On December 30, Seattle Times published this "timely" article written by the paper's chief commentator of an economic boom that began a few years after the crash of 2008 and apparently came to an end when Black Lives Matter protesters shut down the East Precinct, Jon Talton: "Will Seattle ever reclaim its status as a vibrant ‘superstar city’?"
Talton begins Seattle's story "a century ago," though I would have been impressed if he found a way to begin with the Missoula floods, which happened "between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago." Talton's 100-year movement to the black hole triggered "by the 2020 murder of George Floyd" and CHOP, includes the Wright brothers, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, the Great Depression, World War II, the American Century, the fall of the Soviet Union, and, of course, the rise of China.
I have nothing more to say about the historical background in this post, but I do want to provide a possible answer to its key question:
[W]ill [Seattle] ever return to the old Seattle. Not the one from 1962, but the vibrant “superstar city” that emerged in the 2010s, especially with Amazon and other tech companies’ transformation of South Lake Union and beyond.
After taking some serious hits during the pandemic, Seattle is on a comeback of sorts now. But will it ever regain its "superstar city" status from the 2010s? | Jon Talton https://t.co/SactPbhZzB— The Seattle Times (@seattletimes) December 30, 2022
The point of departure for my solution to Seattle's current post-COVID crisis (and post-COVID can, in my reading, also be described as the age of explicit necro-economics), is this passage:
Seattle is especially conducive to remote work, so downtown offices might remain well below their pre-COVID occupancy levels for years. The idea of turning empty office buildings into apartments is a popular aspiration among urban thinkers. But it’s easier said than done. Office towers are laid out differently from apartments, and conversions would be difficult and expensive, not to mention the resistance from building owners who would rather wait for a return to the office.
But this is not how capitalism works. Developers, the protagonist of the urban growth narrative, don't like to sit and wait and wait. They want to awaken and animate their animal spirits. And the reason for this is found in an economic law discovered many years ago by the greatest economist of the 20th century, Michał Kalecki: "Capitalists earn as much as they spend and workers spend as much as they earn." If capitalists do not spend, they can only save. And the returns on saving are always lower than the returns on spending. As Marx famously put it: "[A] miser [or saver] is merely a capitalist gone mad."
So what should Seattle do if downtown workers do not return? Sodomize it. To understand my meaning, let's look up to the second-largest city of the Pacific Northwest, Vancouver BC.
Just before the crash of 2008, from whose ashes rose Seattle's tech boom, the Vancouver architectural critic Trevor Boddy posted an article, "The New Seattle (versus Vancouver)," which criticized the downtown of his city for focusing on the economy of pleasure/consumption rather than that of business, the latter of which is productive (the former is, in a moral sense, consumptive). Seattle, he argued, had a downtown that was almost all about business. People went into our city to work, not consume. Vancouver's lack of what Marx called a base, Boddy argued, made his city all about what can be described as the baseless form of Marx's superstructure. This state of affairs made the city vulnerable to sudden changes in the global economy.
Now putting aside, for this post, the problem of capital parking in Vancouver (a problem that has finally been recognized), in our post-CHOP/necro-economic environment, it seems that the Vancouver model might actually be better adapted to flourish.
Back in 2007, "[t]he biggest difference between downtown Seattle and Vancouver is the ratio of downtown jobs to housing. Vancouver has about 85,000 people living downtown and 135,000 downtown jobs. Seattle's downtown supports about 165,000 workers, but only 22,000 residents." This ratio may eventually prove impossible for our city's developers. And more than that, they will see (as the waiting becomes unbearable) a real growth potential not so much in housing but in hotels. This could stir their animal spirits. But hotels need visitors. Yes. And this is where, again, downtown Vancouver is in the lead. The city is for visitors in search of pleasure. Indeed, business people from around the province (and the neighboring province, Alberta) attract (and make agreements with) business people from around the world in downtown Vancouver principally because there is pleasure to be had there.
Seattle needs to look at this example seriously. But it means making several changes to its culture and laws. For one, our city would need to decriminalize prostitution (and, by this way, regulate it as it regulates all other forms of "legitimate" business). Also, the city should legalize drinking in strip clubs, as well as create public spaces for cannabis consumption. Bars should be permitted to be open all night and day. You get the picture. Seattle should, in a post-COVID world (which is seeing a decline of tech-worker power), learn from one of the best cities in the Bible, the only city I would visit if I could return to those days of sand and sandals, Sodom.