Seattle: The Quirky City
By Lilly Hsu
Headquarters to big name companies Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks and Boeing… the place where grunge rock groups Nirvana, Sound Garden and Pearl Jam took off… Seattle has a reputation for being on the cutting edge. Lesser known is that the city has a quirky, off-the-wall side with an endearing capacity to find humor in situations without taking itself too seriously. The tour book Insight Guides: Seattle City Guide proudly recounts that the Indian totem pole that sits downtown was stolen from an Alaskan village by the city’s forefathers. More recently, Seattle residents poked fun at a controversial trolley line by giving it a most unflattering nickname.
How Seattle got the Pioneer Square Totem Pole
One of Seattle’s first landmarks is a 60 foot Indian handcarved totem pole situated in the historic Pioneer Square district located downtown. Several credible sources, including the National Park Service and National Geographic magazine, indicate that this totem pole was taken (stolen) from an Alaskan Tlinglit Indian village in the 1890s. As the story goes, members of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce were on a business trip to southern Alaska. Later claiming that they thought the village deserted, they proceeded to remove a large totem pole from the area, bringing it back to Seattle. In actuality, the Indian inhabitants were away at a fishing camp. The Tlinglit Indians sued Seattle for its return, plus $20,000 in damages. Although a court found the group guilty of theft, they were fined a mere $500 and allowed to keep the totem pole in Seattle; the original remained in Pioneer Square until 1938 when it was damaged by arson. Supposedly the city of Seattle sent the remnants of the pole back to the Tlinglit Indian village and asked them to carve a replica of the original totem pole, where it has stood in Pioneer Square ever since.
Photo left courtesy of University of Washington Special Collections
Crackdown on those Pesky Pedestrians
According to the Seattle online daily Crosscut, 1,200 pedestrians were hit by drivers between 2007 and 2010 with two-thirds of the incidents cited as the driver’s fault. The city proclaimed 2007 as “The Year of the Pedestrian” (Scigliano, December 2011). Enforcing pedestrian safety laws seemed to take on a life of its own when the Seattle police department issued a “Pedestrian Safety Program” brochure with a threatening tone aimed at pedestrians. Containing statistics and safety tips, the brochure also warned that pedestrians breaking the law would be fined (letter from Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board to Seattle Officials 2007). The Vice Chair of the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Safety Board was concerned enough to write a scathing letter to then Mayor Greg Nickels and other city officials.
It appears that the Seattle Police Department’s interpretation of “pedestrian safety” is to crack down on pedestrians. Without a doubt there are pedestrians who endanger themselves and others through extreme dangerous and illegal behavior, which should come with consequences enforced by the police. However, the tone of the brochure suggests that the strategy of the Seattle Police Department will be to penalize pedestrians for every minor infraction.
Even after the letter was presented, Seattle police issued a far greater number of tickets to pedestrians than to drivers failing to yield. An analysis by Crosscut on accident data indicated that from 2009 to 2010, the number of citations issued pedestrians or ‘jaywalkers’ increased from 1,274 to 1,570. Concurrently, failure to yield citations decreased from 406 to 197. (Scigliano, December 2011)
The South Lake Union Trolley (or S.L.*.*.)
Every metropolitan city has had a controversial capital project that draws critics and for Seattle, the South Lake Union Trolley is one such project. When the South Lake Union Trolley line was completed in 2007, the project cost stood at $52 million dollars for a 1.3 mile long route. Ridership averaged about 1,300 riders a day, with the train half full (Lindbloom, Seattle Times December 23, 2009). Poking fun at the controversial trolley project, Kapow Coffee Shop, a local establishment, started selling T-shirts with the slogan “Ride the S.L.U.T.” (see ridetheslut.com)
The trolley line was proposed with the intent of developing the South Lake Union neighborhood into a biotechnical research corridor, bringing housing and high tech jobs to the area. Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen was a major backer of the plan and happened to own approximately 50 acres of land in the area. (Jennings, The Stranger, July 23, 2003). Some residents were concerned that the neighborhood would lose its character, including the elimination of low income housing associated with the project. One critic, John Fox of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, stated that the city had numerous other infrastructure priorities and that the project amounted to corporate welfare for Allen (Barker, Belltown Messenger, August 2005). On the other side, the city can claim project success in that the trolley’s daily ridership has steadily increased to 3,000 by 2011 according to the Seattletransitblog.org.
Men Outnumber Women: Myth or Truth?
1800’s Seattle was a logging settlement where men outnumbered women by a large margin. Some may be familiar with the story of the Mercer Girls, where Asa Shinn Mercer, President of the University of Washington convinced young single women from Lowell, Massachusetts, to come to Seattle to serve as teachers as well as potential brides. At this time, men in New England were fighting in the Civil War and marriage prospects for young women were not promising (www.mercergirls.com – Peri Muhich).
Some statistics indicate that present day Seattle still has more single men than women. In 2007 National Geographic published a map of the U.S. showing that single men outnumber single women in West coast cities of Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. This can be attributed to the area’s high tech software and aerospace industries. But further research shows that this may or not be substantiated. According to the 2010 U.S. Census (State and County Quick Facts), the overall Seattle male-female breakdown was an even 50%-50% . Before single women start packing their bags, consider this: Attractivearts.com states that single men in Seattle may not be all that desirable…
“…while there are a lot of men in Seattle, there are not a lot of men with proficient (or even passable) attraction skills. Women in Seattle consistently complain that men here lack confidence, charisma, and originality in their approach (if they approach at all, which is rare). Which means that, around here, a little game goes a long way.” (January 23, 2012)