Beacon Hill: Seattle's Bohemian Sprawl?


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Beacon Hill was name-dropped in this article in Wednesday's New York Times, which features one side of the economic downturn that's fairly awkward, if not downright offensive, to talk about: the plight of neighborhoods on the trendy, artistic, gentrifying fringe.

As the Times' Scott Timberg writes,

The deep recession, with its lost jobs and falling home values nationwide, poses another kind of threat: to the character of neighborhoods settled by the young creative class, from the Lower East Side in Manhattan to Beacon Hill in Seattle. The tide of gentrification that transformed economically depressed enclaves is receding, leaving some communities high and dry.
For long-time residents, the return to pre-boom rents may be a blessing. But it also poses a rattling question of identity: What happens to bourgeois bohemia when the bourgeois part drops out?

Of course, it's easy to shrug off these enclaves as fleeting anyway, or even detrimental to the communities they often displace. But as the Times points out, the small businesses and unique gathering spots that move in and make these neighborhoods the destinations they become often add something else to the landscape. Call it personality, community, or even walkability. The cyclic impact of the creative class on urban environments is too much of a pattern to ignore.

An interesting point -- brought to the forefront by my co-blogger Ashley DeForest -- comes up on the article's second page:

Christian Lander, 30, who jeered the pretensions of the creative class on his Web site, Stuff White People Like, lives a few miles to the west of Eagle Rock and says things will be fine — better even. “The economic downturn is good for fringe neighborhoods,” Mr. Lander said. “It returns the neighborhood to the people who consider themselves to be real residents.”

What constitutes a real neighborhood resident? We spend a lot of time talking about what the built environment looks like. But when you look harder, do we really understand the wants and plans of the people who occupy it?

Photo credit: Stephanie Diani for The New York Times.

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