Monday, December 29, 2014

Portland and Seattle, Uber, and the history of ambition in Cascadia

For two cities basically in the same spot on earth, Portland and Seattle do have significantly different civic personalities.

Think of Seattle's Demons of Ambition. Or, in this case, Portland's Demons of Provincialism.

The differences are real.

Take how the two cities dealt with Uber (and other ride sharing companies).

Seattle took a long road to compromise. They never cracked down, they accepted the newcomers and then crafted a legislative package to create space for innovation:
“I believe Seattle once again will lead the nation in showing how what appears to be conflicting interests can actually come together,” Murray said after announcing the agreement. “We have deregulated a highly regulated monopoly, allowing taxis and for-hires to become far more competitive than they are in the current situation. We are recognizing that a technology exists that is rapidly changing the marketplace.”
Portland cracked the whip:
"Our main concern is public health and safety, because the state invested in the cities the responsibility to do that," Portland's mayor Charlie Hales said in a statement. "Beyond that, though, is the issue of fairness. Taxi cab companies follow rules on public health and safety. So do hotels and restaurants and construction companies and scores of other service providers. Because everyone agrees: good regulations make for a safer community. Uber disagrees, so we're seeking a court injunction."
Seattle as a center of innovation, accepting newcomers with new ideas. Portland, keeping a clean house, a wary at the horizon. I tell ya, it might as well be 1893.

From (the great) historian Robert Ficken: 
(In its ability to access money from outside the region) Washington possessed important advantages of its "web-footed" friends south of the Columbia, advantages credited by any analysts to the new state's 1890 census lead. Oregonians themselves admitted that "mossbackism," defined as a tendency of long entrenched Portland interests to impede new-coming rivals, diverted outside money to more energetic points. "The laws of Washington," the bi-monthly West Shore magazine noted in reference to a more substantive difference, "favor investment of capital, while the laws of Oregon practically forbid it."
At this point, Oregon had been a state for decades, its cultural, economic and political institutions had already laid track, while Washington was just getting underway. In fact, Washington was not even made whole until just before statehood. Because of the way railroads were laid across Cascadia back then, eastern Washington Territory was an economic outpost of Portland, while Seattle and Puget Sound were in the orbit of San Francisco.

Not until railroads crossed the Cascades did Washington become something other than a name of a map.

It was a this point in time, united as a state in 1889 with railroads, Washington and Puget Sound (led by Seattle) threw open the gates to growth. This culture of open economics still shows through today.

While Washington rushed ahead, Oregon stayed behind. This mossback Oregon wasn't new, wasn't born out of decades of stability. But, rather, is the founding attitude of the Willamette Valley.

From David Johnson's "Founding of the Far West," we see how little the California Gold Rush (despite massive possible economic benefits) went to the head of Willamette farmers:
(Willamette farmers') response to the California (gold rush) market -- their enterprise -- was motivated by as much by a modest desire to improve their landholdings, assure their households' self-sufficiency, and enhance their families' material comfort as by a drive to command greater market share or increase production as an end in itself.
Given the chance to bulldoze their way to greatness, Oregonians on their founding moment decided on a "cautious and conservative" and "cash on delivery" way of doing business.

The large Willamette farms ignoring greater gains in California led to a conservative business culture in Oregon in general. Seattle was given the chance to leap ahead fifty years later, and they took it. 

Today, Uber tries to create a new way of doing business and finds a friend in Seattle and a legal challenge in Portland.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Clarence Boggie's Christmas (I'm sorry I couldn't tell it better, Boggie)

Oregon wanted Boggie back.

Instead of just opening up the prison doors for Clarence G. Boggie, the Oregon parole board wanted Washington to drive him down to the Columbia River and hand him over to Oregon authorities. Since over a decade earlier, Boggie had been serving a life sentence for a murder he didn't commit.

I'm not telling this story well. This really does deserve a better telling than I'm giving it here. I suppose this is the double edged sword of coming up with a holiday topical post. I didn't get to it until too late into the season, and now I am too distracted to really put my heart into it.

Not that Boggie wasn't the cleanest of men. He had committed crimes in Oregon, and on the day after he release from prison in 1948 (pardoned by Washington's governor after a Seattle Times investigation) Oregon wanted him back.

Washington's Warden Tom Smith:
"if they want Boggie," (Oregon officials) should have followed regular procedure and had "someone waiting for him as he walked through the gates instead of just "pooping off" on Christmas Eve."
I mean, this story is insane. He was in jail for over a decade, and he was just rotting there. It was the Seattle Times that really sprung him. Over three days they laid out an evidence of his innocence. It was so strong, the state literally threw the doors open to him.

Attorney General Smith Troy (Olympia's own):
It would be a tragedy not to give Boggie a chance now. I hope Oregon officials will straighten out the technicalities involved and give Boggie a chance to be rehabilitated.
Boggie had been caught up in the historic context of Spokane in the 1930s. Officially, the capitol of the Inland Empire was not a fun place. It was extremely corrupt. Moritz Peterson was beat to death in 1933, and two years later, based on shaky testimony from witnesses, he was convicted.

Among other angles on this story, the Seattle vs. Spokane angle, the Blethens of the Seattle Times taking on their eastern neighbors, is really interesting to me. If I had the time. 

I'll be honest. I was shopping around for a Christmas post and happened upon this. Literally I was searching "Smith Troy" and Christmas, hoping to find some episode that showed Troy (my favorite politician of all time) in some festive light. 

I even mistook the warden Smith's quote above with Smith Troy's. Boggie deserves much better than some dumb Smith Troy angle.

Oregon never got him back. At least behind bars. Boggie died in Lebanon in 1949.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sigh. Boy. Remember when? (Olyblogosphere for December 22, 2014)

1. The Sky Like A Scallop Shell is a pretty good blog. But, this particular post of this pretty good blog is very epic. In an Olympia sort of way.
She was about 10 years his junior and kept mentioning her husband, but stayed consistently polite as he told her about his opinions on just about every restaurant in town, the important projects he’d worked on, how he liked to go dancing, and how he was single at the moment but usually had a lady friend.
Read read read. Read the entire thing. Do your job and read it.

2. Its this time of year, so here's Heather Lockman's 2012 post on Christmas Island (which was tweeted recently by the Olympia Historical Society).

3. Local writer Ryan M. Williams has a podcast. Which is totally in its 10th Episode. Listen!

4. Looking back in the memory of Olympia blogs, does anyone remember Crack Hole? Man. Talk about some meadows goodness out there.

5. Walking across mudflats: Please don't f*****g do that. You will die. It will be terrible.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gross Happiness Index of Washington: Thurston County is only just above average happy

Happiness Indexes are pretty interesting. They try to reach back beyond sterile, single factor indices (like Gross National Product) and give you a clearer picture of the health or happiness of a place.

So, obviously, I wanted to do one for Washington State.

I took some indicators that I could find data on the county level for across the GNH scale (economics, education, health, violence and democracy) and came up with a Gross Happiness Index of Washington Counties.

Certainly, there is a massive back of the napkin warning here, I'm not an economist or a statistician, but here are the general rankings:

CountyOverall rankAverage rank
San Juan14.20
Whitman26.67
Garfield311.60
Lincoln411.80
Island512.00
Douglas612.80
Jefferson713.00
Walla Walla814.17
Whatcom914.67
Kitsap1015.17
Klickitat1115.60
Wahkiakum1215.80
Ferry1316.20
King1416.50
Chelan1516.67
Snohomish1617.33
Thurston1718.17
Kittitas1819.00
Columbia1919.00
Clark2019.17
Benton2119.83
Skagit2219.83
Skamania2321.60
Pend Oreille2421.60
Adams2521.83
Lewis2622.17
Okanogan2722.33
Grant2823.00
Spokane2923.33
Franklin3023.50
Asotin3123.50
Clallam3223.67
Mason3324.00
Stevens3424.83
Pierce3527.00
Pacific3627.60
Grays Harbor3728.33
Cowlitz3828.50
Yakima3930.17

Digging down into the Thurston County, it is interesting to see what shapes our ranking. We do pretty well in Health (9th) and Pollution (10th) and average in Economic (17th), Education (18th) and Crime (21st).

But, our worst index is voter turnout. Out of 39 counties, we are 34th in voter turnout. Which, if you think of the symbolism of us being the home of the state capitol (totally crap symbolism) is pretty sad.

I think its also interesting that in terms of our neighborhood, we're the shining freaking star. Practically all four counties that border Thurston are in the basement of the GHI. Lewis (26th) Mason (33rd), Pierce (35th), and Grays Harbor (37th) all fall well below Thurston County in happiness.

Yeah us! We're above average!

Monday, December 15, 2014

John Rambo, John Tornow and Appalachians in Cascadia


The very first Rambo movie (First Blood) is set in Washington State, in a fake town called Hope. Filmed in the actual Hope, British Columbia, the setting is descended from a fictional town in Kentucky in the original First Blood book, which in turn is based on a Pennsylvania town.

Both the fictional Kentucky town and actual Pennsylvania town are deep in Appalachia. Which, given the deep Appalachian roots in rural western Washington, Hope fits.

It also fits in the parallel I draw between the Rambo character and John Tornow. There is so much written about Tornow (some very recently), I've always wondered what the fascination was. Tornow, at least on the surface, doesn't reveal any greater truth. Unbalanced man either murders or is accused of murder. People chase him down, a few deaths later, he gets killed.

But, if you look at Tornow through the lens of Rambo, you see something deeper. It lets you look back on the society that is turning its violence onto these men. For Rambo, he's a recently returned Vietnam veteran targeted as a vagrant by an evil small town cop.

I've heard enough from small town cops to know that giving a vagrant a ride to the county line or a bus ticket out of town is at least within the realm of reality. And, Tornow shows us that a massive manhunt against Rambo was also in the realm of reality.

For the Appalachians in Grays Harbor in the early 1900s, for the Appalachians at every step in First Blood, the wild men are too far gone from society to live. They murdered, they are outside the bounds of even the libertarian Appalachian societal rules. Every man has liberty, but there is only so much liberty.

Both Tornow and Rambo are also both experts. Rambo is a highly trained commando, the cops that come after him are hopeless against his killing skills. He seeks to come back into society, but he falls back onto his training and the war.

Tornow was an actual outdoorsman, more at home (according to biographers) than in a town or among society. He was able to live off the land while being hunted for over a year and a half, feeding himself with what he had around him in the deep woods.

And, that is what I think is the larger truth about Tornow. If the Scots-Irish, the genetic base of the Appalachian DNA had finally run out of new territory to conquer in Cascadia (also explored in Sometimes a Great Notion), then they were almost ready to run down the last Wilderness. Tornow was a representative of that wilderness.

Sure, Appalachians are much more libertarian, every-man-for-himself than other sorts of North American society. Rules don't necessarily work for them, but they are also the shock troops of a larger society against the wilderness, or agains the native inhabitants.

So, in dramatic stories about Appalachian outcasts, John Tornow and John Rambo must be hunted down.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Boy, they really scraped the heck out of old Tono

I've written a few times about Tono, here at this blog and over at Thurston Talk.

The thing that surprises me every time I run into details about that old town is how total the destruction was. The town doesn't just not exist anymore, it was decimated. The very soil that it was on was moved away.

For the uninitiated, Tono was a small coal town just south of Bucoda and Tenino. From my Thurston Talk piece:
In 1932, as the Union Pacific was shifting from coal to diesel engines, the rail line sold the mines and the town to the Bucoda Mining Company. By the 1950s, most of the old town had disappeared and the mines closed down. Some of the old buildings were moved into neighboring towns. Only one couple, residing in the old superintendent’s house, stayed on the site through the 1970s. 
In 1969 coal mining in the fields around to the Tono site was revived when the Pacific Power and Light company bought the land and built a new steam plant to produce power. It was during this era that the Tono site saw its largest change. The ground on which the town had sat was scraped up, in order to get to the coal beneath it. The coal mining terraforming was so severe that the town site is currently dominated by two massive ponds.
I've done overlays of old Tono before, using aerial photos from the USGS, but recently I ran into some coal maps that are published online by state DNR. These are just fascinating. Two hand drawn maps from the middle part of the century add a new level of detail to the Tono site that I wasn't able to see with the USGS aerials.

Take a look at this one in particular overlayed in Google Earth:


You can see that originally Tono was located in a small valley. But, in the 1960s, that valley was deepened and widened to locate the last coal deposits below the old townsite. And, if I'm correct in reading the map, the original coal field serviced by Tono was located south and east of town.

Lastly, the single structure I've seen out there (not up close) certainly is in the wrong spot to be part of the old townsite. If it is of the same vintage, it is likely connected to the mine operation itself.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Death of a Local Biz, frozen, lizards and a stone (Olyblogosphere for December 8, 2014)

1. Things freeze here.

2. OMG. You can enjoy Olysketcher in print. All year long.

3. Birds, Bees & Butterflies: Looking for a Salamander on Thanksgiving.

4. I like this photo, but I think it should've been titled "Stone in the Midst of All."

"Not All That Shimmers," by Diablo_119 in the Olympia Pool on flickr.


5. And, finally. Over at r/olympia: Dino's Dinner, death of a local business.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Just because Bud Blake won a county commission seat doesn't mean an independent can win in the 22nd LD

When you think about politics in Thurston County, the 22nd legislative district is the Democratic liberal juicy middle in what is a pretty typical rural or suburban western Washington county. This is where the urban communities are, this is where the liberals are.

This is a district that hasn't elected a Republican since 1980 when W.H Garson of Tenino went to the legislative building. This is also when the 22nd LD was big enough geographically to send someone from Tenino to the legislative building.

Just a side note: since Thurston County population shot through the roof in the 1970s, I'd assume that redistricting was particularly unkind to Republicans in the 22nd in the 1980s. What probably happened was the district shrank geographically given the boost of urban population, giving it its liberal contour today.

Anyway.

Bud Blake was the first conservative to win a county commissioner seat in Thurston County for a long time, most likely because he ran as an independent against a Democratic. And, he won in a convincing fashion.

I was wondering if a county-wide election for a Republican in independent clothing meant the same sort of strategy could equal the same result in the smaller, liberal 22nd LD. Well, it does not.

But, man, it would be close. If you isolate the 22nd LD precincts (the way I did in that link above), you see a pretty tight race. Democrat Karen Valenzuela would have won with just over 51 percent, or 2,000 votes out of over 40,000.

But, a win is still a win.

That said, I think a legislative race would have been even harder for an independent (especially a conservative one) to win over a Democrat. I suspect that strictly partisan issues (like abortion, environmental protection, taxes) could be isolated in a way that they couldn't be on a local general government election.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Ebenezer Howard, 3 Magnets and the bad bad City Beautiful

Just below the surface of the best new place in Olympia, the 3 Magnets Brewpub, is a fascinating way to look at cities and communities.

One of the 3 Magnets owners vaguely references the ideas of Howard here:
“Three Magnets is based on a 115-year-old book called Garden Cities of To-morrow by Ebenezer Howard,” explains Sara. ”Basically, Ebenezer considered himself an inventor of the perfect community. He thought he could take the best of both rural and urban living and blend them into a perfect town-country. When reading this, everything called out to us as Olympia, either what we are or what we strive to be.”
So, to delve more specifically into the imagery, the three magnets are "Town," "Country," and "Town Country."

More:
It proposed the creation of new suburban towns of limited size, planned in advance, and surrounded by a permanent belt of agricultural land. These Garden cities were used as the model for many suburbs. Howard believed that such Garden Cities were the perfect blend of city and nature.Howard believed that a new civilisation could be found by marrying the town and the country.The towns would be largely independent, managed by the citizens who had an economic interest in them, and financed by ground rents on the Georgist model. The land on which they were to be built was to be owned by a group of trustees and leased to the citizens.
So, in at least not in an intentional way, this sounds a lot like what people in Olympia would like Olympia to be, post Growth Management Act. Lots of rural space around us for small scale agriculture, vibrant urban community on a human scale.

So, if you're following me so far, this sounds pretty typical. Nothing special here, just a reference back to a nice idea that we might draw from.

But, then there's the City Beautiful Movement. If you've listened for more than five minutes about any discussion about Capitol Lake or the so-called isthmus, you're familiar with this term. I think its a bunch of bunk myself. It was a short lived, classist and based on importing old world esthetics and pasting them onto North American cities. Just dumb.

Both the Garden City (Howards') and the City Beautiful movement came along at the same point in history, when people were facing the pressures of dealing with industrialization and urbanization:

While the Garden City movement shaped a design aesthetic and pattern for satellite towns, the City Beautiful movement was aimed at restructuring American downtowns around a coordinated ideology and strategy. Just prior to the 20th century, America was becoming an international economic power, and its cities were in need of an urban form indicative of the new national identity. America's cities were fraught with problems, and the City Beautiful movement helped provide a physical form for the previously established Public Health Movement. The City Beautiful movement envisioned the city as an entire work of architecture; its practitioners insisted that all construction conform to a singular vision. They believed that cities had failed and that a new expression of values would inspire good government and public stewardship.
...

He envisioned Garden Cities as compact, transit-oriented communities surrounded by greenbelts of natural landscape; they were to contain all the pieces of a town, integrating residential, commercial, industrial, landscape and agricultural uses. Howard authored the first radial city plan, which is a useful diagram for city planning even today. Garden City architectural styles were diverse but inspired by expressive, picturesque and romantic designs appropriate to natural settings.
We're not facing the same pressures that urban leaders in the 1890s faced. Instead of trying to make urban areas livable because of pressure from industrialization and population growth, we're trying to make them vibrant to fight against suburbanization. Thurston County is already one of the most sprawled counties in the country. We want people to be in downtown Olympia because it is a nice place to be.

And, it seems like the diversity offered in the Garden City ideal, rather than the monolith of the City Beautiful Movement, offers a much better answer. It speaks to making the country productive while also making our city livable.