A Tale of Two Cities: Nickelsville vs. Allentown

On my way to the Power of One exhibit after work yesterday, I came across a jarring juxtaposition of events at Westlake Park.  There was a  Nickelsville “die-in” protest in support of (and by) the homeless near the arch (in the traditional protest area).

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Across the street, was a WSU Cougar rally, complete with marching band and cheerleaders.

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I published them together in a mini-gallery, A Tale of Two Cities, on my Flickr page, noting the irony that even a rally for a rival football team gathers more of a crowd than homeless people talking about their friends who have die.

The real Tale of Two Cities contrast, however, would better be reflected by some of my photos further along on my walk, of Belltown condos.  Condos, having sprung up all over the city, driving up rents and home prices, and eliminating apartments for lower income renters and single family homes that being torn down as well (drawing the ire and complaints of wealthier commuters on my rides home from work).

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Yeah, nice view of the Space Needle, if you can afford it.

Of course, these condo conversions affect the poorest of our society worse.  Here’s the problem with Seattle’s attempts at dealing with low-income housing, as noted in a recent Seattle Weekly article, Welcome to Nickelsville:

Two and a half years after implementation, the committee that oversees the 10-year plan (Nickels is on the 23-member governing board, along with King County Executive Ron Sims) reports that 1,449 units have been built and another 1,411 are in the works. But these numbers don’t take into account the number of low-income units lost during this period. According to the Seattle Displacement Coalition, 3,511 low-income units have been lost since 2005 in Seattle alone due to condo conversion, demolition, or speculative sale.

If low-income housing is disappearing at twice the rate it’s being built, not only won’t you house the current homeless, a great many of the rest of us on the bottom may soon be joining them.

Nickelsville protesters are, quite seriously, planning on building a shanty town to live in, called Nickelsville (and to be settled by Nickelodeons), after our beloved Mayor, Greg Nickels, who is currently sending out the police and city workers on homeless encampment sweeps, often taking and destroying what little these people own in the process.

As Danny Westneat noted in his June 15 article in the Seattle Times, it’s a little scary that we’re talking about going back in times to Hoover. . ., er Nickels . . .villes:

Seattle once had a Hooverville in the 1930s on Port of Seattle land near the current sports stadiums.

Twice the city burned the wood and tin shacks, and twice the residents rebuilt. In the mid-’30s, a census counted 639 people living in 479 shacks.

This is what it has come to: The homeless in 2008 are looking to go back to the 1930s.

Yes, it seems like a terrible idea; but where are these people supposed to live when the city’s ten year plan to end homelessness isn’t working and there’s not nearly enough room at the shelters (let alone actual low income housing)?  One of Danny Westneat’s readers asked, what about SROs (single room occupancy apartments/hotels)?  Indeed, what about SROs?  Why is they don’t seem to exist anymore?  

We got plenty of condos though, and always money for new stadiums and trolley lines going through (maybe soon to be developed) warehouse districts for Microsoft made billionaire Paul Allen (who spurred the condo explosion in the South Lake Union area that has caused wags to re-name it Allentown).

Why do the city’s priorities seem to be only driven by billionaires and wealthy downtown business owners?  I’m afraid Seattle is going to become just like San Francisco or New York City where only the gap is so stark that only the wealthy and the homeless seem to live any more, and people wonder why the homeless seem so hostile.

I leave you with the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (long past due review of his and Tom Morello’s live version and the rest of the Magic Tour Highlights album coming soon):

Men walkin’ ‘long the railroad tracks
Goin’ someplace there’s no goin’ back
Highway patrol choppers comin’ up over the ridge
Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin’ round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin’ in their cars in the southwest
No home no job no peace no rest

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody’s kiddin’ nobody about where it goes
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Searchin’ for the ghost of Tom Joad

Looks like the ghost of Tom Joad is going to be living on in Nickelsville.

Welcome to the 21st Century in Seattle!

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