The view out my office window perfectly captures Seattle’s split personality. At eye level, the moss-splotched concrete of the viaduct’s upper deck. Beneath the elevated roadway, a tantalizing, woefully narrow sliver of choppy waters on Elliott Bay, the mid-deck of an Argosy cruise ship, and a few treetops screening the upper midsections of Elliott’s Oyster House and Pier 54. Looming above the highway against a cloud-swept blue sky, the half circle of the Great Wheel makes its lazy rotation up and over toward the horizon. The viaduct stands between any glimpse of ferries crossing to Bainbridge or the Olympic peaks beyond, but I know they’re there, and I’m forever mentally knocking down the viaduct, imagining an unencumbered panorama. 

This collision of vital urban activity and glorious natural beauty is exactly what inspires James Corner, whose New York–based firm snagged the contract to redesign Seattle’s one-and-three-quarter-mile downtown waterfront. He embraces the challenge to honor Seattle’s industrial history while drawing connections to the water and mountains and environment. That juxtaposition is also what drew Lawrence W. Cheek to trace the city’s waterfront on foot over three days, beginning in Burien and winding north all the way to Carkeek Park. Assuming it’s extremely unlikely that many people will undertake such a walk—better to just read about it here—Allison Williams has collected up a whole bunch of ways to eat, shop, play, and stay for a waterfront fix here.

Those of us lucky enough to live in Seattle, of course, celebrate the man-meets-nature ideal as a daily matter of course. No matter what neighborhood you call home, we’ve trained our binoculars on it—bringing you our most detailed annual real estate review ever

Living here is beautiful—but how we coexist with this soggy, verdant ecosystem remains the essential question before us. In a wrenching glimpse of that tension, Matthew Halverson recounts the story of one particular tree on the Olympic Peninsula, a 340-year-old Douglas-fir that had survived two major fires and avoided loggers’ chain saws for the last 150 years only to meet its demise for all the wrong reasons. It’s a tragic tale of greed and loss, an inescapable reminder of how much we have to cherish in the place we live. 

 

Published: May 2013 

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