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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Letter to the Editor

Posted by on September 13 at 11:59 AM

Condo Haven, Hipster Hell

It’s been brought to my attention that a good deal of the places on Capitol Hill that make it an interesting place to be (and for me Seattle has a hard time being interesting) are being demolished to build more condos.

Everyone keeps telling me that it’s Belltown all over again and that I shouldn’t be surprised or upset. But I’m sorry. Belltown is nothing to be proud of. And Capitol Hill is MY neighborhood. That’s where I moved and that’s where I live. I seldom find it necessary to leave it. Until now.

Already the Jade Pagoda has been disassembled and integrated in the Condo supersystem which is taking over every street corner imaginable. Next it is to be the block of Pine that contains everything from Kincora to The Cha Cha. Can’t we organize some kind of hipster/gay blockade??? Where are these people going to go to hangout anymore??? And who are these people moving in that are going to bore me to tears and brag about their money and block the streets with their expensive cars and bad manners?

I feel totally duped by this town. First they decide to ban smoking and now there’s the very distinct message that all “marginal” city-dwellers are unwelcome in their own home. Can’t we have at least protest?? Are we going to just let this happen and say it’s alright? My friends and I are already so distraught at the prospect, so I’m asking for some kind of help on the matter. At least write an article on these places and how they contribute to the culture of the town. And how the new condos with do NOTHING of the sort.

I’m so angry I can’t convey it in such a format. If we don’t pay attention to all the things we love here, they’ll be gone and replaced with nothing even close to similarly enriching.

Thanks in advance for your consideration. Help me out here. My whole neighborhood is at stake.

T. O. Y.

As a condo dweller (albeit one with a modest car and good manners) who values the socio-economic diversity of Capitol Hill, I wonder, can’t we have it both ways? Market-rate apartments and budget condos mixed with high-end housing? Dive bars and wine bars on the same block? Are the market forces such that the entirety of the central city will be characterless before long?

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Devils advocate here:

1. Condos are environmentally friendly. We need more of them. 1 large condo can house the same number of people as many many acres of suburban mini-mansions carved out of forest or farmland. They also cut auto use and commuting (if the condo dwellers work in the city.)

2. Capitol Hill used to be a sleepy neighborhood inhabited by white-bread families. They must have moaned and complained about what was happening to the neighborhood as the hipsters moved in.

Very sad, but the short answer is NO. Not in Seattle. Maybe other cities, but not Seattle. Funky dive bars with cheap eats and booze, quirky clothing stores that are more thrift shops then retro-style boutiques, record stores that specialize in a genre or two, all need one thing to survive... cheap, cheap rents.

Belltown is the model for the City government and developers. And I am not talking about apartments and condos. In a city, people want to live next to were they can shop and recreate. (as opposed to suburbs, were being a "close drive" and not a "close walk to" is the deciding factor). Retail space is at a premium, therefore, premium rents. A bar that sells $4.00 burgers and $2.50 micro-brews need to have volume... otherwise, $8.00 burgers and $5.00 micro-brews are what it will take to pay the rent and stay open another month/year.

Those business with inexpensive items left Belltown back in the 90's not because of snobby condo owners (otherwise, a place like the Nitelite would have left as well), but simply that they could no longer afford the rented space.

When units are going up around town where studio apartments start at $500K and the penthouse units sell for multiple millions of dollars, the retail level might have business which do not cater to the money elite, but if they don’t charge a premium price, they won’t be able to pay the rent, and the business will, if it wants to stick around, will need to relocate out of the Seattle central business district and into the periphery like Crown Hill, North Aurora, Skyway, etc.

What seattle needs, but can't have under current state law, is a rent stabilization system. While free market cultists love to complain about it, it limits the speed of gentrification dramatically.

It obviously doesn't apply to commercial establishments, but by preventing buildings from being torn down or converted to condos, it preserves the street level commercial spaces. All my favorite dive bars in NYC are on the ground floor of such buildings.

Too bad seattle was left with a legacy of low density single family residential instead of the mixed use apartments and rowhouses of the east coast that support such a robust dive bar ecosystem.

I'm in for the movement with you! I live in Capitol Hill for every place to hang out, shop, eat, get tattooed, everything. I don't need to leave either and the idea that someone can take that away is VERY scary.

Sign me up for an article for every place that's special (and if you ask me, they are all special from the crazy 97 cent store and the porn shop to the great dive bars and music venues). Get the word out on saving these great places.

However, I feel like the people moving into Capitol Hill are moving there for the very same reasons. They love the adventure, the quirkiness, the convenience, the atmosphere. It's why I moved there several years ago - can we give some of them the benefit of the doubt? I came to a moderately priced condo and NO car. . . so not everyone is bad. Hopefully those that are new can give us faith they're not trying to destroy what they came here for and join us in the fight, if in fact, the developers have gone crazy.

I think high-density housing, done well, is the key to a vibrant city. More people brings more goods and services, not less. Look at NYC or even smaller cities like Vancouver, B.C. You can spend $50 a plate on one side of the street and get the equivalent of Dick's on the other. The transition will be awkward, but Capitol Hill is dying now and will only get worse. I hope the city is aspiring to that type of greatness in its development, because T.O.Y. is right, Belltown as it exists now is nothing to strive for.

We'd also have more "character" in the Capitol Hill neighborhood if The Gays (of which I am one, BTW) weren't so fickle and bitchy. Paraphrasing Heidi Klum, "In Fashing and the Gay neighborhood, one day you're in, the next you're out."

The problem is that the answers are subtle and far from all-encompassing. The very question tends to be framed incorrectly, as "what should we be building"? Real vibrant neighborhoods have a MIXTURE of old and new, cheap and expensive, high-style and nondescript, glamorous and crappy. Neighborhoods that lose this balance suffer: they either fall into slumhood, or get built out into service-less yuppie canyons.

Zoning for this kind of gradual process is hard, but I would suggest something like a cap, not on height, but on building within very small districts: no building anything within the length of a city block of an existing building less than ten years old, regardless of the size of either project.

And, another of my bugaboos, the megaproject: no building outside of the business core can occupy a lot larger than one-sixth or one-eighth of a standard city block.

No setbacks allowed, and the ENTIRE ground floor, aside from a lobby and limited services space, must be dedicated to retail, not just an unusably narrow strip along the sidewalk that's barely big enough for a counter.

And architects promoting their buildings with this kind of sunset-glow watercolor devoid of humans or city life must have their fingers broken.

Whine, whine, whine. All the funky stuff moved in and the rent was cheap because the neighborhood was a piece of shit. The residents for the past two decades have made it fit for habitation by people who can afford higher rents, and it's gotten gentrified. Well, duh. Now just find the next piece of shit neighborhood where rents are low because you have to pass by crack dealers to get to the grocery store, open up a bar, a used clothing store, a tattoo shop, and an arts co-op, and turn it into a hip neighborhood. Have a drag night at the bar once a week, and fags will start showing up.

Gitai is correct. Look for the hip neighborhoods to gradually be pushed north and south.

Also, hipster bars will be doomed by the proliferation of "Good Neighbor Agreements", which prohibit fun after 10pm.

Why should Seattle subsidize or otherwise protect the "Hipster scene"?
Is it really more important than taking care of the homeless, fighting crime or improving transportation?
Do we want some artificially sustained "culture" that has had its time? There is something truly sad about beatniks, hippies and yuppies who fail to understand that times have changed. Grunge was great, and the music remains, but its moment has come and gone. Allowing for something new to come and go. Culture and the arts that create it should be both spontaeneous and organic.
And by the way, there is a lot more to Belltown than a place for wannabe posers to hang out. Unlike most of Seattle it embraces both the richest and the poorest of our City. People who live there don't just talk about density and urban living they live it - everyday.

It seems a little weird that while folks here seem to have a handle on the way neighborhoods gentrify, they don't think too hard about the way culture gentrifies.

What once was cheap, marginal, and enjoyable becomes pricier, accepted, and enjoyable. This is what is happening to Capitol Hill, and to demographically similar neighborhoods everywhere else, too.

Generation X is getting richer, and not getting any younger, but it doesn't seem to have any intention of relenquishing its deathgrip on the reins of "youth" culture any time soon.

It may take the balding, sagging "hipsters" of today even longer to accept growing up than it took their parents, the baby boomers.

OK, time to wade in here. Look, it all comes down to one thing - ZONING.

Yup, the boring Z word.

That, plus 100-story residential-apartment buildings built with greenspace parkland in places like Wallingford and Ballard.

Until you focus on the zoning, you'll get the predictable result.

Ask Erica, she knows.

Ahhh yes, more of the new Seattle. Hope y'all enjoy the "density".

And, btw AKH... I doubt that you lived in Seattle beore the first developers saw the gold rush that you bought into.

Will is 100% correct. People in Seattle are incredibly stupid and need the protection of additional government regulation. Those greedy developers keep forcing upon us things that we don't want or need, yet we're helpless to stop buying. Please city bureaucracy, in your infinite wisdom, please save us!

No, you can't have it both ways. And that's why those of us who have been around this town for awhile have found the Stranger's attitude on density (and people who dare to question it) so galling.

Correction: Mr. X, and the like, can't have it both ways, but the rest of us can aspire to better. They're perfectly content with the way things are today, so to see ANY change is a threat. For that reason, ALL change must be fought. They already have theirs, why would they want to risk losing it to allow someone else to share?

um, gee, carol, i think. can I have some cinnamon with that sarcasm?

Gitai and Him, the hipster scenes are already moving and developing in other parts of the city, e.g., ballard and georgetown.

Well good luck with that whole wine bars and dive bars on the same block thing, Newbie (let alone preserving existing affordable housing along with building upscale new apartments and condos).

There's the world as it actually operates in Seattle, and then there's the world you live in, and apparently never the twain shall meet....

Just wanted to say that there's another post about this that I already responded to. I wanted to give some credit to my friend Mark for making me angry enough to post and suggest a protest. His idea was to have a bunch of fags and drag queens be angry and scare the new potential "tenants" as they strolled down the streets of their new neighborhood. We shouldn't just lay down on this one. Where's the kicking and screaming!! At least they'll understand what they were missing.
But alas! Seattle is too too conservative, as noted by a good deal of the responses to my post. (including the stranger's). No--people are not moving here because they like the neighborhood. They just want to settle down in a place that they can afford. This is just development, I know it. I'm not a naiive idiot. I just don't like it.

t.o.y., I believe the "professional elites" that buy these condos also want the convenient and close transportation to downtown for their jobs (instead of driving from suburbs) and easy access to patronizing entertainment at the paramount and benaroya hall.

Ballard's past it already: it's achieved very nearly 100% hipster density. Greenwood's got a long way to go, and probably doesn't have the infrastructure for it. Ditto Maple Leaf or Wedgewood or whatever NE. I think the next neighborhoods to go really ballistic are to the south. Columbia City's at the tipping point already. Light rail is going to partly direct things. In 20 years, it's going to be downtown Burien or White Center.

Unless, FNARF, we kill the RTID and ST gets stalled. Then, with the voter fatigue over the underwater tunnel and it's cost overruns, nothing gets built until 2050.

Be too much gridlock to have people go that far. I'll vote for Ballard and Georgetown.

Speaking of wine bars and dive bars, I've been thinking lately about Crissey's. Anyone remember that place, the wine bar that took over Pistil Books' space (where Des Amis now sits)? I was appalled that that it had opened there, and laughed with relief when it closed less than a year later (might have been more like 6 months). I mean, who in their right mind would think that Capitol Hill - especially the Pike/Pine corridor - would welcome something that pretentious?!? Poor Crissy must be kicking herself now for being 5 years too early. If she opened her sad little yuppie watering hole today there would be a line down the block to get in.

I agree with whoever said that the hipsters are changing. They're getting older, earning more, and want things that would have held no appeal earlier. There is no organized outrage about the changes to Capitol Hill because a lot of the folks you'd think would be protesting are snapping up the new condos because they know real estate will only get more and more expensive.

Condos are evil. Don't drink the developer kool-aid.

Wine bars on the same block as dive bars? Oh, the horror! Subsidized housing close to luxury condos? Who can imagine such madness! This craziness must be stopped or else we risk turning into...a real city.

Miss it, get over it, accept the loss, fond over the memories.

Just moved here from the Upper East Side and I can't believe how cheap condos. I've got a much bigger place on Capitol Hill for the same amount as a tiny place on the Upper East Side. Having just moved here I can't speak about the restaurants that have already closed, but I wouldn't mind losing a few of the dives to get more great restaurants. Manhattan has tons of great places to eat for around $50, and Seattle could use a lot more.

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