07 July 2009

Paleo Road Trip '09: Seattle

After a long, sometimes weary, trip across the country, it was very nice to spend a few days at home in Seattle. I always enjoy showing people around Seattle because, like any Northwest native, I'm proud of where I come from, but also because it serves to remind me that there really is a lot about the city that remains unique. I have made the argument that uncontrolled growth in the last couple of decades has done much to homogenize the place, and I stand by that argument, but it is encouraging to note that even after all that has happened, there are still a great many things you can see and do in Seattle that you simply can't anywhere else. A few cases in point:

  • The Ballard Locks: Ballard itself is one of the most sadly altered neighborhoods in the city (though kudos to the Nordic Heritage Museum, Olsen's Foods, and Larsen's Bakery for keeping the community's Scandinavian heart beating), but the locks remain a proud reminder of the city's nautical heritage. Not only that, but the fish ladder is the only place in any major city that I know of in which you can get an underwater view of migrating salmon.
  • The Seattle Center: It's something of a failure as a public space (not because it's unpopular, but for a site that plays host to so many major events, you'd expect a little more open space) and some recent additions (well, really just the EMP) were extremely ill-advised, but if you think about it, there are few - if any - places in the world where you can see a comparable collection of legitimately good '60s architecture. The Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, and Key Arena are the cornerstones, of course, but what I've always liked about the Center are its less-visited areas, like the courtyards and fountains outside the Northwest Rooms and the Bagley Wright Theater.
  • Archie McPhee: Other cities have novelty stores, yes, but nothing I have ever seen comes close to Archie's (now newly returned to its home in Wallingford).
  • Ye Olde Curiosity Shop: If you can ignore all the tourist schlock, the likes of which you could find in any store in any coastal town in the world, and focus on the mummies, shrunken heads, and freak animals, I would argue that a trip to Ye Olde Curiosity Shop qualifies as a unique experience.
  • Downtown Library: Most of Seattle's downtown is composed of buildings that, while not ugly, are also not particularly inspiring. The new library, though, really is something different, and I'm generally inclined to agree with the architectural critics who gave it a thumbs-up. The views through the glass shell - a nice nod to the Northwest's often overlooked endemic architectural style - are especially nice.
  • Burgers: I have never understood exactly why Seattle is such a hotbed for really good burger places, but I'm glad it is. Growing up here, I thought that having easy access to places like Dick's and Red Mill Burgers was the norm, but nowhere else I've ever lived has ever had anything comparable (not even Chicago, though in its defense it does have the world's best hot dogs).
  • Pike Place Market: There's a reason all the tourists flock here. A working farmers'/fishermen's/whatever market right in the middle of downtown - especially one that's been running uninterrupted for over a century - is something you just don't see in many cities.
This is obviously not an exhaustive list, and I'm sure that many of my readers have already thought of additions they would make. If I wanted to be a downer, I could mention that there are plenty of negative unique things about Seattle (the way it's geography is perfectly shaped to funnel drivers into hellish traffic jams and how civic leaders have ignored that fact for decades, for example) or that several formerly unique things have lost much of their luster (like Fremont, where older works of public art such as the troll or 'Waiting for the Interurban' stand as monuments to a time when artists could actually afford to live in this alleged artists' colony). However, I'm sure I'll have enough time to dwell on the city's future in later posts, so I'll end this one with an upbeat reminder for all you Seattleites out there: yes, your city has seen significant change, but at its core it's still something special. That's probably something all of us - even the more jaded among us, such as yours truly - should remember from time to time.

1 comment:

Mom said...

Sadly, Olsen's is closing :-(.