When the Denny Party arrived on Elliott Bay in 1851, they established a settlement people called New York , then Alki. Alki was the Chinook jargon term for "by and by" — New York, by and by. The moniker, somewhat humorous, also embodied an ambition: to build the premier city of the Pacific, as important to this coast as New York was to the Atlantic.
Urbanism was indeed in our blood from the very beginning, and the founders of many of the towns on Puget Sound had the same intention. Kirkland was to be the "Pittsburgh of the West." Bellevue was seen as the center of a sprawling residential and industrial Eastside empire. Everett was dubbed the "City of Smokestacks,” and Tacoma claimed to be "the City of Destiny."
Despite the "Old Settler" song's lyrics about pioneers coming here to escape being “a slave to ambition,” the truth is most people came here to build a new kind of urban life.
Today, urban development is still central to our civic debates: sustainability, transportation, density, accommodating growth. We are still building cities and evolving them away from smokestacks. We apply what we think of as best urban practices to make our cities modern and better than those of old: improving roads and highways, building lanes for bike commuters, taking citizens through planning and "visioning" processes, creating denser housing, growing new urban agricultural networks.
This series looks at some of the antecedents of those practices as they took place in Seattle and King County forty or more years ago. Did you know, for example, that in 1900 Seattle was already building lanes for bike commuters? Have you heard about Seattle's first condominiums sprouting in the wake of Century 21? Or about the newspaperman who, in the 1920s, sold his vision of Bellevue as a great metropolis and then helped it sprout from his own pastureland? Or about the first "war on cars," when angry Seattleites waged a guerilla campaign against reckless horseless carriage drivers?
Roots of Tomorrow, a multi-part series, will focus on these and other projects that serve as historical mirrors for our urban challenges today. Building great cities — and arguing about what that entails — is a long tradition here and the stories of our roots can inform us as we wrestle with creating a model of metropolitan life in the 21st Century.
This project is made possible with the generous support of 4Culture/ King County Lodging Tax Fund.
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