developing the sound
An expansive view on the twenty third floor of Park Shore Towers licking the edges of Lake Washington, imagine it! The sun is gleaming off the lake and casting sun back onto books, floor to ceiling. Memorabilia under glass winks as I move from room to room in the light. While I water plants in containers on the patio my eyes flit over titles, mostly history. I almost feel like the building, it’s view, the books, and every detail is a part of a geologists dreams… It’s been years since I’ve actually been here, yet the books belonging to my clients the Denny’s, I see clearly. The fact that they were the first European family to settle this place called Seattle, has somehow made those moments indelible.
This family is of course like any other. Children, grandparents, and parents smile from photos in modern frames. What sets them apart is that they are the first family to homestead what later became downtown Seattle. When I imagine these huge windows with expansive views it’s knowing I’m looking out over 150 year of history, that planted itself with this small seed. The businesses, roads, and economies that have transformed this place in the blink of a eye.
If this brief expanse of history were a book it should be like some kind of DK tour guide of Rome or Paris, all the changes to land and economy etched in hand, small paintings as inserts and some photos… And instead of just achitecture the pages would be spliced with the notes on peoples lives from generation to generation, the Gates, the Nordstroms, as well as the first people, the tribes of the Suquamish, the Duwamish and others. And incredibly many of these details exist. The journals of T.T. Waterman have all sorts of information about how the Suquamish tended and created the landscape we call home.
I’ve recreated a number of his maps that were difficult to read, ferreting out details while stooping and squinting over stories of where rushes were gathered for weaving matts, where trails were walked, salmon and perch were fished, clams and duck were hunted. The delicious contrast of the imagined mingling with the reality of lamp light, all revealing a fondness I’ve always had for the diaramas of ships, engines, markets, and other systems. But it’s also something more, it’s as though I get to crawl into the skin of a place as it once was and play around with the ideas today, a mental exercise as playful as designing a Nick Cave sound suit.
Of course it’s not just uncovering these mysteries that is yummy is it? Its also the moments between reading, the pauses where I sense echos between what was and what is. Somehow this exploration reminds me that reading the landscape is a skill not entirely forgotten.
Case in point. If I were to ask you where the most level and grounded place in the city is that also connects two great bodies of water would you think of the area around King Street Station? This is also the site of the main village Djidjilal tc, where Chief Seattle was born. It had two main trails leading from it down to the water and peoples crafts. How about if I were to ask you to go where the creative force is felt most strongly in the city, where would you go? Would it surprise you that Bt da ‘kt (Freemont) was also where the shamans went to preform their most important ceremonies? Function follows form… The form of a landscape inspires different generations and different economies in similar ways.
When I hike around Seward Park and hear the various bird songs and then notice the thrush song starts to predominate and I look up to see old groves of Madrona in decline and newer cedar and fir shading them, I’m looking at original prairie ecology, that the first people once maintained with regular burnings to keep the forest open. Belltown was one such prairie (Baba’kwob), and was where Denny and his family thought the ideal location to homestead was. We imagined these places as wild but I’m sure Denny would have agreed he chose the spot because it was well maintained. In fact many people wonder at the decline of the Madrona in our area and it is probably suffering from some of the same stress as the Oaks in California where groves were cared for by tribes possibly even going so far as fertilizing the trees with ground up oyster shells.
If we look again at the map on the north side of Lake Union is another maintained prairie that was used as a regular summer camp by the tribes. This camp is an easy distance from Greenlake where they caught salmon and perch in nets at DutL c. In a way the landscape was a maintained park with a delicate chain of roads and camps that connected all the activities of the seasons together. Any designer worth their salt understands how smart this is. Olmstead the father of landscape architecture here in the United States created the Emerald Necklace in Boston and that same system was replicated here after much of Seattle had already been regraded or logged. The idea shared between both designs being that the dweller travels by green corridors to get to a new locations, and that each location has its particular uses and personality. Cemetaries, forts, and look out points… are not chosen accidentally, all these places have qualities that recommend them.
For instance it’s not difficult to imagine how sacred Sti’t tci (Foster Island) was as a place of reflection. Knowing the history though helps me to also appreciate how that part of Seattle connects the water and the sky together, and would certainly have helped prepare families to send their loved ones to the next world. This sense of the function of places, their identity, and integrity, in fact is very evident in the first people’s words used to describe locations. As you know when you grow up somewhere, you rarely refer to where you grew up by street address, rather you refer to the house or possibly a nickname you had for it. These types of valuable shorthand names for place are not as easily experienced in names of many of the streets and buildings of our tie and suited adult workaday lives. For example near the Sound there is a huge rock that looks like a giant magicians cape was thrown onto it, the story goes that a bride ran away from a unhappy man and he thew his cape onto her turning her into stone. This story is actually in the name of the place… “Blanket Rock” and three trees in the distance represented her family who were leaving in a boat. The fact that a few of these names are being restored by the tribes is an entry point for us to understand what it feels like to belong to a place and to care for it, even the rocks.
As I think about Earth Day being immanent and how at odds our economies are with sustaining future generations it feels like restoring a name like Ti’Swaq “sky wiper” or “touches the sky”, is both a small change and a huge monument to spirit. Mount Rainer is actually named after a British Captain who later fought to suppress the American Revolution. The irony that this name has lasted so long is not lost over time, you could say it even builds. But who are we to question the wealthy or the name given a mountain?
Back in 2005 Lynne Manzo at the University of Washington wrote a piece on the multiple meanings of place and their psychic affect on our every day lives. The study interviewed 40 participants in New York. From a phenomenologists view she asked what places were important to these people. She found both negative and positive associations with places that described a dialectical process of growth and development as each person came to terms with what these places felt like and realized why they were there. Quoting Cooper Marcus she points out we will even “unconsciously place ourselves in conflictual environments that enable us to work out unresolved emotional connections”. Manzo helped me think about places as not just isolated locations but as a vocabulary in our lives, and our relationships to places as a reflection of our journey in the world. Home may not be where you sleep, it may in fact be a place you are going to… And people who have been oppressed will often have very different associations with places connected with oppression.
When I think about the work that Fredrick Law Olmstead did first in his travels in the South writing on the situation of slaves there, this idea of oppression connected with plantations becomes very clear, or why one person would find a farm a nurturing environment and another would find it tinged with negative associations, or even deep feelings of oppression. Olmstead wrote dispatches home to the New York Times as he traveled there, and was involved in creating and running the Red Cross during the civil war. A man of incredible nobleness of mind and foresight he also started Putnam Magazine (now The Atlantic), designed Central Park, and eventually created the idea for the park system we enjoy in Seattle and cities all over the country today. To think all this is a happy accident doesn’t do justice to his genius. The great question that drove him to such diverse interests was his pursuance of what it was to be American.
Olmstead wanted to understand what were the qualities of these people that traveled so far for freedom? He was working on a colossal book that would have compiled all his findings. But more important than that perhaps is what he left behind for us. Olmstead created a framework for a sense of place in which we could discover ourselves and express ourselves as Americans. If you think about the Atlantic or a place like Zucotti park you might think of an article or an incident but mistakenly forget that someone designed it for us for a specific purpose. I lived in South Central for a while and have fond memories of Leimert Park and the poetry there. After the Watts riots in 1965 Leimert, a park designed by Olmstead, became a center for poetry, writing, celebrating, and healing. Members of the Watts Writers Workshop went on to influence things in popular culture like hip hop and rap to StarTrek. Olmstead would certainly be surprised by the cultural changes that had taken place by 1970 but I also think he would have been delighted to get to witness the far reaching affects of his work, since he was deeply concerned with slavery and its implications for the American psyche.
Travel through time another century and you’ll find a Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt was perhaps equally concerned with the fate of America in her own way. Arendt was devoted to creating a space for political and speech acts as an expression of freedom. Arendt did not know the plantations of the South like Olmstead, but she had escaped Nazism in Germany. After arriving in New York she went on to join the New School of Social Research (now the New School) and to form a wing of philosophy called Critical Social Thought. Arendt thought theory was meant to be grounded in real issues, to help a person find themselves in the world, rather than to build escapist fantasies. The fact that we had confused the happiness of consumption with the happiness that comes with freedom of expression concerned her greatly. Arendt had escaped the terrifying reality of fascism in Germany and she wanted to make sure her new home in America didn’t fall prey to the brainwashing possible during periods of economic turmoil or with the arrival of new forms of social media and distributions of power. (Please check out The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis if you’d like more on this.)
And yet all forms of media are a double edged sword. The internet has the potential to create forums for discussion when parks or parts of our government are closed to us. I wrote a thesis about the potential for organizing and finding moral common ground on the internet years ago. Perhaps I will dig up some of those older pieces but what inspired me originally to write was Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he lays out how science goes through developmental episodes where one world view is replaced by another. He suggests this happens out of the necessity of changed circumstances, and in 1998 when I was doing my research in Berkeley and Silicon Valley I thought those changes circumstances would be the internet. Fastforward past Y2K and we see that community has been altered by the internet with situations like the Arab Spring trying to be controlled by every government that has power it doesn’t want in the hands of its people.
I started writing this because I was thinking about how we name things like, Blanket Rock, or Sti’ti ci, or Mount Rainer, and how also we can respond to changes in technology and environment that require new evaluations of old paradigms. I’ve never been a real proponent of political revolutions, being so messy, but I do think that like Thomas Kuhn suggested ideas can change radically and over night when people realize what they want. I also like what t Lynne Manzo suggests, that a lot of life can be worked out in our every day relations to place and our understanding of what is home. That dialectical process of looking at what is frightening or difficult and finding new places to occupy that are comfortable are a part of our journey. The world doesn’t want to be changed dramatically but if we change just a few key things that can sometimes make all the difference.
As a part of celebrating these differences I’ve pulled together some dates that make me think about Seattle’s journey, and some of the amazing and painful things that have happened to us here. There are a lot of important dates I am leaving out but I would encourage you to try writing something like this for yourself and your community. It’s like taking stock of what you’ve got in the larder for cooking. I’d even encourage you to throw in some details about your family. I have a number of stories about what happened to my great grandparents when they first arrived and the challenges they faced creating a new home in America. These stories have informed my sense of what is noble and what makes life worthwhile. Seeing them as a part of a bigger American experience is a reminder of what an incredible and tumultuous experiment our democracy really is.
I’ll share one quick story which was of my grandfather and his cousins circumnavigating the globe in the 1920′s. (They arrived back in New York just after the stock market crash having cut their travels somewhat short because their money had lost its value and the world economy had fallen apart.) Besides totally falling in love with my great uncles descriptions of Istanbul – the center of trade between the east and west – you could just tell he was going to become an architect after seeing that city. I was most moved by their arrival in New York harbor at the end of their travels. In his journal my great uncle wrote that in New York they saw everyone they had come across in their journey around the world. Yet here they were living in one place together… To imagine how at home he felt with these cultures that probably seemed so foreign once, and to think this monumental change in perspective happened, as Manzo suggested was possible, on a journey away from home. We could also connect this back to Olmstead and his search for what it means to be an American… Perhaps it is a journey into the nature of freedom, a desire for it to transform our reality. And yet it is almost certainly about something bigger than ourselves since there are always these homes of origin from which the quest always started.
This is a conclusion we can define for ourselves.
9,000 BC earliest evidence of Native Americans in WA after the Bering Straight bridge receads
8,000 BC earliest evidence of visits to in Puget Sound
2,000 BC Salish speaking people establish settlement in the Sound
1592 CE Juan de Fuca explores the Puget Sound for Spain
1775 first European contact with Natives in coastal WA with Juan Fransisco Bodega…
1775-92 smallpox and other European diseases wreak havoc on Native communities
1778 Captain Cook, Vancouver, and Gray all map various parts of the Northwest coast for Great Britain
1787 United States Constitution is created.
1811 British continue fur trade in the area, the market is so successful with China it leads to the near extinction of the sea otter
1830 European potatoes and peas introduced and adopted by many Native people, are boycotted by Salish for unfair trade prices
1845 First European settlement of Puget Sound at Tumwater
1848-49 Snoqualmi attack on Tumwater
1850 Salish dog on brink of extinction (last identified Salish wool dog dies after the turn of the century in 1940)
1850 The Donation Land Law Act was passed by congress from which homesteading and farming would transform the western landscape in one generation
1851 Settlement of Elliot Bay by brothers Arthur and David Denny near Belltown
1852 Henry Yesler arrives and begins construction on the first steam powered mill on land sold to him by Doc Maynard
1853 Congress creates the Territory of Washington. Meanwhile plantations as an economic model and the morality of slavery is coming to a head. Fredrick Law Olmstead travels the South sending dispatches to the New York Times reflecting on slavery for northern readers (Eventually publishing Journey in the Seaboard Slave States and starting Putnam’s Magazine with friends)
1854 Governor of Washington Territory Isaac Stevens concludes the Medicine Creek treaties moving the many local Salish speaking tribes from their home land to one of three reservations
1853-54 Last great smallpox epidemic struck the Puget Sound killing 50% of the remaining Coastal Salish. Yet remaining Makah keep their traditional lands
1855 Recurrent Native attacks on European settlements are called the Puget Sound Wars
1858 Olmstead and Vaux’s design for Central Park are chosen from 33 entries
1859 Treaties negotiated by Stevens are ratified by Congress. Just two years later Congress declares war with the South.
1875 Congress extends the homestead laws to Indians willing to abandon their tribal affiliation
1883 The Montlake cut joins Lake Washington and Elliot bay for shipping also lowering the lake by 20 feet and exposing new city land that is used for Olmsteads Seattle park system design.
1887 First transcontinental railroad completed to Puget Sound. European – Native demographics shift dramatically while Salish find it hard to gain employment
1889 Washington State admitted to the Union just when Seattle burns to the ground and is then rebuilt in brick, helping create jobs in the post war economy.
1897 Discovery of Gold in Alaska promotes a boom again in the economy, REI and Eddie Bauer get their start outfitting explorers
1900 Tribal children are removed from their families, sent to boarding schools by the BIA, and forbidden to speak their mother tongue. This program continues until the 1960′s
1903 John Charles Olmstead visits Seattle to begin the design of our park system
1908-11 Seattle begins one of the largest earth moving projects in the world with the Denny regrade
1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition opens
1910 Seattles large ship building business turns toward planes when Heath ship building becomes the first Boeing factory.
1915 America enters World War I
1931-41 One of the largest Hoovervilles grows just west of Qwest field
1941 Salish population is down to 6,500.
1942-45 Japanese American Internment during WWII…
1945 World War Two ends 70,000 jobs are lost overnight at Boeing.
1950 Nordstrom’s helps build the first suburban mall in North America in Northgate over a cranberry bog near Thorton creek
1962 Space Needle is constructed for the Worlds Fair
1965 America enters Vietnam War
1971 First Starbucks opens
1970 Tribes join together to occupy Fort Lawton at Discovery Park eventually opening Daybreak Star Cultural Center
1970 Boeing is hugely affected by the post war oil crisis. Seattle falls into the worst depression economy of any city in the nation to date.
1974 Indian fishing rights of 1855 treaties upheld by Judge Boldt
1975 Bill Gates starts Microsoft
1980 Social Justice Fund Northwest develops the first grass roots environmental philanthropy NGO
1990 Listing of the Northern Spotted owl as endangered creates a window of opportunity for rethinking the ecological values of old growth forests.
1990-1 Persian Gulf War
2000 Amazon.com goes from 107 dollars a share to 7, Internet boom and bust
2001 Duwamish people briefly won recognition as a tribe with rights under the Clinton administration, then loose them under the Bush administration
2003-11 Iraq War
2004 Thorton creek having been piped underground for 54 years is daylighted by community members and Mayor Greg Nickels
2006 Sub Pop Records becomes the first Green-e certified record label
2008 Washington Mutual bank closure and receivership is the largest bank failure in American financial history, the market crash is still affecting global economies in 2013
2013 Our neighborly neighbors to the north open another new tribal cultural center for their Squamish