Alaska Warily Eyes Change Bringing Suburbs and Amazon Boxes

“The world is flat and getting flatter,” said Rick Zerkel, a pilot in Anchorage and president of an airfreight company, Lynden Air Cargo, that ships goods around the state. Mr. Zerkel said he remembers not so many years ago spending $75 for a 10-minute phone call back home to his wife when he flew to a remote part of Alaska for work. Now, satellite, cable and microwave based communications — aiming to reach the tiniest island and inland settlements in the next few years — are making talk cheap and distance irrelevant.

Demographic changes are also reshaping the state, especially here in Anchorage, the largest city. Three of the most ethnically diverse public high schools in the nation are in Anchorage, a district where about 100 different languages are spoken by students. Newcomers from Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa, drawn by tourism and service jobs, have reshaped city neighborhoods and created a wave of fusion food restaurants serving everything from banh mi burgers to Alaskan halibut po’ boys.

“Anchorage doesn’t look that much different than Seattle,” said Chad R. Farrell, a sociology professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, referring to the new demographic tide. But, he added, not all Alaskans are comfortable with that idea.

Dan Fischer, an artist in the fishing and tourism town of Homer, a five-hour drive south of here, saw a more ambivalent culture change in his corner of the state with the arrival of Amazon Prime and free shipping.

He and other artists long depended on tourists for a living in selling art, and local supply shops for the materials to make that art. Amazon upended all that, he said, by connecting artists with new supply lines and buyers around world. About 70 percent of Mr. Fischer’s art lamps, made from local beach stones, now ship out through Amazon, he said, up from zero less than two years ago. Homer as an art colony, he said, is not the same.

“We gained access, but lost some of our uniqueness,” Mr. Fischer said.

Economic contraction is part of the new ethos, too. Alaska is now in its second year of recession as an economy tied to oil has sputtered with declining production and prices. More jobs have been lost than in any downturn in three decades, according to state figures, and the unemployment rate is now the highest in the nation at 7 percent.

Charles Wohlforth, an author and columnist who has written about the state for decades, said the old oil economy propped up the sense by many Alaskans that life was inherently different here, through the blue-collar jobs it created by the thousands and the taxes that oil companies paid. The State Legislature has now been considering new taxes to replace lost revenue from the oil decline, and those taxes look a lot like the ones that people pay in the rest of the country.

“We’re going to be kind of a regular place,” Mr. Wohlforth said. And it won’t, he said, look like the hip, thriving cities of the East and West Coasts. “We’re actually going to look like the middle of the country, which is kind of a declining blue-collar area that has lost its main economic reason to exist and bounces along with whatever we can manage.”

Victor Fischer, who came here in 1950 and helped lead the drive for Alaskan statehood in 1959, says the gloomy talk of lost distinctions and decline is wrong. The next chapter of Alaska will be unquestionably different, said Mr. Fischer, who is 93. With fewer oil jobs, there might even be something like a return to the old smaller, tougher state where great jobs didn’t grow on trees, he said. But young people looking for a place with fewer boundaries will still come, he said, and in that there is hope.

“There are young people still coming to Alaska with a gleam in their eye,” said Mr. Fischer, who is no relation to Dan Fischer, the artist. “They come because Alaska is still a frontier, because they care about the environment, climate change and polar bears,” he said. “Smaller would not necessarily be worse — in some ways it might be better.”

Either way, the politics are changing, with hardening divisions that could shake the old traditions of the go-it-alone Alaska epitomized by Ms. Murkowski and Gov. Bill Walker, the nation’s only independent, party-unaffiliated governor. Five months after President Trump won the state with 51 percent of the vote, Anchorage voters shifted left in elections to the local Assembly and put the first two openly gay candidates in city history into office, according to the Victory Fund, a group that tracks and supports gay politicians.

People in both parties have said they intend in coming elections to strongly go after native Alaskan voters in rural areas, who have supported both Republicans and Democrats in the past.

Out-of-the-way places that once were more likely to fight over the idea of whether or not to have a traffic light have also been pulled into the fray.

For example, Homer, population 5,600, divided into angry camps earlier this year after the town council adopted a resolution that some residents said was aimed at making the place a “sanctuary city.” Politics spilled into the arts, too, when the Homer Council on the Arts, in putting together its budget, heard from some donors who said that President Trump’s election had changed their giving.

“ ‘We’re giving to the A.C.L.U. instead,’ ” said Sallie Rediske, the group’s president and chairwoman, quoting one donor.

Mr. Albright, the park visitor who was sitting with his three dogs (a Yorkie, a Westie and a Pomeranian-poodle crossbreed), said new Alaska and old might not quite have settled their differences, either. For many Alaskans, rules are meant to be broken, he said, and despite the ban on trapping, you still see some traps.

“Some people are probably just going to keep doing it,” he said, “because it’s still Alaska.”