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My Adopted City

October 23, 2008

I.

I fled the mid-atlantic Baltimore-Washington D.C. metropolis for Seattle in late summer 2005. Seattle is a wonderful city; its greatest asset being its people, obviously. It is, incidentally, the whitest of the “major” U.S. cities. And when one says “white”, that doesn’t mean “whitebread” or plain or boring: nor “white trash” as the epiphet goes, though it does retain its founding working-class elements.

Seattle was settled and built largely by Anglo-Saxon Americans. This is reflected in its civic institutions and in the names of its streets and avenues citywide. Indeed, four parallel streets running east-west in south downtown Seattle are named for 19th century American Presidents. Later the city saw migrations of Oregon Trail families and Gold Rush ’49ers, largely from California and the southwest ostensibly en route to Alaska. Next, a steady influx of German and Scandinavian immigrants supplemented the booming port city, which all the way to the present-day has served as an important industrial center and supply port for Alaska and for north-Pacific fishing and maritime trade from coastal California north to the Bering Sea.

Few cities boast a complexion like it.

The northwestern European element is salient and by far the prevailing face of the city to this day; as well as in the American consciousness as the leading city of the “white bastion” of the Northwest.

II.
Almost as unique is the climate. For those who are familiar with that of the British Isles, Seattle isn’t far off. Of course it has a reputation for rain, as America’s “rainy” to Chicago’s “windy”, but more accurately it is fog – not unlike London fog – patches of foggy drizzle that roll in over Puget Sound eastward from the Olympic peninsula and contained by the curtain of the Cascade mountains. Winter is steadily rainy and because the latitude is so far north – north of any other U.S. city – winter is also dark, days short, and the sun hovering softly and angled in a decidedly northerly fashion.

The flipside is that spring and summer are beautiful. Golden rays shine gently from high in the sky, with lush greenery blooming from moisture gathered during the winter rainy season. Many in the region tend to charming gardens reminiscent of the well-manicured English or Vancouver household-yard plots. The air is brisk and fresh and moist – noticeably so if you are at all familiar with the east coast and muggy mid-atlantic summers – perfect for lush botanical life.

Perhaps as an ancillary consequence of the climate and environment, the region has a reputation for environmental awareness and activism; with the University of Washington – among large state universities a leader in the “green” movement and climate change issues. Of course, Seattle is also a hi-tech hub, with the world’s largest software company headquartered east across Lake Washington in Redmond. Last year Washington state had the highest rate of “small-business failure” in the nation, but if you know the intensity and competitiveness of the entrepeneurial and business environment is like in the Puget Sound region, you mightn’t be surprised. It’s not for lack of trying, in other words.

And so, adding to its foundational population, the Puget Sound increasingly attracts among the brightest, most progressive of young Americans, who throw in their lot one way or another, internalizing and supplementing an already dynamic, civic-minded community – a community broad and deep in human capital and steadily growing: The Northwest Migration.

– dw

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