Stop by the Seattle chapter of Drinking Liberally to meet the local bloggers, and you’ll find that several of us originally hail from Philadelphia… though in fact, I don’t think that any of us technically grew up within city limits. I was 3 years old when my family moved out to the burbs for the usual reasons — better schools, safer streets, a little plot of land — but like most of the region’s natives, even those growing up across the river in New Jersey, I’ve always self-identified as a Philadelphian. We rooted for the same teams, consumed the same media, enjoyed or suffered the same local economy, and relied on “Center City” Philadelphia as our cultural and economic core. Of course, I could be more accurate and cop to growing up in Bala Cynwyd, but that sort of geographic specificity would actually be less useful to most folks from outside the region. Besides, which of the many Philadelphia suburbs I grew up in defines me a helluva lot less than the city these suburbs grew up around.
And so a couple of headlines in today’s Seattle Times op/ed page got me thinking about what I’ve long felt to be one of the greatest weaknesses of my adopted region: its determined resistance to establishing (or admitting to) a regional identity. In a column titled “The Eastside’s edge“, Lynn Varner lavishes praise on the booming economies of Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Issaquah and Renton, daring to hope for a “geographic shift of the region’s power center”, while at the same time an unsigned editorial looks less favorably on the city proper, opining “A changing Seattle, and not for the better“.
Uh-huh. This sort of neeter-neeter-neeterism not only does little to encourage the kind of regional “rapprochement” for which Varney claims she hopes, but actually distorts our understanding of the local economy, for the changes taking place both in Seattle and its surrounding suburbs are not only integrally linked, but are actually quite typical of growing metropolitan regions nationwide. Indeed, if not for Lake Washington’s geographic barrier it is likely that much of the Eastside would have been annexed long ago — just as Seattle did to neighboring communities to the North and the South — thus this supposed competition between cities would mostly be taking place within city limits. As if that really mattered.
City lines may determine school district boundaries, tax rates, land use regulations and other errata of modern life, but we are all one metropolitan region with shared cultural, economic, and increasingly, political interests. That Boeing lost that big Air Force tanker contract is a blow to the entire region, not just to the folks on the 767 assembly line up in Everett. If the Sonics sneak out of town in the middle of the night it will be a loss to sports fans throughout Western Washington. Those “music halls, sports stadiums, parks, [and] open space” the Times writes about are enjoyed by families in Ravenna and Renton alike, regardless of where these public amenities are located — hell, I even once ran into Tim Eyman and his Mukilteo-based family enjoying the taxpayer subsidized facilities at Seattle’s Children’s Museum. And then there’s the Times itself, a newspaper printed in Bothell and published by Mercer Islanders, but that still claims the place name “Seattle” in its masthead. We are the world.
Yet folks from around here are more likely to tell you that they’re from Bellevue or Kirkland or Redmond than to admit to being citizens of goddamn Seattle, despite the fact that you old timers all seem to worship the same TV clown and apparently share the same savant-like ability to distinguish between a 737-500 and a 737-600 by the distant sound of its engines. (Not to mention the regional, one-week obsession with hydro races. What’s up with that?) I mean, really… to this 16-year transplant, you natives all look alike.
Let’s be honest, like my home town of Bala Cynwyd, nobody outside of the region even knows how to pronounce Issaquah, let alone cares where it is; hate to tell ya folks, but as far as the rest of the world is concerned, Issaquah is just another Seattle neighborhood. The first step toward working together to solve our region’s problems is self-identifying as one, so let’s drop all this petty localism, recognize our shared interests, and march arm in arm toward achieving a common goal on which we can all agree: kicking the spandex-clad asses of those bike-worshiping, bastards down in God forsaken Portland. Go team.