Jean's View: Seattle's Got Distinction
By Jean Godden
Three years ago, we had a special Only-in-Seattle moment. It happened July 8, 2014. That was the night when the Seattle Symphony showcased music by Sir Mix-A-Lot. The Seattle hip-hop icon took the concert stage and invited "a couple of ladies" to help him out with his signature song, "Baby's Got Back."
No sooner had Sir Mix asked than upwards of three dozen women crowded onstage at Benaroya Hall and boogied while he rapped and the symphony played. The free-form performance quickly went viral across the country. Few, if any, symphony orchestras anywhere can match that claim.
Sir Mix's dance-a-lot is only one of the happenings that make Seattle stand out as a city where the unusual is usual. Every day brings us more evidence that Seattle's got distinction.
For example, Seattle is still the U. S. city that buys the most sunglasses. (Chances are that we misplace them over rainy winter months.) Overall, we buy the most tins of cat food. That's not surprising since we have the most cats per capita. Seattleites also buy and drink more espresso than water (the bottled kind).
Seattle is the city that buys the most books per person. And, as they keep telling us, we are now the fastest growing city in the nation. In 2016, Seattle added 2100 new residents or about 57 newcomers per day. Just think how many more books we'll be buying now that the city's estimated population has reached 704,352.
Not long ago, Fast Company, a business magazine, dubbed Seattle "the smartest city in the United States." The magazine arrived at that conclusion by factoring in six indicators: people, government, economy, quality of life and mobility. (Think of the latter when you're stuck in Seattle traffic, although the magazine probably meant another kind of mobility.)
Seattle has the distinction of having the most construction cranes (59) currently operating in the nation, three times as many as New York City and more than San Francisco and Portland added together. Our role as the nation's Crane Capital may be threatened by Chicago, which is a close second with 56. If we look Northward, Toronto has 81 cranes, topping anything in the United States.
Another city first comes from home sales for the month of June. Realtor records show that Seattle housing prices are the fastest growing in the nation. The price for homes here has risen 12.9 percent over a year ago, with the median Seattle home now pegged at $729,000. Rentals, too, keep climbing into the stratosphere. In the past six years, average rents have risen 57 percent.
Seattle major distinctions include having the deepest working harbor and the highest adjacent mountain. Years ago, we had the nation's most successful world's fair, one that actually turned a profit and left us with the 74-acre Seattle Center and an acclaimed metropolitan opera company.
Sad to say, not all Seattle distinctions are worth bragging about. We are said by insurance folks to field the nation's worst drivers and not all of them are imports from California and elsewhere. But, cushioning the sting, Seattle motorists have been rated as the "politest to one another."
Many distinctions we would rather not have and, in fact, are trying our darnedest to correct. As housing prices and rents climb into the stratosphere, low-income residents are being priced out of the market. That is one of the reasons that the legion of homeless is on the rise. In King County, homeless numbers are up 8 percent over a year ago. More than an estimated 4,000 individuals were counted living on Seattle streets or in motor vehicles and encampments.
The gender pay gap, too, is another badge no one wants. In Seattle, women earn about 75 cents for every dollar a man earns. It is the worst gender pay gap in any metropolitan area in the nation. At the same time, Seattle and the state of Washington paradoxically have one of the nation's best representations of women in legislative and city governments. It is time -- past time -- for women and men of conscience to get to work on some of those disgraces and start changing them into distinctions of the past.