Renton is the industrial Seattle-area suburb, full of warehouses and large manufacturing companies. Renton’s early history is characterized by coal mining, with timber production and railway transportation in support of the mines. An eco-fact: When Seattle civil engineering finished the Montlake Cut to enable waterway passage between Lake Washington and Lake Union and the Puget Sound, the water level of Lake Washington lowered by 9-10 feet. When this happened, the Black River (one of Renton’s waterways) completely dried up and has never returned. Heavy industry continued to characterize Renton through the 20th century, with Boeing as our current economy-foundation.
Finding stores to help with me with my sustainable challenge has been, well, a challenge. The closest Trader Joe’s is 10 miles away in Burien and the closest Whole Foods is 15 miles away in Bellevue. Greenlake /Ballard neighborhood is chock-full of independent stores and boutiques and markets. Oh, how I wish it was not 15 miles away! In Portland, I had no problem finding stores that catered to the organic and local. I grew up in inner southeast Portland, which has blossomed into a mecca of shops geared toward the eco-minded. Wherever I lived, I could walk 20 minutes and find a store I supported. I do no mean this as a knock against the Seattle Area; the main area of Seattle has plenty of sustainable gems. But I never looked at Portland from the suburbs, I never considered the eco-options in Gresham, Tigard, or even North Portland.
The suburb of Bellevue/Redmond benefits from the Microsoft-economy boost, so its residents can support a plethora of non-chain boutiques and eco-friendly stores. Renton no longer has multiple industries supporting its economy. As a community, it is lower-income than its northern Seattle-area neighbors. There are national chain stores and few independent eco-minded businesses. This is a clear demonstration of the class politics that underly the sustainable/eco-friendly movement. While many of us view sustainable living as a necessity for patching up our damaged planet, for those who do not have the financial means, sustainable living is a luxury. Surviving day-to-day is the necessity. And unfortunately, the food products that are available for the lowest prices are often the most unhealthy and un-organic. This is a digression that I hope to address again later, but I wanted to take a moment to recognize how lucky we are to be able to make choices about what we eat, wear, and use on a daily basis.
In the meantime, I am faced with the reality that to purchase the goods I want to support, I have to drive at least 30 minutes to get there. The fuel costs and wear-n-tear on the [boyfriend's] car would be more than we prefer if we made weekly trips to the big organic markets. Next weekend I am going to do some scouting. Like Lewis and Clark before me, I will venture to the Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in question and take a survey of what they offer that I will need/want each month. Some items can be procured at Fred Meyers between the big Eco-shopping trips.
Finding that perfect, sustainable and fair trade or locally-made handbag is just going to have to wait until there is more time (post-thesis) to wander those magical streets in North Seattle full of locally-owned eco-friendly shops.
Renton History Source: History Link
Photo credit: University of Washington Digital Collections