Seattle and the Setbacks

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In September I celebrated my 30th birthday in Seattle, among much-loved friends in their smartly-ordered, trendy mixed-use apartment building, with their three dogs and a cat.  I loved Seattle—it has its own can’t-help-but-be-nerdy-and-super white-despite-being-hip-diverse-and-progressive kind of a feel. That combination makes for some conscientious living—living that holds experience and sense of place in greater esteem than consumption—living that celebrates coffee, cupcakes (I’ve never seen so many boutique cupcakes in one neighborhood), gardening, technology and design.   It does so under the watchful presence of august Mt. Rainier, which rises up out of the cloudy east to summon the Olympic range to attention.

Bellevue Botanic Gardens
This conscientiousness is instantiated in the streets of the neighborhoods I visited. Specifically, in its setbacks.  I am not talking about missteps toward reaching a goal; I mean municipal code requiring ample setbacks of buildings from the street.  I haven’t researched Seattle’s building legislation, but I was struck by the generous proportions of many of the sidewalks, pedestrian and bicycle walkways, hell-strips, etc.  They serve as extended community space and as metacommunication of prosperity, safety, and welcome.  I believe they're a function of a culture that values liberal spacing between building and car over 500 extra square feet of horizontal development.  To my outsider's eye, Seattle is genuinely interested in well-crafted, well-planned individual and community space.  (I mean, if pretentious “hand-forged” donuts have a crazed following, imagine the appreciation for expertly designed public spaces).

I am not the person to comment on how this works itself out from a policy-setting, fiscal standpoint.  It’s a conversation worth having, but I’ll instead just say, “Cheers, Seattle!” for valuing such urban features. Perhaps it’s because of all the rain: munificent setbacks allow for more light and sky between buildings on dreary days. I’m curious as to whether these efforts promote local commerce and tourism, thus subsidizing themselves by creating open, attractive destinations to linger.  Impulsively buying local letterpress stationary and tulips from the neighborhood florist is far more tempting when the sun is dancing on the tree-lined streets, and browsing pedestrians are able to share the sidewalk with strollers, leashed dogs, and wheelchairs.  A latte at an outdoor cafĂ© doesn't take on quite the same flavor of exhaust when not seated precariously close to traffic.  Go have a look and see whether you agree…here are some shots of interesting sights in the wide hell-strips and sundry other Seattle charms (please forgive my phone camera shots):

Biggest bike lane ever...

I liked this outdoor bar ledge with Carex 'Evergold' in the planting pocket.

Sempervivums, Sedums, Blood Grass

Same garden, with an integrated edible bank.

One of my favorite Seattle moments:  A TALL retaining wall out of recycled telephone posts.  They're sealed with creosote, so they hold up forever...

Stunning hedge of Buxus sempervirens and concrete


  1. nice! i was in seattle and port townsend a few weeks ago and found the most lovely botanic gardens. such a great place to grow!

  2. Which botanic garden? I love that there is such a garden culture there!

  3. One of my friend living seattle he told me abt seattle garden, beautiful houses and great place etc. he also send me few pic this is really a nice place. thank u for sharing nice pic with us.


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