Gentrification around Seattle (and an interview with Gene Balk)


Gavin Lewellen, Journalist

     Did you know that Seattle is the third most gentrified city in the United States? Now that Amazon has moved in, more wealthy people are moving to Seattle. Residents are dealing with increasing taxes and rent,  pushing the working-class or poor to the streets or out of the neighborhoods they have lived in for decades. This is gentrification, and its a big problem in our city from South Seattle to Columbia City. 

     I didn’t know what gentrification was or what it affected until I found a news article about gentrification. I learned that gentrification is the act of new people moving into a neighborhood or city. This usually leads to more wealth and power for these new residents. This new power leads to raised taxes and higher rents pushing out the locals and replacing local businesses with big chain companies. To learn more about gentrification I interviewed Gene Balk, a journalist who works at the Seattle Times. He wrote an article about gentrification in Seattle.  

The first thing I asked Gene Balk was what was his definition of gentrification, “I would define gentrification as a rapid investment in a neighborhood that is traditionally poor in a city like Seattle,” he answered.

The second question that I asked was how gentrification affects the feel of the neighborhood.

He responded, “Yeah, the feel of the neighborhood is always different they lose that uniqueness, the interesting shops, and restaurants are replaced with the gyms, smoothie shops, and microbreweries.”

This answer left me wondering- does the new neighborhood feel the same as other gentrified neighborhoods or is it a different unique feeling?

“I would say that any gentrified neighborhood feels the same as one in Seattle, San Diego or Portland,” Gene replied.

My next question was, “how does gentrification affect the local people?”

“In general, it’s bad for renters and low-income people, as taxes and rent increase, people must move out. For landowners, they can sell their houses and make a profit. Or they decide to move because their friends and next-door-neighbours move, and they find themselves in a new and completely different place,” he said.

This got me thinking about local business owners, so I asked about local business.

 He answered, “It’s really different for each business. There was this barber who specialized in cutting black people’s hair, and once that neighbourhood was gentrified there were a lot fewer black people. This means that there were fewer customers- that’s one thing about gentrification. It changes the population, and the type of people change.”

All in all, this led me to the last question, how can we keep the good side but stop the negative parts of gentrification?

“Gentrification is an investment. It’s not all bad. But to stop the negative parts of gentrification,  People need to vote for renting caps so landlords can’t jack up the renting price and push people out of these communities.” 

I spent some time reflecting, and here’s what I’ve learned: gentrification isn’t all bad, and it’s an investment. The resident’s lives after gentrification do improve. Schools get safer, roads get repaired, and the area becomes safer.

Here’s why you should mind: as more areas get gentrified, Seattle’s uniqueness will disappear, and Seattle will be just like any other city that has been gentrified.

Here’s something I discovered to be unfair:  gentrification usually affects people of colour, makes them move out a community,  and gentrification affects people of colour more because of redlining which has affected these communities. To read more about the history of redlining in Seattle, read Brooke Laur’s article, “Seattle’s History of Segregation and The Other Side of The Coin” in the features section.