Seattle

What city is this that rises like the River Nile

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

I just visited Seattle for the first time in about a year, and I came away disoriented by the massive developments underway on the south end of Lake Union.

If you are not familiar with this location, Amazon.com has its world headquarters located here, without any identifiable corporate identifier telling you that you are in the center of its global and growing empire. Multi-billionaire, real-estate mogul, and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen was the big bucks developer who brought his personal vision of a techie, corporate Seattle to this once under-developed area of warehouses and retail.

My alma mater, the University of Washington, itself a corporate institution that is focused on real-estate acquisition and business partnerships, has developed the UW at South Lake Union complex here to promote biotechnology and medical research, with a vision of developing profitable revenue streams. One of its new buildings is well under construction too, as seen in the photo essay.

Good, Bad, or Unknown?

I left Seattle in 2014. Since that time, construction has taken off even more intensely in this area. The success of Amazon has also fueled the city’s runaway and skyrocketing housing costs. These also have driven many lower-income and now middle-income residents outside of the city, which some say is a larger reflection of growing income inequality. That is one reason I left.

The Stranger, the city’s alternative weekly, noted in April 2017 that the tech bubble is not the only driver—out-of-state and out-of-country investors, including hedge fund dollars and Chinese-source foreign capital, are helping to fuel real-estate speculation. “We do know that 38 [percent] of purchases in Seattle real estate are done with cash, which is a red flag suggesting something is out of whack,” reports The Stranger.

However, Amazon is having an outsized role in the rapid changes underway. In its Aug. 23, 2017 piece, “Thanks to Amazon, Seattle is now America’s biggest company town,” the Seattle Times described Amazon’s role in Seattle this way: “Amazon so dominates Seattle that it has as much office space as the city’s next 40 biggest employers combined. And the growth continues: Amazon’s Seattle footprint of 8.1 million square feet is expected to soar to more than 12 million square feet within five years.”

Fisher Auto Body Plant

The once state of the art Fisher Auto Body Plant in Detroit is now a crumbling ruin.

Historic Parallels? 

Seeing the multiple building cranes and stacks of bland, new office towers in the South Lake Union area reminded me of the golden age of Detroit, my home city. Motown is now the poster child for urban failure in the minds of many planners in the United States and even internationally. From a peak population of nearly 1.8 million in 1950 and once the epicenter of the nation’s manufacturing sector, it entered into a long downward spiral in the 1960s and never recovered. It is now a shell of its former greatness, struggling to reinvent itself in a post-industrial, post-NAFTA world.

So, Seattle, plan well and know the party cannot last forever. All great things reach an apogee. Some great beacons of power and commerce collapse quickly, and others slowly. Rome or Beijing or Istanbul may be eternal cities, but their mighty and powerful empires came and went.

(Note from Author: Yes, the title of this article is a play on words from the Bible, from Jeremiah; I could not resist, and I am not a member of any religious denomination.)

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Fifteen years since 9-11, a brief remembrance

It is hard to believe 15 years has passed since the most important recent historic event in my country took place on the beautiful September day in 2001. I remember everything about it. I watched the replays on the TV and yelled, waking my housemate. I remember our nation’s ability to come together in the days and hours after this attacked, as demonstrated in my home of Seattle, where thousands gathered to express sorrow, unity, and hope. I grew concerned seeing how laws were passed by Congress that were never even read by some members, notably the Patriot Act, all in the name of national security. And then there were the two wars, and conflicts still rage in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Seattle Sikh community gathered days after 9-11 at the Seattle Center to express both their loyalty and concern in the aftermath of the attacks.

The Seattle Sikh community gathered days after 9-11 at the Seattle Center to express both their loyalty and concern in the aftermath of the attacks.

Yes, the day completely changed history, in the United States and more dramatically in the Middle East, especially for millions of innocent Iraqi civilians.

I dug these pictures out of my archive. I visited New York City in April 2005, to see Ground Zero and to see the scope of what happened. Work had already begun to build One World Trade Center. It was a silent place amid the bustle of the Big Apple. I am so glad I went.

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Swimming, great for the mind and body

I am a swimmer. Because of a persistent shoulder injury, called scapular displacement, I am unable to swim as much as I used to. But I go at least once a week. It is one of the best activities for one’s body. It allows the mind to filter out one’s problems and focus. It promotes health and fitness. It loosens tight lower back muscles. As one former Olympics swimmer and gold medalist Janet Evans notes: “Swimming is the ultimate all-in-one fitness package, working most muscles in the body in a variety of ways with every stroke. When strokes are performed correctly, the muscles lengthen and increase in flexibility. The significant repetition of strokes improves muscle endurance, and because water creates more resistance against the body than air does in land exercise, the muscles are strengthened and toned. Swimming also significantly enhances core strength, which is important to overall health and stability in everyday life. The hip, back, and abdominal muscles are crucial to moving through the water effectively and efficiently. Swimming builds these core muscles better than any abs video or gadget advertised on television. Finally, a properly structured swim workout provides incredible improvements to the cardiovascular system. The nature of breathing when swimming-with breath being somewhat limited in volume and frequency-promotes greater lung capacity and a consistent intake of oxygen. Both aerobic and anaerobic gains can be made in the same workout.”

These are shots I took at an open water swim event at Lake Meridian, in Kent, Washington, in 2012. Some very fit, hyper-competitive athletes were in this group. Most mere mortals can benefit from going to a local pools once or more a week. If you have not taken up swimming, try it out. Go slow. Give it time. It took me about 25 times before I finally switched from hating doing laps to loving my trips to the pool. Like all good things, it takes time.

Portland: ‘Rip City’ for winners, the jungle for the losers

(Photos taken three blocks apart. Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Last week I attended an event where participants discussed the regional crisis around homelessness. The City of Portland has already declared a housing crisis, to confront rents that are climbing fastest here than any city in the country. The average rent has climbed more than 40 percent since 2010 (data from 2015, and only worse since). The Guardian newspaper in February reported “shelter for the homeless has become anything but discrete.” The Guardian reported: “Portland saw rents appreciate nearly 15% in 2015 – the highest increase in the nation – with an average rent of $1,689 per month, according to real estate company Zillow. Five years ago, it was around $980.” A person I heard at the forum I attended described the tent communities positively, even one downtown at the entrance to Chinatown, for being self-run. Others I know have described such shantytowns as frightening, particularly for single women walking by. The person who shared their concerns with me about the Chinatown situation travels by that shantytown everyday (and, yes, I will call them shantytowns).

Tents encampments are widely visible under most overpasses, under bridges, in rights of way like the Springwater corridor, and in public parks. There is nothing sanitary about them. Trash is strewn all around them, and it is doubtful the residents of these tent encampments are using sanitary systems to dispose of human waste. Many of these residents also have drug and mental health issues. And the situation has grown dramatically more visible since I first arrived in September 2014.

Some places once that had green spaces on state right of ways now have a tent encampment of at least 15 units, all over the city. In February, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales legalized camping by homeless residents. Portland and Multnomah County claim they will spend up to $30 million to fight homelessness and offer more affordable housing. But that will not happen til July this summer. We will see what happens.

Seattle’s Mayor, Ed Murray, has taken on tent cities as failures, and his hired expert claims tent cities prolong the homeless problem without solving it. This came after a shooting at Seattle’s notorious “jungle,” which attracted national attention. In that attack in January this year, two were shot dead, and three badly wounded. One known encampment for homeless residents on the Springwater Corridor trail, in nearby Gresham, was the scene of a reported sexual assault by a recently released ex-convict, who was apprehended the same day, on March 25, about a half mile from my house. As someone who once passed homeless encampments every day for two years in Seattle and who sees homeless encampments every week in Portland, I do not have a magic solution. The housing bubble is certainly a root cause to the crisis, along with national economic issues and income inequality, plus regional market forces. So long as rents continue climbing in cities like Portland and more Americans cannot find stable housing with low paying jobs, they will flock to the Northwest, and its many mini-jungles, along with the more brutal Skid Row in Los Angeles, home to an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 homeless.

Fancy dancing at the Seafair Seattle Pow-Wow

I really like pow-wows. They are lively, loud, physical, colorful, cultural, competitive, creative, and welcoming. One of my favorite activities in Seattle, when I lived there, was to visit Discovery Park for the annual Seafair Seattle Pow-Wow. The event fell on hard times recently, and has been cancelled, but it looks like funding was secured once more and it was held again, most recently in 2015. These shots all date from July 2013. All but one are of the male elders. What I noticed was a lot of intensity among the younger male dancers, and more energy conserving movements of the older, more veteran contestants. The most athletic did not win; it was the one who was in a space of personal expression, feeling the drum, and how that moved him.

Contestants who participated came from across the Northwest region and Canada, and tribes from the Spokane, to the Colvilles, to the Warm Springs, to the Umatilla, and more, were represented. Everyone I saw appeared to love it. The place was packed and everyone was taking pictures.

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

 

It’s summer, time to celebrate

These are some of the many dancers who parade through the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle every solstice. The forecast this weekend in Northwest makes me want cheer and welcome the new season. So why not have some summer worshippers show what that means to us in this region. (Photo taken June 2014.)

Click on each the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.

The doggie cam harness before there was a doggie cam harness

I made this video in 2013, a year before GoPro came out with its own line of harnesses designed especially for dogs. Other companies were already out of the gate, but all I had at the time was a human head harness. I enlisted the help of my neighbor and her best buddy and my good friend, Balloo. Balloo was a trooper and tolerated the indignity of a loose fitting harness. We got a few good shots playing catch. I saw both owner and Balloo again at Thanksgiving, and Balloo cried when he saw me. He is such a goooooood boy!

A long-promised gift, portraits in the park

I made a deal with a friend and former grad school classmate to do a photo shoot as a gift, and we finally connected. We had fun. Taking portraits is a really wonderful way to spend quality time with people. You share stories. You connect in meaningful ways. You laugh. You joke. Sometimes you talk about the not-so-happy things too. This was one of the first pictures I snapped, and I loved the result. (Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Bird outside the window

One or two families of crows nest in trees in my backyard. Noisy winged neighbors indeed, and bullies. I am fairly certain they keep all other birds away too (crows raid nests of other birds, as they are efficient at finding food anywhere). Crows are not quite as stately as the raven, the granddaddy of all birds and the apex of the corvid family of birds. At times I watch the crows, likely this one, on a perch outside my kitchen window, and they cannot see me. They are wickedly smart and not afraid to tussle and compete with humans for the land we mistakenly think is “ours.” (Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)