Monday, April 04, 2011

Bridge building in Seattle vs. isolation in Portland: a perspective on the Seattle vs. Portland debate

Many people say that Portland is better than Seattle because it's truer to a vision of an alternative society, one that's ecologically sustainable and local, with mass transit and other amenities. However, what Portland lacks is a way to make any of this relevant to folks who live outside of the city. Portland's model, unfortunately, lacks basic realism, the realism that comes with realizing that simply dropping out of society and living in your own little kingdom isn't necessarily the best strategy for changing the world in a positive direction. Yes, Seattle is more mainstream if you consider being more integrated into the world outside the Northwest as being mainstream, but it's also attempting to blend the same sorts of values that Portland has with economic activities that go beyond an economy based on arts and crafts. In that sense, Seattle is a kind of bridge between the Northwest and the rest of the world.

Why is the rest of the world thought to be bad by folks either in Portland or in other heavily alternative communities in the area? Surely not all of New York City is bad, or Boston, Miami, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia. Why not reach out to what's good in those areas, imitate it, incorporate it into ones social system, and improve your way of life rather than isolating yourself from it? By doing so a city makes itself more relevant on the world stage, makes itself truly world class instead of just a provincial show piece. Seattle can do it.

Sure, doing so would make Seattle be definition more like the East Coast, but is that really such a bad thing? It would be tempting to see a sharp choice between California and the East Coast, but I think that in reality the more realistic option is a blend between East Coast and West Coast mediated through the city of Seattle, combining with native Northwest traditions not transplanted from either side. California alternativeness combined with rugged individualism combined with realism would be a potent mix for change.

*the native Northwest style, not the Native American style although that figures into it no doubt, is based on the Northwest originally being a logging center. Individualism and self reliance through logging camps in the middle of the forest was the start, with a culture similar to that of western Montana.

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