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Monday, November 10, 2008

The New Capital

posted by on November 10 at 12:09 PM

Something I wrote six years ago:

There was a time when a city could be the capital of a century, the way Paris was the capital of the 19th century. In the 20th century, particularly the second half, cities could only be the capital of a decade—for example, Washington, D.C. was the capital of the ’60s, or Los Angeles was the capital of the ’80s. The ’90s, however, had two capitals: Seattle and New York City.

As with century capitals, decade capitals have clear conclusions. Washington, D.C., came to an end with Watergate; L.A. ended with the Rodney King riots; Seattle ended with WTO; and New York ended with WTC. Now the question is this: What is the capital of this decade?

The answer has finally arrived: Chicago.
We have left the Seattle/New York period and entered the Chicago one. We get a sense of this in every sentence Chicago Fan writes:

Apart from the irony of Obama resembling McCainís putative President-hero [Teddy Roosevelt], there will be a lot of practical results from Obamaís Chicago connections. Beyond upping the odds that Chicago will land the 2016 Olympics, I can also assure you that Hyde Park-Kenwood (Obamaís home neighborhood) has just become the safest urban neighborhood in America, despite its high crime stats
He knows that he lives at the center of the new world.

One other point: The dominance of The Windy City over the next decade also marks the end of capital-sharing arrangements and the return of the one.

But, wait, is there something we are missing? Chicago is really the capital of the next decade; Seattle and New York were the capitals of the 90s. What about the OOs? Was it just a vacuum? No. Something was there. Between the end of the Sea/NY stage and the start (November 4th) of the current one there’s nothing but the capital of the 10th century, Baghdad. It returned as a zombie capital, a negative capital, the capital of an upside down world, the capital of the Bush years.

Baghdad is the capital of the OOs.

RSS icon Comments


Seattle has never been the capital of anything. (Sorry, Grungeheads, Nirvana will not be remembered in 100 years.) New York was the capital of the 20th century.

Posted by David Wright | November 10, 2008 12:16 PM

Seattle was thought of as a capital of the '90s? By whom?

Posted by LDP | November 10, 2008 12:17 PM

while I can't agree to Seattle being any more than a growth capital in the 90s (an 'it' city rather than a city of great importance in and of itself), I can't get over your great idea of the 00s as a bizarro-world psychotic break from normal history.

Maybe the other capital of the 00s are/were the ring suburbs growing like a bloat around the former capital cities. semper sprawl?

Posted by rococo | November 10, 2008 12:21 PM

For now, it feels like we are really just the capital of the next 3 months. I mean, it was really interesting to literally have all eyes on Chicago last week (the number of news vans/trucks from networks around the world was pretty staggering)Ö but, I donít see that continuing much beyond Inauguration Day when Obama isnít physically located here anymore. If we win the 2016 Olympics, then itís a different story, but we donít find that out until next October.

One thing that has been really interesting is all the talk about how different political seats will be shifted around here Ė lots of gossip here about who is going to get the seats of Obama and Rahm, who is going to get the seats of the people who take Obama and Rahmís seats, etc.

Posted by Julie in Chicago | November 10, 2008 12:22 PM

The end of the Naughts.

Posted by kid icarus | November 10, 2008 12:23 PM

Um... I just found a serious argument against Chicago titled, "Chicago woman found living with three dead siblings"

here's the link:;_ylt=AkgUvrsPnoyI1ePkzutBiTTtiBIF


Posted by Amanda | November 10, 2008 12:24 PM

Though... one thing that supports your theory is the Batman movie this summer, which was dripping with Chicago-ness.

Posted by Julie in Chicago | November 10, 2008 12:26 PM

You're high on powerful dope if you think DC was the capital of the 60s. DC was a dustbin in the 60s, a cultural wasteland. London was the undisputable capital of the 1960s (and possibly the 00s as well). And Seattle has never been the capital of anything. Nothing of global interest has ever happened here, except airplanes and software, both fairly mundane expressions of cultural dynamism. Almost no interesting music has ever come from here.

Posted by Fnarf | November 10, 2008 12:28 PM

Try the Bay Area Peninsula as the capital of the 90s. Silicon Valley FTW in the 90s.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | November 10, 2008 12:29 PM

I love you, Charles Mudede.

Posted by MonkeyNose | November 10, 2008 12:30 PM

"Sorry, Grungeheads, Nirvana will not be remembered in 100 years."

You've never been more wrong, David Wright.

(and the proper term is "grungers")

Posted by I was there, man! | November 10, 2008 12:31 PM

If we're sharing (anti-)capitals for a decade, New Orleans can have the first part of the Aughts.

Posted by Olo | November 10, 2008 12:31 PM

@1: Yeah, you're right, Seattle had no influence during the 90's.

All those things Seattle took for granted back then - Indie coffee houses, corporate coffee shops, microbrews, Windows, indie rock, online book selling, gay sex advice columnists - none of them ever caught on beyond the Puget Sound.

Posted by Sean | November 10, 2008 12:31 PM

Perhaps Seattle was the capital for more reasons than stoned incoherent singers; who can deny that the 90s belonged to Microsoft, Starbucks, dot-com startups, etc? All belonged to Seattle. Seattle's decline was concluded with Boeing's announced relocation from Seattle to Chicago in 2001.

Posted by Banna | November 10, 2008 12:33 PM

Seattle is the most remote large US city, roughly 800 miles to any other big city. It simply has no neighbors.

This accounts for many of its positive, and negative, features.

(Including the view it doesn't have any negative features and it's "being negative" to even think that way and if you argue about it gee, why don't you go back to where you came from if it's so much better there, huh pal?).

It's the capital of nature with a city.

It's the capital of nice neighborhoods and not having any ghetto.

It was the pesto of cities in the 1990s. I believe it will be the pesto of cities again. (Apol. to Jerry S.).

Butit's not a capital of anything.

Good God, it has an art museum with flying cars as the main piece in the entranceway!

Posted by PC-Seinfeld | November 10, 2008 12:33 PM

Sorry Chaz, flawed premise.

Posted by backslider | November 10, 2008 12:36 PM

@13, Seattle did not play an important role in the invention of either indie coffee houses or microbrews. Online bookselling doesn't actually take place in a place; if anything, it's Amazon's warehouses that matter, not its headquarters; and Seattle doesn't rank in the top 100 cities in the production of quality indie music.

Posted by Fnarf | November 10, 2008 12:38 PM

In Agraria, there are no capitals.

Posted by John Bailo | November 10, 2008 12:40 PM

please share this top-100 list of yours with us, fnarf.

Posted by Paulus | November 10, 2008 12:42 PM

@14, you're a fucking retard to ignore silicon valley. fucking retard. more startups, more infrastructure, more of everything that seattle supposedly lays claim to. I was there.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | November 10, 2008 12:44 PM

@15, Vancouver's only 120 miles away. Canada exists, and the two cities share an information flow. And Portland's only 180. I can see not counting Portland as a "big city", but in that case, Seattle probably isn't one either. My definition of "big city" in the US would include "has a Federal Reserve bank"; but even that's not enough. We're a bigger deal than Kansas City or Richmond -- though not in the food department.

Posted by Fnarf | November 10, 2008 12:46 PM

Charles -

As usual, you've made this far more complicated than it need be. Paris was the capital of the 19th Century. New York was the capital of the 20th Century. Ultimately, Shanghai will be recognized as the capital of the 21st Century.

Posted by Historian | November 10, 2008 12:51 PM

Hmm, Paulus, that's a good question. Malmo, Sweden's on there, as is Stockholm and Goteborg and probably a dozen other Swedish cities; Washington, DC (and Silver Spring, MD); Brooklyn, of course; Olympia, WA; Providence, RI; Bristol, England; Athens, Paris, London, Madrid; Athens, GA; Manchester and Liverpool, England. I won't be able to get you a proper numbered list, because I'd be changing my mind too many times. Seattle's probably a spot or two above Glossop, Derbyshire -- home of the immortal Bodines.

Posted by Fnarf | November 10, 2008 1:00 PM

Fun post Charles. I like the way you got to Baghdad

Posted by cracked | November 10, 2008 1:00 PM

Amanda @6, the 90-year-old living with her three dead siblings in the Evanston house their Northwestern professor dad left them is not an argument against Chicago, it is an argument FOR Chicago. That the first sibling to die did so in the 80s means the remaining three decided together to leave him there under a blanket. The second to die in 2003 left the remaining two to stay the course. The last to go made the decision easy on the sole survivor, last seen by neighbors handing out Halloween candy to trick-or-treaters.

Ah, Chicago. Fucking love that nasty, brave, clever place.

Posted by tomasyalba | November 10, 2008 1:04 PM

It's the capital of nice neighborhoods and not having any ghetto.

BWAHAHAHAHA!!! Spoken like someone who's never been to Rainier Beach or Skyway or probably even ever south of I-90.

Posted by boyd main | November 10, 2008 1:11 PM

That's a beautiful photo of Chicago. You guys should learn to credit where you steal your photos this case;

Posted by Stolen goods | November 10, 2008 1:12 PM

I love Chicago so much. I live on the West Coast, but I'm a Chicago man through and through. That's my home.

So please, please, don't write about it.

Write about places that suck or have been abandoned. They're immune to the insult.

Posted by eclexia | November 10, 2008 1:14 PM

@26, haha, spoken like someone who's never been to Roxbury or Cabrini Green or West Oakland or East New York. Skyway? Skyway's almost entirely good immigrant or second-generation families. Ghetto, my ass.

Posted by Fnarf | November 10, 2008 1:17 PM

In your face, Glossop!

Posted by paulus | November 10, 2008 1:17 PM

@27, good eye! I long ago gave up trying to get Slog to properly credit and link Flickr photos. They've never done it right, not once (the photo is supposed to be a link back to the Flickr page). This one is especially egregious, as they have cropped out the photographer's watermark.

Posted by Fnarf | November 10, 2008 1:20 PM

seriously, people here don't know what ghetto means or what it feels like. it's pretty fucking hilarious

Posted by Bellevue Ave | November 10, 2008 1:25 PM

sorry, i forgot to add the link. there are some links to connect in a post.

Posted by charles mudede | November 10, 2008 1:26 PM

@33 forgot? bullshit. you simply got caught doing what you always do. you're no better than the bush administration in this capacity.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | November 10, 2008 1:28 PM

Completely agree with #8, except for the very last sentence.

Posted by Dougsf | November 10, 2008 1:29 PM

Thanks Charles:

And let me add that Chicago was also the world capital in the greater 1910s (ie, @1914-1922). Chicago Renaissance writing got Modernism off to a jump-start, the skyscraper was perfected, and we invented modern organized crime (suck it, Mafioso of the East Coast). Every century or so, the place is the center of everything. About as often as the Cubs win.

Posted by Chicago Fan | November 10, 2008 1:29 PM

This just made me feel Naughty.

Now, get back to work.

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 10, 2008 1:37 PM

How is this post related to Architecture?

Posted by Sarah | November 10, 2008 1:38 PM

@17 "Seattle did not play an important role in the invention of either indie coffee houses or microbrews"

I don't know about the microbrews, but you could not be more wrong about indie coffee houses.

Cafe Allegro was one of the first true espresso bars on the west coast. Espresso Vivace brought quality espresso to the united states and was the originator of so many trends in specialty & indie cafes, I mean modern latte art started there. So many of the people employed at top coffee companies throughout the country spent some time working at either Lighthouse or Zoka coffee roasters. Caffe D'Arte and Torrefazione brought italian flair and tradition to the US coffee market. Cafe Vita was one of the first and certainly one of the most successful large "indie" coffee roasters & wholesalers, though they've long since moved away from that.

I mean, La Marzocco, the makers of most of the espresso machines in most indie cafes have their US headquarters here. Chances are good that if you walk into any "indie" cafe anywhere in the country and see an older La Marzocco sitting there, that machine was made in Ballard.

Sure, there were plenty of people in plenty of places that influenced the development of indie coffeeshops, but nowhere had as large an influence as Seattle.

Posted by Alex Bernson | November 10, 2008 1:41 PM

uh, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Paris was the capitol of the 18TH Century.

LONDON was the capitol of the 19th Century.

NEW YORK was the capitol of the 20th Century.

Posted by michael strangeways | November 10, 2008 1:50 PM

Microbreweries and coffee are fine, and all, but even when you combine their mighty powers, you don't get a world capital. Seattle's nice, but a capital? Delusional.

Chicago is a great, big Midwestern city. It's fun, and its association with Obama will give it a temporary adrenaline boost. Its inferiority complex is well-deserved, though. Chicago is no New York -- not by a long shot.

Posted by LDP | November 10, 2008 1:54 PM

My "Trivial Pursuit 90s Edition" agrees with you, Charles. The four game tokens you can choose to be are:

(1)A grungy blonde guitarist obviously designed to resemble a generic (albeit right-handed) Kurt Cobain
(2)An ostensible latte in a Starbucks-green mug
(3)A piece of "dot-com" stock
(4)An electronic device that appears to be some sort of PDA or giant cell phone.

I lived in Texas in the 1990s and I certainly remember thinking wow, Seattle's an important place all of a sudden. Obviously the 20th century belonged to New York overall, but much of what the world remembers as American 90s culture was brought to you by Seattle (and to an equal or lesser extent, Silicon Valley.)

Posted by Emily | November 10, 2008 2:03 PM

*I say Silicon Valley to an equal or lesser extent because Seattle/Redmond is home to the 900-lb gorilla of 1990s computer culture.

Posted by Emily | November 10, 2008 2:11 PM

"Chicago is no New York -- not by a long shot."

Chicagoans will be the first to admit that. We're quite proud of that, actually. It's the reason most of us don't live in the NY-centric neighborhoods in the Loop, River North, or has-been Wicker Park.

Posted by ryno | November 10, 2008 2:12 PM

Silicon Valley had more to do with IT expnasion in the 90s than Seattle will ever have to do with it ever. Period.

When you consider all the companies providing the hardware and software and services and compare that to the handful of monolithic companies in the northwest that mostly provided software and services, it isn't even close.

Without Microsoft, the northwest wouldn't have an IT industry, just as without Dell, neither would Austin. You take away one company from SV and there are dozens more to point at.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | November 10, 2008 2:15 PM

Don't kid yourself. Seattle isn't even the capital of my asshole-- no matter how hairy the Norwegians are.

Posted by Brian | November 10, 2008 2:22 PM

Shanghai. Runners-up Mumbai and Sao Paulo.

Posted by mareada | November 10, 2008 2:24 PM

Bellevue Ave, you sound like Brent @32. That is severely unattractive.

Posted by Mikki | November 10, 2008 2:29 PM

To be fair, brent considered east san jose hella ghetto.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | November 10, 2008 2:31 PM

@15. "It's the capital of nice neighborhoods and not having any ghetto"

What the fuck are you talking about? Ever been south of I-90. It's been ghettoized since the redlining of the 60s.

Posted by Brian | November 10, 2008 2:32 PM

Whats the murder rate, poverty rate, racial demographics of south of I-90?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | November 10, 2008 2:34 PM

@45, "Silicon Valley had more to do with IT expnasion in the 90s than Seattle will ever have to do with it ever. Period."

I'm sure you're right. But I was sort of talking about something different from weighing the actual economic contributions of Seattle vs. Silicon Valley, namely the mythology of Seattle within the American imagination (as codified by the admittedly anecdotal little plastic doo-dads manufactured for the Trivial Pursuit 90s edition.) The Bay Area has been important for a long time for lots of reasons, but Seattle didn't really emerge onto the national and international scene until the 1990s, and when it did, the software and "dot-com" businesses were a large component of its identity. It is that cultural momentum, more than the actual dollar-amount contributions, that I think made Seattle a "symbol" for many things that embodied the American mythos of the 1990s.

Oh, and the first sub-heading in Wikipedia's article on "culture of the 1990s" is "Grunge, Generation X, and the 'Alternative' Decade."

The predominant youth culture trends of the 1990s were overwhelmingly influenced by grunge and other music styles closely associated with Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Like I said, I was a teenager in Texas at the time, and I remember getting the impression from the popular media that Seattle was all the rage.

Posted by Emily | November 10, 2008 2:47 PM

perception and reality are often times at odds.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | November 10, 2008 3:16 PM


Posted by scott in Chi-town | November 10, 2008 3:21 PM

@39, where do you think Cafe Allegro and Vivace got the idea? There were espresso joints in Little Italy and Greenwich Village, Boston's North End, and San Francisco's North Beach, not to mention London and (ahem) Italia when the people who started Allegro were still drinking baby formula. Cafe Mediterraneum in Berkeley also long predates anything in Seattle. Espresso was a code word for "beatnik" TWENTY YEARS before the Allegro opened.

The world doesn't start on the day the yuppies discover it.

Posted by Fnarf | November 10, 2008 4:20 PM

I fled Chicago and will never return. After a few blizzards it don't look so fucking pretty anymore. Besides, your car rusts out before it's paid for. And those potholes! Oy vey!

Posted by Vince | November 10, 2008 4:22 PM

I'm not sure that "pop culture trends" are the only or even the best way to judge "capitals". Flannel shirts are just not that interesting in the long run; and they tell you less about the 1990s than, say, smiley faces do about the 1970s -- another shortcut symbol without much meaning or resonance.

And nobody associates smiley faces with any city.

I think Silicon Valley's real impact was long before the 90s, though; the original garage entrepreneurs were Bill Hewlett and David Packard, in the 1940s, before Bill Gates was born. Then, in the 1960s, things really started hopping, with Fairchild and then Apple, and a million others. While tech in Seattle has always been about one big company, the Valley has always been about HUNDREDS of companies -- and "Silicon Valley" was in the vernacular twenty years before anyone ever heard of Redmond. The real driver of multiple small, innovative engineering companies in this area was always Boeing, not Microsoft.

Nowadays, I think Google (Mountain View) is at least Microsoft's equal in "mindshare".

Posted by Fnarf | November 10, 2008 4:43 PM

Sorry if this seems lame, but isn't it spelled CAPITOL?

Posted by Trevor | November 10, 2008 4:52 PM

Isn't Obama from Honolulu?

Posted by DOUG. | November 10, 2008 5:02 PM
Posted by Chicago Fan | November 10, 2008 6:42 PM

Seattle is now and has always been one of the top 5 greatest cities in the world. That is a well known fact. Chicago, NYC and especially LA are mostly fake, bullshit cities where nothing particularly original is created.

Posted by benskibeat | November 10, 2008 7:10 PM

The fact that Bellevue Ave was from the Silicon Valley area in the 90s ("I WAS THERE!") has been so incredibly enlightening as to his character that everything he's said previously makes so much more sense.

I think Seattle did play an important role in the 90s and acted as a sort of counter-balance to the "established" east coast. We wore jeans and t-shirts to the office, so our work was different. We were surrounded by nature, so our play was different. During the 90s, Microsoft created a windows and MS Office empire, but they also made IE the dominant browser (and still is to this day), not to mention created Expedia, Slate, and MSN. Google didn't even get it's start until the tail end of that decade and is much more associated with the turn of the century than the 90s. Then there are the dotcoms that were based out of here, including the very successful Amazon which moved far beyond just selling books.

In the 90s, Seattle was where the future lived.

Posted by Donolectic | November 10, 2008 8:16 PM


You'd think people who lived on Capitol Hill, particularly those who read Marx, Benjamin, Althusser, and so forth, would know the difference between "capital" and "capitol." Pretty funny.

Posted by BOJ | November 10, 2008 10:48 PM

Americentrist. The capital of the '00s is Beijing. :)

Posted by Ng Yi-Sheng | November 10, 2008 11:27 PM

@64 Right you are!

Posted by Vince | November 11, 2008 7:18 AM

No, "Capitols" are buildings, like the temple in Rome or the home of the legislative branch of our federal government.

A capital is a city, typically a government seat, but in this case "capital" is being used in more of a cultural and economic context.

Posted by Easterner | November 11, 2008 8:08 AM

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