Charles Mudede

GeekWire's piece about a grumpy Seattlelite, Charles Hadrann, who owns a bike repair business in Fremont, and a sticker that has Amazon's smile beneath words "Seattle Sucks Now" is long and almost not worth reading. It says nothing new about what a set of mostly white Seattle liberals feel about all the change that has happened over the past six or so years: it has ruined the city, it has killed its soul. The city is now all about money and property values and not about people.

This set sees the old Seattle as a kind of paradise. And it might have been for them, but certainly not for all groups and neighborhoods. For example, the grumpy owner of the bike repair business also owns the building his business occupies. He bought it for a song ($100,000) back in the mid-80s. Even though that might have been cheap for him and his set, it was not cheap for most black Americans who, at that time, lived and even owned businesses in the economically underdeveloped Central District. Indeed, when you have no money or assets or job stability (NINJA), $100,000 is as far as (or not better than) $5 million (the property's current estimated value).

What the city's many white liberals miss might have been cool for them but brutal for others. Seattle has never stopped sucking for black Americans.

When I visited Memphis, Tennessee last November, every black American I met told me the same story: They want the city to develop, for more investments to enter the city and poor neighborhoods. But if it does, they fear they will be displaced. Memphis, which is 66 percent black, fears that as high-yield investment opportunities diminish in fully gentrified Nashville, the owners of surplus capital will turn to their city, which is still cheap, has lots of room to grow, has a rich history, and almost no traffic.

You will fail to see the fundamental structural problems with the post-urban renewal city if all you see is Amazon's Cheshire Cat-like smile. That corporation and its practices are more a symptom of macro-economic factors such as low or falling wages and a municipal governance program that has removed anything like central planning from urban planning. Options for urban development have, since the mid-1960s, when the word gentrification first appeared in Ruth Glass's groundbreaking essay "London: Aspects of Change," been reduced to just two, chete (if I may use the excellent and more dramatic-sounding Shona word for "only"). It's either you are a Memphis or you are a Nashville. You are a Detroit or a Seattle. A city losing capital or attracting it. There is no alternative.

There are no development (regeneration/revitalization) programs outside of those fixed to the market directive of improving business environments. This is why the old Seattle still sucked. It wasn't Amazoninized (or gentrified), it was more affordable, but not to all groups. The Memphis of today might be much cheaper than Seattle, but wages there are shockingly low.