In The Era Of Streetwise: Seattle 1983-1984

Follow us throughout the fall for posts which highlight library resources and information that supports the Tiny: Streetwise Revisited exhibit at the Central Library and its community programming.

Seattle skyline 1983
Seattle Skyline 1983

Streetwise was a documentary released in 1984 that showed us “even in a town that billed itself as America’s most livable city, there still existed rampant homelessness and desperation” [1]. Today, as the mayor declares a state of emergency in response to the homeless crisis and the ever growing need for affordable housing, it’s at our attention now more than ever, but what was Seattle like in the era of Streetwise…

Mayor Charles Royer
Mayor Charles Royer

Charles Royer was voted mayor in 1977, he would go on to serve three four-year terms, the longest of any mayor. Royer fell in love with Seattle, “a big town in a beautiful setting, with really great neighborhoods. What’s not to like?”[2].  Mayor Charles went on to lead the city during the time it was named the most livable city, the very status that brought Mary Ellen Mark to Seattle’s shady doorstep. “The homeless population also was growing and in 1984 Royer convened a 70-member task force to tackle the problem, but a quarter-century later, “they’re still out there and the problem is getting worse,” Royer said.”[3]

This was also a time of growth in Seattle…

To accommodate the narrow streets of downtown Seattle and the growing traffic, especially for metro buses, a solution was proposed, but the traditional Seattle stubbornness ensued, as well, as butting heads with our neighborhood suburbs. “In the fall of 1983, Metro director Neil Peterson proposed a compromise: run “dual-mode” electric-diesel buses through a downtown tunnel from 9th Avenue at Pike Street to Union Station at 5th Avenue and S Jackson St. This got diesel buses off downtown streets and didn’t require suburban riders to transfer, but it also created a very expensive and technically challenging project” [4].

West Seattle Bridge
West Seattle Bridge

The West Seattle Bridge was also born during this time. Completed in July 1984, at a total cost of $150 million [5] this bridge was also a controversy, but now serves the ever growing West Seattle population.

Looking at the era of Streetwise and the current issues our city faces now, you can see that old adage of those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. Our city is growing and so is homelessness, displacement, and rent increases along with our city skyline and transit system.

Now we have to ask ourselves will we repeat the mistakes of the past or will we learn from them.

The roots of homelessness are complex, interwoven, and deep, and the solutions must be the same. Here are print and online resources that illuminate this multifaceted phenomenon. This list was created by a librarian at The Seattle Public Library for the “Streetwise Revisited: A 30-year Journey” exhibit, September 15th through November 3rd, 2016 at the Central Library: Streetwise Revisited: Political and Social Aspects of Homelessness

[1] Wikipedia:
[2] HistoryLink:
[3] HistoryLink:
[4] HistoryLink:
[5] Historylink:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s