Seattle: The City of Neighbourhoods

Our third stop on the Cascadia tour was Seattle, a drastic contrast from the bustling cosmopolitan Vancouver to the grungy and funkier city. As soon as we arrived, we threw down our bags and mowed down on burritos and ice cream at Pike Place Market before heading off to check out the Bullitt Center. Impressions of Seattle included loud, dynamic streetscapes with friendly people and engaging neighbourhoods to explore. In our free time we explored Capitol Hill, the EMP, Seattle Art Museum, viewed the city from the heights of the Columbia building, and danced at the Northwest Folk Life Festival. The festival is one of the largest of its kind in North America where hundreds of bands, performers and artisans come to share their talents; some students even designed custom made hula-hoops in Cascadia colours. 


Pike Place Market


Day 1: From Innovation to laughter

The first day of our American travels began at the Bullitt Center to meet with University of Washington Architecture professor, Rob Peña. For those who are unfamiliar, the Bullitt Center is thought to be one of the greenest buildings in the world. Through a brief presentation and tour, Rob highlighted some of the most sustainable features like the non-flush foaming toilets and the exterior blind system that is activated by the sun. With the Bullitt Center following the Living Building Challenge, it was interesting to hear how designation is based on performance over time rather than a prescriptive checklist like LEED certification. Requiring twelve months of operation, the Bullitt Center only received its Living Building designation a few weeks ago. The Bullitt Center also relies on its tenants to be environmentally conscious with their energy use by staying within their energy budget. In order to maintain their Living Building designation, the Bullitt Center must remain net-zero. However the building is actually net positive, despite being in a cloudy climate, using 75% less energy that a new building that meets Seattle's energy code. 

The Cascadians at the Bullitt Centre


The Bullitt Centre


Later in the evening, we travelled to the neighbourhood of Fremont where we were greeted by a fellow wearing a hard hat with rocket ships glued to it and rainbow suspenders. He introduced himself as Rocket Man Superhero… (Sort of). He invited us to be honorary Fremonsters, those who are playful and enjoy public art. Our evening as Fremonsters led us throughout the streets to different displays of art, explaining their history and how they came to find their home in Fremont. Some highlights included the Fremont Troll, statue of Lenin, and the “Waiting for the Interurban” – an interactive statue that encourages the community to dress it up for any occasion. As silly as the tour was, it was easy to see how fun can encourage community and social sustainability by connecting people to place and one another. We would definitely recommend any future travellers visiting Seattle to make the trip to the “Center of the Universe.”



Cascadians in front of the Fremont Troll and Rocket Man Superhero (Sort of)


Day 2: A Whirlwind Around Town

Department of Neighbourhoods

On Friday morning we visited the Seattle Department of Neighbourhoods where we learned about their various initiatives to build community throughout the different neighbourhoods of Seattle. First we heard from Rich MacDonald about the use of P-patches, which are community managed open spaces where people can gather and grow food for both themselves and donation. The Department of Neighbourhoods also provides resources for P-patch users by pairing up new gardeners with experienced ones as supplying necessary tools.


Next we heard from Minh Chau Le about the Neighbourhood Matching Fund which awards grant money to implement projects across different communities and initiated by everyday community members. The person or group seeking grant money brings their idea to the Neighbourhood Matching Fund and comes up with half of what they need and the city provides the other half. What is unique about the Neighbourhood Matching Fund is that if a community is unable to provide the other half in cash, they can donate their time through volunteering or professional services. Minh told us how the project has helped fund cultural programs, festivals, and playgrounds in communities around Seattle.


Geena Nashem was our last presenter at the Seattle Department of Neighbourhoods who told us about her work with the Historic Preservation Office. Geena mentioned the common misconception that historic buildings cannot also be sustainable. She demonstrated that by using the building stock we have and just increasing the energy efficiency of the building we can keep our historic buildings and have them be sustainable. She gave the example of King Street Station (where we arrived!), which is 108 years old, and now LEED certified.

We were all really impressed with the various initiatives that the Seattle Department of Neighbourhoods is undertaking. It prompted us to think about our own cities, and those we have visited, and why there aren't more Department of Neighbourhoods. 



Sightline Institute:


After having lunch we headed over to the Sightline Institute, a Cascadia bioregion based think tank, to meet with Serena Larkin. Following a tour of the office where all the “nerdiness” happens, we met in the boardroom to talk about Sightline’s mission to making knowledge accessible. They do this in a variety of formats including fact sheets, books, videos, info-graphics, and daily blog posts.  Sightline’s approach to research makes them unique because they don’t look at issues from just a national perspective, but a Cascadia region as a whole. You can check out more from Sightline at

 The Thin Green Line


Mark Purcell:


Our final itinerary stop in Seattle was with Mark Purcell, a Professor at the University of Washington. Mark challenged our binary beliefs of democracy with a thought provoking discussion on what a deep, delightful democracy could look like. He explained the differences between constituent power and constituted power (independent vs. government, church, corporations etc.). Mark believes that an absolute democracy requires all the power to be individual; there are no leaders or rules to control the people. It was a difficult concept for us all to grasp, but a thought worth deliberating. He understands that it would be a near impossible task to accomplish, but the goal is a horizon, always visible but never attainable. 



Eleni at the Gum Wall in Post Alley



Seattle, WA
United States


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