Is Seattle getting better? Well…yeah. In my own mind this is so clear that the question is always a surprise.
The discussion is generally about pace of growth. It’s easy to understand slow-growthers’ points, like how cheap everything used to be, the comfort of the familiar, or the ease of parking.
But it’s the big-city traits that impress me, like density, walkability, transit, diversity, and energy. One of the great journeys of life is watching this city turn into something greater.
Some of our neighborhood business and mixed-use districts had better retail in the 70s and 80s, but way fewer people lived there, and these places tended to lack energy. Yes there was parking — it dominated the fringes of many areas, like moats of nothingness. Seattle (in-town) has grown by over 20% since we bottomed out in 1986, and a lot of the growth has gone to urban villages. The difference is even more stark in greater Downtown, where many edge neighborhoods were wastelands.
Of course more stuff in proximity usually means greater walkability. We have physical and policy problems there (the City often doesn’t walk its talk), but we did then, too.
We’re finally getting light rail, and not just a line but a network. Each new line magnifies the value of the lines that connect to it. Our bus service is less exciting, with service far too limited, due in large part to the 80/20 rule. Because the County might never sober up, we need Seattle to subsidize buses the way the State subsidizes Amtrak, possibly with a levy.
We’ve improved immeasurably on the diversity front. While we’ve lost ground on some fronts as the poor areas have edged southward, Seattle has also had big influxes, such as Vietnamese, Russians, Ethiopians, and others. Today’s Seattle is more worldly and interesting, and as Microsoft can tell you, we’ve gained priceless talent (which I hope we don’t lose due to misguided immigration law).
Parks are another improvement area. Downtown still lacks central green space, but the edges are doing better.
By the way, here is Stephen Cysewski’s astonishingly cool photo collection about Seattle in the 70s and 80s.