Alan Stanley
Wed, 11/03/2021 - 07:35
Edited Text
THE ARCHITECTURE OF CONTESTION: NEOLIBERALISM AND PUBLIC
SPACES IN SEATTLE

by
Allison Paige Bolgiano
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for graduation with Honors in Politics.

Whitman College
2014

Certificate of Approval
This is to certify that the accompanying thesis by Allison Paige Bolgiano has been
accepted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for graduation with Honors in Politics.

___________________________________

Melisa Casumbal-Salazar

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Acknowledgments
I wish to extend my warmest and most sincere thanks to the following individuals:
Aaron Bobrow-Strain – For getting me concerned about neoliberalism in Political
Ecology, Spring 2012 and making me understand it in Genealogies of Political Economy,
Spring 2013. For serving as an adviser who pushed me to find a thesis puzzle and offered
wise encouragement toward my goal of earning a PhD in geography.
Phil Brick – For Semester in the West 2012, a semester of travel that taught me
how to read space politically and provided a lifetime of memories.
Melisa Casumbal-Salazar – For being a terrific thesis adviser who offered
provocations, guidance, critical feedback, reassuring acclaim, and has served as a model
of a scholar-activist.
My friends – For the companionship and support that kept me grounded while
writing.
Sharon Hopkins and Doug Bolgiano, my parents – For making it possible for me
to go to Whitman, what a gift. For their love, support, and encouragement. For taking an
interest, even when neoliberalism did not make sense at first.

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Table of Contents
Introduction: Reading Neoliberalism in Space……………………………….….……..…1
Literature Review: Neoliberal Hegemony, Decentered…………………….…………..…7
Chapter One: “Economizing” Value and Commercializing Public Space………………16
Chapter Two: Situating Contestation………...…………………………………….…….25
Chapter Three: The Possibilities of Contestation………………………………………..39
Conclusion: The Possible Future…………………...……………………………………42
Bibliography...………………………….………………………………………………..44

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List of Illustrations
Figure 1……………………………………………………………………………..……..2
Figure 2…………………………………………………………………………..………..6
Figure 3…………………………………………………………………………………..20
Figure 4………………………………………………………….……………...………..20
Figure 5………………………………………………………………..……………..…..35

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Introduction: Reading Neoliberalism in Space
In November 2008, as the U.S. economy declined precipitously at the start of the Great
Recession, Seattle voters found on the ballot a $67 million bond levy to fund capital
improvements in Pike Place Public Market, Seattle’s century old farmers market. On
election day, longtime Market supporter and member of the Preservation and
Development Authority Council, Jackson Schmidt, gave interviews telling reporters that
even though he knew Seattleites loved the Market, he would understand if they voted not
to raise their property taxes to support it at a time of such uncertainty. By Wednesday
morning, however, reporters were asking Schmidt why seventy-two percent of voters had
approved the bond levy for Pike Place, to which he replied, “It’s real simple. The people
of Seattle love their Market” (2014).
At a time when the volatility and unevenness of the contemporary economic
system became clear, Seattleites chose to support a place that stood apart from modern
market society. I tell this story because in it the histories of the Pike Place Market and
neoliberalism, today’s dominant political-economic arrangement, intersect. In my thesis,
I will show how Pike Place Market and another important Seattle public space, the
Central Public Library, have been influenced by neoliberalism and more importantly how
they present versions of urban life apart from that offered by neoliberalism. I ask: How
do the architectures, histories, services, and governances of Seattle’s Central Library and
Pike Place Market contest neoliberal hegemony in ways that offer alternative forms of
value, freedom, and participation?
First, let me establish a brief definition of neoliberalism and why it should concern those
interested in urban life before I explain why these two sites are apt locations for studying

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it. In the simplest terms, neoliberalism is a system of thought and practice that holds that
markets where free competition flourishes encourage low-costs, efficiency, and
innovation and are the best tool for advancing individual well-being (Harvey 2005).
While opportunity should be equal, people’s successes or failures are deemed the result
of their individual choices, work ethic, and skills. Neoliberalism has altered the role of
government from ensuring the welfare of society to maximizing the opportunities for
capital growth (Brenner and Theodore 2002). The rise of neoliberal market society has
brought with it an alarming set of trends. The drive for profit has led to the
commodification, and not infrequently, the exploitation, of nearly everything, especially
Karl Polanyi’s false commodities – land, labor, and rent (Polanyi 1944; Harvey 2005).

Figure 1: Pike Place Public Market's main entrance with the well-recognized neon signs above
the intersection of Pike Place and Pike Street. Photograph by author, March 2014.

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In the urban setting, neoliberal policy and thought has had major consequences including
the commercialization of public space, the commodification of unique city features, the
removal of support services for vulnerable and marginalized populations, and the
conversion of politics into a technical activity devoid of room for dissent (Ong 2006).
While neoliberalism purports to bring increased freedom and wealth to all members of
society, I join scholars like David Harvey and Raj Patel in arguing that neoliberalism
expands the power and wealth of elites through policies designed to benefit capital not
the average person and their well-being or freedom. For those, like me, who are
concerned about inclusivity, equality, democracy, and aesthetics in urban life, the
neoliberalization of the city and its political sphere should cause alarm but not be
accepted as inevitable.
As a student of politics with a scholarly interest in political economy and a
personal interest in seeing Seattle be a place of economic and social justice, I aspire in
my thesis to challenge the normalization of neoliberalism, both in everyday life and
social science scholarship, by understanding its power and by identifying contestations of
it that could underlie a future apart from neoliberalism. While I am enamored with the
rainy city on Puget Sound, the Central Library and Pike Place are useful sites for
analyzing urban life in the neoliberal era for reasons beyond my love for the City of
Seattle.
The 355,000 square foot Central Library, with an exterior of diamond shaped
glass panels and an interior featuring a zig-zagging book spiral with sloping floors, was
designed by renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas of the Office of Metropolitan
Architecture and opened in May 2004 in the heart of downtown Seattle. Located on the

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site of the previous central library, the new Library serves as the flagship branch among
the twenty-eight libraries in the Seattle Public Library System (SPL). At Pike Place
Market, visitors walk down arcades flanked by farmers, craftspeople, fishmongers tossing
salmon, and buskers playing everything from blues to bluegrass. These public spaces are
loved by Seattleites, visited by many tourists (ten million people visit Pike Place
annually), and frequently used in media that represent Seattle to the wider world. The
Market and the Library are relevant sites to study what Henri Lefebvre terms “the
everyday” – “the decisive category linking the economy to individual experiences”
(Ronneberger 2002). For Lefebvre, understanding urbanism and everyday life is at its
heart a spatial question. As Doreen Massey argues in “A Global Sense of Place”, space
must not be treated as a passive backdrop upon which forces like globalization or
neoliberalism descend upon and impact, but rather should be viewed as active, socially
produced, and historically and geographically contextualized (1994). Pike Place Market
and the Central Library are rich locations for this analysis of space because within them
culture, government, business, and politics converge.
Paying detailed attention to the ways that these sites interact with neoliberalism
makes neoliberalism visible where normalization has rendered it undetected. This thesis
is also an explicit step away from scholarship that gives neoliberalism only passing
mention as an important force in modern life, but contributes nothing to understanding of
neoliberalism’s interaction with the subject of the scholarship. Neoliberalism is powerful
in many realms, but scholarship should not treat it as inevitable or eternal since this can
reify its hegemony (Leitner et. all 2007).

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At its heart, this thesis is about the contestations of neoliberalism existing within
the Market and the Library. In order to understand these contestations, though, I will first
turn my attention in the Literature Review to how neoliberalism ascended to hegemonic
status and its power in arenas like city governance and architecture. Chapter One explores
the ways that the two spaces are influenced by neoliberalism and commodified like so
much else. Remembering that neoliberalism is imperfect and always in tension, in
Chapter Two, I analyze how the architecture, services, and histories of the public spaces
contest neoliberal hegemony. The new possibilities and freedoms for urban life offered
by these contestations are the subject of Chapter Three. Ultimately, I aim to deepen
understanding of neoliberalism by contextualizing it within two Seattle public spaces that
could bring about a more free, inclusive, and participatory urban life in Seattle.

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Figure 2: The Seattle Central Public Library, as seen from 4th Avenue and Madison
Street. Photograph by Alex Abboud, August 2009.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexabboud/3907529546/.

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Literature Review: Neoliberal Hegemony, Decentered
In the opening pages of A Brief History of Neoliberalism, David Harvey writes that
neoliberalism has shaped thought “to the point where it has become incorporated into the
common-sense way many of us interpret, live in, and understand the world” (2005). Here
Harvey draws upon Antonio Gramsci’s notion of hegemony. Hegemony is mass society’s
acceptance of a guiding worldview that is achieved through a mix of consent and
coercion (Gramsci 1972). Neoliberal capitalism, as Harvey argues, is hegemonic because
people perceive the economic and social structures it creates as legitimate, if not
inevitable, and act accordingly. Through their perceived legitimacy, hegemonies actively
neutralize opposition in order to maintain the common-sense nature of their ideologies.
My thesis posits that while neoliberalism’s hegemonic influence can be read within the
physical spaces and practices of Seattle’s Pike Place Market and Central Public Library,
the two simultaneously contest common-sense neoliberalism by showing the potential of
collectivist, rule-guided, non-commercial spaces and programs to improve quality of life
and deepen definitions of freedom.
To conduct an analysis that treats the Market and the Library as sites actively
involved in re-producing and re-shaping neoliberalism, my research draws from a variety
of types of data. Understanding the two histories of the spaces was key. For this, I relied
upon books and newspaper articles. Particularly informative were Alice Shorett and
Murray Morgan’s history of Pike Place Market, The Soul of the City, and The Seattle
Public Library, a book issued by the Office of Metropolitan Architecture featuring
commentary and newspaper articles about the evolution of the Central Library. I visited
the sites in November and December 2013 and January and March 2014. During these

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visits I observed patrons, toured the sites, took note of the products or services offered,
and paid attention to the ways the sites described themselves through signage, art work,
or printed information. I chose not to interview patrons or try to assess their behavior
since I am not a trained ethnographer and consider myself unfit to draw conclusions from
these types of data. Instead, to gain a better sense of the governance, history, and services
of the public spaces, I interviewed two members of the Pike Place Preservation and
Development Authority Council, Bruce Burger and Jackson Schmidt, in early February
2014 along with Lillian Hochstein, Director of the Market Foundation, and lastly
Marcellus Turner who leads the entire Seattle Public Library System as the City
Librarian. All photographs featured in this thesis are my own (with the exception of that
on page nine) and subject to copyright. As the Literature Review reveals, the work of
many scholars on neoliberalism came together to shape my understanding of it.
Despite its seeming ubiquity and wide-ranging power today, neoliberalism arose
through a process of contestation and in response to Cold War era stagflation. In the
1970s, neoliberalism emerged out of the writings of Friedrich von Hayek and Milton
Friedman, the politics of President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret
Thatcher, and the halls of the Chicago School of Economics. Freedom was at the heart of
the new economic doctrine: free markets, individual liberty, freedom from government,
and freedom from coercion. The role of the state shifted from ensuring citizen welfare
and employment to guaranteeing the conditions necessary for capitalist growth based on
the neoliberal belief that “human well-being can best be advanced by liberating
individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework

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characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” (Harvey
2005).
In A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Harvey argues that freedom rhetoric was
instrumental in neoliberalism’s ascendance. He chooses to view neoliberalization not as a
utopian project, but rather as political project to re-create the conditions for capital
accumulation and to “restore the power of economic elites” (2005). The way in which
freedom was employed elucidates Gramsci’s definition of hegemony as “the
‘spontaneous’ consent given by the great masses of the population to the general
direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group…” (Gramsci 1972).
Freedom became a tool that elites, or the fundamental group in Gramsci’s terms, used to
hail mass society and gain acceptance for neoliberalism. Restoring class power is not a
goal likely to garner widespread support, Harvey notes. Expansion and protection of
individual freedom, however, appealed to a broader audience, especially a North
American and Western European one accustomed to the liberal tradition. Neoliberalism
became hegemonic as mass society bought into its small-government, individualistic, and
deregulated-markets vision of freedom. Through consent neoliberalism became “common
sense”. The work of this thesis is to identify the ways in which neoliberal hegemony is
not complete, despite its diffuse power.

I will approach my project from the stance that neoliberalism is less of an “ism” or end
state, but rather more of a process – neoliberalization (Peck and Tickell 2002).
Contradictions abound between neoliberal theory and what Brenner and Theodore term
“actually existing neoliberalism” (2002). To account for this, my thesis does not seek to

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find perfect alignment nor a state of stasis with neoliberalism at the two sites. Instead, it
pays attention to how the different timelines and histories of the two public spaces
influence their relationship with neoliberalism. The Library, opened in May 2004, was
conceived of during the neoliberal era, which encourages cities to act as competitive
enterprises and individuals to act as consumers responsible for their own success
(Hackworth 2007). The Pike Place Market predates neoliberalism by sixty years. Thus,
the Market’s inherited systems and regulations have come into contact with marketoriented restructuring (Brenner and Theodore 2002). Through my reading of
neoliberalism within public spaces in Seattle, I wish to exemplify Lefebvre’s idea that the
city is both the locus of the struggle and at stake in the struggle (1991). Seattle put itself
on the map for challenging neoliberalism with the 1999 World Trade Organization
protests. Yet, as WTO protests revealed, Seattle is a part of neoliberalization, a process
that has real stakes for who can participate in Seattle’s public life and in what ways.
Exploring neoliberalism and contestations of it in the Market and Library fills a
gap in scholarship. Jason Hackworth observes in The Neoliberal City that, “the
connection between urban form and neoliberalism is ignored by most scholars of
neoliberalism” (2007). Currently, there is no existing scholarship that explores
neoliberalism in relation to either site and little exploring the neoliberalization of public
space or architecture. I work to begin filling this gap by studying neoliberalism as it
emerges through urban form and practices. One area of inquiry is the ways in which
neoliberalism has encouraged certain characteristics and practices among governments,
businesses, and individuals.

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Although neoliberalism is an ideology that espouses freedom, this thesis pays attention to
the way that neoliberalism can act a system of control by encouraging specific urban
forms, conditioning citizens toward individualism and consumerism, and narrowly
defining freedom as freedom from the government. By viewing governmentality and
subjectivity as products of hegemony, my thesis examines how neoliberalism encourages
certain representations of Seattle and identity formation among its citizens.
Governmentality, a concept developed by Michel Foucault, introduces political
economy into governing practices and makes the population an object of government. It
uses tactics, not laws, to encourage the economical disposition of the population
(Foucault 2002). Governmentality under neoliberalism is inherently spatialized. First, the
locus of regulation has shifted; the state should not regulate the market, but rather the
market is the inner regulator of the state. Secondly, governance occurs at a distance by
attempting to work through the freedoms of the governed (Dean 1999). Neoliberalism is
normalized in urban everyday life in ways that reproduce unrestrained and globalized
capitalism, in turn making cities competitive enterprises (Keil 2002; Hackworth 2007).
The decision to hire internationally acclaimed architect Rem Koolhaas to build a Library
that would affirm Seattle’s status as a modern, global city aligns with scholars’
observations that the neoliberal city is competitive and entrepreneurial. In Chapters One
and Two, I analyze how the two spaces follow the pattern of neoliberal governmentality
that scholars have documented and in what ways they offer alternative concepts of
governing.
The importance of the Library and the Market to Seattleites’ identity, Seattle’s
outward representation, and its self-definition make these apt sites to explore how the

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spaces hail patrons toward a neoliberal subjectivity and conversely offer possibilities
apart from neoliberalism. In an article about neoliberal common sense in Toronto politics,
Roger Keil writes that neoliberal societies tend to “engulf the individual and social
collectives with rules that are accepted as naturalized forms of behaviors” (Keil 2002). To
paraphrase this quote using the key language of my thesis: neoliberalism establishes
spontaneous consent among individuals to the point that its techniques of government set
rules which seem natural to people and shape their everyday practices, therefore making
them subjects of neoliberal hegemony. A neoliberal subjectivity is characterized by
“individualism and entrepreneurialism, equating individual freedom with self-interested
choices, making individuals responsible for their own well-being, and redefining citizens
as consumers and clients” (Leitner, et. all 2007). The spaces partially promote a
neoliberal subjectivity whether it is through the sale of niche consumer goods at the
Market or the Wall Street trading floor inspired reference desk. At the same time, though,
the Market’s provision of social services and the Library’s rooms in which people of
myriad backgrounds mingle suggest that more collective and compassionate versions of
city life are possible. I also pay attention to the ways that neoliberalism influences the
form and function of spaces.
My understanding of the neoliberalization of architecture is partially shaped by
writing about iconic architecture, consumerism, and the transnational capitalist class by
London School of Economics professor Leslie Sklair. In the article “Iconic Architecture
and the Culture-ideology of Consumerism”, Sklair defines iconicity in architecture as the
fame and special symbolic or aesthetic importance that is applied to certain buildings or
sometimes certain architects (2010). He argues that iconic architecture is a hegemonic

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project of the transnational capitalist class that, in the global era, works to turn nearly all
public space into consumerist space. Examples include larger stores and cafes in
museums, diversified spending opportunities in sports stadiums, and the Boston Public
Library’s “Books are Just the Beginning” campaign that promotes the cafes and
bookstores in Boston libraries. Increased consumerism then reinforces the power of the
transnational capitalist class through increased profits for the corporations that its
members control.
Sklair’s emphasis on consumerism provides a key linkage point to neoliberalism,
which asserts that well-being can be improved and measured through consumption. With
iconic architecture, a building’s distinctiveness is commodified to become a unique
selling point. Iconic architects like that of Seattle Central, Rem Koolhaas, become tools
cities can employ in their competitions for cultural significance and economic success,
Sklair argues (2010). In Chapters One and Two, I examine the dualistic nature of the
Library’s architecture as commodified and as signaling toward global capital, but also as
architecture that draws attention to the importance and possibility of public space.

Understanding neoliberalism’s pervasive influence would be incomplete without
examining the contestations that shape it. As Leitner writes in “Contesting Urban
Futures: Decentering Neoliberalism”, placing neoliberalism at the center of analysis can
reinforce its hegemony (2007). Thus, contestation to neoliberalism should be viewed
broadly enough to include direct resistance as well as imaginaries and practices that predate neoliberalism, exist where neoliberalism is out of place, or arise in response to
diverse social issues (2007). The heart of this thesis is an effort to understand the ways

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that the Market and the Library present alternative urban imaginaries with different
conceptions of freedom, equality, and the “good life” than those widely accepted under
neoliberalism. Leitner writes, “Contestation frequently involves resignifying the place:
the strategic manipulation, subversion and transgression of everyday spaces, and the
social relations they stand for, within a city and beyond” (2007). The Central Library and
Pike Place Market have many long-standing characteristics and practices that run in
opposition to neoliberalism. As Chapter One will argue, however, the value of the Market
and the Library is constrained by neoliberalism’s narrow focus on economic worth. In
later chapters, I analyze the ways that the two sites diverge from hegemonic
neoliberalism and offer contestations that broaden the terms of worth, deepen notions of
freedom, provide social services that help people overcome barriers to obtaining “equally
available” opportunities, and encourage diverse participation.
My thesis sits at the critical, but largely unexplored, intersection of actually
existing neoliberalism, everyday urban practice, and the governmentalities and
subjectivities that emerge out of neoliberal hegemony. By reading neoliberalism within
Seattle’s Central Public Library and the Pike Place Market, my thesis will explore how
common sense neoliberalism co-exists with physical spaces and practices that contest
neoliberalism. A better understanding of consent to neoliberalism can help reveal how
departures from it offer alternatives to neoliberalism. I explore how these spaces diverge
from the neoliberal characteristics documented by scholars and instead show well-being
as advanced in ways other than consumption, well-being as the responsibility not just of
the individual but of the community, and freedom as not just the ability to consume but
more significantly the ability to participate in politics, speak out on issues, and engage in

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a diverse community. To do this I will examine what activities the spaces prioritize, who
they invite to participate, what types of services they offer, and how they navigate
relationships with the government and corporations. Ultimately, I argue that within the
Library and the Market exists the possibility for more profound freedom – the freedom
from want, the freedom to connect with others, and the freedom to participate
meaningfully in civic life.

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Chapter 1: “Economizing” Value and Commercializing Public Space
In The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi argues that for markets to work, society needs
to license the turning of things into commodities that can be bought and sold (1944).
Decades later Raj Patel builds off this idea to argue in The Value of Nothing that there is
nothing natural about buying and selling things for profit using money (2010). Today,
however, neoliberal capitalism measures the value of nearly everything in dollars and
cents – a system naturalized and accepted in mass society. Everything from the chance of
future hurricanes to the lifetime value of a college education gets dollar and cents
amounts applied to them. Pike Place Market and the Seattle Central Public Library are
not exempt.
I term the phenomenon of the worth of an increasingly diverse array of things
being assessed monetarily and economically “economization”. (I do not use
“economization” it in its original sense of savings or efficiency, although the neoliberal
focus on those has contributed to assessing value economically.) The Pike Place Market
and the Central Library facilitate consent to neoliberal hegemony through the
economization of their value. Discourses about the two sites downplay their noneconomic worth because to celebrate the services these sites provide, their public support
and accountability, and their inclusion of diverse populations would de-legitimate them in
the neoliberal order in which value is assessed economically. The contributions of public
spaces that extend beyond the economic, such as promoting the arts and humanities,
building community, and providing free spaces for civic engagement, are not fully
recognized due to neoliberalism’s hegemonic insistence that individual quality of life is
best improved through an expanding economy.

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I begin with the Central Library where economization manifests when the
Library serves as a tool in Seattle’s entrepreneurial competition between cities and
becomes a unique selling point that is treated as a product, not a program of service.
Leitner writes that the neoliberal city directs “all its energies to achieving economic
success in competition with other cities for investment, innovations, and “creative
classes” (2007). Meanwhile, Sklair argues that hiring iconic architects to build highprofile buildings is a strategy cities use to compete for status and capital (2010).
Discourses about the Library that describe it as an icon, forward-thinking, and as a
magnet for the creative class directly align with both Leitner and Sklair’s arguments,
demonstrating that built space can be a tool in neoliberal governmentality of competitive
entrepreneurialism.
Entering the Central Public Library from the Fourth Avenue entrance, one will
see the Microsoft Auditorium to their left before they ride a chartreuse green escalator up
to the Allen Living Room which adjoins to the Starbucks Teen Center, all three of which
are labeled with large lettering on their walls. The donations of corporations and ultrawealthy private benefactors receive highly visible acknowledgement. The citizens of
Seattle, who voted in a 70 percent majority in November 1998 to increase their property
taxes to enhance the Seattle Public Library System, do not receive any obvious
acknowledgment in the Library. The naming practices in the Library demonstrate
alignment with the neoliberal belief that the private sector is the source of improvement
and development in society, whereas the government, and its techniques like taxation,
restrict both progress and freedom. The diffusion of neoliberal hegemony manifests itself
in another of the Library’s spaces – the fifth floor Mixing Chamber. This area is the main

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reference desk in the Library, where multiple librarians are stationed to help patrons
quickly find materials and navigate the building. The Mixing Chamber is described as “a
trading floor for information” in both a 2004 opening-day special feature by The Seattle
Post-Intelligencer and in the book SPL by the Office of Metropolitan Architecture about
the Library’s design (Kubo 2005). OMA goes on to write that the Mixing Chamber
brings librarians together “in a circle of renewed expertise [and]…consolidates the
Library’s cumulative human and technological intelligence: the visitor is surrounded by
information sources” (Kubo 2005). This description and terminology shows that the
Library is a vehicle for neoliberal prioritization of expert knowledge, technological
power, and efficiency. To compare the reference desk to a Wall Street trading floor
infuses the Library with a competitive, entrepreneurial, and financial-driven logic.
Whether through the Library’s spaces themselves or discourses about them, the Central
Library becomes a tool through which consent to neoliberalism is produced.
Reporter John Marshall writes, “The new Central Library is an instant landmark for
Seattle, a 21st century global architecture icon and testament to this city’s futurist
impulses,” in an article that appeared in a special section of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
issued on May 20, 2004, three days before the Central Library opened to a crowd of
24,000 people. Sklair likely could not have invented a better quote to illustrate his main
points in his article “Iconic Architecture and the Culture-Ideology of Consumerism”. He
distinguishes between architecture that is iconic for its special symbolic and aesthetic
qualities versus architecture that is iconic in the sense of being “a unique selling point”
(2010). The claim that Koolhaas’s library became iconic before it opened to the public is
an incongruous one. Without the Library’s design and unique features being put into

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practice, it cannot take on the specific meanings and representative value that would
make it an icon in Sklair’s first sense of the word. The Library can instantly be a tourist
draw and a selling point for downtown Seattle, but it cannot instantly adopt meaning. As
“a testament to the city’s futurist impulses”, the Library functions less as an icon but
more as a magnet that attracts the transnational capitalist class to Seattle. Between its
high-tech glass paneling, structurally ingenious “floating blocks”, and sleek, colorful
interior, the Library conveys innovation, creativity, and style – qualities desirable to
corporations and elites who seek these qualities in their operations and employees. While
the Library was not designed primarily to present Seattle as a home to corporate capital, it
is used for these purposes since they are what neoliberalism deems legitimate and
important.
Similarly, the benefits the Library offers patrons are co-opted and used as
evidence of Seattleites’ economic potential. According to a July 2005 report issued by the
City of Seattle titled, “The Seattle Public Library Central Library: Economic Benefits
Assessment”, patrons who make use of the Library’s collections and programming are
better able to contribute to the local economy. It states, “Increases in the use of Library
resources contribute to learning, literacy, business productivity, personal and professional
development, and individual livelihood, all of which boost the local economy.” The
report measures the worth of literacy, knowledge, and personal development
economically by concluding that these benefit the local economy. Here, the City of
Seattle ascribes a neoliberal subjectivity to patrons, transforming them from individual
learners to mechanisms of economic growth.

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Figure 3: The Starbucks Teen Center adjacent to the 3 rd floor Allen Living Room of the
Central Library. Photograph by author, November 2013.

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Figure 4: Described as “a trading floor of ideas”, the 5th floor Mixing Chamber of the
Central Public Library is the main reference desk. Several librarians are stationed here to
assist patrons. The monitors above them show instantaneously what is being checked out
of the Library. Photograph by author, December 2013.

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Increased usage of Library materials, however, does more for Seattle than boost the
economy. People who are more literate, more productive, and more knowledgeable are
also people who are better equipped to engage in local politics, find meaningful ways to
contribute in their communities, and raise healthy and compassionate children. To say
that the Library’s contributions are important because they help the economy is to ignore
the ways that the Library is a powerful social space capable of encouraging participation,
action, and inclusion, even among marginalized members of society. The services the
Central Library offers have strong counter hegemonic possibilities, but these are
minimized and delegitimized by neoliberal economization. As Chapter Two will show,
the services and programs of the Library contest neoliberalism’s emphasis on economic
worth and elite knowledge, but a process of re-signification is necessary to free them
from neoliberal economization.

The economization of the Pike Place Market and the Central Public Library also occurs
through their commodification as “unique selling points”. This process involves
converting the unique characteristics of each space into reproducible products, making
the Library and the Market valuable not for their historical or cultural significance, or
even what they contribute to the local economy, but rather as economic objects
themselves.
At the heart of the Market and in neon lettering above Pike Street are the words
“Meet the Producer”. This tenet is either missed by the increasing number of visitors who
come to buy souvenirs, not fresh food, or used as a marketing device to claim that Seattle
has special access to an agrarian tradition that most of the country lost touch with long

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ago. Increased competition from neighborhood farmers markets and rising number of
tourist visitors has meant that more and more people consume Pike Place as a product,
instead of interacting with it as a vital community.
These two trends contribute to the distillation of the Market into a selling point
and product, instead of a public space that blends community and commerce for the
benefit of Seattleites. In 1990, King County, Washington, in which Seattle is the most
populous city, had one farmers’ market – the Pike Place Market. Today, the county has
around ninety farmers markets (Schmidt 2014). For Pike Place, booming interest in local
food is a welcome trend, but the rise of neighborhood markets has posed a challenge.
PDA Council Member Schmidt explains that the difficulty for the Market has not been
securing an adequate number of customers but rather keeping farmers coming to Pike
Place when neighborhood markets tend to get customers exclusively interested in buying
produce. Simultaneously, with the recent influx of tourists disembarking cruise ships for
a day in Seattle, the Market’s customer base has shifted even more toward a demographic
more interested in purchasing souvenirs and crafts rather than fresh food. Tourists take
home paintings, photographs, sweatshirts, and pottery that bear the name “Pike Place
Market” or images of its red-neon signs, Rachel the Pig, or men in orange bibs throwing
fish. These crafts, while made and designed by the person selling them, turn images of
the Market into consumable products that signify that the purchaser visited Pike Place.
Pike Place’s longevity and dedication to “Meet the Producer” is transformed into
a marketing motto that asserts that Seattle retains an agrarian past lost elsewhere. “The
postcard is throwing fish. I think the people see it as a sort of “Boy, there was a time
when that was the way stuff was done, and they’re still doing it that way in Seattle,” said

23

Schmidt (2014). With the rise of farmers’ markets and the arrival of cruise ships, visitors
have moved from interacting with Pike Place as a community resource to consuming it as
a product. This commodification has not radically altered the Market or moved it away
from its core tenets, but rather shows the ways that even a place with values and practices
apart from fast-paced, mass-produced consumerism can serve as a vehicle for neoliberal
commodification.

The Central Library also serves as a unique selling point for Seattle, a process that
commodifies its one-of-a-kind architecture and importance as a public space. While the
Library can and perhaps should be iconic because of the representational meaning housed
within its boxy glass frame, when it is used as a selling point for downtown Seattle, the
Library falls into Sklair’s second category of iconicity – iconic as a selling point. The
2005 report on the economic impact of the Central Library describes it as “a compelling
image already appearing as an icon in magazines, advertisements, and promotions of
Seattle.” The report provides examples of the ways that images of the Library have been
used: as a backdrop for a Macy’s photo-shoot, behind a Volkswagen car in an ad that ran
on the back cover of The New Yorker, and as the setting for a ten page fashion spread in
Cargo magazine (2005). In these images the Library is transformed from a public space
that provides incredible resources into a marketing tool whose purpose is to garner
returns for the private sector. While the promotion of the Library and of Seattle that
occurs through these campaigns certainly has beneficial potential, the commodification of
the Library’s unique design and special qualities demonstrates the cooptation of public
space into commercialized space. When the Library becomes a marketing tool, it

24

demonstrates the trend Sklair observes in the neoliberal era of nearly all space becoming
sites for consumption, and thereby the promotion of the transnational capitalist class
(2010). The commercialization of the Central Public Library runs counter to Seattle
Public Library’s mission it of being a welcoming facility that offers resources and
programs to all free of charge.
Neoliberalism as a hegemonic ideology presents the free-market economy as the
best instrument for improving quality of life. It relegates politics into the category of a
technical obstacle that must be overcome before the economy can improve society (Ong
2006). The Pike Place Market and the Seattle Central Public Library both have
characteristics and practices, such as strong public support, the provision of services to
marginalized members of society, and the implementation of strict governing rules, that
run in direct contradiction to neoliberalism. These are subordinated, however, to the
economic value of the two sites. Given Gramsci’s definition of hegemony as an ideology
that forms the prevailing way that society understands the world, the economization of
the worth of the Market and the Library shows that diffuse pressures encourage the sites
to prioritize economic worth over other values, since economic worth is declared
legitimate by neoliberalism. Conformity to neoliberalism is rarely total, as Harvey notes.
The Market and the Library each have many aspects that diverge from neoliberalism. In
the next chapter, I will examine these divergences as instruments of contestation. The
contestations I identify have the power to challenge neoliberal hegemony by asserting the
value of activities, services, and people focused not on profit but on community, culture,
and learning.

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Chapter 2: Situating Contestation
By rejecting a totalizing vision of neoliberalism, I seek to de-center neoliberalism by
identifying and analyzing contestations that emerge in the Pike Place Market and the
Seattle Central Public Library. Contestations of neoliberalism adopt myriad forms, can
exceed neoliberalism, arise from efforts not originally directed at neoliberalism, originate
from eras predating the neoliberal one, and grow out of sets of values different from those
of neoliberalism (Leitner et. all 2007, 4). The Market and the Library contest
neoliberalism in all of these ways. In their histories, designs, services, and practices, the
sites expand the terms of value in the urban environment beyond neoliberalism’s narrow
focus on economic worth. Through this process, the public spaces offer alternative urban
imaginaries and illuminate a future radically different from the one neoliberalization is
creating. My analysis of contestations begins with the Market and then moves to the
Central Library.
Over Pike Place’s 106-year history, time and time again activists have worked to
preserve the Market in its historic form. Keeping the Market the same, however, is about
preserving an alternative. Pike Place began as an alternative to price-raising, farmerexploiting grocery trusts. Today, it resists hegemonic neoliberal trends by offering social
services in the age of welfare rollback and by employing rules and structures to guide the
Market at a time when deregulation and the free-market are believed to bring prosperity.
Pike Place’s founding mission set it apart from mainstream capitalism, and that
distinction remains today. “It was the summer of 1907. That was the era of trusts. There
were railroad trusts, steel trusts, banking trusts, oil trusts,” said PDA Council member
Schmidt (2014). That summer in Seattle, the price of onions rose from ten cents to one

26

dollar per pound (Schmidt 2014). Customers who purchased their produce at “the yards”,
warehouses run by commissioners, grew weary of price hikes. Farmers became restless,
too; they knew that market prices were rising but they were not receiving any more for
their goods from the commissioners. When customers, farmers, and Seattle City
Councilman Thomas Ravelle caught onto the emerging grocery trust, Ravelle worked to
make an existing ordinance for a public market a reality. On August 7, 1907 Pike Place
Market opened with a few farmers selling to thousands of customers. At a time when
businesses were growing larger, more consolidated, and more distant from the consumer,
Pike Place provided a place where small farmers could sell directly to consumers and
make a living doing it. Since its founding, the Market has provided an alternative to
conglomeration, the acceleration and corporatization of agriculture, and the distancing of
consumers from the people who grow their food. Pike Place’s roots in resistance continue
to guide the Market today, as Schmidt describes: “The founding had a profound impact
that shaped the Market you see today. That sign up there that says, “Meet the Producer”
is still the motto and still informs the Market, and it’s what makes it so different” (2014).
While efforts over the Market’s 106-year history to save it have been primarily
motivated by keeping “Meet the Producer” at the heart of Pike Place, these same
campaigns have resisted urban renewal and gentrification. In the 1920s, Seattleites,
especially women’s groups, rallied to prevent the Market from being relocated and fought
for legislation that allowed the Market to expand at its present location. After World War
II, Pike Place Market faced new challenges: more people shopped at supermarkets, frozen
and packaged foods grew popular, and fewer people farmed in the Seattle area (Shorrett
and Morgan 2007). To some people the Market seemed less and less necessary and more

27

and more like a run-down, jumbled collection of buildings occupying prime real estate
that could be offices, high-end retail stores, luxury hotels, or condos with a view. Starting
in 1950, developers and architects began presenting Seattle with visions for a revitalized
Market – plans that often started with a bulldozer (2007). In response to a 1950 proposal
to turn the Pike Place Market into a mix of offices, condos, and commercial retail, Market
supporter and artist Mark Tobey criticized the tendencies of urban renewal. He laments,
“Landmarks with human dimensions are being torn down to be replaced by structures
that appear never to have been touched by human hands. There seems a talent today for
picking the most beautiful and personal places to destroy – what might be called an
aesthetic destructive sense” (2007). Tobey makes it clear that the Market’s value ran far
deeper than the price of the land it sat upon. His observation illustrates Patel’s argument
in The Value of Nothing that capitalism’s tendency to measure the worth of nearly
everything economically precludes other values from being appreciated and limits what
society values at all (2010). Pike Place Market as it existed in the 1950s and 1960s and as
it exists today has never been the most profit-maximizing venture that could sit on a bluff
with prime views of Elliott Bay. As each urban renewal project surfaced, though, Market
supporters banded together to save Pike Place, a place they valued for its uniqueness,
authenticity, and diversity. Through their struggles they set their own terms of value –
asserting that Pike Place’s cultural, aesthetic, and historic significance mattered in a way
that dollars and cents could not capture. By foregrounding values beyond the economic,
generations of Pike Place activists kept the Market apart from urban renewal and
gentrification, allowing it remain a public space where customers connect to farmers,
marginal businesses have a chance to grow, and visitors feel surrounded by something

28

original and irreproducible. While not removed from neoliberalism’s economization of
worth, the Pike Place Market asserts that much more than just dollars and cents matter in
its nine-acre campus.

The virtue of free competition is at the heart of neoliberalism. As Harvey, describes
neoliberalism holds that competition will “…eliminate bureaucratic red tape, increase
efficiency and productivity, improve quality, and reduce costs” (2005). Policies designed
to foster free competition have left many members of society without support and living
in poverty in a society of pronounced inequality (Patel 2010). Pike Place brings another
possibility to life. Schmidt explains the importance of regulation in the Market: “It is not
free competition. It is not free market, and boy does it work. Every other business in town
suffered through the [2008] recession, but year after year after year, our sales were up in
all categories in the Market. The regulation in the Market protects the Market, it
preserves the Market, and it works” (2014). Pike Place pushes back against free
competition by showing that a business and community can flourish when rules shape
commerce and regulations bring gains for people, not profit.
Pike Place Market depends on its charter and the resulting regulations to maintain
its historic character, diverse community, quality businesses, and popularity. On
November 1, 1971 Seattle voters saved Pike Place from the wrecking ball and voted to
create a seven-acre historic district and the Market Historical Commission to supervise it
(Shorrett and Morgan 2007). In 1973, the Pike Place Preservation and Development
Council (the PDA) was established to act as the public trustee of the Market. The charter
requires the PDA to, “preserve, rehabilitate and protect buildings within the Market,

29

increase the opportunities for farm and food retailing in the Market, support small and
marginal businesses, and provide services for low-income individuals” (Pike Place
Market 2014). Of the PDA’s twelve members the Seattle mayor appoints four, the PDA
appoints four, and the Market Constituency appoints another four. The PDA Council is
accountable both to the City of Seattle and to Pike Place’s charter, which it carries out
with the help of the Historic Commission and the Market Foundation. As PDA council
members Schmidt and Bruce Burger point out, Pike Place Market could hardly be further
from the free market.
“Let me tell you, there’s no economy that I can imagine anywhere, that is as
highly regulated as the Pike Place Market. It’s down to what you can print on t-shirts,”
said Schmidt about regulations at Pike Place (2014). They cover myriad aspects of the
Market, but all help to ensure that the Market remains true to its charter. The Historic
Commission along with the PDA see that renovations align with the Market’s historic
appearance, which can include anything from only using certain paint colors to installing
wooden window frames, not metal ones (Burger 2014). The PDA decides what
businesses can open shops in the Market. The primary rule is that any business that has a
store elsewhere cannot open a shop in the Market (Burger 2014). The rules about the type
of businesses can open shop and what they can sell prevent the Market from making
maximum profit but rather make it a home to new and original businesses selling unique
products. For example, the original Starbucks, opened in 1971, cannot sell baked goods
like most other Starbucks stores because the PDA decided that it is too close to a French
bakery that specializes in pastries (Schmidt 2014). By regulating against free
competition, the PDA helps more businesses specializing in unique and handmade

30

products stay afloat. The Market’s charter and the regulations that follow from it push
back against neoliberalism’s central tenet of unregulated competition.
Pike Place does more than simply reject the free competition paradigm; instead it
brings to life values that contest those prioritized by neoliberalism. The Market values its
longevity, authenticity, loyalty to its mission, and connection to its community while
many businesses, especially larger corporations, focus on profit maximization, share
holder value, and competitive advantage (Ho 2009). For PDA Council Member Bruce
Burger, regulations make the Market the enjoyable public space and successful business
it is. “I consider the success of the Market to be that it is a place with a soul, with an
atmosphere, a place that people enjoying being, a place that is very diverse, a place that
has things that you don’t see anywhere else in Seattle. That is very, very directly
connected to all of these checks and balances that prevent us from using the space to
make the maximum amount of money,” Burger explained (2014).

The activism that saved Pike Place Market from losing its historic character to profitmaximizing, progress-focused capitalism also made it so the Market could continue to
provide a variety of social services to low-income people, many of whom reside in the
Market itself. In the era of rollback neoliberalism, the state has withdrawn form welfare
provision in areas ranging from health care to education to housing, leaving “larger and
larger segments of the population exposed to impoverishment” (Harvey 2005). Under this
system individual failures are attributed to personal faults and the victim is often blamed
(2005). The provision of social services by Pike Place Market, an entity that blends

31

business and government, contests welfare repeal and individualized subjectivity and
instead works from an alternative urban imaginary of collective support and inclusion.
Since Pike Place’s early days, people have lived in the Market, and that continues
today, says Market Foundation Director Lillian Hochstein, who believes that the Market
is best thought of as a neighborhood (2014). The Market Foundation is a 503c non-profit
that raises funds for the different service agencies in the Market. These include the Pike
Market Child Care Center and Preschool, the Pike Market Medical Clinic, the Senior
Center, the Food Bank, and the Heritage House assisted living facility. The number of
people these agencies serve annually is striking: the preschool cares for the children of
100 families, the clinic handles 25,000 visits, the senior center welcomes 1,100 homeless
or low-income seniors, and the food bank distributes 269 tons of food across 45,000 visits
(Market Foundation 2014). While many non-profits have expanded their provision of
social services since the deconstruction of welfare began under President Reagan, the
non-profits that provide social services at Pike Place Market are unique in that they
subvert the typical constraints of who should offer services and where.
As a Public Development Corporation (a publically owned corporation under
Washington State law) Pike Place Market straddles the line between business and
government. The provision of social services in one of Seattle’s most popular businesses
and globally recognized public spaces powerfully resists the neoliberal logic that neither
the state nor corporations should provide safety nets for their communities. Instead of
promoting a neoliberal subjectivity that makes “individuals responsible for their own
well-being” and redefines “citizens as consumers and clients” (Leitner, et. all 2007), the
Market instead treats the community collectively and realizes that supporting low-income

32

community members helps make the Market a diverse neighborhood, a more viable
business, and a more interesting destination. The Market’s collection of social service
non-profits challenges both the corporate norm and neoliberal governmentality. Today,
the main focus for most corporations is shareholder value – or the return that investors
receive on shares (Ho 2009). Pike Place aligns more closely with a model that predates
neoliberalism and could re-emerge: a corporation that considers the well-being of its
shareholders, its employees, its community, and its aesthetic presence. Ultimately, Pike
Place Market presents Seattle, and the world, with an alternative urban imaginary that
contests neoliberalism by broadening and deepening what is valuable beyond the
economic to include history, aesthetics, human connection, the well-being of
marginalized populations, and the success of new businesses. The Central Library also
contests neoliberalism by working from a different value set that dispels many neoliberal
assumptions about the relationship between government and innovation and public space
and commercialization.

The Seattle Central Library is unlike any other building in Seattle or the world. Its
modern design has made it an icon, and sometimes an icon that is used as a selling point
to assert that Seattle is a fit home for enterprises that operate according to neoliberalism’s
faith in competition, expertise, and flexibility. The Library’s angular glass panels and
boulder-like presence in the heart of downtown also work as a vehicle for ideas and
practices running in opposition to neoliberalism. Seattle’s Central Public Library
provides a truly free space in the heart of commercial downtown, makes its facilities and
services accessible to patrons of diverse backgrounds, helps those patrons more fully

33

participate in public life, and shows that the government, with the support of the public,
can be creative and forward-thinking.
Walking in downtown Seattle amidst skyscrapers home to U.S. Bank, Wells
Fargo, and Safeco Insurance and between stores ranging from Starbucks to Prada to
McDonalds, one finds that nearly everything around them is geared toward consumption
or investment. As of 2012, one cannot even ride the bus for free through central
downtown. In midst of all this commercial activity, the Central Public Library invites
anyone to step inside to sit and read, use a computer, or enjoy its striking architecture1.
From a chair in the Living Room, I observed a young man wearing a sports cap and
sweatshirt making his way upstairs, an older man with an unpolished walking stick at his
feet sitting and reading, an middle aged woman with grey hair checking out books, and
two young people taking each other’s picture with the distinctive glass panels in the
background (2014). City Librarian Marcellus Turner links the diverse patronage of the
Library to its free and inclusive atmosphere. “If we were not here, I think that the city
would be missing quite a bit. First and foremost, what we have for free from the
standpoint that everyone is welcomed on an equal basis, that’s one of the great things
about libraries in general, but definitely about the Central Library,” said Turner (2014).
By providing a space that people can enter and enjoy for free without the requirement of
buying anything, the Library serves as an enclave in opposition to the trend of making
nearly all spaces into commercial ones (Sklair 2010). Beyond being a free public space,
the Central Library offers programming and resources that cater to diverse patrons and
1

The Central Library is popular with homeless and transient individuals who both take advantage of
the Library’s resources and services, but also make use of it as one of the only free spaces to take
shelter during the day in Seattle. What the Library’s attitude toward usage by the homeless
community should be is unclear, but if anything the Central Library reminds more affluent Seattleites
that homelessness is a major issue.

34

can help patrons take advantage of opportunities that they might otherwise find
unattainable.
The commercialization of space is a distressing trend because it polices who can
be where by making consumption a requirement for occupying space. The Central
Library counteracts exclusion through commercialization by using its design to invite all
people in and then offering services and resources that can improve patrons’ quality of
life. If one enters the Library from the main entrance on Fourth Avenue and walks toward
the escalators, they cross over a wooden-floor with raised lettering – these characters
belong to the first words of books written in the eleven languages most prevalent in the
Library’s collections in 2004. The lettered-floor is not only aesthetically interesting, but
visually signals to patrons that their languages are represented and valued. City Librarian
Turner explains how the Library system signals inclusion through the way it staffs its
libraries. “We really try to staff to reflect our communities. We have many ethnic groups
working in the Library. I think that says to that person who walks in the door or who may
be of another ethnic group of a different race, “Hey, I have a place here. I can at least be
myself,” Turner said (2014). Whether through art instillations or its staffing, the Central
Library celebrates multiculturalism and makes an effort to show that people of all
backgrounds are welcome. Efforts toward multiculturalism can actually be detrimental
when such efforts stop at celebration without continuing toward helping people of diverse
backgrounds realize equality. The Library, however, moves beyond gesturing toward
multiculturalism by offering services that help people from minority and marginalized
backgrounds more freely and fully participate in society.

35

Figure 5: The opening lines of books written in the eleven most prevalent languages
in the Seattle Public Library's collection are displayed in raised lettering on the floor
of the 1st floor international languages section. Photograph by author, November
2013.

36

While neoliberalism espouses the rhetoric of equal opportunity, it has eliminated the
services and policies that help people of marginalized backgrounds attain opportunities.
The Central Library’s services help people overcome challenges that may limit their
ability to take advantage of “equally” available opportunities like getting a job, going to
college, or receiving a home loan. It is important to note that barriers may exist to using
the Library’s services and that the services the Library provides help individuals in
important ways but do not undermine structural inequalities reproduced and entrenched
by neoliberalism. By remaining a truly free space that offers valuable services for free,
however, the Central Library resists the trend of the commercialization of public space
and contributes to equality.

Neoliberalism promotes the belief that the government lacks the flexibility, creativity,
and the competitive drive to carry out economically successful and innovative projects.
The Central Library, however, challenges the assertion that public projects waste
taxpayers’ money on mediocre results that could have been better executed by the private
sector. In 1998, a seventy-percent majority of Seattle voters approved a $196.4 million
measure to support SPL. Only five years later, the new Central Library opened after
staying within budget. Its May 2004 opening was met with praise from architects,
librarians, patrons, and visitors from around the world. Herbert Muschamp of The New
York Times had high praise for the Central Library. “In more than 30 years of writing
about architecture, this is the most exciting building it has been my honor to review” he
wrote (Seattle Post-Intelligencer May 20, 2004). This acclaim shows that Seattle, a city
known for its architectural conservatism and its political caution (Mattern 2003), had the

37

vision and creativity to make itself home to a thoughtfully bold and artistically functional
Library. Paul Goldberger of The New Yorker connected the Library’s design to its vitality
as a public space when he described Seattle Central as, “The most important Library to be
built in a generation, and the most exhilarating…the building conveys a sense of the
possibility, even the urgency, of public space in the center of a city” (Seattle PostIntelligencer May 20, 2004). By creating a Library with a bold design, the City of Seattle
affirmed that public spaces are vital resources for the community that deserve to be
original, exciting, and artistic. Goldberger and Muschamp’s praise challenges the notion
that the government tends toward drab, mediocre projects. It instead affirms that the City
of Seattle executed effectively the creation of a vital public space that serves diverse
patrons in an architecturally important building. Comments from former City Librarian
Deborah Jacobs on the Library’s opening day in 2004, point to what is most remarkable
about having a Library that pushes the envelope architecturally. “You can have museums
that are great looking, and office buildings. But this is the people’s public library, with
water views and city views. It’s a library, it’s not an expensive condo. It’s a library,” she
said (2004).
It is the word “public” to which Jacobs draws attention that makes the Central
Library and Pike Place important to Seattle and abundant with contestations of
neoliberalism. The two public spaces elucidate the ways that neoliberalism, while
diffusely powerful, does not achieve hegemony that is total or static because
neoliberalism must adapt to existing structures and practices and the resistance of people
working from values beyond the economic. As this chapter has demonstrated,
contestations of everything from deregulation to welfare rollback arise out of the Market

38

and the Library’s regulations, social services, supportive communities, and notable
architecture. At stake in the neoliberalization of urban life is the public’s ability to move
freely, organize effectively, and set the terms of value. The next chapter shows how the
contestations identified in this chapter can deliver a future of richer freedoms, humancentered politics, and greater equality.

39

Chapter 3: The Possibilities of Contestation
The myriad ways the two spaces contest common-sense neoliberalism all work towards
re-defining freedom and bring about freedom for people, not capital. After hailing
individuals and governments with promises of more and better-protected freedoms,
neoliberalism retains hegemonic status because mass society ascribes to a neoliberal
vision of freedom. Neoliberalism offers “freedoms from” – freedom from trade
regulation, freedom from government intervention, and freedom from taxation, for
example. Historically, and today, other visions of freedom exist such as the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and the 2002 Right to the City Charter (Patel 2010). These
documents are a product of the sentiment in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s quote, “Necessitous
men are not free men.” They espouse not just freedom from, but also freedom to. People
should be not only free from hunger, unemployment, violence, and injustice, but people
should also have the freedom to participate in democratic life, to practice their religion, to
remain in their home places, and to express opinions (Patel 2010).
These richer and broader conceptions of freedom are brought to life in the Pike
Place Market and Central Public Library. The Market helps thousands of vulnerable
people be free from hunger, cold, illness, loneliness, and homelessness. It also allows
people of myriad backgrounds to participate in Seattle’s economic and cultural life by
selling their produce and hand-made goods at the Market. The Central Library provides
hundreds of thousands of people with free access to information. Patrons also finds tools
at the Library that can help them attain citizenship, find employment, succeed in school,
learn a language, or deepen a passion. Altogether the services and opportunities offered

40

by the Market and the Library work toward creating freedom from want and the freedom
to participating meaningfully in civic life.
One of the pernicious aspects of neoliberalization is the way that it treats politics
as an obstacle which must be overcome in order for the market to function properly – that
is to generate profit and restore power to the elite. Politics is reduced to a technical
activity (Ong 2006); it is a politics of inputs, data, and oversight committees, not one of
imagination, debate, and action. These public spaces, however, emerged from popular
and political action. When Thomas Ravelle and supporters established Pike Place Market,
their achievement was a direct step away from economic exploitation and elite control of
Seattle’s food supply. The SPL staff and Seattle citizens who campaigned across the city
to generate support for the 1998 “Libraries for All” campaign worked hard to turn out the
vote that led to the improvement of every branch of SPL and the creation of the popular
and acclaimed Central Library. With their collectivist roots and one-of-a-kind
architecture, both public spaces stand as testaments to the power of politics. This legacy
continues through the resources and programs they offer that help diverse people
participate in economic, civic, and cultural life. The Market and the Library offer
building blocks for a people-focused politics – one that includes dissent, regulation for
people not capital, attention to the value of history and culture, and one in which
developing a thriving community is as important as developing a thriving economy.
Neoliberalism champions the doctrine of equal opportunity. It promotes the idea
that if people are only given equal chances, then those who have the right skills,
personality, and work ethic will succeed. The neoliberal logic of free competition extends
beyond markets and into the individual realm by discouraging programs designed to help

41

people have equal chances of seizing opportunities available to them. The Market and the
Library, however, reject the extension of free competition onto individuals by offering
services, resources, and opportunities such as medical care to the poor and chemically
dependent, affordable early education, housing to impoverished seniors, citizenship
examination prep classes, and Affordable Care Act registration classes. The provision of
these services is also an acknowledgment on the part of the two organizations that people
are not equally free in neoliberal society. A person’s race, gender, class, sexuality,
religion, and bodily ability, among other factors, can limit their freedoms and options.
Opportunities can be equal, but the chance that a given person will attain an opportunity,
whether it is education or a job, is greatly influenced by the above factors. Pike Place
Market and the Central Public Library recognize this inequality in their programs and
counteract it by providing services that help deconstruct barriers people encounter to
attaining opportunities purportedly equally available to them.
By presenting alternative, richer formulations of freedom, Pike Place and the
Central Library help us to realize that what we see is not all that is possible.
Neoliberalism is hegemonic because the general population has consented to life under it
and takes its ideology to be legitimate, if not inevitable. My goal in analyzing the
influence of neoliberalism upon the two sites and their contestations of neoliberalism is to
treat neoliberalism not as a totalizing force, but rather as one with slippages and
contestations through which alternative futures are already emerging. The Market and the
Library show Seattleites, the City government, corporations, and public organizations
that there are futures within reach, in fact already existing, that diverge from the unequal,
post-political one that neoliberalism offers.

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Conclusion: The Possible Future
As Lefebvre writes, the city is both the site of struggle and at stake in the struggle (1991).
The struggle to create futures different from the one imaginable if neoliberalism remains
hegemonic is both daunting yet critical. I hope that this thesis has made the task of
counteracting neoliberalism slightly less daunting but also more pressing for the reader.
Through claims about freedom that have morphed into forms of control, neoliberalism
has commodified nearly everything from human labor to the atmosphere in its drive to
maximize profit through free market competition. The rise of the free market, the decline
of regulation, and the roll back of welfare programs has made certain demographics less
free and more impoverished. As Pike Place supporter and artist Mark Tobey highlighted,
neoliberal market society inclines toward destroying the human dimension of places.
Under neoliberalism, value and money are synonymous, rendering other aspects Pike
Place and the Central Library such as their history, uniqueness, character, and their
communities worthless. That is likely enough of a reminder of all that is at stake in this
struggle.
By focusing in on two well-loved Seattle public spaces, I hope that I have
showed that radical contestations of neoliberal hegemony already exist. Just as the effects
of neoliberalism can be traced in detail, the roots of alternative urban futures can be pinpointed. The histories, governances, architecture, and services of Pike Place Public
Market and the Central Public Library demonstrate that spaces guided by rules and
offering critical services can even the playing field, expand the terms of value beyond
economic worth, reassert the possibility of politics, and deepen Seattleites’ freedoms to
include the freedom from want and the freedom to participate and engage. Through my

43

study of these spaces, the alternative urban imaginaries already existing in the spaces
have hopefully become clearer. Seeing a more free and participatory future to fruition,
however, will require more than this process of re-signification. Identifying contestations
and envisioning an alternative future is a critical first step in eroding neoliberalism’s
hegemony, but actions that reject its terms of value, commodification, free competition,
and narrow version of freedom are required.
Fortunately, Pike Place Market and the Central Library are models that show how
governments can innovate, corporations can care for an array of stakeholders, and
activists can save the human dimension of places. As Raj Patel argues in the conclusion
of The Value of Nothing, we will reshape market society and democracy when we
demand change (2010). The Market and the Library show that logic and systems other
than those of neoliberalism work and work well for people typically marginalized. Now,
the remarkable contestations of the public market where the homeless receive medical
care and fish fly and the library where people mix and floors float must fuel the actions
demanding a future that is equal, inclusive, creative, and possible.

44

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