Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
One line: “I can't imagine what this place must have been like before all the new money, colorful condos, and Ferris wheels.”
San Francisco may be the first city that comes to mind when you think of the ugliest aspects of a tech boom (hopelessly unaffordable housing, private buses, contempt for the homeless, etc...). But don’t sleep on Seattle.
Amazon, headquartered in the city’s historically industrial South Lake Union neighborhood, has a workforce spread around more than a dozen buildings and plans for more. And when you need to hire thousands of high-salaried workers in Seattle who probably have their minds set on Mountain View or Cupertino, you make a promotional video.
Amazon did just that in 2013, putting together a collection of testimonials assuring the next wave of Amazonians that Seattle is right for them:
The selling points fit what’d you’d expect a young tech worker with a lot of money to appreciate: Ambitious fitness routines (“everyone does Crossfit”). Weirdness in a safe, controlled environment (“there’s actually two places in Seattle where you can take circus classes”). And owning property in a market they’re unwittingly making too expensive (“we bought a house recently here”).
The video started making the rounds among Seattleites after being posted on The Stranger last month. Since then, not one but two razor-sharp parodies have popped up, shared yesterday by the Seattle Times’ Tricia Romano.
One comes from the local rapper Spekulation, filled with voiceovers that get right to Seattle’s growing tech-dread:
And another by one of Seattle’s most famous record labels, Sub Pop:
Of course, these are funny manifestations of a very real issue. As Anthony Flint noted last month, “it won’t be long” before Seattle’s real estate market catches up with Vancouver’s, where the median home price is $1.2 million.
The dynamic is especially noticeable in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Separated from South Lake Union by I-5, the gay and punk cultures that have thrived there since the 1990s now feel at risk. Rents are rising dramatically and resentment is growing alongside it.
Capitol Hill Housing, an organization that provides income-restricted housing in the neighborhood, has 25 buildings with 747 units, according to the Seattle Times. The paper reported just one vacancy as of last March. A poster recently spotted in the neighborhood reads: “Tech Money Kills Queer Culture Dead.” A writer for The Guardian noticed multiple “We Welcome Our New Condo Overlords” bumper stickers while reporting on Amazon’s growth last year.
It may not be as bad as San Francisco yet, but the more Seattle changes in ways that isolate those who aren’t rich or absorbed in tech culture, the icier the satire will surely become.