Now that we’ve come through another Seattle summer, it’s the perfect time to reflect on our annual parade of non sequiturs: Bumbershoot, Hempfest, Seafair, Folklife.
I’m being a little snarky, but only a little. Attendance at Bumbershoot is down, Hempfest has been struggling since marijuana legalization eliminated its raison d’être, Folklife was almost canceled this year due to lack of funding, and the Seafair hydro races, once a major local sporting event, are no longer televised. Along with declining attendance, my guess is that many of these Seattle staples (I’m looking at you Bumbershoot) have become largely bridge and tunnel festivals that have about as much to do with Seattle’s sensibility as Blue Angel war planes.
I’m not cranky enough to argue for pulling the plug on any of these events—and the Capitol Hill Block Party, which displaced Bumbershoot as the city’s tuned-in music festival about a decade ago, is as guilty of suburban creep as Bumbershoot. But let’s be honest, these holdover community celebrations have become more meta than meaningful. Meta is okay. People have likely been rolling their eyes at the stilted nature of these local holidays for years. And we will likely go on doing so for years to come.
But let’s at least also hold some events that generate genuine excitement. As this summer’s buzziest event, Pearl Jam’s sold-out “Home Shows,” showed, Seattle is hungry for communal events that match Seattle’s values. (The shows raised a combined $11 million to address homelessness). I personally think Pearl Jam is a banal, generic rock band, but I will admit, a ton of people (admittedly, largely white and deeply nostalgic) were caught up in the shows in a way that made Bumbershoot look like obligatory Sunday dinner at your parents. The city’s official community events were shown up by something that felt relevant.
I’m not going suggest killing off any of our legacy events. Instead, I’m going to suggest a few ideas for Seattle to get its authentic Seattle on.
Single Family Zone Day
To celebrate hypocritical liberal “In This House, We Believe” Seattle, let’s hold an annual festival celebrating exclusionary zoning. We can hold the event at a public city park like North Beach Park, where 97 percent of the residential land within a half mile—walking distance— is exclusively zoned for single family housing. (In general: 70 percent of the land in Seattle around parks larger than an acre is zoned single-family, giving single-family homeowners greater direct access to our city’s greenspaces). Or let’s hold the event at View Ridge Elementary School, one of the city’s top performing public elementaries, where 93 percent of the surrounding land is zoned exclusively for single-family use. It’d be a fitting way for privileged Single Family Zoners to celebrate the fact that “On average, single-family zoning covers 72 percent of land in attendance areas of Seattle’s 13 top-rated, non-option, public elementaries,” according to some woke analysis by Sightline.
None of this is particularly surprising given that an astonishing two-thirds of Seattle’s land is zoned exclusively for single-family houses, making all those coloruful placards proclaiming diversity ring hollow.
It’s the ’90s Day
Let’s toast this great era before we had a mandatory nation-topping minimum wage, light rail, gay marriage, mandatory affordable housing regulations on new development, a plethora of high-profile, independent voices calling bullshit on the Seattle Times (Erica, the Urbanist, Seattle Bike Blog, Seattle Transit Blog, Sightline, Michael Maddux), legalized pot, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, protected bike lanes, activated Ballard, Fremont, Columbia City, a ton of art spaces, a majority of the city (around 65 percent) living within a 10-minute walk of 10-minute or better transit service, the Seattle Storm (sweep tonight, please!), the Seattle Sounders, June Baby, Molly Moons, and Sydney Brownstone taking down serial sexual abusers.
We could hold the event at the Showbox.
Your Dog is Your Best Friend Day
On this special day, we would allow Seattleites to break King County Health Department rules that restrict people to only bringing service animals into bars and restaurants. On this special day, you can bring your beloved pooch, the waiter can pet your beloved pooch and let your beloved pooch slobber all over their hands, and…
Comic Con Everyday!
Oh wait. Every day is already Comic Con in Seattle.
These are some suggestions for authentic early 21st century Seattle holidays. Let me know if you have others.