Definition of Class Depends on Your Classification

An emeritus professor of geography at the University of Washington has posited an interesting look at “class” in the greater Puget Sound region, sectioning off whole communities as upper, middle or lower class, in a recent blog posting on Crosscut.

Regardless of any potential egalitarian notions you may have about living in a classless society, the truth is humans have a long and storied history of class in our varied cultures that is impossible to deny. When you consider yourself “rich” or “poor” or somewhere in between, you have just categorized yourself into a class.

In his entry, regarding Gig Harbor proper he has this to say: A second set of upper class areas are waterfront and view neighborhoods, as on the Gig Harbor peninsula, Bainbridge Island, and on Puget Sound from Magnolia north to Mukilteo. And he goes on to identify the rural regions of Pierce County thus: “The second large zone of lower class settlement is the rural fringe, especially in Pierce and Snohomish counties.”

Obviously, one could take an individual area — such as Gig Harbor — and parse it down to specific neighborhoods and come up with a much more diverse picture of “class” ratings that would literally run the gamut from wealthy to poor. But I don’t believe it was Dr. Morrill’s intent to sub-classify individual cities so much as to grossly classify the greater Puget Sound region as a whole.

He places the waterfront and view sections of the harbor up there with the crusty likes of Bainbridge Island and Magnolia — heady, latte-driven, SUV-laden, individualist-minded communities indeed. What is slightly more unsettling is his take of the “rural fringe” of Pierce County as distinctly lower class. I don’t take exception with his assessment so much so because he clumsily lumps the decidedly upscale Canterwood in the fringe. I take exception because he includes my humble spread as definitively lower class.

A couple of parentheticals beg to be added here. First off, when moving to Gig Harbor in 2004 (and coming from the bovine rich region of Lynden — a forthrightly rural area of Whatcom County three hours to the north), many folks we knew remarked how we were going upscale, the reputation of Gig Harbor being what it is in comparison to our humble Lynden digs. By and large this was true. Yes, Lynden has its share of large, classy homes, but nothing to rival the looming opulence of the harbor’s many gated cul de sacs.

Secondly, when Morrill uses the phrase “rural fringe,” I picture him thinking more in terms of Monroe, Eatonville or Graham than the unincorporated county surrounding the Gig Harbor city limits. Even classifying Key Peninsula lower class is like using a chain saw to paint the Mona Lisa. There’s no doubt the KP has its fair share of backwoods trailers with blocked up 4x4s littering the yard, but it also boasts some exquisite homes and properties that defy any casual definition of the Key as lower class.

My first reaction to being labeled lower class was to sniff with indignation and cast immediate aspersions to Prof. Morrill’s Ravenna home (actually, I have no idea where he lives, but having once occupied a hovel in Ravenna, it is an easy target for me). But then it got me to thinking.

We don’t have anything near the income most of our GH friends and acquaintances do. Both of us working in the field of journalism, the combined salary of both my wife and I couldn’t even equal the same number of digits of those individuals who work in the Boeing and Microsoft worlds. While those we know routinely jet off to Cancun and Maui for Winter Break, Spring Break and Taking a Break Break, we spend our kids’ downtime around the house trying to keep their boredom from erupting into WWF affairs. We both drive high-mileage vehicles that threaten to explode at any given moment, a splurge for us is a family dinner at Spiros and we’ve only been to the Uptown Cinema once since it opened.


OK, so we’re lower class. So what? At least we don’t live in Roy

Post Script: Just for the record, Morrill takes a decidedly dim view of Tacoma, saying: “… Lower class areas include traditional zones of mixed housing, industry, and transport, as in south Seattle, Everett, Bremerton, Auburn, and especially Tacoma” (italics added). That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms unto itself, which, in the interests of staying on topic, I won’t tackle here.

One thought on “Definition of Class Depends on Your Classification

  1. If a Gig Harbor family lives in a beautiful $800,000 home with 10 landscaped acres, a pool, and 5,000 square feet, yet owes the bank more than half it’s value … if they are paying off two shiny new cars worth more than $40,000 each … if they have three or more maxed out credit cards … are they truly in a higher class than the family in the $300,000 home, with two older but paid off cars, and one credit card with a small balance on it?

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