Seattle. It was the place everyone talked about as the promised land. The land of neighborhoods, of balanced streets, of waterfronts, of inclusive, participatory local government - it was the Eden of urban living. I really really wanted to love Seattle.
Instead, surprise. Disappointment. Maybe disappointment is inevitable after a set-up like that. OK, OK, the downtown is better than most. The city government is organized around its neighborhoods. If you love recreational water activity, there's plenty to do. There are many many good things about Seattle. And I really didn't get too many days there. (For those who know Seattle, I stayed in Belltown and went to Pike Place, Pike/Pine, Capital Hill (Broadway District), Ballard, Fremont, Seward Park, Lincoln Park, Alki, Gas Works Park, Columbia City, Pioneer Square and the International District).
But I don't want to make those equivocating statements about Seattle. I want to LOVE it. The experience of actually being on the streets and experiencing the city was just not as full as I expected. People don't hang out on the streets because they all drive around. Traffic is really really bad, but you have to get right into it (by car or bus) to get around. I was often the lone pedestrian (among many many homeless), even at the height of pedestrian times, like from 5-6PM or 8:30-9AM. And I guess I just like to learn about a city by watching the people who live there. I didn't get to do much of that.
There are spectacular places, such as Pike Place Market, but walk just a couple blocks away, and it goes back to bland and boring office and condo buildings. Many recommended neighborhoods provided the same diluted effect. They seemed to consist of a main street with some cute or high-end restaurants, maybe a bar or club, and some boutiques. A pedestrian might be drawn down the street, but that experience ends abruptly at the invisible retail district line. The spillover and overlapping effect doesn't happen in Seattle.
And finally, the biggest surprise of all, is a positive one. I liked the Seattle Public Library. Compared to all the other really crappy buildings downtown that are without an iota of public space, not even a nod to their inherent participation in downtown public life, the library provided so much more. There were people waiting for the bus next to the library. The metallic looking webbing stood out among all the other buildings, sort of like a wayfinding device. I could find the entrance. I knew where to go upstairs. Could it meet the sidewalk more elegantly? Sure. The inside wasn't quite as functional as people have claimed either (lots of handmade wayfinding signs, and by the looks of them, crafted by librarians who were attempting to answer some questions before they were asked). But I sure didn't hear any other criticism about the general overall design of downtown buildings. Many of them are worse!
There seems to be so many good, substantive parts to the City. But they just don't link well to each other, and I found it hard to take one positive experience and continue threading it throughout the city. I had to start building the positive one place at a time.
Maybe I'll go back one day and see the light. I really want to. (By the way, our drive across Washington State was spectacular.) Send Seattle tips my way!
Posted by Shin-pei at 8:17 PM