Seattle really doesn’t know what it wants to be. The next San Francisco (there are only a few places dreadlock-wearing homeless white people can feel at ease), the reincarnation of our dearly departed Detroit (home to Boeing- the General Motors of the aviation industry), or a copycat London (pretentious yet approachable)?
The space needle is the incontrovertible icon of the city. It boldly lays claim to a techno-future that few would have predicted for what was once a sleepy secondary port for logging and fishing. The needle is rigid and inhuman, and Seattle as a center for aviation and technology is well reflected thus.
An interesting thing happened on the way to the Jetsons, it seems. The pacific northwest began to attract people who weren’t engineers; some of them didn’t even have real jobs! Artists, musicians, and other social deviants were drawn to the intersection of ocean and mountains. A friend of mine once told me that we go to the mountain to find God, and to the sea to find ourselves; there is a certain innate wisdom in seeking out places where the two are so close.
Dale Chihuly is a great example of those who had an alternate vision for the future. His work is displayed at the base of the space needle, like alien wildflowers springing up around the base of some deserted spaceship, waiting for a perpetually-distant launch window.
The hills of Seattle lead you to the ocean eventually. You can strive up the steep grades of self-discovery, but the ever-churning tides are waiting when you join the river of humanity flowing to the sea.
Leaving Seattle is bittersweet, unless you also happen to live in a vibrant, green place flush with energy and optimism. The dream of Seattle is out of reach for most people, but it provides an optimistic lens to view the world.
The future may not look like Seattle, and Seattle may not be able to write its own future, but at least there is a vision of what tomorrow could be.