It was both cold and extremely bright, the way Northwest Autumns are as they slowly transition into full winter. I’d spent my morning puttering about my studio apartment and it was time to face the day. My twin neighborhoods of Pioneer Square and Chinatown/ID always have a jerk-you-awake quality to them, especially when stepped into after a morning of reading, breakfast preparation and Stereolab. But this day I noticed something else as well; were those . . . mountains?
Yes, they were. The Olympics. This is not something I’m used to walking outside to.
LOSE A BRIDGE, GAIN A VIEW
Every time I look at my phone, I’m reminded how much and how quickly this city is changing. My screen background picture is one I took mid last year; the sun was setting over one of the on-ramps to the viaduct. The sun reflected off the tops of cars and the brick buildings at the edge of Pioneer Square and the financial district. It was just a nice picture; it didn’t occur to me that soon enough it’d be one I couldn’t ever take again.
The Alaskan Way Viaduct opened it’s first section in 1953, and it’s last section was removed by giant metal monsters at the beginning of this year. Along the way, it hosted millions of individual vehicles making their way from one end of downtown to another, to the West Seattle Bridge, and multiple points in between. For all it’s flaws, at least you could enter and exit from downtown, which is not the case with the tunnel that replaced it.
Since it’s been gone, though, the view in my neighborhood has been spectacular.
YES, I KNOW, VIEWS AREN’T EVERYTHING
The presence– or obstruction– of views are often times NIMBY talking points. Or you have people wreaking ecological havoc by removing trees from hillside neighborhoods. But in this case, I’m not complaining– especially in the dark winter months, any greater sunlight presence is welcome. All the reminders of what a beautiful part of the world we live in can provide comfort as the world burns.
No matter what the city decides to do with the Waterfront-– I know there are plans, I’m sure they’re contested, and I’m kinda whatever about it– keeping the Viaduct was never an option. Over the last couple years my friends and acquaintances poured out a bar’s worth of metaphorical liquor for it; I’d never known it was so beloved until it was slated for demolition. My own experiences driving on it had always been extremely stressful; the lanes too narrow, the entrances and exits requiring bursts of speed and quick merge-times, making everyone drive too fast. Any enjoyment of the view was completely ruined by the fact that I was white-knuckling and swearing like an angry dad at the other drivers on the road. Add to that a dislike of bridges.
So when the word came that our notoriously earthquake unsafe piece of outdated infrastructure would be torn down, it wasn’t just public safety that had me like:
A lot of folks saw the Viaduct as a symbol of “Old Seattle.” Of some kind of gritty reminder of “who we used to be.” I won’t begrudge that nostalgia, or any of the honestly pretty cool Instagram posts people took as they walked it one last time. But these days, there is always something being lost, a chance to remember a town that may or may not have ever existed. It can be exhausting, and it’s important to pick one’s battles.
In this case, I’ll take the view.
Also published on Medium.