It’s not a complaint. It’s a sincere request for an explanation to a phenomenon that does not appear to jibe with data. An average of 16,000 people moved to Seattle each year between 2012 and 2015. Our population jumped more than 12.8 percent between 2010 and 2016. So how could more than a third of people under 35—the age group most likely to be social and least likely to read Knute Berger—buy into the idea that a city under siege by newcomers could in some way be hostile to newcomers?
I was tired of hearing about the Seattle Freeze within a week of moving here, but then again, I was a socially awkward AF 30-year-old who looked forward to one day having a kid specifically because I’d have an excuse to skip happy hours and go straight home after work. And from the living room of my West Seattle apartment, this place didn’t seem any more or less welcoming to strangers than the nine other cities in which I’d lived and failed to make lasting friendships. There wasn’t anything uniquely chilly about Seattle, so what was everyone bitching about?
True or false: The Seattle Freeze is a myth.
The thing is, we actually do kind of suck at being nice—at least in a neighborly kind of way. You know, the way that allows for meaningful, long-lasting community building. And there’s honest–to–Nate Silver data to back it up. Every three years the Seattle CityClub, a nonprofit whose mission is to “inform, connect, and engage the public,” publishes a collection of more than 30 stats that measure civic engagement and uses them to compare us to 50 other metropolitan areas. And wouldn’t you know it, the findings in the 2014 report would have been enough to make Mister Rogers wad up his cardigan and pitch it into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe: Seattle ranked 37th in frequency with which neighbors do favors for one another and 48th in frequency with which they talk to one another. (Some of us, whose neighbors mow their lawn once a year or leave broken toilets on their front stoop, have more reason to be unsocial than others, but the point is still the point.)
There’s reason to be hopeful, though. In the organization’s 2017 report—scheduled to be released this spring—both rankings have improved significantly: When it comes to talking to our neighbors, we’ve moved up to 35th. (Still not awesome, but better than awful.) And on the matter of doing favors for them, we jumped to sixth. (Which means we’re somehow managing to help people without actually talking to them—but let’s not get too greedy.)
To what can we attribute that improvement? Even Seattle CityClub’s executive director, Diane Douglas, is hesitant to hazard a guess. But it’s hard to dismiss the possibility that all of those newbies—the very ones who feel frozen out—are the ones changing the culture. Who knows, maybe in a couple years the Seattle Freeze really will be dead—or the only ones complaining about it will be the crusty old-timers who feel unwelcome in their suddenly friendly city.