Seattle: 10 Years, 10 Things to Love

Shortly after I moved to Seattle to start work at Amazon, I received a report on the stock units that I’d earn over the next 4 years. It ended in the year 2010; from my perspective in 2006, that seemed an eternity away. I never envisioned myself being in one company, or even in one city, for so long.

I ended up staying with Amazon for a total of 8 years, leaving in 2014, and having earned many more shares of stock — all of which I sold before Amazon doubled in value last year. This year marks 10 years since I first touched down in Seattle. Throughout 2016 I’ll be writing about ten things I’ve come to love about my adopted hometown.

I love that Seattle, as a city, is still growing up. I grew up around New York, a city that was already fully grown when I visited it as a kid. Always a company town of some sort, always prone to boom-and-bust cycles, I’ve witnessed Seattle go through a big bust — and an even bigger boom that’s still ongoing. In 2006 it was an interesting footnote that Amazon was headquartered here; now the company is a whipping post for anti-gentrification advocates like John Criscitello, a provocative artist who moved to Seattle in 2011. Ten years ago a patchwork of parking lots, low-rent hotels, and warehouses separated Seattle’s downtown from Lake Union; now thousands of people live and work in brand-new high-rises in the recently-christened South Lake Union neighborhood. In 2006 Microsoft, Boeing, and Washington Mutual were considered linchpins of the local economy, strong enough to protect our housing and commercial real estate markets forever.

Just a few miles from downtown are Seattle’s “single-family neighborhoods” that still reveal their “racist and classist roots” and their 1960s vision of car-dependent, strip-mall shopping, mass-transit-averse sprawl. Ironically the best examples of urbanization are in Seattle’s suburbs, where developers in Bellevue (founded in 1953) and Kirkland (whose population is up 350% since 1980) have been building rapidly and attracting young, upwardly-mobile professionals and shoppers. Bellevue, for instance, is home to an expansive multi-purpose development called The Spring District with two dozen buildings of residential, commercial, and retail development around a planned light rail station. I never thought I’d see the term “urban planning” used to describe a project on the Eastside when I moved here.

In the last 10 years Seattle has gained its first light rail line, to be expanded with new stations this year and in the decades to come. I came here with a car and the city convinced me, with its layout and $700 of Flexcar credits, to sell it a year later. (Flexcar was later bought by Zipcar, which in turn was bought by Avis.) I also get around by bus, light rail, taxi, Uber, Lyft, car2go, Pronto Cycle Share, and with plenty of walking. I’ve preferred to live in the city’s dense central neighborhoods where the city thinks big and I’ve also come to appreciate the sparse, verdant places that I’m amazed to learn are still in the city limits. I’ve witnessed the frustratingly slow Seattle process and learned entirely too much about local initiatives and political caucuses. This is the nerdiest, smartest, most socially awkward, most globally-thinking and rarely-acting city I’ve lived in, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

This series is part local boosterism and part introspection. Seattle has grown and changed in the last 10 years and I have as well. Having moved from Pittsburgh, a city with fewer residents now than it had in 1910, I’ve been fortunate to live in a place that’s now more populous than it’s ever been. Urbanism is hot in Seattle and its suburbs are substantial cities in their own right. Without relying on a car to the same extent I did in Pittsburgh, I’ve discovered much more about my city and about the ups and downs of living in a diverse and evolving neighborhood. Having lived in or near Seattle’s gay neighborhood for a decade, I’ve developed a better understanding of cultures I previously, and regrettably, only joked about. Instead of looking at my surroundings like a bad comedy writer, I’m better equipped to communicate like a human being.

Throughout 2016, I’ll be writing about 10 things I love about my new hometown. My plan is one thing a month, interspersed with other articles I find the time to write.