The City

There are times when I walk between the skyscrapers of downtown Seattle and feel that romantic twinge of being in a city, the sounds of people all around you, hurrying from this important thing to that, lugging name brand shopping bags from Westlake Centre to buses or cars; pigeons making quick ascension to the tops of 40 story buildings, their wings beating rapidly in an effort to hoist their bread stuffed bellies high above the din of the streets. In late afternoon shafts of sunlight cascade through spaces between the tall steel sentinels to create a beautiful framing of shadows and light onto opposite buildings. Sometimes I close one eye and line up the diagonal edge of one building with another to see if they are square. To my surprise and amazement they usually are. The technology involved in taking a line, stretching it out 600 feet skyward and keeping it straight all the while is a great feet in itself.

But, as much as I have come to appreciate the city and all its romantic qualities, I must admit there are days in which the height and width of a small city growing big become to much for me to handle. You have to understand that I am not from the city. All of this concrete and glass are not the usual fare my eyes fell upon for most of my adolescent life. My family moved often and those moves often landed us in the suburbs. So in my switch from sub-urban life to urban life I thought the quirks I had with the city were a byproduct of bygone days, reminiscing of still evenings spent on front porches with crickets and cicadas being the loudest sound I had to cope with. Now I-5 hums its song to the tune of a thousand cars an hour right outside my window (where are these people coming from?).

Pat handed me a book that answered many questions that have arisen since living in the city. Christopher Alexander writes in his book A Pattern Language, “There is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy.” He then goes on to cite many examples and studies that show a direct mental and social correlation between high buildings and the dysfunction they create. Within the 1100 pages of this fascinating volume is laid out a completely new way of building cities. Alexander believes that many of the reasons why western, industrialized societies are so disconnected from each other is because we build our town and cities in such a way that they can be expected to do nothing less than isolate us. The problems he writes about (and solutions he gives) are more relevant today than when he first released his book in 1977. I plan to speak more on the things I am learning from this book and have written this entry as a kind of introduction to Alexander and some of his ideas. My interest in societies and the way they operate has always been a fascination of mine. I look forward to sharing that fascination with you.

Here is a shot of the Bank of America building, the tallest structure in Seattle, as seen from King Street Station.


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