Seattle: First Impressions

I’ve been in Seattle now for a couple of days. Here are my first impressions.

Being from New England, I’m used to very old infrastructure. Seattle’s seems to be just as old in places. To their credit they’ve put in traffic circles on side streets and that keeps some traffic moving. I was not prepared for streets that are as bad as Boston’s or as tight. Portland’s (Maine) streets are in better shape. Seattle’s streets are narrower than I would have expected for a city that is newer than Portland or Boston.  Some of Boston’s streets are on the same cow paths that existed in the 17th century, Seattle is a city laid out in blocks.  The newer sections of Boston are laid out in blocks (Back Bay), but downtown and sections to the north are much older than anything in Seattle.

The architecture is newer. There are a lot of craftsman homes and some interesting buildings from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Most new buildings going up lack imagination. Some have some interesting exterior features.  Essentially they are cubes that are 5 to 7 stories high; boring.

Though people seem to be about the same, there are the usual claque of hipster and funky. Then there are those – you know the type – who are pretentious and passive aggressive. (I’m a New Englander, no pretentious ‘passive.’). It’s all standard fare for an urban environment.

I would argue that the economy is better than in the past. It used to rely solely on Boeing for jobs until Boeing laid off thousands around 30 years ago. Seattle did well and diversified it’s economy. Having Amazon and Microsoft here hasn’t hurt.

Inequality is stark. Seattle is largely gentrified and sections that aren’t are gentrifying rapidly. The homeless population is hidden better, but it’s there and the problem, like California’s, is growing as housing becomes too expensive for mere mortals to afford. Sixteen percent of California’s population is homeless. Seattle seems to be heading in that direction.

The scenery around the city is spectacular. Seattle is nestled between the Cascade mountains to the east and the Olympic mountains to west. Downtown Seattle is built up from a working waterfront, with a lot of active construction, particularly high rise.