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Seeing Things Through A Seattle Scope

Since moving to Oregon in August 2008, I have had the extreme good fortune to spend my birthday celebrations with friends and family, mostly in pursuit of wine and food.

This year, Darby and I motored to Seattle early on the 4th. After a morning business meeting and a light lunch on Capitol Hill, we checked in to Hotel Vintage Park (one of three Kimpton properties in the city), before walking over to Seattle Art Museum during First Thursday proceedings. Soon thereafter, the Newmans swooped in to pick us up for the much anticipated birthday dinner in Ballard.

By the way, it is a real honor to travel to another great American city and enjoy a birthday dinner for eight.

When we got to The Walrus and the Carpenter, a tiny room for Seattle’s most popular oyster bar, we were told the wait would be two hours. Normally, that means one hour. On this night the hostess was a woman of her word. It took two hours and fifteen minutes to get seated. Thankfully, an accommodating bar up the historic Ballard street hosted us while we waited to dine on local edibles from the sea.

Writing about Seattle as a Portland resident is kind of like writing about your beautiful “Prom Queen” sister. You either come off as adoring, or bitter.

A year ago, at another fine dining establishment in San Francisco, Darby and I had a great time with three NorCal friends. Our friend Andy spoke about how “abundance mentality” is prevalent in California, while “scarcity mentality” tends to preside in Oregon. The conversation has stayed with me ever since.

Seattle clearly weighs in as an abundance heavyweight. It is an opulent city on seven hills. Part Minneapolis high design, another part San Francisco funky. I have heard mention of the “Seattle freeze,” but I do not encounter cold shoulders there. I find the people friendly and willing to engage in frank discussion, which of course, I appreciate immensely.

I suspect the very things that make Seattle attractive to me, are the things many Portlanders and Oregonians reject outright. As one good friend here told me last week, “Oregonians don’t want (that kind of) progress.” Right. And this is what makes Portland, Portland and Oregon, Oregon. Unlike Seattle and San Francisco, Portland is tucked away, 60 miles upriver from the coast and the world beyond. The city is also nestled in a valley and protected by a wall of western hills and Forest Park green space. To say Portlanders have a fortress mentality may be a bit extreme, but it is also true to some degree.

Of course, Portlanders and Oregonians do have something to protect. Few would argue otherwise. My interest here, in this geo-cultural exploration of three West Coast cites, is mostly about alignment and how we might reposition ourselves as a community. The “G” word, Growth, is seen as an impolite intrusion in Oregon — a reduction of green space and an increase in traffic, pollution and noise. Yet, growth simply is. There’s no way to stop it, and even with an urban growth boundary, there’s no way to maintain a psychic gate around this precious place. The question is how might Oregonians better align themselves with this planetary force?

Urban planners, economists, engineers and politicians have some good answers, but no one group of thinkers or doers has all the answers. The problem however is well documented. The median income for a Seattle family – $91,300 – is nearly half as much more than the family income in Portland of $63,400. To me, that’s a startling difference for two cites 167 miles apart from each other. Also, one in 20 Seattle homes is valued at more than $1 million. In Portland, the ratio is 1 in 100.

If we are to believe the management guru and best-selling author, Steven Covey, “abundance mentality” is something we can choose to consciously manage for personal gain. It stands to reason then, that the people of a city or state might also invite abundance into their lives for the betterment of the community. Too bad there’s no on-off switch to go from scarcity to abundance in a flash. Like most good things, it’s a process that takes commitment, a plan of action and time.

About David Burn

Writer, strategist and brand builder.

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