On the Seattle Metropolitan Project and its Consequences

/Yesterday, I spent 20 minutes watching a crew tear down a brick wall, and I
thought of the workers, long since dead, who first built that wall. As much
as I love the new, I remain haunted by the old. Just like you. Just like this

/ /-Sherman Alexie, South Lake Union, 2012

* Energy*

This story starts, simply enough, with some power lines. Puget Sound Energy
(PSE) has begun advertising its new plan: Energize Eastside [1]. They
propose to build 18 miles of additional electrical transmission lines between
Renton and Redmond. The new lines will be able to handle 230 kilovolts as
opposed to the current 115 kilovolt lines. In the process of building this
new infrastructure, PSE will seize land from private owners, tear down more
trees, and in certain cases bulldoze entire houses.

PSE is promoting Energize Eastside as a necessary expansion that will
decrease the chance of blackouts during future storms. However, it is no
secret that the Microsoft campus is in Redmond where the proposed power lines
begin and that a Boeing factory is in Renton where the proposed power lines
end. Scattered around these new lines are the Costco headquarters in
Issaquah, T-Mobile US headquarters in Bellevue, and Google’s expanding
Kirkland campus. Energize Eastside is built for these companies and the
project reflects their needs.
For example, Microsoft has a nearly secret data center in Tukwila [2] that
barely shows up in any search algorithm. Located at 3333 S. 120th Place,
just down the hill from the Seattle Department of Homeland Security
headquarters, the T5 data center [3] houses an unknown amount of Microsoft
servers. This data center uses a massive amount of electricity and
represents only a fraction of Microsoft’s local energy needs.

On March 19th, PSE will host their first neighborhood meetings [4] on the
proposed route of the Energize Eastside power lines. Redmond, Bellevue, and
Renton will each host several of these meetings until May. It will most
prudent to attend these events and make them difficult for the architects of
this new corporate project.

*The SLUT*

We have already seen the effects of a different corporate project on the
streets of Seattle. Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, had the city build
an electric streetcar [5] from Downtown to his Vulcan Inc. properties in
South Lake Union. It started running in 2007 and on the street this
streetcar is known as “the SLUT.” Ever the thoughtful capitalist, Allen
hoped to lure potential tenants with this city-funded corporate
infrastructure. In December of 2007, the same month the SLUT went online,
Amazon announced it was moving from Beacon Hill to the Vulcan properties in
South Lake Union. Paul Allen’s streetcar certainly succeeded in closing
the deal with Amazon and lured them into their present location. Allen later
sold the property to Amazon for one billions dollars [6], cashing out like a

In the meantime, the same electric streetcar network is now spreading through
Downtown and up the hills. Track construction for the First Hill Streetcar
has tore up Jackson Street [7] in the International District for many months,
making it look like a war zone or disaster area. The tracks leave Little
Saigon [8] and travel up towards Yesler Terrace and the new development
there. Despite opposition [9] to the project, the existing low-income
housing in Yesler Housing is now being destroyed to make way for new high-end

The Seattle Housing Authority and Vulcan have teamed up [10] to reshape
Yessler Terrace and make it more profitable and sterilized. In total there
will be 850 low-income units surrounded by at least 1,500 market-rate housing
units. Conveniently for Vulcan, the First Hill Streetcar passes through the
future site of their new luxury apartments. Currently, the old buildings
that made up the Yesler Terrace community are now being destroyed one at a
time, making way for 1,500 new rich people who will live in the towers
overlooking Eliot Bay.
In his 2014 state of the city address, mayor Ed Murray announced [11] he
would be pushing to connect all the streetcar lines. If an additional
streetcar line is built between the First Hill Streetcar and the SLUT, a new
network will have been created that links them all together with two Sound
Transit light rail stations. The first of these is the International
District station, located where the First Hill Streetcar and the proposed
First Avenue Streetcar meet. The second is the Capitol Hill light rail
station [12], located where the First Hill line terminates [13].

When completed, this station will allow passengers to travel from the
University District to Capitol Hill more quickly than if they rode the bus.
After construction is done, there will be several new parcels of land that
will be sold off to the highest bidder. Bids are now being submitted [14] to
Sound Transit and the picks will be announced in October of 2014. The city
just allowed any of these potential developers to build 85-feet buildings as
long as they build the minimum low-income housing. If everything goes as
planned, the area around the corner of Broadway and Denny will be
unrecognizable and a new, powerful node of hyper-gentrification will be in
We all can see a vastly altered Capitol Hill, with new buildings rising every
month. The streetcar projects are moving synchronically with this new
development. Once they come online, these streetcars will keep money flowing
in and throughout these hyper-gentrified areas. Just as Paul Allen lured
Amazon with the SLUT, these streetcars will lure potential residents and
investors. As we all know, the poor will be pushed even further away from
the center to the north and the south. While rich techies may call them
uncreative or lazy, these displaced people are always the most exploited in
the metropolis. They work to keep it all running.

*Train to Tacoma*

* *

Speaking of the south, it was recently announced that the light rail line
Sound Transit operates in Tacoma will begin charging fares [15] in September,
2014. Since it was completed in 2003, the Tacoma Link has delivered
weekenders, tourists, and the street population from Downtown to the Tacoma
Dome for absolutely free. Now, over a decade later, Sound Transit announced
it would begin charging a one dollar fare. This coincides with their plans
to expand the line up the hill into the Stadium District and then west into
the Hilltop neighborhood down Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Whereas the Stadium District has always been affluent and white, Hilltop has
largely been black and impoverished. In a story repeated in many other
cities, the once thriving black diaspora that settled down after WWII was
undermined by discriminatory economic policies, institutionalized racism,
police terror, and imported narcotics. None of these factors that lead to
the Mother’s Day riots [16] of 1969 were ever addressed and black youth
faced a grim life on the streets of Tacoma.

When a group of Crips suddenly arrived in 1984, bringing with them cocaine
imported by the CIA, there was suddenly the chance for quick economic
prosperity amidst a US economy in recession. The turf wars that began in
1984 over drug territory did not stop for nearly two decades.

After the violence was sufficiently lowered and the Hilltop black community
shattered by internal warfare, a city-sponsored development scheme [17] was
hatched between the developers, the police, the county prosecutor, and the
creative class, a fictional group of people thought up by a man named Richard
Florida. According to him, the creative class was composed of techies, small
business owners, and artists. If they were imported, revitalization would

Florida hypnotized most of the Tacoma city council with his fairy tales and
while new developments rose around the city, accompanied by an artificially
imposed artists community [18] that was hyped up to boisterous levels. Much
of this development occurred at the edge of the Hilltop, near the fields that
had once been houses condemned and torn down by the police and city.
This development took place in a neighborhood traumatized [19] by years of
violence and terror, years that are barely documented [20]. During this
initial gentrification effort, the city tried to rename the neighborhood
Upper Tacoma, hoping to erase the brutal history of what had happened in the
Hilltop. This effort ultimately failed and the neighborhood retained the
same name.

On the Thea Foss Waterway below the Hilltop, luxury condo buildings rose into
the air amidst this frenzy. Just as they were nearing completion, it became
quite clear that capitalism was going into a downfall. When asked about the
condo market in Tacoma, the sales manager for The Esplanade replied, “/What
market?/” The Esplanade building was foreclosed [21] on in 2009 and it
seemed as if Tacoma would become a perfect example of failed gentrification:
soulless, imposed, and doomed to fail. For the past six years this has been
the case.
Which brings us back to trains. It seems as if the Tacoma gentry want to
have another go at it and are gearing up for spillover from Seattle. The
proposed extension of the Tacoma Link to the Hilltop is a signal that
gentrification is starting again. With the condos finally filling up [22] on
the waterway and the city offering 8-12 year tax exemptions [23] for
developers, all the doors are open for a second wave far more terrible than
the previous one.

The new one dollar fare for the Tacoma Link is meant to drive the poor away
and prime downtown for an influx of new, wealthy residents. Originally built
to prove itself to Seattle, Sound Transit was content to let Tacoma have its
free transit in exchange for securing the highly profitable revenue from the
Seattle system. Now that Sound Transit thinks it can make a buck off the
city, there are no more free rides for the streets of Tacoma.

*The Feeding of the 12,000*

The Free Ride Area of Seattle is now a nearly forgotten memory. When it
existed, the Free Ride Area allowed the street population to traverse
Downtown quickly and easily, making their lives a bit easier. As more money
flowed into Seattle and the streets grew richer, it was only a matter of time
until the free rides vanished. Tourists and techies were not supposed to see
the poverty of the city when they rode the bus. They were supposed to see
the green city, the tech city, the clean city. In September of 2012, the
Metro ended the Free Ride Area, ending a loophole that enabled tens of
thousands of people to have free transit.

There are still hotspots of crime and poverty in the city center. The
transit corridor near 3rd and Pine is always lively and filled with chaos,
reflecting [24] the true composition of the metropolitan area. Acute poverty
and homelessness stands in stark contrast with extreme wealth and affluence
on the Downtown streets. It is plainly visible and despite their efforts,
the Seattle capitalists have been unable to get rid of it.

Back down at the end of the SLUT line, South Lake Union looks real clean,
quite the opposite of Downtown. As Sherman Alexie famously asked [25] in
2012: “/Where is the live music? Where are the street performers? Where are
the old men sitting in lawn chairs? Where is the dancing?/” Alexie never
hid his contempt for Amazon in his column [26] in /The Stranger/. Not only
was the company altering his neighborhood, they were looking to shake him and
other authors down for a bigger piece of their sales.

Whenever the New York publishing companies would rebel against Amazon’s
grip on the market, the company simply removed those publisher’s titles
from their search algorithms. This relationship [27] between Amazon and
publishers also exists between Amazon and the City of Seattle. As Alexie
explained, “/I often and sadistically hope that Amazon will collapse
beneath the weight of its corporate ego and libertarian bullshit. But I also
know that the local economy would be devastated if Amazon were critically
injured. Call it a morally fraught capitalistic dilemma. Or a
capitalistically corrupted moral dilemma./”

There certainly is a dilemma, but the hyper-gentrification of Seattle will
not wait for Alexie or other liberals to figure out which side they are on.
Amazon is currently preparing to massively expand their campus and bring in
12,000 new employees [28]. In the works are three massive office towers
surrounding a multistory bio-dome. Inside the dome, the 12,000 new employees
will enjoy their lunches inside a rich garden atmosphere. Outside, everyone
will be forced to see the upper classes hanging above them in luxury, sealed
off in their own private paradise, immune from the poverty outside.
These 12,000 will move into all the new condos and apartments planned to be
built in Capitol Hill, Ballard, West Seattle, and the Central District. They
will spend their high wages in these neighborhoods but their appetites will
be too refined for what the residents eat and love. Even more swanky
establishments will push out the old ones and more people will be put to work
as dishwashers, dog walkers, nannies, baristas, janitors, security guards,
and waitresses. Some will embrace their jobs and feel part of a team. But
the majority of these workers will have a class hatred not seen in the US
since the turn of the twentieth century. If all of these development and
expansion plans are actualized, the conditions will be so stark and the lines
so clear in Seattle that capitalism will once again be the enemy for the
majority of the population.

No one has to feed the 12,000 when they arrive. Although they may have their
bio-dome and luxury condos and electric trains, these people will have to
live beside us. Let us hope that by the time they arrive, the resistance is
well incubated.


* *

Which brings us right back to power lines. Everything described here in this
article is only possible because of electricity. In fact, capitalism is
becoming more and more addicted to higher amounts of it. Everyone needs to
charge their cellphones, plug in their computers, and light their offices in
order to work their high-paying jobs.

The electrical grid is taxed and old, just as it is everywhere, but
Microsoft, Google, and Amazon just want more and more from it. It does not
matter where the electricity comes from, so long as their centers do not
crash and everyone can still transmit their data. Energize Eastside is a
frantic effort to keep these corporations centered in Seattle. If these
corporations leave or vanish, the city will be in a revolutionary situation.

There are many directions to take, but it would be most prudent to begin
forming actual plans for the exit from capitalism. While we struggle against
these titanic forces, never forget the world that exists within your hearts
and always fight to bring it into being. It is the only world that matters
in this madness.

[1] http://www.energizeeastside.com/
[2] http://sabey.com/intergate-east-tech-campus/
[3] http://www.mckinstry.com/projects/88/tukwila-5-data-center
[4] http://www.energizeeastside.com/calendar
[5] http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/vulcan-grip/Content?oid=14707
[9] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWHJPTUy_FQ
[11] http://www.seattle.gov/docs/stateofthecity2014.pdf
[16] http://www.blackpast.org/aaw/mother-s-day-disturbance-1969
[20] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvkCs7jVHUc
[22] http://www.pointruston.com/blog/tacoma-condo-market-rising-from/