On the bus today I overheard two girls talking. That’s not unusual. In fact, what they were talking about wasn’t unusual–’twas the same old Bellingham bitch (I’ve expounded upon it many times myself) of “Damn those developers! Leave our little hippie town alone!” But this girl had a further point to make: “At least I’m moving,” she said. “I won’t have to watch it go downhill anymore.”
Hmm. I guess that sentiment’s not unusual, either.
Like I said, I’ve ranted about this plenty myself, but I’ve lately had a change (a slight change, but a change nonetheless) of heart. I’ll tell why, but first, a brief history for those of you unfamiliar with the plight of the growing urban area that is Bellingham:
It’s gorgeous here, it really is, and I can’t blame people for wanting to move to the Pacific Northwest. My parents moved here from the Midwest when I was a wee toddler and I’ve never left–graduated high school and college here, got married, etc. My mom confessed a year or so ago that, in looking for a place to move to, she wanted somewhere that we kids would find difficult to leave.
And Bellingham is difficult to leave, but it’s not for lack of trying. Where could I go that would have the ocean, and the mountains, and the trees, and wouldn’t be the East Coast?
So I’ve been here long enough to see the mall move in, to see the college (Western Washington University) expand, and (oh, horror) to see a vast expanse of housing developements attach themselves, mercilessly, to my beloved Bellingham.
I’m not the only one who likes it here, I’m learning.
Some magazine named B-ham a top spot for retirement, and so the retirees came. Also, there are the students, but that’s nothing new. What’s new is the sheer volume of students–Western’s outgrowing it’s hilltop and spreading down into Fairhaven. Brick-fronted condos are erupting all over downtown as out-of-town (even out-of-state) developers attempt to build “up, rather than out” (don’t get me wrong–I’d rather see the city get tall rather than eat up the county and rub shoulders with Vancouver BC & Seattle). And–this is what really galls me–all these new people (who I’m sure are very nice–I even know several of them, right), all this demand for property and trees and pretty lakes, has pumped up the realty prices so high that it’s becoming more and more unlikely that my student husband and I will ever be able to own property here. We might have to move simply because we cannot afford to stay in our hometown; we’re not, after all, the target demographic. Shitty, right?
But. I think it’s a shame that folks are packing up at the mere mention of the word “Starbucks.” This girl wasn’t concerned about some day purchasing a home (larger than, say, a dumpster) for under $400,000–nah, she was pissed because they just put a Starbucks downtown, along with some fancified condos. Now, I know I heard this little soundbite out of context, and maybe she has some very good reason for leaving, but I also know this is not an uncommon sentiment among a lot of kids who moved here for college, thinking they’d stay, but who are seeing the town morph into a great city-beast before their very eyes. And I know my position is a bit different from that of someone who moved here thinking that Bellingham would suit some liberal ideal, that everybody here is a Democrat and we all compost and grow our own pot and do arts & crafts on Saturdays as a group. We do have a bit of that stereotype, I know (and we do our share of living up to it), but honestly. I think people must actually move here expecting that or something like it, because you just cannot let a Starbucks chase you out of town.
After all, they’re everywhere now.
I have more at stake here. For me to say that the Bellingham I love is buried under brick high-rises and developements with ridiculous names like “Trickle Creek” is tantamount to saying that the developers buried my history, too. My Bellingham is not gone; it’s just changing. I can’t pack up and leave just because my town is becoming a city. I say, someone’s gotta stick around and buy coffee from the little guys, right?