How Cool Is Seattle?
By Jean Godden
Seattle tops a lot of lists. The city has been called "most livable," "best city for working women," "one of best places to go in 2018," "fourth healthiest city," "must see literary destination" and "best city for a romantic honeymoon."
Latest accolade from the indefatigable listmakers is the news that Seattle is fourth on a list of hipster cities, not just in this country, but worldwide. That's right. Drab, gray, soggy Seattle is now considered super hip, cool, amazing, neat-o. Whatever all that means.
Not that Seattle has a whole lot of hipster competition. Topping the International Hipster List, put out by MoveHub, an international relocation company, is a United Kingdom city: Brighton and Hove. That's a Southwestern municipality near London. Brighton and Hove barely beat out the world's number two hipster venue, our own little sister: Portland, Ore.
Did you know that Portland was super hip? Only if you remember the mantra from the TV show "Portlandia." That city allegedly is "where young people go to retire." Portland also has been described as the city where, if you see a gray-haired fellow out walking with a bright, good-looking chick, you can be sure it's his granddaughter.
The MoveHub people came up with its hipster index, using a complex scoring system to rank cities. They checked on the number of tattoo parlors, vegan restaurants, record stores, vintage boutiques and coffee shops per 100,000 residents to arrive at a city's numerical score. Seattle was listed at "7," just after the number three hipster city: Salt Lake City with its 7.85 ranking, likely inflated by that city's many tattoo parlors.
The concept of hipster cities frankly comes off as a little tired. If you research the word "hipster" in the urban dictionary, you discover the definition of the word "hipster" hasn't been updated since 2013. The urban dictionary says: "A hipster perceives him/herself as the counterpoint to mass culture and conformity when, in fact, the ease with which hipster culture can be appropriated, repackaged and marketed makes hipsters the ultimate conformists."
In other words, fame as a hipster city may be overrated. Just take the index's use of tattoo parlors as a leading indicator. Tattoos may have been the wild, nonconformist sign of rebellion years ago. But today about 40 percent of all Americans under the age of 50 have tattoos.
It was maybe a dozen years ago when Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen, an unlikely model of a hipster, had a full-color replica of the Times' flag -- bald eagle and all -- tattooed on his calf. He offered to foot the bill if any of the other Times' execs wanted one. (Not known how many accepted.)
Similarly, the number of vegan restaurants may also have peaked as proof of hipsterdom. Today Seattle has dozens of vegan restaurants, so common that there are vegan chains. Even restaurants with steak specials run ads that promise they're "vegan friendly."
Then there's the matter of coffee shops, an index factor that most likely gave Seattle its largest edge as a hipster city. As every mother's child knows, Seattle has the most coffee shops of any city in the nation. Banner headlines here read: "30 best coffee shops in Seattle," "15 best coffee shops in Seattle" or even "10 hottest coffee shops." Local food writers earn their living identifying and rating novel coffee shops. Would you believe cat cafes?
But is having six coffee shops per city block a sign of a hipster city or is it merely an indication that this city runs on caffeine? When the trip to the local beanery is a daily ritual for everyone from wing-tipped executives to denim-clad workers, the coffee shop is hardly a badge of non-conformity. It's a sign of camaraderie.
Years ago, being picked as a hipster city might have been a real head turner. Today that honor doesn't do much for the Rainy City. When reading down the list of "hipster cities worldwide," I discovered that Vancouver, Wa., Tacoma and Spokane, all are hipster cities. Vancouver made the list for its tattoo parlors and craft beers. However, there are those who say it's possible that a large percentage of people in Vancouver still don't know what hipster means.