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City as Text™: Know Yourself, Seattle

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Since the arrival of white settlers in the mid-1800s, many have regarded Seattle as a gateway to the Pacific where anything is possible and entrepreneurs are welcome. A brief look at the Seattle companies that lead their industry sectors – Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Costco and others – suggests that the current entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well.

With over 650,000 residents as of 2015, Seattle is the largest city in both the state of Washington and the Pacific Northwest. In July 2013 “The Emerald City” was the fastest-growing urban area in the United States, and remained in the top five in May 2015.

Seattle CAT participants will enjoy a rare opportunity to examine some of this city’s distinctive characteristics – its unique neighborhoods; its livability; its Asian influences; its landmarks and centers of vibrant activity; as well as some of the negative costs associated with its growth.

We hope you agree that the CAT excursions/destinations listed below will make for one of NCHC’s most engaging City As Text additions to your National Conference experience.


Please note: Seattle can be rainy and cool in October and all City as Text Destinations involve at least some outside travel.  Be sure to pack good walking shoes, a raincoat, and a hat or umbrella in case of rain. The “locals” dress in layers and typically own a lot of Gortex. Our explorations of The Emerald City take place rain or shine.

  1. International District (25)

    The sights, sounds, and smells of Seattle’s International District - home to Chinatown, Japantown, and Little Saigon - exemplify what Seattlites refer to as “Pan Asian.” Not to be missed is Uwajimaya, a large, diverse Asian supermarket, as well as the countless shops, restaurants, and gathering places that afford opportunities to sense the local culture.

  2. Fremont (25)

    The self-proclaimed “Center of the Universe,” Fremont was once the site of Seattle counterculture and has retained its quirky, artsy vibe. Look for unique works of public art, including an enormous statue of Lenin, the 18-foot Fremont Troll who lives under the bridge, and the Fremont Rocket. Take note of “Waiting for the Interurban” - the cast aluminum sculpture consisting of six people and a dog standing under a shelter and waiting for public transportation. In what are sometimes referred to as "art attacks," Fremont folk often dress the Interurban characters in apparel appropriate to the season.

  3. Capitol Hill (25)

    Just a short walk from the center of downtown, Capitol Hill is a lively neighborhood that some call the “epicenter of young city life.” In addition to countless cafes and coffee shops, this area is home to the world’s greenest office building, serves as a hub for Seattle’s LGBTQ community, and supports the city’s dynamic music scene. Here you will find the Elliott Bay Bookstore, with its 150,000 titles set on cedar shelves in a multi-level, inviting, unique atmosphere. Capitol Hill also features Volunteer Park, designed by the Olmsteads. The park includes a Victorian-style greenhouse structure completed in 1912 and modeled on London's Crystal Palace; a landmark brick water tower with an observation deck, built in 1906; the dramatic Art Deco building of the Seattle Asian Art Museum; and one of the city’s best views of the Space Needle, Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

  4. South Lake Union (25)

    Home to retailing giant Amazon, South Lake Union is an area in the midst of visible transition with new business, residential, and retail space popping up everywhere. Explore how this booming multi-use area serves the thousands of employees who work there, the various transportation methods available, and the young professional culture of this growing neighborhood.

  5. Pioneer Square (25)

    To experience the historic heart of Seattle, head to PSQ.  Be sure to look up all around you and take in the incredible architecture of this area.  To learn more about Seattle’s history, visit the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. For a more contemporary experience, focus your PSQ exploration on Seattle’s foodie culture and the numerous art galleries. Making up Pioneer Square’s southern boundary are two of Seattle’s most popular venues: 1.) CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks NFL franchise and the Seattle Sounders professional soccer club, and 2.) Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners Major League Baseball team.

  6. Seattle Public Library (25)

    The Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library is one of the most unique libraries in the country. Designed by Rem Koolhaas, the glass and steel structure includes the Red Floor, the Books Spiral, and the Mixing Chamber. A “HIghest Point” offers a spot from which to look down at the eleven-floor atrium. Among its many attributes, the library offers free internet access to a broad spectrum of city’s populace who would not otherwise have it. As such, the popular Central Branch is an architecturally stunning hub that presents a unique opportunity to observe the cultural, ethnic, and social “melting pot” that is Seattle.

  7. MOHAI & The Center for Wooden Boats (25 – approximate cost $14 for students and $17 adults)

    Anchoring the South Lake Union neighborhood is the popular Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI, in local jargon), housed in the repurposed Naval Reserve Armory.   As the largest private heritage organization in the State of Washington, the museum maintains a collection of nearly 4 million artifacts, photographs, and archival materials that primarily focus on Seattle and the greater Puget Sound region. An important highlight is The Bezos Center for Innovation, funded by a $10 million gift from Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. Adjacent to the museum is the Center for Wooden Boats, which includes both restored and new vessels that showcase Seattle’s boat building heritage. Along with great views of Lake Union and the downtown skyline, a visit to this area provides a glimpse into Seattle’s past that should not be missed.

  8. Pike Place Market (75)

    Pike Place Market is a special community within the heart of Seattle’s downtown. More than the city’s beloved public market, “The Market” is a vibrant neighborhood comprised of hundreds of farmers, craftspeople, small businesses and residents. Each group is an important and vital contributor to the Pike Place Neighborhood. Within its nine acres, “The Market” has eight stories of craft booths, restaurants, food and flower stalls, and an odd array of specialty shops built into the hillside overlooking the Seattle Waterfront and Elliot Bay. The Market also houses and offers a range of social services to more than 400 residents, many of whom are low-income seniors. “The Market” is arguably Seattle’s most popular attraction for residents and visitors alike.

  9. Waterfront (75)

    The Seattle waterfront includes one of the largest Ferris Wheels on the west coast, the Seattle Aquarium, the Olympic Sculpture Park, and the Washington State Ferry Terminal (with service to Bainbridge Island and beyond). Investigate how these diverse sites work to create the unique culture of the waterfront.

  10. The University District (25)

    Are all campus neighborhoods the same? Visit Seattle’s U District to experience the lively neighborhood that surrounds the University of Washington. Take in the historic homes and architecture in addition to the youthful feel and endless options for the arts, food, and shopping along “The Ave.”  Of course, don’t miss the chance to stroll the campus grounds!

  11. Gasworks Park (25)

    Soon after the import of natural gas made this plant obsolete, the city of Seattle acquired the 18-acre site for a park. Opened to the public in 1975, the resulting green space allows for breathtaking views of Lake Union, the near-by House Boat Community, the Eastlake neighborhood, the downtown Seattle skyline, and summer sunsets. It's free too! Remnants of the gasworks structures have been re-purposed: the boiler house has been converted to a picnic shelter with tables, fire grills and an open area; the former exhauster-compressor building, now a children's play barn, features a maze of brightly painted machinery. Gasworks is one of Seattle’s most popular sites for family outings.

  12. Seattle Art Museum (25 – approximate cost $12.95 for students and $19.95 for adults)

    Also known as SAM, the Seattle Art Museum houses outstanding collections of Pacific Northwest and Native American art.  The exhibit Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style opens October 11th.

  13. West Seattle (10 – water taxi cost approximately $10)

    In anticipating a visit to Seattle, your mind’s eye almost certainly pictures a view of the water. Get the most out of this excursion by taking a water taxi to West Seattle, and enjoy a truly amazing view of the city. Walk along the shore to Alki Beach and its shops, bakeries, restaurants, and active beach volleyball courts. Get a sense of Seattle’s outdoor and neighborhood cultures as you see the city from this new angle.

  14. Ballard (25)

    Once considered a blue-collar neighborhood and the Scandinavian district of Seattle, Ballard has experienced a rebirth and some would say gentrification in recent years. These days the neighborhood is known for being both hip and historic, especially along Ballard and Market Streets.One of Ballard’s best-known features is The Ballard Locks (officially called Chittenden Locks), which allow boats to navigate between Lake Union (fresh water) and Elliott Bay (salt water). “The Locks” is also the location of the Fish Ladder where viewers, at certain times in the season, can see salmon climb to the fresh water side in their quest to reach spawning grounds upstream.

  15. Queen Anne (25)

    Seattle is known for its livability, with diverse neighborhoods nestled within short walks or rides from downtown. In this excursion, visit Upper Queen Anne and explore its historic homes, welcoming shopping streets, and beautiful green spaces.  Like many other neighborhoods in this great city, Upper Queen Anne is a destination for hungry foodies, niche shoppers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Kerry Park offers one of the most popular and photographed views of the Seattle skyline.

  16. Seattle Center (50)

    Seattle Center began as the site of the 1962 World’s Fair. This 74-acre park is accessible by the monorail from downtown, and includes the Space Needle, the Pacific Science Center, the Chihuly Glass Museum, and the EMP Museum dedicated to popular culture, including local Seattle musicians such as Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix.

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