Seattle: Final Thoughts on Emerald City


Perhaps I set a dangerous precedent last year when I offered my final thoughts on Nashville.  I don’t want to get bogged down in comparing cities and ranking them, as that isn’t the point of 10 Cities / 10 Years.

Yet, here I am, in my last days in Seattle, and I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t put down some thoughts on the city.

In many ways this has felt like one of the longer years, largely because it had two distinct halves.  My first half was working clothing retail downtown, and the second half involved serving and bartending with a locally-owned boat tour company.  And in between those two jobs was an extended down period of unemployment that added a considerable level of stress to the year but also served to create a distinct break between each half of the year.

Coming into the city, people warned me about the overbearing gray skies, a concern of special note for anyone with seasonally affected mood disorders.

I was also told to be prepared for the “Seattle Freeze,” a phenomenon that has nothing to do with Seattleites’ inability to drive on snow and instead references the supposed propensity of the locals to be superficially nice but ultimately closed off to strangers.

Duly warned, I set about my year in the Emerald City and now I’m on the other side of 365 days.  While I had my ups and downs here, I would have to say that I’m leaving the city with fond feelings, pretty good memories (what I do remember) and a sense of accomplishment.

But how does the city stack up?

Public Transportation – I criticized Nashville pretty stringently for their lacking public transportation and I noted that any city without a train system was going to have a hard time stacking up.  Well, Seattle doesn’t have a train system, per se, but they do have a light rail that travels from their downtown to many areas south of the city, including the airport.

On top of that, the bus system here is pretty extensive, with many lines that cover the same swath of area, a nice feature when you don’t really want to have to wait an hour for the next possible bus.  The payment system seems a bit convoluted (you sometimes pay when you get on, other times when you get off), but it works once you get used to it.  Plus, they have a ‘free zone’ where you can ride without paying, though from what I understand that’s about to end, so, sad face.

Overall, a good bus system that makes most every section of the city fairly accessible.  Very good, but shy of great.

Grade: B

City Planning –Another area in which Nashville really flopped, Seattle has no such problems.  There are very distinct neighborhoods in the city, from the ultimate hipsterdoom of Capital Hill to the quieter but still hip and politically-forward leaning Ballard, each area in the city offers a lot in terms of food, drink, shopping and general activities, with enough uniqueness between them to give each neighborhood a distinctive flavor while still feeling like one cohesive city.

I lived in Belltown, a neighborhood that is unfairly maligned by locals who don’t live there, all because there is one sketchy zone in the midst of otherwise pristine streets.  Better than the solid nightlife and the excellent eateries is its location, location, location.  The famous Pike Place Market was a five minute walk from my apartment.  Same with the Piers.  Downtown, Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square, pretty much anywhere I could want to go was within walking distance, and what wasn’t I could get to by one bus.

I would call Seattle easily one of the most ‘walkable’ cities I’ve lived in, even with the hills (which can get rough in places, but they’re never unbearable).  I love the layout of the city and if I had any gripe it’s that it’s just not as big as I like, but heck, not every city can be New York or Chicago.

Grade: A

Bars/Nightlife – I’ve already touched on this a bit, but I loved the bars in this city.  Within a five minute walk, I could go to a row of dive bars (and I frequently did), or a club (which I rarely did) or a Speakeasy or a pub or any other number of bars.  Belltown isn’t as flashy as Capitol Hill, but any visitor (or local) would be missing out if they skipped it.

Of course, there is Capitol Hill, and while it’s the most hyped neighborhood in the city, it rightly deserves most of that praise.  It’s the ‘Gay Friendly’ neighborhood of the city (though, honestly, what neighborhood in Seattle isn’t?), but honestly, I think your average, sheltered Midwest family could walk through and wouldn’t think twice.  In that sense, it’s not exactly Chicago’s Boys Town, but it still has plenty to offer for gay and straight alike when it comes to a night out on the town.

Like any good major city, every prominent neighborhood has its share of spots worth checking out, so if you visit Seattle and you’re not fortunate enough to get down to the heart of the city, that should by no means limit your nightliving.  Ballard, Fremont, University District, they all have worthy evening entertainment.  There is no reason to come to this city and not enjoy a few good drinks, unless you’re, like, six months sober or something.  In which case, stop depressing me.

Grade: A

Art Scene – Like Nashville, Seattle is known as a music city.  Unlike Nashville, that reputation isn’t built into its very fabric.  Before the 90s, I doubt anyone thought of music when they thought of Seattle.  To be honest, before the 90s, I doubt very many people thought of Seattle, period.

The music scene is vibrant here, if not as culturally significant as it was 20 years ago.  There are no shortage of venues to see live music at, though the diversity of music seems lacking to me.  This is, after all, the first time in many, many years that I’ve actually heard someone say, “I don’t listen to rap music.”  There definitely seems to be a rock/rap divide here that strikes me as very stuck in the past, as other major cities have been seamlessly blending those two genres and fan bases for awhile.  Of course, that’s just the impression of a non-musician, and maybe that’s going to change, but my sense from the rappers that I met out here is that they were a bit frustrated with their own scene.  Maybe?

Otherwise, this is definitely an arty city, with the beautiful Seattle Art Museum in the heart of the city, First Thursdays every month which encourages art walks of all sorts and plenty of spots for local artists and craftsman to show off their wares.  Theater feels somewhat underrepresented here, with mostly the big spectacle Broadway shows getting the run of the land, but then there are always intimate venues for seeing burlesque, so they keep it varied.

Grade: B

Living – I can’t speak for every neighborhood, but the general necessities of living such as grocery and convenience stores are fairly well represented in Belltown.  I had a little bit of a trek to my local grocery store, but nothing too bad, and on the (unfortunately) rare times I thought to get my produce at the Market, I found a great selection of delicious fruit.  When I moved here, only state-run stores could sell liquor and that meant my options were limited, but a law passed while I was living here, and as of this summer privately-owned stores can now sell liquor.  It’s much more expensive now, but a hell of a lot more convenient, too.  I guess it’s kind of a draw.

My apartment building would have been pretty great, but, and this is a huge, Sir-Mix-A-Lot but here, the company who runs the building is crap.  I don’t normally use this blog for this sort of thing, but this has to be said: Berkshire (I believe that’s the name of the company) is a terrible company with absolutely no concern for its tenants.  I don’t want this to be a reflection on the office staff who were generally very helpful and considerate.  The office manager, on the other hand, was unreachable when we had concerns and the 3 month construction project that began a month after I moved in ended up lasting the entirety of my time here, and continues today.  They made accommodations for us, but only because we demanded it and fought for money off our rent.  Yes, the building is nice with great amenities, but that doesn’t make up for the crap management.  Do not rent from Berkshire, simple as that.

Otherwise, Seattle is a very livable city, with all the perks that big city living should have.  And now a Target has moved in right downtown, so if there was ever a concern of not being able to find something when you need it, that’s pretty much been wiped clean.

A note on the weather: Yeah, the gray gets really old after a few months, but the city isn’t as rainy as it’s often depicted (it drizzles more than rains) and when it’s nice out here, it’s gorgeous.  Mountains, the Puget Sound and beautiful greenery all around makes Seattle one of, if not the most picturesque cities in the country.

Grade: B

People – And once again, we come to the most important factor in any city, the inhabitants.  So, do Seattleites live up to their reputation as cold, unwelcoming people who will greet you with a friendly smile but will never let you into their clique?  That kind of requires a nuanced answer.

My first thought when hearing about the “Seattle Freeze” was that every city is like that.  No matter where you go, you’re going to meet people who will remain indifferent to you.  I wouldn’t even call that a factor of city living.  I’d say that’s a reality of living.  Granted, there are places that are more open and welcoming then others, but generally I feel if you’re a new transplant and you want to be included you have to do the work.

And that’s also a factor that clouds the equation: A lot of people that I met aren’t actually from Seattle.  I met people who were from Seattle that were incredibly welcoming and happy to include me in their lives, and I met people who were fellow transplants who never seemed interested in a genuine connection.  I don’t buy that being from one place suddenly dictates your personality.

That said, because this city is made up of a lot of transplants, I wouldn’t be surprised if the locals did tend to turn a cold shoulder to the invaders from other regions.  Did I personally experience this?  No, and in fact, I have felt very welcome here.  But I also know that I’m kind of a unique sort of transplant, the kind of person that people tend to want to talk to (if for no other reason, just to ask me the routine series of questions about my project before moving on to talk about themselves).

The citizens of Seattle were good to me and I’ve felt at home here this past year.  It’s time to move on and I’m excited for my next stop, but I will miss Seattle and the many friends I made here.

Grade: A

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