The vision for the development on the northeast corner of 12th and Pike doesnt appear to have people of color.
  • CM
  • The vision for the development on the northeast corner of 12th and Pike doesn't appear to have people of color.

This weekend, a friend of mine who lives five or so blocks up the road from the construction site of yet another "luxury apartment" soon to appear on Capitol Hill (it will have an underground parking garage—which is complete insanity), told me the rent for her flat, which is in an old brick building, was recently increased to $1,000. Yes, her flat is tiny. Yes, everyone has heard the same story over and over. Yes, no one is doing anything about it, and nor can anyone do anything about it because the economic forces at work in this growing city are much deeper and more powerful than its form of democracy. Also this weekend, I spoke with a Lyft driver who explained that he could not even afford to live in Columbia City, let alone Capitol Hill. He currently rents a two-bedroom joint in Kent for $800 a month.

But let's step back and look at the big picture: In our post-crash Piketty (growing inequality, stagnant wages) moment, poor people are moving out to suburbs like Ferguson, and wealthy people are moving back into the city. This goes against a trend that went into full swing after the Second World War: the rich and businesses moved out of the city, and the poor and unemployed were abandoned in the dying core. But if you look at an even bigger picture, one sees that this mid-century transition was actually an anomaly. This is not the normal arrangement for cities around the world and in history. As Kenneth T. Jackson points out in his masterpiece Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United State, what we find in big cities like Paris, Cairo, Pretoria, Rome, and so on is instead this class/spatial arrangement: The poor are in the suburbs (outside), and the rich are in the core. This is the normal order of things; this is the way it has been for almost always.

With this in mind, we can see the current transition (cheap Kent/expensive Capitol Hill) as something of a correction. What we are witnessing in Seattle and other metropolises is a return to the older order of the city.