Housing Complex

Eight Things Seattle Has That D.C. Could Have More Of

If you’ve been following me for the last week, you know that I’m a little bit in love with my hometown. Returning there after thinking about urbanism in D.C. reminded me of all the things that make Seattle a wonderful place to live, many of which are theoretically exportable to D.C. (i.e. not a marine climate, or my parents). Forthwith, a non-exhaustive list.

Fremont: The center of the universe.

Fremont: The center of the universe.

1. Wacko sidewalk art: Done well, in small, well-thought-out locations, this can add to a neighborhood’s sense of place and put its creativity on display. It sounded bizarre at the time, Mr. Uqbah may have been on to something.

2. Asian grocery stores: Seattle has a much larger Asian population, and a real Chinatown—called the “International District” to recognize other nationalities—packed with every kind of cuisine you could imagine. But perhaps the best part is the grocery shopping, from the department-store-sized Uwajimaya to the smallest corner market, which sell specialty ingredients for dirt cheap. District residents have to go Northern Virginia for anything similar, and often that's prohibitive.

local food

3. Local Food: O.K., the District is doing pretty well at this, with the dozens of farmers markets open around the area. But MacDonald’s hasn’t been compelled to advertise that its potatoes come from a nearby town yet, has it?

modernist house

4. Modernist houses: The diversity and creativity of Seattle’s recent architecture is really exciting. While classic craftsman bungalows remain standard, there are quite a few elegantly designed, super environmentally-friendly single family homes scattered among them. Unlike in D.C., you’ll never hear someone say that a given design doesn’t “fit” with the rest of the neighborhood, and I find the resulting innovation to be refreshing.

The Burke-Gilman trail is an absolute gift.

The Burke-Gilman trail is an absolute gift.

5. Inviting shorelines: Seattle is blessed with bodies of water seemingly everywhere you look. But every inch of shoreline not taken up by luxury houses is prized and put to good use, with marinas, beaches, bike trails, docks, etc. The District, of course, has lots of this as well—and the Yards park will be an exciting addition—but vast amounts of waterfront are unattractive and underused. This is why the Anacostia River Cleanup is so important—it makes the land next to the water more valuable as well.

biodiesel fueling

6. Biodiesel fueling stations: The number of biodiesel-fueled cars on the road in Seattle these days is pretty impressive, and now they can fill up at a couple locations for not too much more than at conventional gas stations.

What's going on here? Now you know.

What's going on here? Now you know.

7. Notices of proposed land use action: It’s a small thing, but significant: The city government posts placards on parcels slated for development with an overview of the plans, plus information about where to learn more. D.C. does this with liquor license applications, but not actual buildings (unless you count the Fenty administration taking credit for whatever construction is underway). This makes no sense—how much curiosity could be easily satisfied with a sign saying what’s going on at a particular site?

electric buses

8. Electric buses powered by overhead wires: I know, I know, this isn't allowed in the Federal City. But perhaps sometime down the road, when people realize that wires are preferable to smog, we’ll get buses that run on clean electricity rather than fossil fuels. They’ve worked out well enough in Seattle.



Something both D.C. and Seattle are doing right: Bicycle wayfinding signs, which make it so much easier to orient oneself.

Something both D.C. and Seattle have enough of: SoHo retreads.


  • RT

    Please leave the hometown biases and waxing poetic out of the DC paper. We have enough of that around here from homesick transients who have an emotional attachment to their usually mediocre birthplaces.

  • Mr. Bigglesworth

    I respectfully disagree with RT. While I share RT's distaste for transients complaining that DC isn't their hometown, this article is a respectful piece offering insights from outside the bubble with ideas we really should take seriously. DC is a great city and Seattle is, too. Both can learn from each other.

    Thumbs up, Lydia.

  • o

    I like the sidewalk idea, I lived in downtown Miami for a while and they have real cool sidewalk art. Made the place 100% better then it really is..lol

  • o
  • Native JD

    I want more Latin markets, I've got plenty of Asian ones in my neighborhood.

    And Canadian...I'd kill for some good poutine.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    well-done short piece, lydia. sharing the ways one can make DC better by comparing and contrasting with other successful cities is a good thing, no matter what RT says.

  • Eric

    There are plenty of Asian markets around here, they're just not in DC. Northern Virginia may have some, but for DC residents it's probably easier to get to the ones in Montgomery County (i.e. H-Mart, Korean Corner).

  • http://newcolumbiaheights.blogspot.com andrew

    I like this. I dunno about the McDonald's one though, they might get grown there but they probably get shipped to some facility where they're mixed with fats and preservatives and more. And I like McDonald's fries.

  • sigmagrrl

    I'm heading to Seattle in a few weeks. Can't WAIT to see well-used waterfront spaces. I hate that there aren't enough places in DC to run/walk/bike/sit SAFELY by the water...

  • Petworth Paul

    The so-called Int'l District in Seattle is pretty underwhelming. I actually think that the markets off Florida Ave have a lot more to offer than anything that I found in Seattle -- not to mention the vastly more diverse suburbs around DC. What's more, DC actually feels multicultural -- I have to say Seattle feels like a pretty white bred town to me. It may seem divese comparded to say Portland. Don't get me started on the awful hills -- now Vancouver BC, that city has Asian markets...

  • Rick Mangus

    Something else both Seattle and DC have a high drug and AIDS rate, something to be proud of, NOT!

  • Sarah

    As a native of Seattle, I have to say that DC is sorely lacking in, well, sidewalk landscaping. It doesn't sound like much, but when you have a dead tree in a tree box and no plants, it makes the entire block look poorly kept. And DC generally requires that residents maintain their own sidewalk tree boxes, which results in uneven maintenance, overgrowth, a lack of erosion control, and just an ugly appearance. Seattle prides itself on beautiful landscaping and walking streets that are visually pleasing. DC needs to stop letting vacant properties and poorly kept streets sit idle. With more eyes on the street and more pedestrians, communities become safer and more desirable.

  • Marth

    Great post! I think Seattle is the best city in the world and has the best things to offer! I recently stumbled upon this blog that I found pretty funny in its reference to Seattle: http://burisonthecouch.wordpress.com/2009/06/23/theres-no-place-like-home-sort-of/

    Thanks for the post! Seattle rocks!

  • http://www.biodiversivist.com Russ

    Actually, the City or Seattle dropped use of food based biodiesel some time ago: