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The Urbanist’s Seattle

Masked superheroes, buzzy bookstores, technorati food trucks.

Basketball courts by Frank Gehry’s EMP Museum.  

It sometimes seems that when Kurt Cobain died, he took an entire American metropolis with him. It’s been nearly two decades since Seattle’s cultural climax as the capital of grunge. In the intervening years, it has largely disappeared from the national consciousness; Portland, Seattle’s oft-satirized kid sister, has usurped its place. But where Portland can feel provincial, Seattle is dynamic. It’s a tech boomtown, home to Amazon and Microsoft but also scrappy pre-IPO startups like Tableau Software and Big Fish Games. It’s in the midst of the 50th-anniversary celebration of its 1962 World’s Fair, complete with pop-up galleries and performance spaces; it’s still a great music city (think indie-folk acts Fleet Foxes or the Head and the Heart); and, yep, it’s kitted out with a Frank Gehry building, the EMP pop-music-and-sci-fi museum. But Seattle also has big-city problems: Gun violence is up, and its residents are notoriously aloof. In this city in flux, locals speak of Old Seattle—an arty fishing town—as if it were an endangered species being displaced by the modernist homes of REI-clad millionaires. Tensions surface with every new development project (coming soon: three million square feet of downtown office space for Amazon’s ballooning HQ) and are exacerbated by the ever-rising cost of living and minority flight. Among U.S. metro areas, Seattle is one of the priciest and the fifth whitest. Rain City is many things. Among them: less rainy than New York, actually, and still very much alive.

This story appeared in the July 30, 2012 issue of New York Magazine.


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