Saving Belltown by Saving Seattle

Updated: Feb 26, 2019

Since it's launch, Rise Up Belltown has been building a proposal to help keep Belltown affordable. Part of that means figuring out how residents and workers can afford to live here, part of that means preserving our community's cultural and commercial heart, and part of that means ensuring we're investing in human people. Today, the circulation draft of that proposal is officially available, as an overview of the Seattle Community and Affordability Network. Below I've written a letter to you, the Humans of Belltown, about why we can't just save ourselves, and about why it's so important that we work together as Seattleites, to save each other.

A Letter from Belltown.

Dear #HumansOfBelltown,

We need to have a conversation about how we live together in Seattle. Everything in this city is more expensive every day. And living in this city is becoming impossible for too many of us. Icons of our culture, in every neighborhood, are being lost. Our rents go up every year.

So do our property taxes, because we have such great needs and few other ways to meet them. Yet all the while our neighborhood main streets are getting bulldozed, as our local business owners lose their leases under the constant pressures of growth.

We lose even our churches, and our temples to music and the arts. And we lose our artists and our friends. In Belltown we’ve even lost our community center. Because not even the City can afford the high rent.

So friends. We have to talk about growth. Because growth is simply the reality. And we’ll still get to make some choices about it, so long as we’re paying attention. Which we haven’t been.

When we’re actually paying attention, then growth can be an awesome thing. Because more people moving in theoretically means more resources and more brainpower and more creative energy and just.. more LIFE! It also means less sprawl, which means more forest, which means a much MUCH happier mother earth.

Meanwhile, even if you hate growth — it’s happening anyway. There are cranes everywhere, and even so, our city is still bursting at its seams. Everything is still too expensive for everyone, because we still don’t have enough space. And that’s because we’ve only got a fixed amount of space! There’s water and other cities in every direction. There’s only one way to grow, and that’s UP.

But nobody wants to. Or at least not enough people want to. If there were, we would have done it by now, and we haven’t, so everything still costs a fortune, because the supply of space in our city is still limited. Because nobody wants to grow up.

Of course that’s not to say there aren’t good reasons. We don’t want to lose our culture, and our creative spirit. And we don’t want to lose our communities. Yet all of these things require affordability. And there is none, because we haven’t got enough space for everyone.

It’s a vicious cycle, but it doesn’t have to be.

Culture and creativity. Community and affordability. These are not unreasonable requests of a concerned public, even as we welcome new neighbors to our city.

So what have we, as Seattle, done about it over the past three decades?

Well, since most people didn’t want to grow and build new space, our city leaders GAVE AWAY FOR FREE a whole bunch of land to developers, hoping that getting it for free would make those developers more likely to build new space on the land, for new people to live in.

“No! Surely not! No!” You must be thinking. “We can’t give away land for free!” But we did give it away.

Just not on the ground. Land in the air is still land, when you’re charging somebody money for it. And honestly, can we even blame those old city leaders? All of America was built by giving away land to developers, or by selling it for cheap to pay for building the city in the first place. It was the way things were done, and it certainly worked for European settlers in the past.

What did most of the developers do, with all that free land in the sky? They raced to build luxury units throughout Downtown, trying to out-compete in the luxury market. And now one quarter of those units are EMPTY. Because the rest of us can’t afford that nonsense.

So despite all the development, throughout all the rest of Seattle, we’re still barely better off on the whole. We’re losing all our culture as we bulldoze the city, and we’re also STILL losing our communities, as our family and friends and bartenders and businesses and office workers and artists are all of us forced to move on.

Often there’s nowhere to go.

In Belltown, we know our homeless. Despite what people may say, the math makes clear that they are not all drifters, from afar. And in truth they are not without a home. Belltown is their home. We know their names, and we know their stories. They are former residents of the Humphrey, and the Charlesgate, and the Castle, and the Franklin, and of many more buildings, across Belltown. And they too, are part of our community.

This is simply our reality. And the system we’ve been trying clearly isn’t working. The incentive of free land has not solved it. So we’ve got to try something new.

We know this in Belltown, because we’ve been living it in Belltown for decades. If we want to preserve a culture of creativity, and if we want to preserve a culture of affordability so that we don’t lose our friends and communities to forced economic eviction, then we have to try something new.

But the problem is immense. And we’re not going to solve it, unless we bring the rest of Seattle along for the ride. And truthfully, most of Seattle is dealing with exactly the same challenge: our communities are being lost, because only a small handful of us can actually afford to stay.

It’s a challenge that’s in need of a creative Seattle solution.

Taken together, these ideas could help Seattle grow into the global city that we’re destined to be, while still carving out space for culture and community; for creativity and affordability; for the artists and the working class; for both the wealthy and for those who live outside.

in solidarity and love,