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Musings on digital media, urbanization and politics from Seattle, Wash.

The places you lose when you don’t build housing where housing goes

Gentrification can just as easily come from things not changing as it does from them changing.
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Photo by Frank T. Reid, 1979,

It’s impossible to beat an authentic dive bar. Like, the actual real thing—which can be something of a challenge to find in Seattle. We’re talking the Waterwheel Lounge, Leny’s Place, Loretta’s Northwesterner and a number of other spots in a decreasingly eclectic city.

Madison Park’s The Attic, which closed recently as it transitions to new undership under prominent Seattle resteranteur Ethan Stowell, is not a dive bar—despite what the Times says.

Its closure and ensuing transformation, the second since longtime owner Mark Long passed away in 2018, is a common one across the city with many neighborhood business corridors transitioning to serving a, uh, more elevated socioeconomic class than they once were.

Nobody’s going to shed a tear for Madison Park—home to Seattle’s most expensive and exclusive country club—getting a smidge more bougie, but this reminded me of something I saw a year or so ago in the wake of another neighborhood losing something of a landmark.

That’d be in Wallingford—or, ahem, the Wallingford-Meridian Streetcar Historic District—and the Guild 45th theater.

These couple tweets from an exchange after a video tweet of the theater’s facade being pulled down have stuck with me since.


The since-deleted tweets here said something along the lines of “The Moon Temple closed years ago. Maybe these places would still be in business if the people who loved them still went there.”

Well, in many cases, the people and demographics that made these neighborhoods the beloved places they are don’t really live there anymore.

Those Wallingford bungalows straight out of the old Sears catalogue are infinitely less likely to be occupied by blue collar workers and young families now than they were when they and the Guild were built in the first half of the 20th century.

When you lose those people, you’re going to lose the places they go.

That becomes doubly true when, despite us saying forever ago “These quiet blocks here—tree-lined, pleasant, off arterials and in the heart of wonderful neighborhoods—are where people should live,” we’ve stopped putting people on them and instead drop them right on top of what were small business-centric strips.

When the supply of developable property is so low, why would someone who owns a lot or three on a busy neighborhood arterial forgo selling and choose instead to lease to a dive bar or run some other low-margin small business themselves? Out of the goodness of their hearts?

People have to go somewhere. And with Seattle’s current housing policy, it’s usually right on top of these neighborhood drags—in a big way.

So you end up with a group of well-off people losing their minds over the idea of a four-plex going up next to their expensive home and bemoaning how their neighborhood isn’t what it once was.

But here’s the idea—neighborhoods are defined by their people, not the shape of the buildings.

If you want a vibrant and eclecletic neighborhood—or city—you have to have a vibrant and eclectic mix of people.

And to do that, you have to have places to for them to live.

Places where people are supposed to live, actually in the residential parts of those neighborhoods.

If you’re the type who laments how much Seattle is changing, you should consider how much the city not changing in important ways plays a role in erasing what has always made this city great—its people.

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