Originally published in The Stranger on 11 December 2018.
When I’m not writing occasional angry screeds for The Stranger in exchange for beer money, I work as a project architect for a mid-size architecture firm located in the Pioneer Square area. More specifically, our office is located smack in between two of the city’s biggest infrastructure projects: The Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement, and the Center City Connector. For the past two years, I’ve had a front-row seat to the city’s promises of renewal being usurped by missed opportunities of epic scale.
Directly outside our office windows is the Alaskan Way Viaduct, slated to be demolished starting next month. Its $4B replacement tunnel was sold to the public as a way to transform Seattle’s waterfront from an automobile-dominated wasteland to a green, vibrant pedestrian-oriented promenade. What we’re getting, though, is up to eight lanes of asphalt separating the city from its waterfront. The new crosswalks in front of the ferry terminal even have beg buttons: Pedestrians must push a button to request the traffic signals’ permission to cross the street. This is something you find on multilane highways in sprawling suburbs, not downtown streets in major cities. While much of this is WSDOT’s doing, the City of Seattle under Mayor Durkan’s leadership hasn’t lifted a finger to exercise its considerable influence in challenging the auto-centric nature of the proposed waterfront.
And then there’s the Center City Connector. For the past couple of years, I’ve watched construction crews rip First Avenue and surrounding streets to pieces in order to relocate utilities for the streetcar project. We were promised that all the noise, dust, and detours would be worth it because we’d soon have a new streetcar line to connect us to Westlake, Pike Place Market, King Street Station, and the International District. But recently, the pavement on First Avenue has been all patched up, the orange barricades removed, and the construction crews have quietly disappeared. The long-promised streetcar remains in limbo while Durkan spews falsehoods to gullible media outlets in order to discredit the project.
These missed opportunities extend far beyond the Pioneer Square area, and far beyond the realm of urban infrastructure. On issues ranging from bike lanes to e-scooters to police accountability to the head tax to municipal broadband to reforming Seattle’s segregationist zoning codes, Durkan pays vague lip service to progressive sound bites while dragging her feet or outright sabotaging actual progress. Add in some no-bid cronyism, and she’ll be remembered as Seattle’s worst Republican mayor since Ed Murray.
It’s becoming clear that the oligarchs who have benefited so handsomely from the status quo have installed a compliant puppet in the White House. Here in ostensibly progressive Seattle, our local oligarchs know they’d never be able to get someone with fascist characteristics like Trump elected to the mayor’s office. But they have the next best thing: a milquetoast moderate Democrat who has permission to mouth all the right platitudes about all the right liberal causes, so long as they govern like a compliant corporate stooge.
In case you haven’t been following the news lately, our civilization is doomed unless we make some radical changes fast. This past October, the United Nations issued a report saying that we have twelve years to limit catastrophic climate change. Not twelve years to think about maybe forming a committee to study the issue further, but twelve years to radically restructure our entire society. Our own federal government tried to bury a report from over a dozen agencies that echoed the UN report and warned of vast impacts to the economy and thousands of deaths if we continue down this path. Our world is drifting downstream toward a cataclysmic waterfall, and Durkan is doing everything in her power to not rock the boat.
Many Native peoples observe the Seventh Generation Principle, articulated by the Iroquois Confederacy in their constitution, which held that our decisions today should bear in mind the ramifications to future generations. By contrast, our society is currently operating like a multigenerational Ponzi scheme, where those who were lucky enough to be born first are actively plundering the futures of those who will come later.
Talk is cheap. But when it comes to Mayor Durkan’s actions, we need to ask ourselves: Are these the actions of somebody who is committed to building the best possible world for future generations, or somebody whose overriding concern is to protect the interests of entrenched powers at all costs? In that regard, Durkan has been governing like such a Trump acolyte that you’d think the Russians had hacked Cary Moon’s emails.