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The gentrification of grungetown

Athoughtful piece in the Seattle Times today by long-time area music writer Charles Cross suggests that the Emerald City, which became such a target of gentrification in large part because its arts scene is so active, may be driving away its popular arts because of just that success.

Gas Works ParkThe trigger for his immediate concern is Gas Works Park, a 20-acre former industrial site (as its name suggests) obtained by the city of Seattle and opened as a park in 1975. A series of 17 concerts had been planned there; a lawsuit from neighbors (who are not exactly right on top of the area) apparently has killed it.

That would be a minor issue by itself, but apparently it is emblematic. All over Seattle, Cross writes, in places like Pioneer Square and Belltown where funky music outlets fostered the development of grunge and much else, and where neighbors often are much closer – and where they often have paid outrageous prices for the privilege of cultural nearness – similar battles have been underway. The issue is of special note because the arts, and especially music, play such an important part in the identity and culture of Seattle: They are an important piece of its definition.

“Club owners have found themselves squeezed by rising rents, plus ordinances that control noise, hours and crowd sizes. Artists and musicians rely on cheap urban rent districts — which was the very reason Belltown spawned a music scene two decades ago — and those are increasingly impossible to find in Seattle,” Cross writes. And he asks: “The larger question, though, is what kind of city will Seattle be in the future: one ruled by condo owners and developers and not-in-my-backyard special interests, or one where a vibrant arts scene plays a role?”

Sounds like a question ripe for serious civic consideration.

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