Seattle may hold first place when it comes to the number of cranes dotting the skyline, but you aren’t likely to see any of its political leaders waving that trophy around.
Contrast that with an announcement Tuesday from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel touting the 53rd tower crane erected in the Windy City this year:
“People are optimistic about the future of Chicago,” said Emanuel in a statement. “They want to move here, they want to invest here and they want to build here. As Chicago’s economy continues to get stronger, we will continue to partner with businesses, big and small, to keep this progress going.”
Chicago is in the midst of a building boom. 54 tower cranes are operating in Chicago this year, the most since the Great Recession! pic.twitter.com/sobLo10UAy
— Mayor Rahm Emanuel (@ChicagosMayor) September 26, 2017
Emanuel even livestreamed remarks from the construction site. And today, news emerged that Chicago — which certainly is not immune from big city problems — was forming a 600-person committee to try to woo Amazon.com’s second headquarters.
It’s not unusual for big cities to celebrate development (or chase jobs). But for Seattle, growth is complicated, to say the least. For decades, the city was known as a relatively affordable (and isolated) metropolitan region where people across the socio-economic spectrum could make a comfortable life.
But Seattle is booming, and many fear that egalitarian dynamic is slipping away as industries like tech and healthcare draw record numbers of high-paid newcomers to the region each year.
The city’s rapid evolution has led to skyrocketing rents and home prices, a serious homelessness problem, and resentment among some residents who feel squeezed out by the new influx of wealth. Seattle’s lawmakers have to balance those concerns with the desire to keep massive job creators, like Amazon, happy.
Of course, some Seattle politicians walk that line more than others.
New Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess is a perfect example of this careful treading; he addressed Amazon’s request for proposals for a second North American headquarters during a City Council meeting last week.
“Amazon’s decision to launch and grow here has brought tremendous benefits and real challenges,” he said. “We will respond to this Amazon challenge in partnership with King County and other municipal and county governments in our region.”
Seattle’s more extreme lawmakers aren’t quite so diplomatic when it comes to the corporations driving the city’s breakneck growth.
You won’t see many of them standing in front of construction cranes.
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant recentlly called out Amazon for “using its monopoly power to gobble up swathes of prime Seattle real estate, and extract plum deals from the city’s Democratic establishment.”
These issues exist, to some extent, in every fast-growing city but Seattle is unique for a few reasons. It has some of the most progressive lawmakers (and citizens) in the country. Its legacy industries, like maritime, supported a socio-economically diverse population for many years. The city’s infrastructure is limited by its complex geography, so Seattleites feel the population boom on the streets every day. And the rate at which it is growing is so staggering that many longtime residents have whiplash.
Those factors create a precarious landscape for politicians to walk and it seems unlikely Seattle will embrace growth with open arms the way Mayor Emanuel has anytime soon.
After all, could you imagine Seattle mayoral candidates Cary Moon or Jenny Durkan in hard hats celebrating the ascension of our 60th crane?