Seattle: A Case Study

A view of the two stadiums in Seattle

Located in the far northwest corner of the continental United States, surrounded by mountains and water and embedded in a region covered by dense forest, Seattle, is often referred to as the Emerald City. Contemporarily, it is often described as an environmentally responsible and harmonious city, however, its history and development has been fraught with social and environmental conflicts from community displacement to widespread deforestation to the wholesale reshaping of the urban landscape and the literal “re-plumbing” of regional waters to facilitate economic development. In more recent times, the impacts of urban development have been more insidious through commercial and industrial pollution of local land, air, and waterways.

Earthworks, outside of Seattle

By using the metropolitan region of Seattle as its case study, the program will specifically focus on water to topically direct and facilitate investigations. Water is viewed by cities as both an amenity—in the form of the experience of urban nature along local creeks—and a threat—in light of flooding as well as the toxins and pathogens that are carried by stormwater runoff. A study of water and the conflicts and opportunities that have emerged with its control and use across the larger metropolitan region will be a focus of visits to four local sites: Brightwater Sewage Treatment Center (which aims to re-enchant us with effluent), downtown Seattle (built on filling in of marshes and wetlands), Gas Works Park (post-industrial toxic site along the waterfront) and a Superfund site on the Duwamish River in South Seattle (once a river, then an industrial dumping ground, and now a partially “restored” waterway).

These site visits will further enable us to confront the coexistence of built and natural environments at the contemporary city will complement our core discussions of scholarship that initially focus on symbolic dimensions of the city/nature divide and advance into the emerging discourse of city/nature synthesis.

Visiting Seattle

A great way to see Seattle is by bike. The institute is conveniently located along the popular bike path, The Burke Gilman. Bikes may be rented nearby at Recycled Cycles and Counterbalance Bicycles. For more information on bicycling in Seattle, visit Cascade Bicycle Club.

You may also want to explore Seattle’s many lakes and water bodies. You can rent canoes and rowboats nearby the institute through the Waterfront Activities Center or rent kayaks and paddle boards from the Agua Verde Paddle Club.