City Paper is not for tourists
If you’ve been following me for the last week, you know that I’m a little bit in love with my hometown. Returning there after thinking about urbanism in D.C. reminded me of all the things that make Seattle a wonderful place to live, many of which are theoretically exportable to D.C. (i.e. not a marine climate, or my parents). Forthwith, a non-exhaustive list.
1. Wacko sidewalk art: Done well, in small, well-thought-out locations, this can add to a neighborhood’s sense of place and put its creativity on display. It sounded bizarre at the time, Mr. Uqbah may have been on to something.
2. Asian grocery stores: Seattle has a much larger Asian population, and a real Chinatown—called the “International District” to recognize other nationalities—packed with every kind of cuisine you could imagine. But perhaps the best part is the grocery shopping, from the department-store-sized Uwajimaya to the smallest corner market, which sell specialty ingredients for dirt cheap. District residents have to go Northern Virginia for anything similar, and often that’s prohibitive.
3. Local Food: O.K., the District is doing pretty well at this, with the dozens of farmers markets open around the area. But MacDonald’s hasn’t been compelled to advertise that its potatoes come from a nearby town yet, has it?
4. Modernist houses: The diversity and creativity of Seattle’s recent architecture is really exciting. While classic craftsman bungalows remain standard, there are quite a few elegantly designed, super environmentally-friendly single family homes scattered among them. Unlike in D.C., you’ll never hear someone say that a given design doesn’t “fit” with the rest of the neighborhood, and I find the resulting innovation to be refreshing.
5. Inviting shorelines: Seattle is blessed with bodies of water seemingly everywhere you look. But every inch of shoreline not taken up by luxury houses is prized and put to good use, with marinas, beaches, bike trails, docks, etc. The District, of course, has lots of this as well—and the Yards park will be an exciting addition—but vast amounts of waterfront are unattractive and underused. This is why the Anacostia River Cleanup is so important—it makes the land next to the water more valuable as well.
6. Biodiesel fueling stations: The number of biodiesel-fueled cars on the road in Seattle these days is pretty impressive, and now they can fill up at a couple locations for not too much more than at conventional gas stations.
7. Notices of proposed land use action: It’s a small thing, but significant: The city government posts placards on parcels slated for development with an overview of the plans, plus information about where to learn more. D.C. does this with liquor license applications, but not actual buildings (unless you count the Fenty administration taking credit for whatever construction is underway). This makes no sense—how much curiosity could be easily satisfied with a sign saying what’s going on at a particular site?
8. Electric buses powered by overhead wires: I know, I know, this isn’t allowed in the Federal City. But perhaps sometime down the road, when people realize that wires are preferable to smog, we’ll get buses that run on clean electricity rather than fossil fuels. They’ve worked out well enough in Seattle.
Something both D.C. and Seattle are doing right: Bicycle wayfinding signs, which make it so much easier to orient oneself.
Something both D.C. and Seattle have enough of: SoHo retreads.