Posted on October 17, 2012 by Blane Bachelor
I recently returned from my first visit to Seattle (which happens to be the home of my fellow Girl Who Gets Around, Beth; more on our shenanigans in a later post), and ever since, I can’t stop gushing about the virtues of this fine city.
Granted, I was visiting during Seattle’s longest stretch of consecutive days without significant rain. And I know from people who live there that, yes, its weather woes are not insignificant, with an infinitely gray, drizzly fall/winter that stretches long into spring.
But I’m not letting that rain on my “I Heart Seattle” parade. Here, a few of the things I love about one of my new favorite cities – and, therein, lessons that any city could take from Seattle.
It has a great airport. Airports are often the first taste a visitor has of a city, and I’m always astounded when they miss the opportunity to leave a great first impression. But Sea-Tac is a lovely precursor to what lies ahead. The airport easily navigable, a quick (about 30 minutes) and cheap (about $2.75) ride on public transit from downtown, clean (more on that later) and wonderfully inviting, with sky-high windows facing runways and an airy atrium full of wooden tables and rocking chairs. Wifi is free and dependable, too.
And, in an important but often overlooked aspect of restroom design, doors on the stalls open outward. Obvious functionality that any airport interior designer who has ever flown anywhere would seem to make note of, no? But alas, this is sadly not the case, as I’m reminded every time I’m doing the cha-cha with my suitcase and yet another inward-opening stall door while damn near straddling the toilet just to make room for everything.
It’s gloriously clean. I live in San Francisco, which although it claims to be one of the country’s greenest cities, has neighborhoods that are dirtier than Chelsea Handler in a mud pit. Not so in Seattle, where I barely saw a scrap of trash anywhere. I know the constant rain may play a factor, but it also says a lot about a city whose residents take pride in keeping their city clean. We sure could follow Seattleites’ lead down here in SF and elsewhere.
Its people are genuinely nice. You’d think all that gray weather would bring out the grumpiness in people, but au contraire. Seattleites are some of the most considerate, friendly folks I’ve encountered in a long time. A few examples: a bus driver named George who repeatedly wished exiting riders a “marvelous Monday”; a bartender named Brandon who treated Chris and me like regulars, gifting us with a dish that was a kitchen screw-up and sending us shots (of rosé – yes, as in, the wine, mind you) that a couple of true regulars were doing; and smiles and niceties from just about everyone I encountered.
It’s an open-air art museum. While exploring neighborhoods around the waterfront and downtown, I caught glimpses of some kick-ass creations: a giant red ampersand, huge flowers sprouting from a massive pot, and – though it was inside the admission-only Chihuly Garden and Glass – some spectacular work from glass artist genius Dale Chihuly. Turns out, Seattle’s public arts program, which started in 1973, is one of the most renowned in the world. One percent of city capital improvement funds are allocated to the program, which spans 380 permanent and 2,800 portable works.
(One that I would definitely be tempted to port right on home is this awesomely quirky Parking Squid, which is a combination of silvery sea creature and bike rack. It will be on display through Oct. 21.)
It’s a great blend of old and new, and locals and visitors. These are balances that can be hard to strike, and there are only a few cities that do them well; Seattle is certainly one of ‘em. At the fantastic Pike Place Market, the famous fishmongers draw a crowd of photo-snapping tourists as locals load up on produce. In restaurants, we met both longtime locals and tourists from as far away as Alaska.
And Seattle’s modern urban design is well integrated with its fascinating history, which involved some pretty creative engineering to fix the city’s problems of flooding in the early 1890s – raising the streets while buildings and homes remained at a lower level. In certain places today, you can literally peek at the past – through skylights in the sidewalk or at mysterious sunken entryways tucked in here and there.
In short, I can’t wait to explore more of the underground, the market, and the rest of this spectacular city. See you soon, Seattle. We’ve only just begun.
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