26 April, 2012

Settling into Seattle

We're coming up to the end of our third week in Seattle. And I like it. The weather and plants and trees remind me of the UK. In other words it is wet and changeable but also green green green after California with a glorious Spring of cherry blossom and tulips and hellebores and daffodils and bluebells everywhere. I could see how living here would be easy. We're staying just on the south-eastern edge of Capitol Hill in a neighbourhood of small houses with their own gardens. It's slightly suburban feeling after SF but also walkable to shops and restaurants, though I do miss corner stores. We are practically living in Trader Joe's a few blocks away as it and an overpriced coop next door are pretty much it for food shopping (shout out for SF and 26th and Guerrero, and Valencia Farmers Market and Casa Guadalupe!). I also miss the diversity. It could be the neighbourhood we're staying in but I'm not sure. Neighbourhoods don't feel as distinct from each other as they do in SF and I haven't yet seen anywhere as vibrant as the Mission or as intriguing as Chinatown or parts of Richmond and the Sunset.

I shouldn't be comparing but I've realised that every city we visit is going to be compared to San Francisco.

So another thing. Town planning. What were Portland and Seattle thinking when they ploughed through their central neighbourhoods to put in a ring of freeway around their downtown areas? They are like canyons in some cases, creating a barrier of noise and pollution that feels hard to cross on foot. And in Seattle I was really disappointed to find that Pike's market's open space looks over the freeway rather than the waterfront. All you can hear is noisy trucks and cars whizzing past. The actual waterfront feels so far away. What was interesting to learn is that it wasn't always this way - up the top of the water tower in Volunteer Park is a display of the history of the open spaces in Seattle and the influence of the Olmsteds. Frederick Law Olmsted and his sons had an extraordinary impact on the landscape of so many American cities and the firm designed the park system in Seattle. They were also central to the development of the National Parks in the US. Here in Seattle their firm took over some original plans for the parks which included many miles of cycle paths and expanded them over the whole city. And then the car came and in the sixties despite much local objection, the city ploughed through the middle of their city to create people-unfriendly canyons and noisy barriers. They even knocked down Seattle's oldest public building in the process.

So well done SF for knocking down your Embarcadero freeway after the 1989 earthquake and reclaiming the waterfront for the people. Of course the fact you put it up in the first place shows you weren't immune to America's car worship.

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