Emerald City Impressions: Explorations

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Despite being here for only about seven weeks I’ve gotten the chance to see a fair amount of Seattle, and it’s quite amazing how many different neighborhoods there are and how quickly the urban landscape can change from one block to the next. My adventures have been aided by the fact that many of my classmates and new friends live in several areas around the city.

Recent weekend excursions have brought me to Ballard and Capital Hill, which have lively nightlife and distinctive neighborhood characters. Ballard in particular seems to be a separate place with its own identity; and in fact I later learned that Ballard was its own city for two decades because being annexed by Seattle. It’s main thoroughfare, Market Street, is wide and nicely landscaped, and there appears to be a lot of new upscale construction. Capital Hill is either not as unified in nature or I haven’t seen much of it, because it seems more disjointed with separate activity hubs and discouraging pedestrian connections in some places. However, I’ve spent quite some there and really like the variety of eateries and bars that are in such close proximity. This area’s main street, Broadway, is about to open a streetcar line and in a few years the regional light rail station will open at the intersection with Olive Way, likely making the area even more lively.

In the area I live, the U-District, I discover more services and places to visit almost every day. Groceries, supplies, entertainment and more are just a few minutes away by foot, making it very convenient to live without a car.

The waterfront tunnel's southern construction yard. Bertha's pit and the location of an eventual ventilation and operations building are visible.

The waterfront tunnel’s southern construction yard. Bertha’s pit and the location of an eventual ventilation and operations building are visible.

Last week I had the chance to tour the Alaskan Way Viaduct and waterfront tunnel construction. Organized through WSDOT and the Young Planners Group of Puget Sound, it started with an overview of the area’s history at the well-crafted ‘Milepost 31’ information center (211 First Avenue S.) in Pioneer Square. Then we climbed up onto a closed section of the viaduct itself with rush hour traffic whizzing by. Below was the construction yard for the viaduct’s replacement, a 2-mile long tunnel under downtown. The world’s widest boring machine, Bertha, is on the job, and the massive undertaking is clearly visible from the size and depth of the launch pit. Equally impressive were the stacks of tunnel wall sections, ready to be lowered down by crane, and the long conveyor system that carries dirt to the conveniently adjacent seaport for removal by barge. The $4.25 billion project is expected to open up the waterfront, though I am skeptical of the design.

I also got to venture south to the Industrial District for a visit to the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field, which always has fantastic visuals and displays. A recent space wing that opened across the street has a Space Shuttle trainer, and in the outdoor ‘airpark’ are a multitude of historically significant craft such as a Concorde and the first production 747. The visit reminded me that Seattle, like many cities, has industrial roots and still relies on manufacturing and warehousing for its trade economy; not everywhere needs to be compact and walkable. Thankfully, however, I was able to take a bus all the way from downtown to the museum. Of course on the way home my dad and I got stuck in rush hour and construction traffic!

Fog rolls off Elliot Bay.

Fog rolls off Elliot Bay.

I’ve also been downtown many times these past few weeks, be it for entertainment or professional/social events. The other day I stopped by the Department of Licensing office, which was pleasant enough, to change my voter registration and attend an urban design forum through the Seattle AIA (more on that in the next post). Seeking lunch in the meantime, I found myself on an elevator to my favorite rooftop hangout. Even amid chilly sunshine and blowing fog, the view is always glorious from up there. Inside at a deli I grabbed a bite and was killing some time online when I became aware that I may not be strictly welcome there; I was hanging out in a common area and not an office, though the building doesn’t advertise its roof garden. I took note of a security guard making his rounds. And then in an absurd coincidence, as I was packing to leave the guard came around again and asked for a man sitting nearby to leave. I inadvertently followed them to the elevators, where I learned that someone had complained about the man’s presence, though he insisted that he works in the building. I played it cool and wondered how I didn’t fall under the same scrutiny, or if perhaps the man had been misidentified. Regardless, I’ll definitely be back.

I was tempted to close out the Emerald City Impressions series with this entry, but I feel there is so much else to say about this glorious place. They may be far and few between, but then again it’ll be months before I even scratch the surface of everything there is to do and see here. So I hope to continue writing about my adventures and, as always, critically important planning issues that affect us here in the Pacific Northwest.

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One Response to Emerald City Impressions: Explorations

  1. Pingback: Germany Visits South Lake Union | The Northwest Urbanist

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