We often talk about Seattle’s inability to act – we spend a long time talking, we can’t agree on the best course of action, an infrastructure project in one part of the city often elicits a “what does it do for me?” attitude from others. I think this happens for two reasons.
First, we’re very educated. Seattle consistently ranks near the top of the list, just over half of over-25s in the city have bachelor’s degrees. We all have our own ideas for how things should be done, and enough confidence in our own abilities to be a little dangerous.
Second, though, it’s horribly difficult to get around. Live around 25th in Ravenna, want to go to Ballard? You’ll be sitting in the same traffic as everyone coming from the U-district, and once you’re there, good luck finding parking. The bus? Sure, the 71 runs pretty often, and if you stand at the corner of 65th you can watch both ways for a 372 or 68, but then you have to transfer to the agonizingly slow 44. And this is probably one of the easier neighborhood to neighborhood trips in the city – try getting to the Madison Valley from anywhere north of the ship canal at rush hour.
It seems like a nitpicky, minor barrier to travel, but it does significantly affect where people are willing to spend their time – and what neighborhoods they’re exposed to. I think a lot of the city simply isn’t aware of what’s over the next hill because they never really have a reason to go there. We often don’t know about big chunks of our own city. This came through in a recent comment from Jason:
“Favorite quote of the day (from an older woman who clearly doesn’t spend much time in the city proper): ‘Oooooh, so THIS is where SoDo is! I always wondered.'”
This is part of why I really don’t mind street level rail, and it’s one of the things that excites me most about Link. On Monday, people commuting into Seattle are going to see places they’ve never been before, and a bunch of them are going to think “I should come check this out next weekend”. Nobody driving up I-5 is thinking “Gosh, SoDo looks really fun, I should come back there!”
This will take time. A lot of time. The approach to Othello Station from the south, for instance, is desolate – but that will start changing with the coming development I mentioned yesterday, and the north end of the station already has quite a bit of cool stuff (including Tammy’s Bakery, a fantastic Vietnamese bakery). When people find these businesses, they will come back, they will talk about that neighborhood, and a section of Seattle that’s been largely ignored will start being part of the city again.
I think we’re seeing the beginning of Seattle’s reintegration as a single city. It will take more infrastructure, of course, but the Valley is a fantastic place to start.