2012 Field School Seattle Entry

Dispatches from Fremont, Earth: Fremont was Lenin and the Troll, Pike Place, P-Patches, the most delicious pie, and Paseo sandwiches; it was hacky-sac circles with Fremont locals, the Ballroom and the Dubliner, Gasworks park, and $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon.  Our expectations were not disappointed, the rumors were true, Fremont is truly somewhere to “let your inner sprite come out and play…a neighbourhood of year-round unexpected and unconventional entertainment”. 

Our far too brief, 72-hour visit to Seattle introduced us to this iconic Cascadian city, its unique cultural and physical landscape and several ongoing sustainable initiatives.  In the following blog post, we’ll do our best to summarize the truly quirky place that is Fremont, our experiences in the wider city of Seattle, as well as some of the lessons and experiences we took away from our visit.

Our Collective Imagining of Seattle as Visualized Through Word Clouds:

Throughout our travels down the coast, we’re remaining conscious of our individual and collective imaging of “place”.  What is the character of a community and more importantly how is it manufactured and presented both internally and externally?  Who determines this image and how well does it reflect the “authentic” nature of a place? 

For many of us, this is our first visit to Seattle.  To explore our shared preconceptions about the character of the city, and chart the shifts in this perspective after our visit, we produced two word clouds.  Each of these visual depictions is composed of words that we, as a group, associated with the city and the size of each word reflects its importance.  Larger words were repeatedly used to describe the city and thus are visualized as more dominant descriptors. 

The first visualization, reflecting our preconception of the city, was produced from words collected moments before we boarded the bus and left Vancouver on May 16.  The second was created from words polled as we made our way south, through the rainy Puget Sound, on the train to Portland four days later.  These visualizations offer a rich depiction of our shared experience and understanding of Seattle.  I hope you’ll enjoy exploring them, and for our fellow classmates, I’m sure they will bring back all sorts of great memories from our time in the city where everyone is “free to be quirky”!



While the subtleties of these visualizations deserve much deeper reflection, the shift in dominant terms between the two clouds, from corporate to community oriented, is particularly striking in light of our sustainability focus. Both clouds prominently feature “Coffee” and “Freeways”/”Highways”, for obvious and well-founded reasons. However our imaging was first dominated by words such as “Starbucks”, “Shopping”, “Nirvana”, “Clipper”, “Boeing”, “Seahawks” and “Microsoft”, while after our stay in Fremont, words such as “Funky”, “People”, “Neighborhoods”, “Community”, and “Culture” were prominent and brand names were conspicuously diminished.

This shift speaks directly to the difference between the external and internal image, and suggests the dominant role capitalistic narratives hold over the outward character of places.  To our group, before visiting the city, Seattle was known more for the corporations that call it home than the people who do and the non-corporate activities they are engaged in.

We were fortunate to have a unique introduction to several core organizations and actors within the city during our stay.  The knowledge they shared changed our perception of the city and often introduced us to the social justice dimensions of their work.  The prevalence of human-centric terms in the second word cloud reflects this bias but may also reveal the more human, community oriented character of Seattle that was visible from our “internal” perspective. 

As we continue south, we will maintain this critical lens and be cognizant of how places are produced and imagined and, perhaps more importantly, remain mindful of the power dimensions underlying the voices that define the character of a place.  What does it take to integrate sustainability within the core character of a place and then ensure that it remains a cherished, visible aspect of that identity?

Day 1:

When we arrived in Seattle we ventured over to the University of Washington to meet up with geography professor Sara Elwood. She was able to help our group refocus on the main purposes of our field school and what objectives we, as a class, are trying to accomplish. Sara gave us a brief overview of some sustainable programs currently being offered in Seattle to prepare us for our time in the city.  While at the University of Washington our class went to the showing of Princess Angeline, a film which portrayed the struggle of the Duwamish people and their fight to gain recognition from the US federal government. The Duwamish tribe has deep roots tied to the land, in fact the city itself is named after their Chief Seattle. The film helped fundraise money for "Paddle to Seattle," in which they will paddle traditional canoes to raise awareness. This gave students the opportunity to compare and contrast the differences in  aboriginal relationships between countries and their federal governments within Cascadia. This also can be seen as a parallel to our previous stop at the T'souke First Nations, connecting the importance of paddling to build relationships throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Day 2: Seattle Friday may 18th

Friday in Seattle was a blur, we visited the Department of Neighborhoods where we spoke with the City of Seattle Sustainability Program coordinator Bernie. She spoke to us about the importance of giving minorities a voice within neighbourhoods. Empowerment is an important goal in the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods to help people feel like they can make a difference.

We then spoke to the Food Systems Coordinator Sharon, who told us about the Local Food Action Initiative. The initiative's goal is to provide food for low income families and seniors.
We then carried on to take a look at the P-Patch community gardening program. The program's main goal is to foster relationships between neighbors and build community cohesiveness. The neighbourhood we visited was affordable housing mainly inhabited by immigrants.

We then spoke to Sandra, the coordinator of the department of sustainability from city hall. Some of us were optimistic about electric cars being a sustainable alternative, but others were more critical about the idea. This is still car oriented development and car culture is still promoted. Less harmful forms of transportation such as biking and walking will not be as much of a priority. The electric car will still impede on walkable space and freeways will still be built.

Photos from Around Town:

At the Seattle Centre they were promoting their 2050 goals of becoming carbon neutral! Displaying their new rapid ride transit, a variety of electric vehicles and a tent full of vendors such as Sound Transit promoting their Link light rail lines.

Many of the students recognized that something as simple yet unique as painting tree trunks bright blue could stir up interest and enhance a public space. Noticing the square was filled with all age groups and a wide variety of racial types.  The square was used by local musicians, businesses, and activists all trying to promote themselves. Within this one area you could view a range of social cultures being displayed, showing the cities vibrant and diverse character.

Pike Place, the most popular tourist destination within the city of Seattle did not disappoint. Many students were able to enjoy the bustling market. We came across a fish stand which displayed posters claiming "our seafood is 100% sustainable, we love earth!" When we asked one of the employees to further explain he replied, that the fish were caught with practices to reduced bycatch and they wouldn't sell any species with struggling population numbers.  Some students hopped on the Seattle Monorail to travel from Seattle Centre to Pikes Place Market. Enjoying city scape views along the way. 


Seattle, WA
United States


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