The pressure is on in Seattle’s District 6 – pushing up rents for Fremont’s new tech workers, pushing in townhouses where Ballard’s bungalows once sat, pushing on maritime businesses along the waterfront.
This is the whitest of the seven brand-new City Council districts – 83.1 percent, according to city analysis of census data.
The district is bordered on the east by Green Lake and the Woodland Park Zoo, on the south by the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Salmon Bay, and on the west by Puget Sound.
It includes settled single-family neighborhoods like Phinney Ridge and Crown Hill.
And it includes neighborhoods where aggressive growth is creating significant tensions between old and new.
So let’s start our District 6 tour at the Center of the Universe. That’s what the locals sometimes call their neighborhood, Fremont.
It’s a place once known for its counterculture but probably now for its fast-growing tech industry.
At a park along the Lake Washington Ship Canal, I run into Chester Cun, Eric Trottier and Rupert Koch out for a lunchtime stroll.
They point out all the tech companies clustered nearby. “There’s Tableau right here, and then Adobe beyond the bridge,” said Cun.
The three men are engineers at Google, which occupies a new office building along the canal.
When Google hires people, the company often gives them a choice of where to live and work.
“I chose Seattle because I heard there was a good music scene out here,” Cun said.
Koch, who is German, felt that among U.S. cities, Seattle was “probably one of the finer places to be. Liberal place, free thinking, pretty green, lots of nature, people are into the outdoors,” he said.
For Trottier, Seattle was preferable to working in California because “I like the clouds and rain,” he said.
Cun and Trottier found apartments pretty close to their jobs, right next door in Ballard. Cun rides his bike to work. But even for tech workers, proximity comes with a significant cost.
“My apartment is like 2 g’s a month for a small one-bedroom. So it’s pretty expensive,” said Trottier.
Ballard is expensive in part because it is one of the city’s hot neighborhoods. Lots of people want to live there, and the neighborhood is experiencing some of the fastest growth in the city.
In some sections of Ballard, construction sites dot every block, and one-story bungalows are quickly being torn down and replaced by townhouses or apartment buildings.
Janice Kirstein and Peggy Gudgell are friends who live in the north end of Ballard. They take me on a walking tour of their neighborhood, which is being aggressively redeveloped. Construction crews are in various stages of tearing down, building or preparing to build.
“If a tornado had hit our neighborhood, it wouldn’t be less dramatic,” said Kirstein.
The new buildings loom over the existing homes, many of which are modest, one-story bungalows.
Gudgell and Kirstein moved to this neighborhood decades ago, when it was still zoned exclusively for single-family residences.
But the city is now trying to steer growth and development here. A big portion of Ballard has been designated a so-called "urban village" — that’s an area where people and amenities like transit are supposed to be concentrated.
Many residents complain the growth has been too fast and the amenities slow to arrive.
“You know Ballard was always undesirable because it was so hard to get in and out of. And that is the irony to me, so you have put all of this growth into an area of Seattle that was notorious for being hard to get in and out of. That doesn’t make sense,” said Gudgell.
“I understand urban density, I understand it needs to happen. We do. But, it’s tough. It’s tough,” added Kirstein.
Growth is also putting pressure on another old part of Ballard — the working waterfront.
I catch up with Warren Aakervik offloading fuel from a tanker truck. It's being pumped down to the dock to fuel the fishing boats that are heading to Alaska for pollock season.
“The whole fleet’s leaving, this is the time it gets really busy,” Aakervik said.
The maritime industry occupies a narrow strip of land along Salmon Bay at the south end of District 6. It used to be the heart and soul of Ballard, according to Aakervik.
“So, you see, in the old days, 95 percent of the people lived up in Ballard had something to do with the maritime industry. So they just knew,” he said.
Now, the newcomers don’t understand the maritime industry, the millions of dollars it generates for the economy or the family wage jobs it produces, according to Aakervik.
So with new apartments being built just above them, the shipyards and machine shops and fueling facilities are fighting to stay put.
“You watch every waterfront gentrify, you watch Everett, you watch Tacoma, you watch Anacortes, every one of those waterfronts is gentrifying, because the developers want it because it is reasonably priced property,” Aakervik said.
Current zoning protects industrial lands from other kinds of uses. But Aakervik worries the city will make so many exceptions to the code that the industrial lands will just be eroded away.
And then there is the pressure that rising costs exert on the neighborhood. Who can afford to live there anymore?
Christy McDanold has owned the Secret Garden Bookstore on Ballard’s Northwest Market Street for 20 years. She also lives in the neighborhood, and moved here back when Ballard was affordable.
“I could not live in Ballard if I were coming here today. I couldn’t afford the house that I live in. I couldn’t afford a condo in Ballard today,” she said.
All this new growth hasn’t necessarily been great for business. Since there are few large employers here, Ballard is like a bedroom community, and the streets and shops are pretty quiet during the day.
Also, McDanold complains the same company that has brought many of the new people to the neighborhood, Amazon, is also making life difficult for local bookstores and other retailers, but that’s another story.
McDanold worries about what her generation of people will do when they retire. Will they be able to afford to stay in their homes? And she wonders if the things that drew her to the community will continue to exist in the future.
“I would want this quality of life to be available going into the future," she said. "I think it’s really amazing to live in a neighborhood that is 10 minutes from downtown. I can be at the symphony in 20 minutes, but yet I have a backyard, I have a garden, my kids walked a block and a half to school, I can walk to work. This is what we want.”
And that highlights one of the central questions facing District 6. How do you preserve the character of a neighborhood and the quality of life for everyone — old and new?