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The AVE Scene: Why Marcie Stillman is Wrong About SLU

Over at Crosscut Marcie Sillman has an intriguing history of Seattle as a city of innovation.  Here is a taste of what she covers:

Boeing
Nirvana
Amazon
Microsoft
Starbucks
Slate
Immunex
I found the list somewhat sad.  For example SEALAND and United Parcel, both of which loom hugely in today’s economy, were founded in Seattle. 
Somehow she also leaves out Alaska … Seattle has lived off  gold, salmon, and the oil pipeline for a century and half  because the workers are smart enough to live down here.  Anyone who does not understand how the gold rush transformed this place should talk to the Duwamish people about how quickly their ancestors were displaced.
Back at the list,  I would add these names and non-corporations to this list:
Wobblies, the Long Shoreman’s Union and  Harry Bridges
Marc Tobey and the amazing artists of the NW school
Jimi Hendrix
Ed Krebs and Eddie Fisher, their Nobel led to a huge part of modern anti cancer therapy
Bill Holm, the “formline” … the basis for the huge renaissance in art from our own
REI and The Mountaineers
Salish peoples all the way up to Alaska.
Donald Thomas, Nobel for Bone Marrow transplant
Jacob Lawrence
UW Immunology faculty .. the founders of Immunex
Tom Hutchinson and Hal Weintraub, the Hutchinson Cancer Center
Lee Hood, the true father of the Human Genome Project
Chief Seattle, whose vision allowed Seattle to come to be.
 Chief Leschi, brave leader of the effort to stop extermination of what came before.
Victor Steinbrueck and Pike Place Market
Washington’s wine industry
I am sure there is much more, but my main point is that Marcie Sillman misses the engine that has driven Seattle.  That engine is a culture forged from some rather amazing, divers roots.  
Marcie Sillman’s viewpoint especially disturbs me because of its praise for South Lake Union.  She extols Mayor Nickles for  meeting with
 “biotechnology industry leaders and asking them what they needed from the city. The answer: an urban version of an industrial/research park, to be centered in the Cascade neighborhood just south of Lake Union.”
The major driving force in SLU is not … at least not yet … biotech.  Despite the prominence of Seattle’s UW School of Medicine, Seattle ranks well below much more entrepreneurial places like the Bay Area, Southern California, Pennsylvania near U. Penn, and of course Boston.  To be blunt the entire region has failed to take advantage of the immense research stenght of the UW.
SLU itself is … at least today .. not very impressive.  The founding companies for the area, Rosetta  and Zymogenetics, have now failed or shrunk.  Immunex chose to build its campus outside of SLU and then sold itself, and that campus, to AMGEN.  Most of today’s biotech innovation is still occurring in Bothell and the Eastside.  The only real success so far is the publicly funded move of the UW School of Medicine of its clinical and “translational” programs to the new (paul Allen owned) SLU campus. 
I think this failure is in part because the SLU development has ignored  traditional Seattle values.  This city has never been about downtown.  The largest corporate presence by far is Amazon.  Paul Allen’s real estate company has created a fortress like complex for the world’s #1 retailer.  This fortress has NO street presence, no even  a bookstore or a physical place to interact with what has become Amazonia. Other than source for jobs, the company’s cultural impact is zero.
I think SLU misses the reason the old Seattle was (and stilo is) such a creatiuve place.  Seattle’s innovators have worked from their homes, the UW campus, or neighboring … more rural .. districts.  As a resident of SLU, I note the absence of bars and bookshops.  While restaurants like Tom Douglas’ clones are growing like weeds, none of these offer the kind of casual atmosphere where creative people are likely to gather.  Even the condoes sprouting up here lack the public spaces that have engendered ideas in the living rooms, community centers and garages of “old” Seattle.
The most visible effect of this corporate atmosphere is that the art community has been driven out.  The SLU gallery scene is anemic. Thge comparison with the scene around biotech in the Bay Ares or Boston is depressing.
I have met people in those condoes who have no idea of what Mr. Rainier is like or why they should camp on drive the North Cascade Highway.  Thsee folks are living in Manahattan, not Seattle.
In sum it seems to me that SLU is just a business district, an expansion of down town office space and Manhattan style housing that is quite unlike the odd mix Ms. Sillman extols.

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