You’ve heard by now about the Hahn Building and plans for it’s demolition, right? Across the street from (and arguably a part of) the entrance to the Pike Place Market, Hahn houses Seattle Coffee Works, a pretty great falafel shop and the Green Tortoise Hostel. It’s been slated for demolition, to be replaced with a fourteen story, city-subsidized housing for low income residents, with job training centers on the ground floor and—-
LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL OMG *wipes tears* YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN YOUR FACE LOL
Really had you going there, huh? No, it is supposed to be turned into a 14 story expensive hotel. Because we need more of these. Really. Naturally, a group of local businesses, neighbors, and concerned citizens have banded together to halt, or attempt to halt these developments.
FOOLS! YOU CAN’T FIGHT PROGRESS!
The coverage of this ongoing saga has become an echo chamber where development types 1) wave fat wads of cash around and 2) play into an inevitability narrative, whereby change is some ethereal force that we are all but fools– fools!– to oppose. Sadly, this type of thinking has been frequently adopted by even those against gentrification and redevelopment.
To wit: Crosscut recently posted this article, it’s headline reading: “Hostel Takeover: Adjusting to a New Seattle.” Because change is a force, like the wind, and we all must adjust.
Let’s be clear. The Hahn Building is not slated for destruction because of the inevitable march of time; it’s slated for destruction because a group of people made that decision; because the design review board approved preliminaries for the hotel, and because– at least so far– the city council seems fine with it. Every single new development in Seattle moves forward through a series of financial transactions, site reviews, and decisions made by individual and groups of individual human beings.
The idea that “standing in the way of change” or “you can’t really fight gentrification” tends to get thrown around by conservatives and progressives alike, albeit with altered language, depending on the audience. But if this were true, we wouldn’t have a Pike Place Market. The ID would have box stores in it. Much of Columbia City’s historic district would have been razed for strip-mall style developments and chains stores. Much of the natural lands outside the city would be paved over for (even more) subdivisions of McMansions.
You can argue about the efficacy of some sorts of preservationism, but you can’t pretend that it *never* works, or never achieves good things.
SMART PRESERVATION VS. BLANKET NIMBYISM
Back to the article in question. It’s pretty spineless and non-committal, but read as a personal reflection on years of change in Seattle, well, there are ways I can relate to the fatalism expressed. I haven’t come to bury Knute Berger, though in this case I’ve clearly not come to praise him, either. What irks me is twofold; the second half of that headline (the first half rules– I’m totally mad I didn’t get to “Hostel Takeover” first) and the assertion throughout that any and all preservationism is equal.
It’s not. All the examples I cited above, I see as positive examples of preservation. But you can’t save every single family home, every one-story business center, or anything that rates just because it’s older. The fetishization of old things for their own sake is frequently maddening and stalls real solutions to the city’s crises. However, you can, as a community, make strong cases for blocks, buildings and landmarks that are worth saving.
BASICALLY, LET’S SAVE THE HAHN
And the Hahn Building is one. It provides cheap lodging for those traveling to town, it maintains aesthetic consistency with the market, and perhaps most importantly, the vendors in the market don’t want it gone. They want it to stay. They don’t want a hotel.
I get it if Berger or others don’t have any fight left, and want to cast a gauzy haze over every sort of new development as an inevitable natural force, and acceptance of such as a sign of wisdom. It’s a way to dull the constant sting of new construction, and pat yourself on the back in the process. But if everyone had taken that tack throughout this regions history, it’d be a much different city than it is today– and it wouldn’t be better, that’s for damn sure.
Also published on Medium.