about this issue were first wave gentrifiers pushing out people before them in an effort to get to the hot neighborhoods. It's frustrating how many Seattleites refuse to admit their own hand in this process.

This, right here, is what drives me the most nuts about all of the complaining. Of the handful of native-born Seattleites I know (yes, yes, anecdotes don't make data, I get it), they're split about half and half between "meh, who gives a rat's butt" and "holy shit my family is rich for the next nine generations because my parents got divorced in the mid-90s and both of them bought a house in [Ballard | LQA | Capitol Hill | Magnolia] and they've said that's my inheritance."

There's a poster on reddit who typifies this to a T. He regularly whines and moans about the construction, traffic, noise, and people around his place on Capitol Hill. The thing is, in his rants, he gripes about how things were so much different when he moved here 20ish years ago. He refuses to see that HE was also a "dirty gentrifier" considering people didn't move to the Hill in 1997 who weren't looking for that hippy cool vibe and bar doors you could get all kinds of exotic diseases by simply walking past.

Cities change. They always change. Sometimes they change in ways a particular person likes; sometimes they don't. But this whole business of "good Seattle" is just crap.

> everyone in the region knows the "new Seattle" is Tacoma

I've been to Tacoma several times. They can keep it.


> Cities change.

Sometimes I think people on the west coast seem to think of a city as a place that's supposed to stay the same forever ("forever" being defined as starting at about 1960).

The lower east side was a German neighborhood, then a Jewish, Italian and Ukrainian. Dutch before that, of course. Then the Italians moved to Little Italy. It mostly became a Hispanic neighborhood. The Ukrainians mostly moved away and the Jews mostly moved away. The north of the neighborhood sort of became Japanese and Chinatown sort of started encroaching on the south and Little Italy slowly declined. Artists and then eventually giant condos started moving in. As you walk around you can still see marks left behind by the groups that departed many decades ago. For example, a few buildings still have prominent German inscriptions on the front, from Little Germany's high point in the 1880s – the Germans were gone by around 1900. You have no doubt whatsoever that your turn there is temporary. A city is a place of constant change. You are every bit a part of that constant change. But the city will slowly move on without you.

Don't expect anything to last longer than 10 years.


>Sometimes I think people on the west coast seem to think of a city as a place that's supposed to stay the same forever ("forever" being defined as starting at about 1960).

No, forever is defined as "the day after _I_ moved in"


And this is perfectly rational! People move to a neighborhood because they like that neighborhood. This is almost tautological. Of course they don’t want it to change!

But that’s why we have to be very clear about rejecting the complaints this mood inspires. I don’t want to tell people they’re wrong to have these feelings. They are perfectly valid and normal feelings. But those feelings don’t outweigh the benefits of allowing the functional and unavoidable change that happens in neighborhoods over time.

And when you really start to dig deep into the types of things people want to do to stop this change, you end up with well-meaning, but ultimately counterproductive interventions. And that’s the nice way to say it; much of what incumbents want to do to prevent the free flow of people into and out of neighborhoods is positively dystopian.

I am sure there are reasonable things we can do to help more people afford and benefit from booming cities like Seattle, New York, and San Francisco. (For starters, we can build more housing!) But the language of gentrification is such that one new luxury tower in a sea of affordable housing is now opposed in cities like Cleveland and St. Louis on the grounds that it will change its immediate neighborhood.

That sort of stuff isn’t just nonsense; it’s harmful nonsense.


> rejecting the complaints this mood inspires

It turns out that it's really hard to be against communities democratically controlling their own destinies and not look like a monster. Local governments and the policies they make to preserve their built environments are about as pure and non-corrupt as democracy gets.

Does any place in America have high-density market-rate construction because the community genuinely supports it? Far as I can tell, it's only possible to have a city in America when the government is sufficiently corrupt / community is sufficiently disempowered that developers can cram it through.

I'm grateful for these places. I'm happy to live in one. But you have to recognize that cities in America are only possible to the extent that America is corporatist and undemocratic. Any strengthening of our communities, our democracy, or local government has always and will always reinforce the overwhelming majority support for sprawl and "fuck you, I got mine."


Yes, you’re right, it’s pretty difficult to develop a politics around this subject that isn’t awash in contradictions. But that’s because if you really drive down into what it is that people want, you’ll find that they want the impossible. They want to live in a quiet low-density neighborhood directly adjacent to a big, interesting, dynamic metropolis that never encroaches on their space. It’s not clear how an entire population who says they want that could ever actually get that.

I know what I sound like when I get deep enough into a rant about the way in which Americans fetishize local control. But I still think that what I am proposing would generate the best outcomes for the most number of people.


Isn’t that the whole idea of “the community”? Acting in the narrow self-interest of incumbents and not caring about outcomes for the population in general is exactly what we fetishize when we fetishize community activism and local control.


Sure. And I guess what I'm trying to say, in short, is that the wishes of incumbents can be both understandable, but best ignored. If that sounds like a contradiction, it's probably because it is. I think it's really hard to develop a coherent set of politics on this topic.


> Sometimes I think people on the west coast seem to think of a city as a place that's supposed to stay the same forever ("forever" being defined as starting at about 1960).

In my experience this isn't a west coast thing - it's just the cities here are "newer" (compared to the east coast) so haven't quite graduated to the density and usage characteristics that modern large metropolises have.

I find that what you're describing is the standard Boomer longing for the "good old days" applied to the cities they probably showed up in during their 20s. Or how they pictured them anyhow.

Usually they're the worst NIMBYs.


I'm always amazed when I'm remembered how extremely young is US. The little city where I was born is almost 3000 years old. Reading that for some people forever starts not even 50 years ago is quite weird.


Absolutely!! I’m originally from the UK so, living in the Bay, I joke that I used to go to pubs that are older than this entire town.

It’s a joke, but it’s also true: my high street had two pubs that had been around from the 1700s, a tourist information center that’s from the 1500s, and - in the middle of the shopping center - a ruined chapel from the 1130s.

That some places here are all excited about being founded in the 1850s took some adjusting to when I first moved. For me that was the age of my friends small houses...


As the saying goes, Americans think 100 years is a long time, while the English think 100 miles is a long way.


"We've restored this building to how it looked... Fifty years ago! No, surely no. No one was alive then":

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=OV2PbKpsMRk


To be fair to us - if you’re traveling 100 miles it’s rarely as easy as it is in the US.

In the US that’s likely “sit on this one highway for about 90 minutes”. In the UK you’d have to have do a ton of road changes and work around or through several major towns and cites.

It’s just lots more dense. So it’s less that it’s a “long way” - it’s more a pain in the ass to drive 100 miles most of the time.


"London has a lot of history -- a little TOO MUCH history." --my aunt, a flight attendant


It happens everywhere. I live in "ye olde Europe" and people in my neighborhood are still upset that a bunch of new buildings are destroying the feel of an area from "only" the 40's.


This is probably true of everyone as they age, but the demographic bubble of the baby boom gives them unusual political power to fight change. If the population were growing more the young would just outvote them. Our political system is just older than it has ever been.


There is a difference. In the old days for boomers and ww2 generation, you had constant growth and improving conditions.

Now, you have displacement, but few people feel prosperous. You also have old signals of nice neighborhoods disappear as people don’t marry, push back having babies, and utilize daycare. There is zero new construction, zero, that is with reach of a median income family. The old ethnic neighborhood where you knew your neighbor is dead. But we have that image burned into our consciousness.


I definitely agree as I feel the same personally. However, I've heard about different kind of displacement from my grandparents, such as disappearing farms and forests. Of course, it's not viewed as negative as there was always room for more people.


> There's a poster on reddit who typifies this to a T.

The Seattle subreddits (both of them, because drama) are particularly toxic as far as city forums go. Not exactly sure why, but there seem to be a lot of people who have nothing better to do than post angry rants all day. I had to unsubscribe.


Perhaps because it's not acceptable to be toxic in person?


Acting like that in person yields a much higher chance of getting punched in the face than acting like that on the internet. :)


I get the stereotype, but disagree. An awful lot of people are toxic IRL, that’s been the case for forever and nobody bats an eye. “old people rants”, “neighborhood gossip”, “backroom talk”, you call it what you want.

It’s mostly accepted. Growing up we learn to ignore it, avoid these people, or enjoy getting caught up in sterile discussions.


Most city subreddits seem to be for the most part. I think people rant there instead of their street corners.


I theorize that city subreddits are always terrible because in these we talk about issues due to our proximity to them rather than our expertise in them. Everyone in the /r/flying subreddit is interested enough in airplanes to read about them independently and then have intelligent discussions about them. That's not the case if a single-engine plane crashes in your city and we talk about it in the city subreddit.


The culture there nurtures a nasty, cynical, mean-spiritedness into otherwise lovely people. What is the reason for it? No idea, but I know it's true because I grew up there and it took me forty years to (mostly) purge myself of that impulse. If I had to guess the reason, I think it is looks like a Venn diagram of small-minded, provincial people who harbor a deep, unfocused rage vs. people who use Reddit and similar message boards.


Every local newspaper comments thread is basically like this. It's 4chan for old people.


You should see the Vancouver, BC subreddit.


Cities change. They always change. Sometimes they change in ways a particular person likes; sometimes they don't. But this whole business of "good Seattle" is just crap.

Maybe if you are talking about which vibe is your favorite. But cities can definitely go the wrong direction on quality of life, with increased pollution, decreased walkability/bikeability, safety, access to nature, and so on. And that might be objectively bad/good.


> Cities change. They always change. Sometimes they change in ways a particular person likes; sometimes they don't. But this whole business of "good Seattle" is just crap.

I echo this sentiment here in Boise, Idaho, and we seem to be in the middle of this change. Companies all over being recruited into the Treasure Valley, and the cities here are dealing with these growing pains of being an attractive place to live that has jobs and low unemployment.

Some of the "locals", however, seem to think we can have economic prosperity and growth without the negative externalities that sometimes accompany it. I think the "locals" would be happier in small towns a few hours outside of Boise, where they're not really changing (although brain drain is a bit of an issue in rural America).


>Cities change.

Living in a growing city is much better than living in a dying city. Ask Detroit or the hundreds of them in middle America. They'd swap in a hot minute.


Where do you think gentrifiers come from? The smart kids from the Rust Belt, the ones who got out. We are swapping.


If they're arriving in a city that's already unbearably expensive, and it up doing normal life things (coupling, planning for kids), they might end up leaving back to either that Rust Belt city, that might have a 'revitalized' downtown (microbrewery, craft coffee shop, pricey ice cream place) or two one of the burgeoning smaller cities that has better amenities than the Rust Belt one (Portland, Austin).

Then there are forgotten cities, that have good employment and affordable housing, but aren't as sexy such as Minneapolis, Raleigh-Durham, maybe even Chicago.

I'm currently in LA and the exodus is real. It sucks for people that grew up here since the wages aren't great in most jobs, housing is out of reach, and they want to be around their family.


Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn out the lights?

Seattle has been dying before, particularly when it was more dependent on Boeing who would go bust every 10 or so years. Seattle will probably die and be reborn again.


There are people in Detroit mourning gentrification too


This is happening in popular coastal cities all over the US. I live in the city that I grew up in, but most people I run into moved here. I'm on a Slack group where people, many of which have been here < 5 years, were complaining about the traffic and wanting the 'old' version of the city. Every person wants to be the last person to move to a nice city.

Thing is, I remember the 'old' version of the city. Almost zero tech jobs. One of the current most popular places for hanging out, restaurants and bars was a place you never went after dark (or much in the day time). Infrastructure was much worse (one of the more popular places to live now had a sulfur problem with the water so it smelled and tasted horribly). I understand the frustration with growth, but I like the new version city much better than old, and hope it continues.


  Almost zero tech jobs. 
Boeing and GTE Mobilenet seem like obvious examples.


This is exactly the case. If anything different, I'd argue that many looking for "cool Seattle" are really lamenting "little Seattle".

I moved here in 99, part of an influx at Microsoft. I interviewed there on a Friday, stayed the weekend to get familiar with the area, and flew out on Sunday. As we are leaving, my wife and I sat at the airport gate wondering why we would ever want to sell our full two-story, 2800-sq-ft brick Tudor in our hip east coast neighborhood to pay $300 more per month for an 1100-sq-ft 2br apartment in Seattle. Three other couples within listening distance were doing the exact same thing, with a few of the ladies in tears. Everyone was struggling with the same thing -- a job offer in hand (I got mine same day), but how can we ever afford to live there?

We decided to come to Seattle. We bought a house in the confluence of Wallingford, GreenLake, and the U-District. On a bus, it was 15-20 minutes downtown -- and that includes stopping in Fremont and getting stuck at the bridge every day. The south side was much more sketchy (our impression) and we didn't really know anyone who recommended that side of town.

Nowadays, the commute is much longer and the houses around us are all much nicer. Few can afford to move, so everyone is remodeling their existing house.

This notion of "old Seattle" being wiped out has been happening for a long time, and it didn't start with Amazon -- they're just the latest flavor to blame.


> So if you really want that "dive bar but might get stabbed" vibe you can move there?

As somebody who's lived there my whole life, :(

I know we were just ranked the most violent city in Washington (or something) but tbh it's never _felt_ that way.


It's a joke :) Tacoma is a pretty awesome place and I love it. Yeah it's violent but in general it's not too bad, just certain places (Hilltop) can get really bad. Compared to Seattle it's crime is much higher; the stats don't lie. But much of that is concentrated in specific parts.


To put in perspective Ferndale, MI, an affordable but awesome neighborhood of Detroit, is about 4x safer. 800 to 200 violent crime per 100k per year


Ferndale is an inner ring suburb not a neighborhood


Stop fronting. Ferndale is north of 8 mile.


Because it’s not. Comparatively within Washington, sure...but nowhere near Oakland, South Chicago, Baltimore, Compton. I grew up in Stockton CA and while I live in Seattle now, Tacoma still feels like a pretty nice blue collar town to me.


How's Hilltop? I remember it being pretty dicey when I was young.


Much better than it was. They had some big gang busts around 2009 if I remember correctly. No huge shootouts since '89 ;)


Pretty sure that honor goes to Wenatchee. Heck, people forget the huge slide Spokane has taken since its heyday.


People on the west side forget about the east side in general lol.


What about Renton?


I grew up on a farm about 100 miles outside of Seattle that started as a homestead that my great grandmother and great grandfather from Germany started and my family still operates.

I moved to Seattle in 1978 after graduating with MSEE. So I have seen a lot of changes over the years, but my family going back generations have seen even more.

I recall fondly living on Queen Anne Hill (first hill north of downtown) which was my first place here in Seattle. I rode the trolley to work every day and would stop by and get coffee at a goofy place down in Pike Place Market called "Starbucks" and would tell people at work " hey you gotta try this Italian coffee, it's really good".

But the "old Seattle", pre-Amazon and pre-Microsoft had a real grungy industrial patina to it (maybe that is where the music got influence?).

Do I Love the old Seattle? Absolutely. Do I long for it? Not in the least. Every phase this great city has gone through has changed it, before Amazon, Microsoft, before that Boeing before that Weyerhaeuser. Each transformation, in my view, has brought in new people and new character and for me, I welcome it.

I am going to post here a poem from a book of poems my Great Grandmother wrote for family back in Germany. It is about this area as it think it expresses my view of the changes, maybe I see it the way she did?

The Sleeping Washington ---------------------------------------------------

The forest, a sound is not quiet in.

Washington sleeps and with nature.

Small bird mutely and the bear rests hidden,

Fleeting often only one deer hurries as frightened.

Even the Pine Trees, deliberate,thoughtful and old,

Bend the heads and nod soon.

Slumber sweetly, only lock the eyes,

Know not for a long your power rests.

If light clouds in the sky draw

And your persistent rushing wind shakes.

Sleep only, State of Washington, as child.

Sunday is today, in the solemn silence The forest is.

The serious pines their treetops bends as to the prayer.

But the environment of God's spirit and breath everywhere.

So I want to bend myself in deep humility Before you,alone

With fervency, for your benediction ask you, God the father.

Retain also all my serene love

Also ask I you, carry here a flowering Of colonies;

With work, quite soon, railways, churches, schools, Culture drawn in

The jungle country, a rich bit of earth in Washington.

Therefore, I beg you, O Father, Thy blessing

that it draws them not.


Thank you for a very authentic and pleasant contribution to the conversation. It's not often that we see hidden nuggets of history shared like this.

But I have to admit that I'm having trouble understanding the last line. The author begins by extolling the quiet beauty of Washington state, continues by thanking god that she can be a part of it, then asks for the benefits of new growth (a "flowering of colonies"). But then it concludes with "I beg you...that it draws them not". This seems to contradict the previous part. Or is she hoping that they are not drawn to the jungle country, so "the rich bit of earth" can remain untouched?


My interpretation is that like a lot of us she perhaps felt ambivalent, or conflicted between wanting to share a place you love with others and wanting to keep it to yourself.


This was a beautiful poem.


[flagged]


You've repeatedly broken the site guidelines in this thread and appear to also have created a new account to do it. If you do those things again, we will ban you.

Please read https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and follow the rules from now on.


Thanks for the interesting comment. The 'old Seattle' is interesting.

Have you lived in any other big cities? I am not from Seattle, but have lived there and extensively been told about this 'old Seattle.' I imagine there was indeed something perhaps a little bit special going on below that grungy, steely grey patina. Not just aesthetically, but pragmatically.

When Hendrix went into the military, he was called a weirdo. He was caught masturbating in the toilet, which was listed as a reason he was subsequently discharged after twisting his ankle on a jump.

Kurt Cobain one of my favourite artists, also, a weirdo. By today's standards of rape, he did rape a retarded girl in order to lose his virginity.

Layne Stayley... A bullied, self-destructive drug addict with a history of self-harm. Even after some early successes, he was kind of like Musk in the sense of receiving a lot of bullying among all the praise (for example, Hetfield frequently made fun of him).

Some of the most important people in defining Seattle as producing great artists were, perhaps, prone to failure in life.

In the city I grew up in, under the shadow of glitz, glamour and wealth, we have high occurence of violence, aggression, intolerance for deviance and a strange love of veneers of wealth and success. I can imagine not all the great artists who grew up here made it.

Also, I would wonder what would happen to those guys if they were born today.


Unfortunately, for some reason after about 20 minutes I glanced back at this comment and was not able to edit it..? Why can't I edit this specific comment?

I hoped to erase some personally-identifying info, and also just be clear about Cobain's rape or sexual encounter with a disabled girl--while that sentence came after I mentioned him as one of my favourite artists, millions of people appreciate him but I in no way condone that unfortunate aspect of his life.

And the "weirdo" part should be in quotes, his superiors in the military unfortunately called him that.


Possibly a bug. I've reopened the comment for editing so you can edit it. Please email hn@ycombinator.com when you've done that so I can close it again and delete this.


I've lived here for 14 years and it's come a long way. I was here when Amazon was merely a place down in the International District before it terraformed SLU.

You know what everyone bitched about then? Microsoft. And MS has done more to take over sections of the city than Amazon ever has, and ever will. Microsoft "killed" Seattle's soul by setting up shop in Redmond and Bellevue and causing urban flight. (Note: I don't particularly believe any of this stuff.)

Now Amazon is the new target. Whatever. Fair enough, that always happens. But Seattle was "dying" just like every other West Coast tech city before the bigger players got there.

What's not cool is railroading "techbros" who are merely 23 year old graduates making good money working a job they probably don't necessarily like very much, but living in a city that is still pretty damn awesome regarding quality of life. And regressive housing practices are driving prices up north of the Bay Area in some locations, all legacy policies that were long on the books before any of this expansion occurred.


> working a job they probably don't necessarily like very much

Worse yet, trying to make tech people feel bad just for finding a job they actually like and going to a city where those jobs exist! If only we could all be so lucky. Like the job or not, I haven't seen very much indication that people are going into tech in droves just for the money (unlike what I assume you see in banking).


I remember living in QA and working at MS in late 90s, before/during the startup boom/bust. Some of the same vitriol directed at us, is now pointed at AMZN folks. Plus ça change i guess.


I am a Bellevue native, but have lived in the bay area for 15 years now. Californians are "ruining" Seattle in a way it would be inappropriate to say about foreigners. Fortunately the only thing "ruining" the bay area is "techies", not people from a specific geographical location.

Oh, and the traffic has always been beyond abysmal, Seattle. You know it, and I know it.


Odd, I'm in Seattle from Oakland. Seems like outsiders are ruining everything :p


I like to joke that nobody ever thanks me for moving to CA, the way they viciously gnash their teeth about all of the horrible Californians moving north (been whining that way at LEAST as long as I can remember, into the 80s, but I've heard it predates that by many decades).

Funny, I know more people who have moved from the PNW to CA and particularly the Bay Area than the opposite. Offhand I can only think of one person who moved north who wasn't returning 'home' after college.


I like LA b/c no one gives a crap since everyone is from somewhere else and the city just absorbs you.

My home state of N Carolina has a lot of people move down for more affordable housing and decent jobs from up north. The city of Cary (near Raleigh) is casually joked about as the Central Area for Relocated Yankees.

No one really cares outside of joking about their poor tastes in sports teams.


Before Microsoft, Boeing "ruined" Seattle


Before Boeing Weyerhaeuser ruined Seattle.

Before Weyerhaeuser Filson, Nordstrom and the gold rush ruined Seattle.

Before the gold rush the Denny Party ruined Seattle.


The EMP seemed like a keyframe in the story of Seattle's underground culture's death. It imitated the cool and usurped some intangible thing that had been lingering in the mist for years. It was like your parents joining Facebook and driving you to Instagram. It was a 4chan meme in its iFunny phase. It's the joke, slapping you right in your weary face.


The weirdest thing about the whole tech book meme is that in one article people will be complaining about sexist brogrammers and the next they'll be complaining that all the single males in Seattle are socially awkward neck beards.

I don't think I would describe a single one of the programmers I've ever worked with as a "bro."


I'm 'young' but it's still funny to hear someone say "I remember when.." about something that seems new to you. One of my last memories of the area was Amazon getting too big for the hospital and moving to the I-district. Hard to believe those were the "olden days".


Same could be said with the tech industry and San Francisco.


Except SF has always been 50% carpetbaggers, back at least to the Gold Rush.


That city was so much nicer before the Gold Rush.


If I put the line anywhere, it would probably be 1937. That's when both the Golden Gate and Bay bridges opened.


This is all such self serving whining. I grew up in Seattle and lived there until just a couple years ago and yes it has changed dramatically but it is pretty unfair to characterize it as having lost its soul. There is also a very merciless bile people are constantly aiming at these new Amazon employees that that really pisses me off. They are just people, like everyone else, who got some education, took a job when they were 23-24 or whatever and moved wherever that job took them. Characterizing them as asshole tech-bros just because they aren't cool hipsters like you is just mean.


It's just standard provincial water cooler talk about how someone ruined the place because it changed. It's basically just code for "I've lived here a long time, so respect me for that". I grew up in Seattle, and I remember when they complained about California people migrating up, and then the horrible Microsoft Millionaires, and now it's Amazon. This kind of griping is what happens when very little interesting stuff is actually going on.


Poor people envy rich people. That's not weird or wrong. Eseeciall when rich people bid up housing to insane prices instead of joining forces with the poor people against the landlords.


> joining forces with the poor people against the landlords

The poor in Seattle are actually mostly allied with the landlords politically in maintaining the zoning status-quo. This is what has led to the increasing housing prices.


> There is also a very merciless bile people are constantly aiming at these new Amazon employees

Yep, and that part is sad. To me it feels like they're projecting the few arrogant new-hires' attitudes onto everybody. Also, as a female dating in Seattle, there's the all-to-real reality that one eventually picks up on the stereotype of the inflated-ego-Amazon-guy. This happens to the point of people refusing to date those that work at Amazon.

I used to work there, and I feel the same about the stupid egos TBH. I just feel that I choose to apply that assessment selectively rather than across all Amazon employees.


It's just a fluff piece in order to fill a newspaper and sell ads. So much of newspapers are just filler material when you think about it.


I feel like Amazon gets a lot of undue grief for changes in Seattle and for the housing unaffordability. As someone with a background in urban planning, I feel that Amazon did the RIGHT thing by doubling down on an urban campus. Another suburban campus like Microsoft or Apple’s new monstrosity would have been the wrong thing.

Seattle as a whole could have/ should have done a better job planning for that growth and taking advantage of the opportunities it presents.


What are the major effects of an urban vs suburban campus? I would expect a suburban campus would make people more likely to move out there, so it would help with city housing prices, but I don't know anything about how urban planning works.


"What are the major effects of an urban vs suburban campus?"

An urban campus will promote urban housing which is dramatically more energy efficient than single family homes.

Further, commuting from a condo building to an office tower (or whatever) is very likely to not involve a car and to involve significantly more walking - so you have positive environmental and public health externalities there.

... and then there are networking effects as the new condo building needs a new neighborhood cafe which needs a new bus station and bulb-outs for bike lanes ...

Fast forward 20 years and you have a new train line.


I'm of the firm belief that suburbs are a blight in general. Wasteful, inefficient, characterless... they are the real reason cities "lose their soul". So I agree with you that Amazon did the right thing by choosing to go with an urban campus.


In the bay area it seems that the bunch of suburban campuses just leads to high property values in the end but you also have terrible commutes and even worse traffic.


Out where? East of Redmond is MOUNTAINS. West of Seattle is WATER. So shove it way more north and south? And increase traffic 10 fold while waiting 30 years for the highways to catch up?


That mountains are still 20+ miles east of Redmond. There's still plenty of building opportunities if you look around Redmond Ridge, Duvall, Carnation, Fall City and Monroe.


Go to a city with sprawl. Lets take St. Louis. 20+ miles is all sprawl and people move further still. 20 Miles is nothing.


It doesn’t affect traffic that hugely if people are fine with living out in the vicinity of the suburban and exurban campuses. Which for a number of decades including when Microsoft was being established, they were. There was a net outflux from many cities in the US. Most people wanted to live out to way out.


Urban employees live in tall apartments and use public transit. Suburban employees live in houses and drive cars to work.


I have some "old Seattle" credentials. I grew up in Capitol Hill. I absolutely believe that Amazon is unfairly scapegoated, but at the same time do understand the gripes that many have about the city's changes. The most bitter are just the vocal minority, but there are many more natives who are uncomfortable to some degree. Given that I'm also a tech-yuppie-gentrifier, I think a lot of the toxicity is unfortunate and misdirected.

While it's definitely a terrible idea to fossilize a city, some parts of town are entirely unrecognizable, even from what they looked like three years ago. I don't long for the SLU of old or the abandoned lots of the Denny triangle, but there was an entire "sense of place" that was wiped out almost overnight. The wrong people are blamed for it, but I can completely understand where the grievances originate.

I'd place the blame most squarely on the NIMBY establishment and our single family zoning. There were bound to be growing pains from all this growth, but they didn't have to be so extreme. If we could upzone Magnolia and Wallingford, it would give the CD/south seattle renters quite a bit of relief.

I also think that the HQ2 stuff has much more to do with hitting the limits of our transit and housing infrastructure than the leftward swing of city politics, but that's probably best left to another post.


>> but there are many more natives who are uncomfortable to some degree.

Seattle native who also grew up on Capitol Hill, and still lives here. As a home owner since the late 90s, the Amazon boom has dramatically increased my net worth.

But that said, I'd much rather have the house be worth $300k if it would mean the last 7 years hadn't happened. It's really been too much, too fast. I didn't buy a house here to get rich, I bought here because my family and friends are here.

The thing that really bugs me is the loss of community, and what exists where the sense of community used to be: crowding, the ever increasing spread of pockets of artificiality, pretentious restaurants, luxury cars swarming the hill, and outsiders absolutely as far as the eye can see.

Furthermore, if you look at the responses in this in comments on Reddit, or in comments on articles, you can see the response we get for saying that that the wholesale destruction of our community makes us uncomfortable: "shut up you fucking ingrate", or my favorite, from people who actually believe that they are liberal, "yeah, it sucks that people can't afford it, but I got mine".

We are talking about the wholesale, unchecked destruction of entire communities. Virtually all of my friends who don't own property are gone. We have neighbors from China who don't talk to anyone. Everyone is from someone else, and just here to consume or make it big or whatever. The property values are attracting people with real wealth and/or speculators, and if I wanted to live around Yuppie Gentrifiers, I would have moved to Madison Park.

There is very little sense of community left. I feel like Amazon should have made its own town somewhere else, and left us ours.


And wherever your friends move to, people like you will look down on then for being "outsiders".

Many newcomers didn't choose to not have enough jobs in their home town. I'm sure many would have preferred being able to stay with their friends instead of moving to Seattle for jobs.

You could try making friends with newcomers instead of walling yourself off from them.


As someone who worked for Amazon in Seattle, the above poster is partly right. Most of it has to do with Amazon's toxic culture and hiring practices. They will hire anyone with a pulse, speaking English decently not required, having a personality not required. So you end up having people who are just there to make money and have little desire to connect with humanity.


The world population is increasing, and people are moving from rural areas and smaller cities to large cities in record numbers in every country on earth. The generations behind you want the opportunity to live in cities too. What gives you more right than they?

There are plenty of cities that aren't growing, even very nice ones. Cincinnati, St. Louis. If you wanted things to stay the same for your entire adult life, you should have picked one of those.


So, I get that you feel like your home is threatened and changing. You feel like this is your town, your neighborhood and you liked it that way. I'm sorry that you're experiencing such psychic pain.

You are empowered to vote for representation that can protect these communities. In this case, for whatever reason, it appears not enough people in the community wielded their power to create the outcome that you think is best.

Aside: I'm from a small town that is experience crazy growth as well. In my life time, we've gone from a single stop light to 10 and have doubled in size. Our water table is unable to cope with the new amount of people -- there is a real risk that the aquifer will deplete. Another side effect, water is becoming more expensive. The response to this problem hasn't been to blame new residents, it's been political efforts to restrict new development.


I think when one lives somewhere, it becomes your town. That's kind of the definition of community.


Your friends leave town as you get into late twenties and thirties, regardless of city. Your loss of community may be correlated with Amazon's growth, but it may not have been caused by it.


Oh so the problem is that the new people speak the wrong language.


This breaks the HN guidelines, which ask: "Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize."

More generally, would you please stop posting unsubstantive comments here? If you have a substantive point to make, make it thoughtfully; if you don't, please don't comment until you do.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Amazon brought $700k home prices to Seattle? Wow, that's a problem I'd love to see in Vancouver!

Seriously, housing prices didn't go up because of Amazon. Housing prices went up because there was an imbalance between the zoning for jobs and the zoning for homes. Vancouver doesn't have any employers anywhere near the scale of Amazon, but we've managed to create a much worse imbalance -- and median home prices well over $1M.


Eh, I thought that was more due to Chinese money? Seattle housing prices are driven by tech incomes, it is completely different from Vancouver.


"Chinese money" has had a significant effect on the $5M+ market. And it adds a lot of liquidity to the condo market, by buying presale condos and then selling them when buildings near completion. But the amount of mid-market housing which is owned by offshore owners is too small to explain more than a small part of the housing bubble.


It is the $1M+ market from what I heard, and it mostly ate up the mid market. Vancouver real estate crashed for a decade when the Japanese asset bubble popped (remember you could buy a condo for $100k in the late 90s?), this is just history repeating itself.


If you count the number of transactions, then yes there's a lot in the mid-market range. But most of that is buying and selling presales; it doesn't affect the supply, because it's not eating up any housing units which actually exist. (In fact, there's a strong argument that this increases housing supply, since a strong presale market encourages more construction.)

The real estate crash you're talking about had nothing to do with the Japanese economy; it coincided with the Hong Kong handover and an overnight 50% reduction in immigration. Keeping the supply of new homes fixed while the number of prospective new homeowners dropped dramatically had exactly the effect one would expect...


There are a lot of Chinese with Canadian citizenship who are not foreigners but are still leveraging foreign sources money in their real estate transacstions. Vancouver (and Toronto's) exposure to the Chinese asset bubble is much more pronounced then it looks even on paper. Anyways, salaries provided in those cities are nowhere near sufficient to support the real estate markets being driven right now primarily by Chinese money. It won't end well at all, it will be very predictable in hindsight.

Seattle is very different. Sure, we have our share of Chinese speculation, but it is the $200k salaries driving most of the bubble. It doesn't pop until tech does.


> If you count the number of transactions, then yes there's a lot in the mid-market range.

Do you have a source for this? And is it specific to Seattle?

> But most of that is buying and selling presales; it doesn't affect the supply, because it's not eating up any housing units which actually exist.

I'm not sure this follows. If a Seattle resident would have been willing to buy a presale (to ultimately live in), but it is instead bought by a foreign investor, then the resident has a smaller pool of housing to choose from.


If a Seattle resident would have been willing to buy a presale (to ultimately live in), but it is instead bought by a foreign investor, then the resident has a smaller pool of housing to choose from.

Only if the foreign investor holds on to the condo in question. If they sell the unit before construction is finished (which is the most common scenario), there are just as many units of housing available for local residents. The only supply being reduced is the supply of pieces of paper which entitle people to purchase units which don't exist yet.


When the upmarket gets taken by foreign money, locals have to go down market until they can find something affordable.


Exactly, same thing in the bay area - lots of office buildings and giant corporate campuses but the only housing is a few detached homes built in the 50s.


> But median home prices have doubled in five years, to $700,000. This is not a good thing in a place where teachers and cops used to be able to afford a house with a water view.

This is a self-inflicted wound that Amazon shouldn't be held to blame for. Seattle refuses to add density- a common pattern on the west coast it seems. When supply is limited and demand increases, prices rise. This is basic economics. If Seattle wants all those juicy tax dollars of Amazonians working there, they either have to allow for the growth in homes, or accept that homes will get more expensive.


Is it refusing to add density? I see twenty buildings going up from my window. Several districts were just zoned to allow taller buildings.

It seems growth is outpacing the density that's being added -- not that no one wants density. (Yes, there's some nimbyism about, but the buildings are going up at an insane clip.)


Outside of a small downtown core, it is literally illegal to build over 6 stories, and small lots are limited to 3 stories because cars are prioritized over people.


But these are replacing vast swaths of what used to be single family single or two story buildings with yards. I've lived in Seattle my whole life and I've seen it change a lot, but the rate of change has definitely skyrocketed. Everywhere I go I find myself walking through "only" 3-6 story urban ravines where 5 years ago I saw sky. It definitely changes the character of the place. And it's not like the downtown core isn't blowing up also.


Obviously! But, you have to actually engage the problem we're talking about here. A lot of people want to live in Seattle. So we've got to come up with some way to decide how many of them get to. That's just the actual problem stated plainly and unpolitically.

One possible answer: leave the single-family housing. Ration via high prices.

Another possible answer: build a lot more housing in an attempt to accept more people and drive down prices.

I guess you could also somehow try to reduce demand, but I suspect you'd regret that "solution." Just ask St. Louis or Cincinnati or Tulsa their thoughts on that.

If you just want to say, "I don't like any of those options!" then, I mean, OK, that's definitely a fair emotion to express. But it's not a legitimate policy position.


You hear the same complaint about Manhattan and presumably Brooklyn. Have they walked by Hudson Yards or seen the cranes all over other areas? Sure, you can always build incrementally more. But at some level it’s demand outstripping any reasonable near term increase in supply.


Seattle currently has more than 50% of the cranes nation wide.

That said, they're almost universally building apartments (exceptions being Insignia, LUMA, and Nexus, that I know of).


> Seattle currently has more than 50% of the cranes nation wide.

Got a source for that? https://archpaper.com/2017/08/booming-seattle-dominates-nati... puts it closer to 20%, although that's only counting fixed cranes...


Wellllll, I can't edit it anymore, but yeah, got that totally wrong (original source was a real estate developer who's involved with a couple of the projects).

I suspect he took "about 60% more than any other city" and radically misinterpreted it (and I went and parroted him -- oops). Original conversation was right around when this article was published: https://www.seattletimes.com/business/real-estate/seattle-ha...

Apologies for the error!


No worries, it happens - and it's still some pretty impressive stats I wasn't aware of before :).


Yes, its much better than nothing, but it's also too little and too late.


Conveniently co-inciding with the overall housing boom nationwide.


<< Seattle refuses to add density- a common pattern on the west coast it seems.

This is utterly and preposterously false.

There are huge apartment and condominium complexes going up all over town. Ballard has been strip mined and turned into a virtual Las Vegas strip of luxury apartments. Capitol Hill has been strip mined and turned into block after block of luxury apartments.

I've visited the web sites of nearly all these buildings, and with the exception of projects by Capitol Hill Housing Authority, it's virtually all been built for people with high incomes.

The fact that so much housing has been built for solely for wealthy people is really, really, really central to the argument against gentrification.

Gentrification says "Hey, if your community doesn't have have money, it doesn't exist. If it doesn't exist, we don't even have to erase it. You'll just be gone and no one will care."

This is an incredibly destructive ( often totally racist ) message, and it's really at the heart of the problems that arise with income inequality.


I'm glad you brought this up, as it lets me help clarify a few points of contention:

1) When a city has constrained housing supply, wealthy people compete in lower tiers of the housing market, driving up prices. Building more luxury homes allows those people to stop bidding up mid-tier homes, taking some of the pressure off the housing market at large. Thus, while it might not feel like it, those luxury homes are a good thing for Seattle's housing market. The concept is called "filtering" and you can read more about it here. [1][2]

2) While it seems like Seattle is awash with cranes and construction is running rampant, it's surprisingly not enough to keep up with population/job growth. There have been so many people showing up in the city that housing stock just hasn't been able to keep up. Something like 20K people in the last year and only ~6K housing units. This is a large part of the housing problem in general, and there's nothing to be done but build even more (and make it easier to build, through re-zoning and densification).

[1] http://cityobservatory.org/what-filtering-can-and-cant-do/

[2] http://cityobservatory.org/how-luxury-housing-becomes-afford...


I rented an apartment just last month and, at least for downtown Bellevue, the rental market is surprisingly weak because of all the new supply that has been coming online. Not enough to drive prices lower, but enough that rents weren't rising and many properties were even doing incentives. Not sure if this generalizes to Seattle, and it is downtown Bellevue, which isn't a very happening place.


The advantage to living in Bellevue is that, after 7pm Seattle is just 20 minutes away. (Before 7 it's about an hour away.) There certainly are luxury apartments in Bellevue for cheaper than Seattle + 520 tolling.


I have a baby, and getting to Seattle is just a dream so far. The only thing I've managed is to visit my aunt in West Seattle on a Sunday. Bellevue is boring as hell, but a great place to entertain and service a 9 month while staying close to job oppurtunities (though their is a lot more in Seattle these days then their ever was in the mid 90s when I was attending UW).


The person in the apartment above me has a kid, is that you? Are you on 12th?

It's been a dream of mine, since attending UW, to live and work in Seattle. It was amazing to do as a student, but since graduation I can only find work across the lake. I finally gave in and moved across last year.

Bellevue is boring, which makes for a great base of operations - I can hang out at home while traffic dies down (instead of networking at a bar), then goto other cities when highway demand is low. But yeah, people don't really live in this city, women don't really goto the expensive dive bars, and there's so much construction.

It feels like there are a lot more people over here than last year. How many other people are also moving across the lake?


Look to the east coast or even Vancouver to see what a "huge" building is.


Speaking of changing cities with “huge” buildings; the before pic is 1990 which is just incredible, to me anyway. http://www.businessinsider.com/shanghai-growth-gif-2014-11?r...

The tallest in the “now” image is this building. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai_Tower


Not Vancouver. Vancouver's suburbs. In downtown Vancouver people are complaining that 30 floor condo towers are too tall, and outside of the downtown core even getting past 10 floors is rare; in Burnaby there's 30 towers of 45+ floors built or planned within a 1 km radius.


Pretty weak op-ed. I was expecting good meat, but the only thing they listed that took Seattle's soul was housing prices. I mean that's one hell of an increase (median of 700K!) but all that build up and no elaboration... I closed the tab feeling quite underwhelmed.


Yeah. I’ve heard amazon is really unpopular up there I’m surprised he couldn’t find more to say on the issues.


As an employee, it was pretty apparent people didn't want you there. The Stranger would post inflammatory articles about tech bros and unflattering caricatures.

My girlfriend and I moved up from Texas completely unaware of the stigma. She worked in bars and restaurants, where the staff would disparage customers suspected of being tech yuppies. I even remember being a guest at a BBQ once, I told someone I worked at Amazon (timidly) and the response was "Oh, you're one of those assholes."

Coming from small town Texas and being lower income, it was a weird time for me. I was newly middle class and when I would go back home I felt weird about my income, but then being in Seattle I felt unwelcome.


> and the response was "Oh, you're one of those assholes."

Frankly, and I mean this with all sincerity, fuck those people. They're what happens when empathy dies and envy takes its place. Ask any one of them if they'd have liked to immediately be vaulted into a six-figure salary with a stable company and a benefits package that would make a Congressperson blush and I bet you six shares of AMZN (that I've never own, full disclosure) that they'd take that deal in a hot minute.

The bulk of the animosity about the "asshole tech-bros" seems like simple envy to me. To wit, lots of people are moaning about all of the wealthy people moving into the Central District and decrying that others are being "pushed out." Something like 72% of the CD was, four years ago, owner-occupied, so the people who are leaving (and, presumably, making bank on those properties they've owned for two decades) are doing so of their own free will and profiting from the sale.

Yes, housing costs are a beating here but the bleating coming out of Wallingford and Magnolia and Roosevelt can just shut the hell up because the bulk of those voters ARE THE REASON that new housing doesn't get built at the rate it needs to be built.

/end rant

//sorry about that


One consolation, as a tech worker in Seattle, aren't you (okay I confess, "we") in the vast majority?


>> They're what happens when empathy dies and envy takes its place.

Well, forgive me for pointing this out, but what you wrote contains a fairly shocking lack of empathy.

Feeling bad or angry about being driven out of a neighborhood by an enormous wave of outsiders isn't about envy. The change hasn't even been incremental; the bulk of the changes have taken place in the last five years!

In the central district, entire communities that existed for decades are being destroyed. They are bulldozing people's communities to make room for people with more money.

How can you expect people to not feel angry?


> How can you expect people to not feel angry?

Being angry at the macro effects is one thing. Calling someone an asshole to his face simply because he did what everyone else on the planet wants to do (earn an income) is entirely another.

> In the central district, entire communities that existed for decades are being destroyed. They are bulldozing people's communities to make room for people with more money.

First, which community? Do you mean the Jewish community that existed there before the folks from middle-Africa moved in? Or do you mean the Catholics before that? Or the Native American tribes before that? Yes, the people who were redlined into the CD had little choice but to move there. That they're cashing out is a good result, in my opinion.

Second, if someone sells his or her property and leaves, that's not destruction, that's exactly what everyone who owns property wants to have happen. You can't decry the loss of community on one hand while taking the check from the closing table to the bank with the other.

(For what it's worth, I've no property interest in the CD. I live in Greenwood.)


Your problem is ignoring the renters getting creamed.


I'm continually baffled as to why gentrification is the new renters' fault but not the landlords'.


No, I'll second the OP. Fuck anyone who chooses to hate you just because you work for Amazon. Go ahead and be angry, absolutely, but anyone who treats another person like that deserves to have their drink poured out on the floor.


Correct. It's wrong to be angry towards their fellow residents who just want a place to live and work, like them. They should be angry at themselves and the representatives they elected for the governance that has gotten the city into its current mess.


For the sake of argument, let's say that Amazon "destroys communities" (I'm more inclined to believe the posts that blame Seattle itself, also "rent increase" sounds to me like a natural phenomenon that one company or the next will drive). I'd still rate being an Amazon worker above being a marketer or most kinds of paid writer.


Amazon has a reputation of being a bad company, plenty warranted. Having worked there, every thing the NYTimes reported on, rang true. As for most Aamzonians, they would stare at their phone while walking the street and walk into me. A combination of ego and awkwardness, one of the worst combinations of attributes to populate an entire city with. Just my 2c.


Funny, the bulk of the changes in property values nationwide have also been in the past 5 years. Seems like a great way to cherry-pick data.

Before everyone was whining about the recent increase in property values, they were bitching about the increase from 02-7, and then before that....


The local "Almost Live" show in the 90's would regularly lampoon Microsoft employees. (Their other regular target was, of course, Boeing employees.)


Relevant video links:

"OK guys let me see your Boeing employee IDs!" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i21XcyMG4cU

"You know the rules in Redmond. You're not allowed to play any kind of sports within FIVE MILES of the Microsoft campus except for hackey-sack." - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pxGDSucCEI

"Whadda ya mean you don't want to practice the accordion?!" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGlDVmBLibg

"You're entitled to have a crystal present at any interrogation..." - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJZplI5L_Fs

Not the same theme, but...

"Did you have to dial a '1' before?" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9jlo4Ht2YA


Every one of those links was quality entertainment and a nostalgic insight into the Seattle area of yesteryear. Thank you for sharing!!


Yeah, but that's more about The Stranger than it is about you. Or Amazon. That all vastly predates Amazon.


[flagged]


You crossed the line into flamewar and political battle in this thread, which destroys the thoughtful conversation that this site is supposed to be for.

That's particularly destructive to a thread like this one, which managed to stay pretty thoughtful and have lots of interesting substance despite the controversy of the topic. Whether or not you intended to turn the discussion into a flamewar, it's negligent enough to count as arson. Moreover, you've unfortunately done things like this on HN before.

Would you please not comment like this here again? The guidelines are at https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and we would appreciate your reading and following them, even when it comes to Amazon.


I mean, another option could be that they were looking for good jobs...


What lived in the SLU warehouses? Was it Amazon who forced the city to refuse to allow housing density and transit?


I read that before Amazon moved into SLU, there were about 600 residents there total.


That's ridiculous. Are we about to complain that (Bethlehem) Steel stole Pittsburgh's soul back in the steel days or Finance stole NYC's soul, or Entertainment stole LA's soul?

Give me a break. A city's economy changes over time. Sometimes you get company towns and sometimes you get diversified economies, but cities evolve and develop around the economies/industries of the rather than industries settling on a population to thrive on. Even the Bay Area where you might say companies come for the talent --that's BS, the talent comes to the companies who are attracting it. If GOOG, FB, MSFT, etc. opened campuses in Mesa, AZ, you'd have people move over there following the cos and growing their econs.


> Even the Bay Area where you might say companies come for the talent --that's BS, the talent comes to the companies who are attracting it. If GOOG, FB, MSFT, etc. opened campuses in Mesa, AZ, you'd have people move over there following the cos and growing their econs.

If this is true, then why do these companies keep setting up shop in the most expensive cities in the country? If they can draw talent to wherever they want, why not someplace cheap like Mesa?

(The answer is because while people do move to meet companies where they are, companies also try to go to where the highest concentrations of talent are or would like to live)


I think once a company settles in a place, they like to keep their talent together and glom people from different places --and it's only after they have distinct subsidiaries that they can geo-diversify (as GOOG slowly is, and IBM has done).

I still think for the most part, it's people coming after the companies rather then companies coming for the people. At YC talent goes to YC, rather than YC going to the talent, for the most part)

Occasionally, you get companies having satellite offices to accommodate some people (like Japanese auto opening design offices in the US and US companies opening offices in IL, to have access to some hard to get talent) --but I think that is a minority.


> and it's only after they have distinct subsidiaries that they can geo-diversify (as GOOG slowly is, and IBM has done).

First off, Google has lots of offices all over the country and world, although Mountain View is still by far the biggest one.

Secondly, what offices they have opened in the US are disproportionately (by headcount) in expensive cities like NYC, Seattle, Boston, etc. The only cheap city they have a significant number of devs in is Pittsburgh. So your theory fails here again.

Heck even looking at Europe, you know what the two biggest dev offices are for Google there? Zurich and London, two of the most expensive cities in Europe. Where's their German dev office? Oh it's in Munich, the most expensive city in the country.


Seattleite here, If the city would build for density and take some steps to address the speculation and foreign asset arbitrage going on in the housing market, then this debate would be moot and we'd be back to brooding and awkwardly avoiding human contact as we so desperately want to.


While it's hard to quantify the impacts of speculation and foreign investment, the raw statistics of population growth demonstrate that we'd be having a huge problem in the city even without those factors:

Per the U.S. Census American Community Survey, Seattle has added 56,410 housing units between 2007 - 2016. In that same period, we've added no less than 142,252 people. The growth in population has simply outstripped the housing supply, and until supply catches up, we're in for a ride...


Every single big, forgotten, rust-belt city underwent similar growth periods and somehow figured it out. This isn't an unprecedented or technically difficult problem to solve.

Take a look a Detroit's population boom at the beginning of the last century:

  - 1900	285,704		
  - 1910	465,766		
  - 1920	993,678		
  - 1930	1,568,662
And you think 21st-century Seattle can't absorb 142,252 people?

How did Detroit do it? They built vast tracts of densely-situated multi-story apartment buildings. Did that change the character of those neighborhoods? Obviously. So what?

There is no mystery here.


Although twenty-something tech workers may almost always live alone (or want to), this isn't true of people in general. If all 142k people were members of 3-person nuclear family hosueholds, for example, 56k units would be more than sufficient.

I think it's insane to claim that any level of housing production is sufficient until rental prices approach maintenance costs, but it's important to remember that a 1:1 person:household ratio only applies if we're talking about adults who are not in intimate relationships.


Hi native,

I was shopping for a new house in the Seattle area and randomly some people started talking to me (from the Southwest). This never happened to me before. I was kind of weirded out. I said, "so you guys MUST NOT BE FROM HERE." They are like, "no way. We are from the Mid West!"

We invited each other to back yard barbecues within a month.

Never happened with a native here.


Have you ever been to West Seattle? It's mostly natives and you get a much more open neighborly vibe. However, it isn't very techie and much more blue collar/other professional.


Thanks for the recommendation.

Maybe what makes it more neighborly is the blue collar or non tech people in the mix.

Maybe it’s us the techies who are the weirdos. But techies who are natives are “REALLY weird.” I guess they just like to keep to themselves and be anti-social?

Fellow techies who are natives: what’s up with that?


Depends on what you mean by native? Most of us are transplants, even those of us who went to high school and university in the area. All the natives I know aren't in tech.


Is it not building for density? I've lived in the same spot near capitol hill for 5 years and there are new high-rise and mid-rise condo buildings in every single direction. It's been nuts! They built like crazy.


All the construction is concentrated into a few small pockets. So inside one of those pockets, it feels like a lot. But the majority of Seattle's land is still single-family detached residential only. This is a zoning map, you'll see that the "highrise" and "midrise" pockets are very small:

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55ff4befe4b029a3a1975...


*luxury high-rise and mid-rise condo buildings

And those developments have been concentrated in a few areas barely zoned for such. The vast majority of the city is zoned for single family buildings not townhouses/low-rises/mid-rises nevermind NYC-style high-rise apt buildings the city and the young so desperately need.


Building for density would mean you didn't have acres of single family housing within a block of the light rail stations.


I'm a Seattle native, but I lived in other places between 1994 and 2009 before moving back (to the suburbs). The difference between Seattle today and the Seattle I knew growing up is stark. Not all bad, by any means. But wow is it different.


I grew up in a no-name city I'm the Northeast and I can say exactly the same thing when I visit- Wow, this place is different!

Because things just change.

We didn't even have a big company come in or anything, it just changed over time one thing leading to another.


Same thing has happened to Venice, Santa Monica, SF, Bay Area, etc.. the world is constantly changing. The only constant is change.


If you talk to a native in their 80s, the Seattle they grew up in was very different from the Seattle of the 60s-70s, which was very different from the Seattle of the 80s-90s, which is very different from, you get the idea.

Get one of those coffee table books of historic Seattle pictures, and you can see the overwhelming constant change.


Was Seattle stable when you were growing up? I hear people talk about how much Seattle has changed but that seems like the norm.


Isn't that true of everywhere?


Here's a better article on the same topic: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/10/19/amazon-hea...


Normally we change the URL when a user suggests a better one, but in this case the lame article has provoked such a surprisingly excellent thread that I don't want to mess with it.


Read it, and I agree.


Meanwhile most cities in the interior have a deficit of good paying jobs and young people are leaving. A lot of those cities would give anything for Seattle's problems.


> A lot of those cities would give anything for Seattle's problems.

They have made it clear they are willing to give a lot: https://www.google.com/amp/mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/id...


<< A lot of those cities would give anything for Seattle's problems.

This is such a terrible non-argument.

If you go to a lot of those cities and ask people 'hey, do you want to be forced to move away from you home' or 'do you want to share the city with 50,000 new people in five years', or 'do you want your commute time to double', how do you think they would answer?

Honestly, as a Seattle native, it's been a mixed bag, but mostly bad.


What could have been done better, to reap the benefits without the downsides? I hear complaining, but are there solutions? Maybe too much emphasis on jobs, to the point we're subsidizing companies like Amazon to build HQ2, with no money left to mitigate traffic or add housing?

Does Sidewalk have any clever insights or ideas? https://www.wired.com/story/google-sidewalk-labs-toronto-qua...


They could have voted for transit in the 70s. They could have not reduced allowable density across the city. And then when they realized people were moving in they could have increased density, a couple decades ago. And the increased density would make transit, even buses, more of an option, with both more riders and a larger tax base.


There are a lot of problems that are not at all unique to Seattle or Amazon, and a lot of those overarching issues are going to color any sort of "then vs. now" comparisons. Over the last 40 years there has been zero net income growth for folks in the bottom half of the economy. Meanwhile housing has gotten expensive. Meanwhile the economy outside of cities has crashed and burned, while cities have revitalized and become the primary sources of economic growth. You can buy a house out in "flyover country" but there are no jobs there, and certainly no high paying ones. Cities are where unemployment is lowest, incomes are highest, and housing is the least affordable. And this is a great contrast compared to the situation mid-20th century where cities were being abandoned and getting run down.

Cities have revitalized, and this has brought some salutary benefits, but not without costs. And the huge degree of income and wealth inequality makes revitalization of cities problematic in many ways. Growth doesn't translate to a "rising tide that lifts all boats", it translates to an economy that some people can participate in while others are increasingly pushed out of it. This is not only unsustainable, it's inhumane. There are many ways to tackle the problem but they are going to take years of concerted effort just to get started. For one incomes at the bottom need to be lifted up, and the easiest way to do that is increasing the minimum wage. A lot. It used to be the case that if you had a job, any job, you could at least keep your head above water: pay rent, pay your bills, indulge in a few minor luxuries, and build some savings. Now that's not true, not only for people at the very bottom, but for an increasingly large chunk of the entire workforce. We also need to address affordable housing, but addressing inequality is the more important fix.


Grew up in Seattle, lived on capitol hill, moved away a few years ago.

All the "rough around the edges" components were what gave the city its character. There's a reason, growing up, why people made fun of Bellevue and how lifeless everything felt. Its also why they felt so passionate about their hometown, despite the weather.

Now Seattle feels lifeless. I used to want to move back at some point, but now I don't feel like I'm missing out on much. Thank god Amazon has realized how much it has affected Seattle and is trying to move the next 50-100k employees to a city that could really stand to benefit from the growth.

I don't blame Amazon entirely for this, but I do hope it serves as a lesson for other companies (and cities), who welcome growth at all other costs.

The greatest irony is I live in the bay area now, which seems to predict the future of Seattle quite nicely. Its clear no one gives a shit about where they live, or the communities and culture they inevitably displace. They are just trying to make as much money as possible and get the hell out.


I don't think we can even comprehend what lies ahead of us for the future of urbanization. The cities, the suburbs, and the rural districts are all undergoing radical generational changes, and there's no hope things settling down anytime soon. If anything, the pace just keeps accelerating...


Errr what in the world did I just read. Seattle is not special in this way and it's certainly not amazons fault. Go to places like Utah, Nashville, Birmingham, same thing happening there dude just on a smaller scale as they are smalller cities


People hate change, but that's the only constant in life. I grew up in SoCal, in what was a sleepy area that combined Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Leucadia. Surf towns, with some nice beach houses, some excitement during race season when the surf met the turf. My mom bought a house with the help of her parents, $70K for a crappy 3 bedroom right next to I-5. Went to high school out in the boonies, near Rancho Santa Fe where the rich folk lived on acreages. I went to UCSD which was sleepy as well, though situated next to La Jolla where all the rich people who wanted to be close to the ocean lived.

I went back to visit with my fiance in 1998, and I-5 is now like 18 lanes at one merge, my old house is now worth $1.5m, and the sleepy little village I grew up in is now full of people making over $200k/year, or retirees who held on to their houses and have huge nest eggs if they can ever sell.

I had a buddy who was in the Navy, he bought a house in Encinitas, sold it when he retired, and moved to the Midwest. Bought a helluva house on an acreage, lives off his pension, and enjoys life without the stress of the West Coast.

Everything changes, and people hate it. But people will hate it when things don't change as well...


I had a number of family that lived in Seattle. They all worked for Boeing in some capacity. My grandmother moved out there and worked for Boeing in the early 60s after my mom turned 18. Her cousin was an administrative assistant, eventually to the CEO. Another cousin was an engineer with the company. To hear them tell it, Boeing was the soul of Seattle, though they were probably biased.

But Boeing moved a lot of the company to Chicago for tax breaks and eventually setup another factory in South Carolina to avoid union labor. Despite being long-retired by that point, my relatives all felt betrayed by the company. And though those family members have all passed on by now, my guess is they wouldn't blame Amazon for taking Seattle's soul, they'd blame Boeing for abandoning it.


It's typical of Seattle culture to blame some incoming tech movement for ruining culture. What people seem to constantly miss is that before Amazon, this was a Microsoft/Cisco town. Long before that, it was a Boeing town. Seattle culture in the 20th/21st centuries has been massively influenced by technology culture. Anti-Amazon rants miss the larger picture.

A similar phenomenon is in San Francisco, where people argue that SF is some kind of hippie paradise being ruined by tech, although in the larger context SF is defined by a long history of capitalist conquest, and the summer of love was a small blip on the timeline.

The better mindset is to try to grasp your city from a larger perspective, and stop comparing how you found it vs. how it is now.


I don't feel like the author ever explained how Amazon changed Seattle and I'm not convinced Amazon did. Seattle changed over a few decades, like time has a tendency to do. Housing prices increased, as they did in San Francisco, Portland, and Vancouver. The author is (mostly vaguely) lamenting how things are different from how it used to be, but not offering much insight into why, how, and why I should care.


May have already been said, but what about Bellevue? It's the Microsoft equivalent. I lived on Mercer Island in the early 90's and only thing Bellevue had going for it was the mall. Was bland. Today it's a dynamic area.

Better these cities are in demand than decay. In the words of Neil Young, "you're either dying or growing"


Seattle went to hell after Boeing left it.

It was either a ghost town of a city that depended on one company Boeing or now as it currently is.


The real problem is when half your friends are priced out of the city and have to move away.


Yes, but that's Seattle's fault, not Amazon's.


I think the question this raises is : Knowing this, what might it say about the city Anazon picks next?

That is, for example, will it be "established" or more on the other of "we can impose our will on this area"?

Time will tell.


Why is this title in quotes?


Every city is the result of all the previous destruction.


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It's an op-ed


Clickbait. The only valuable information I got from the article is that Seattle is gentrified by Amazon and its employees. The rest of it is someone sharing his nostalgia.

I'm on HN for the science and mindblowing stuff and I'm tired of this kind of facebook post articles. I suppose I'm not the only one.


Distasteful group think, change is the only constant. How predictably cliche.

I moved to Seattle in 1995 from 90 miles away. Let me tell you about Seattle then vs Seattle now.

1. It had neighborhoods that were distinct and varied. 2. Street life was more vibrant 3. You could have a part time job and still live.

Some of these things change because they changed for everyone, everywhere and not Seattle specific, but also not good. Now, Seattle is the same everywhere and more of the people moving here are moving for the job. Not for the place, or the people or the culture, if we can call it that. The job, they are interested in the career, in the money, in buying into a hot housing market, etc.

Listening to tech people talk about their 2 and 3rd Seattle house (concurrent, not serial) sickens me. The poorly run record shops, lazy tea joints and bookstores with esoteric books are gone. Now it is Gucci and 200$ t-shirts. Seattle is LAME now man. Not only does it cost upwards of 3k to rent a house, everyone is burnt chasing pointers and promos. There is no slack, nothing that exists between the places. Tech people use a city, they don't make on.


"Not only does it cost upwards of 3k to rent a house"

The majority of tech workers who recently moved to Seattle rent their homes. I can't imagine they're happy about high rents either. Certainly less happy than a third-generation homeowner who's made $300K by doing nothing but watch prices inflate.

"Tech people use a city, they don't make on."

Isn't that what natives have said about immigrants since the beginning of time? They're uncultured, they're greedy, they crowd out the natives, they're only here for money, they ruin the neighborhood, etc.


You are putting words in my mouth. Not that they are untrue about tech fueled influx, or the displaced from SF. If you want to turn me into a paper bigot, go somewhere else.

What Seattle would be well served with is the most draconian rent control that a region has ever seen. You own the place you live in, period. Owning a second home and renting it out should be legislated into oblivion.


So the only people that can live in the city are ones that can afford buying a home? No youth, no elderly, no low-income people, etc.? Doesn't sound like an well thought-through idea.


Ah yes, the age old dream of a house for every community college student.


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> Listening to tech people talk about their 2 and 3rd Seattle house (concurrent, not serial) sickens me.

As a tech person in Seattle, could you please tell me where all these fantastically megarich Seattle tech people are? I'd like them to take a look at my resume.


I know some of them. They moved here in the early 90s to work at Microsoft, or they made a ton of money when their parents and grandparents all died and left them a couple houses in places like Queen Anne and Ballard. I don't think they have any good advice on how to replicate it.


Your sample might be a bit skewed. I've been working in US high-tech for a decade and most people haven't inherited couple of houses, own another one and look for buying yet another one. Surely, there might be, but not typically. Typically what I see people that either renting or finally could afford a new house. Sure, some people get super-rich on huge IPOs etc. - but not the most typical case.


We're not talking about the whole group of tech people, we're specifically talking about the ones who own several houses. I agree that it is laughably atypical and the commenter who brought it up as a problem is overstating the frequency.


Maybe you could Google it.


Believe me, I've tried.


I'm a little amazed that someone would honestly get that impression from living in Seattle. It's not at all representative from what I have seen.




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