My recent editorial notebook and solicitation for experiences of new Seattle migrants produced an assortment of tales and, not surprisingly, a good dose of resentment.
Several readers replied emphatically to my suggestion that newcomers could contribute to the city’s growth with strong suggestions that I go back to where I came from. One email’s subject line summed up the sentiment: “Who asked you?”
“We aboriginals have loved and lived and appreciated what we have, just the way it was,” the email read. It finished: “Leave us alone, we were doing just fine. Who says we want to evolve?”
A more thoughtful respondent boasted the following:
“Yes there’s a lot that can be made better, but not by you, who have no sense of place, people, or history. You have no investment, except perhaps financial, please take that investment with you and go.”
The authors may not have expected it, but I understand their reaction. Wherever this attitude surfaces, it usually comes from the most vulnerable with the most tenuous hold on an illusory stability.
Any change loosens their grasp on that already shaky stability, so it makes sense that any suggestion of change prompts fear.
When I said new arrivals could contribute to Seattle’s future – rather than be a drain on it – what some heard was that new arrivals “hate” Seattle and want to change what long-time residents cherish most about the city.
While Seattle certainly has an abundance of unique charms, it also has plenty to work on. And the folks brandishing pitchforks and torches at the city limits aren’t aiding that work, or expressing an attitude distinct to Seattle. In fact, they’re reacting just like people anywhere when confronted with the reality that their comfort zone cannot stay the same.
Ironically, many are also almost certainly descendents of migrants and immigrants to Seattle themselves.
There were other, more encouraging, responses. Plenty of folks expressed hearty welcomes and wishes for success.
Some were Seattle residents who moved here 10, 30, even 50 years ago. They spoke of a town thrust into modernity by economics, but of a people legitimately wary of what that modernity brings.
One respondent noted that despite Seattle being a tourist destination, many city residents aren’t particularly welcoming to tourists. They also noted that the city’s laissez-faire attitude toward its concentration of downtown homeless and aggressive panhandling is hurting that economic sector.
“The many world travelers we serve have said they love the city and the area, but wouldn’t come again to be hassled,” replied a downtown cruise line rep. “If New York can get rid of this problem in Times Square, why can’t we?”
Others made the point that public transit works just fine – for them. But they’d be hard pressed to argue that the existing transportation infrastructure works fine for most Seattleites, or that existing public transit would work fine if most residents suddenly relied upon it.
These are observations of residents who’ve bought homes, raised children and retired here. Having invested their lives, they love Seattle enough to want to see the city improve. The wary among Seattle would be wise to remember that.
Providing more energy to address traffic congestion – Seattle has the fourth worst in the U.S. and the eighth worst in the Americas – and homelessness will benefit everyone in this community, not just newbies.
Better for Seattle to utilize the enthusiasm and perspective of all residents – including those who’ve lived elsewhere – to manage its inevitable change than to wallow in a limited notion of what that change ought to be.
Of course I could be wrong. I just got here.
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