This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

It’s been argued that rail is a “19th century technology” out of place in 21st century cities. While I find this argument absurd on its face (walking and bicycling are also “old technologies,” but still quite useful), it may not even make sense on its own absurd terms.

Consider this article in The New Republic on how big American cities like Chicago are looking more and more like 19th century Paris and Vienna:

What would a post-inversion American city look like? In the most extreme scenario, it would look like many of the European capitals of the 1890s. Take Vienna, for example. In the mid-nineteenth century, the medieval wall that had surrounded the city’s central core for hundreds of years was torn down. In its place there appeared the Ringstrasse, the circle of fashionable boulevards where opera was sung and plays performed, where rich merchants and minor noblemen lived in spacious apartments, where gentlemen and ladies promenaded in the evening under the gaslights, where Freud, Mahler, and their friends held long conversations about death over coffee and pastry in sidewalk cafes. By contrast, if you were part of the servant class, odds were you lived far beyond the center, in a neighborhood called Ottakring, a concentration of more than 30, 000 cramped one- and two-bedroom apartments, whose residents–largely immigrant Czechs, Slovaks, and Slovenes–endured a long horse-car ride to get to work in the heart of the city.

I do believe that, in a large sense, many people who are leaving Seattle’s “inner city” (i.e. the Central District and the Rainier Valley) to move out to, say, Renton, Tukwila, or Federal Way are moving up, and doing so intentionally and in search of a better life.

By way of comparison, 100 years ago, Seattle’s Jewish community was centered around 14th and Yesler (IIRC, the Langston Hughes Arts Center at 17th and Yesler was originally built as a synagogue). Over time, that community left the Central District and moved South and East towards Seward Park and Mercer Island. Today’s Vietnamese and African-American communities are treading much the same path.

But, of course, the big difference here is $4/gallon gas. “Moving on out” doesn’t have quite the same appeal. So, we have to be creative about giving people the opportunity to live the American dream, while at the same time making sure no one gets “stranded in suburbia.”

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