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Thoughts on the New Seattle

One thing I hear all the time from long-time Seattle residents is how the old, freaky-and-proud Seattle is going the way of the dinosaur, that it's being replaced with a slick, almost corporate sheen that lacks the personality of those bygone days of grunge, punk and sample-heavy hip hop. Especially as a journalist, I detect a lot of that sentiment in people who really have roots in this town. Business owners on Capitol Hill are quick to point out how what was once a strip of raucous bars is now a trendy bistro and its adjacent parking lot. They're a little less willing to acknowledge the once-decaying, now refurbished chunk of the district that's home to lively ballroom dancing venues and the recently relocated Elliot Bay Bookstore that has been a Seattle fixture for decades. Beyond the Hill, Seattle is growing and changing in some very exciting ways. The question is, should we really be lamenting the loss of Seattle's flannel days?

I can understand the fear long-time Seattleites have for the potential loss of character in the New Seattle. When things get slick they tend to get corporate and when they get corporate they tend to lose local flavor. Nobody wants Seattle to turn into a giant mall but I think there's plenty of evidence that our city's dedication to niche and creativity is alive and well, perhaps more than ever before. It's true that the computer age transformed Seattle from a gray port city into a prosperous center for innovation and modernity. That doesn't mean we've traded our heart for money, though.

Seattle has always been proud of its local music scene. After all, it's the home of Jimi Hendrix, at least half of the most influential grunge rockers and even a few unforgettable rappers. Their sounds had a way of combining the arty, urban grime of New York with the free-thinking youth culture of Los Angeles. Well, our music scene is alive and kicking in 2010. The Capitol Hill Block Party had to add an extra day this year just to fit all of its acts, Bumbershoot had one of its most successful years in history last week and we can count the likes of Death Cab For Cutie and Modest Mouse (from nearby Issaquah) among our more recent contributions to the tapestry of American rock.

The New Seattle is also one of the best places in America to drink. Not to disparage wild dives like The Comet and Shorty's (both cool places in their own right), it's awesome that it's so easy to pick up a classic mix at one of the many laid-back cocktail lounges that have popped up around Seattle in the past few years. There's also no reason to look down on the corporate influence of the greater Seattle area. After all, the city's first locally-produced vodka is currently being distilled, bottled and sold by a Boeing engineer. Just like with aspiring rock stars and struggling artists, small batch liquor crafters can have square day jobs.

Hell, even if your only job is a square day job, chances are you aren't working for a branch of the old conservative set. The Greater Seattle Business Association, an organization made up of LGBT-owned and friendly businesses, is one of the most powerful financial entities in the country, let alone in the Puget Sound region. It's not that Seattle doesn't have The Man, it's just that Seattle's Man is forward-thinking. While making his billions, he fights oppression, lobbies for civil rights and keeps the money local.

In the longview, Seattle is also taking steps to be a city of the future, something that requires money and diverse industry. The city had been talking about a light rail system for decades but only got around to building one in the past few years. The truth is that punks don't need to commute but modern businesspeople do. All of Seattle's new slickness is also resulting in the building of green skyscrapers for a cleaner, more energy-efficient century. I can't speak for those who had roots in old, grungy Seattle, but I'd rather be on the forefront of something innovative than proudly clinging to something that could only decay.