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25 Things You Should Know About Seattle

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You know about the Space Needle, Starbucks and its distinction as the birthplace of grunge. But did you know it’s built atop the ruins of a city center that burned down more than a hundred years ago? Or that it’s the hometown of Kenny G.? Here for your tasting pleasure: a cup of freshly brewed facts about Seattle.

1. The first European to visit the area, which had been inhabited by native tribes for more than 4,000 years, was a man named Vancouver. That’s George Vancouver, the renowned British explorer, who stopped by in 1792 during his voyage to chart the Pacific coast of North America.

2. It was originally called New York. Why, exactly, is unclear, though several members of the Denny party, a ragtag group that first settled Alki Point in 1851, in what’s today known as West Seattle, hailed from New York State. After the party moved across Elliott Bay, they renamed the territory “Seattle” after a Duwamish Indian chief who befriended them.

3. The entire central business district burned down in 1889, in what’s today known as The Great Seattle Fire. It started with a woodworker who mishandled hot glue, and resulted in 116 acres reduced to ash. City residents decided to rebuild atop the rubble rather than relocate, raising streets up to 22 feet in the process and using brick and steel to erect buildings instead of wood (smart move).

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Long before the likes of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, Seattle’s first millionaire was a sawmill operator named Henry Yesler. A native of Hagerstown, Maryland, Yesler came to Seattle shortly after it was settled and built what became the country’s first steam-powered sawmill. He also, oddly, served as Seattle’s 7th and 15th mayor.

5. Seattle became a boomtown during the Yukon Gold Rush, outfitting the hordes of prospectors heading north to strike it rich. Merchants in Pioneer Square filled their stores and sidewalks with merchandise, and some even offered classes to wide-eyed greenhorns on panning and sluicing for gold.

6. It was the first major American city to have a female mayor. Bertha Knight Landes held the office from 1926 to 1928, and was notable for taking a hard line against corruption (she fired the chief of police, for starters). The city hasn’t had another female mayor since.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Airplane manufacturer Boeing opened in 1916 [PDF] in a former shipyard on the shores of Lake Union. World War I kickstarted the business, but the following years were lean ones, and Boeing began turning out furniture, phonograph cases, and corset frames to offset the decline. The rise of commercial aviation, World War II, and the jet age would eventually propel the company into the stratosphere. And though it’s no longer is based in Seattle, Boeing still manufacturers several airplanes, including the 747, the 767 and the giant 787 Dreamliner, at the company’s Everett plant just north of Seattle.

9. The 600-foot-tall Space Needle was the brainchild of artist Edward E. Carlson, who sketched a design for the tower that would loom over the 1962 World's Fair on a cocktail napkin. The structure, which was built in just 400 days, can withstand winds of up to 200 mph and a 9.1 magnitude earthquake (more on that later), thanks in part to its foundation, which extends 30 feet underground.

10. The iconic Pike Place Market started because of overpriced onions. Between 1906 and 1907, the price of produce, and onions in particular, skyrocketed, and consumers as well as civic leaders believed price-gouging wholesalers were to blame. So the city proposed a public market where customers could buy directly from farmers. In August 1907, Pike Place Market opened for business. Today, it’s the oldest continually operating farmer’s market in America.  


It’s one of the fastest growing big cities in the U.S.—number three, to be exact—with 15,000 residents added over the past year. Only Denver and Austin grew more.

12. Despite its rainy image, Seattle gets less annual rainfall than New York, Houston, Boston, and Atlanta. It does, however, have quite a few cloudy days and days with light precipitation, particularly in the wintertime.

13. It has the second most glass-blowing studios of any city in the world, behind Murano, Italy.

14. There are more dogs living there than children, according to Census data, and many of their owners (the dogs, that is) are sci-fi/fantasy geeks. There are numerous Frodos, a smattering of Xenas, and a pitbull in West Seattle named Daenarys. Cat lovers are pretty creative, too, like the owner of “Mr. Meowgi”.

15. It’s home to the country’s first gas station—a Standard Oil outpost that opened in 1907 at Holgate Street and Western Avenue.

16. Seattlites are a cultured bunch. Around 80 percent of adults hold Seattle Public Library cards, while the Seattle-based Pacific Northwest Ballet is said to have the highest per capita attendance of any ballet in America.

17. There’s an eerie Underground Tour that takes visitors along the sidewalks and storefronts that existed before the Great Fire. It begins and ends, thankfully, in a refurbished saloon.

18. The next big hipster trend currently on display there: pinball. There’s a museum, league play, and numerous bars stuffed with machines.

19. It has the largest houseboat population in the country, with plenty of folks willing to pay big bucks to live on the water. Last year, the houseboat from Sleepless in Seattle sold for more than $2 million.


 Seattle City Light—a public-owned utility which powers 90 percent of Seattle via hydroelectricity—has a zero carbon footprint. The entire city has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050.

21. A real-life superhero named Phoenix Jones roams the streets of Seattle. And lest you think he’s an out-of-shape fanboy, think again. He’s mixed martial arts fighter Ben Fodor, and he’s been stabbed, shot, hit with a bat, and had his nose broken in the line of duty.

22. It’s due for a major earthquake. The Cascadia fault line, which runs along the entire northwest coast, last shook the area sometime around 1700. Seismologists say there’s an 80 percent chance of a 6.8-magnitude quake hitting in the next fifty years, and a 10 to 15% chance that a really big one—9.0 or higher—could hit in the same time frame.

23. In the meantime, any tremors you may feel could very well just mean there's a Seahawks game going on. Fans of Seattle's pro football team are known for their enthusiasm (read: volume), earning them a 2013 Guinness World Record for "loudest crowd roar at a sports stadium" (137.6 decibels!). The energy of their collective movement is enough to occasionally register on the Richter scale, most notably after Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard touchdown in a 2011 playoff game, which one seismologist said was "probably" the equivalent of a magnitude one earthquake.  

23. It’s well known as the incubator for rock bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, but it’s also where Kenny G. and Sir Mix-A-Lot got their starts. And don’t forget Macklemore. And Heart. And Kenny Loggins.

24. There’s a giant drill named Bertha trying to dig its way under the city. It’s part of a controversial project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an elevated section of State Highway 99 that runs along the west side of downtown Seattle. Digging on the new underground tunnel began in 2013, but then Bertha got stuck after completing only 10 percent of its 1.7-mile journey (and on a steel pipe, of all things). Crews recently removed Bertha’s enormous cutterhead—all 4 million pounds of it—for repairs, and plan to resume drilling this November.

25. A giant, Volkswagen-crushing troll lives under one of its bridges.

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Courtesy Umbrellium
These LED Crosswalks Adapt to Whoever Is Crossing
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Courtesy Umbrellium

Crosswalks are an often-neglected part of urban design; they’re usually just white stripes on dark asphalt. But recently, they’re getting more exciting—and safer—makeovers. In the Netherlands, there is a glow-in-the-dark crosswalk. In western India, there is a 3D crosswalk. And now, in London, there’s an interactive LED crosswalk that changes its configuration based on the situation, as Fast Company reports.

Created by the London-based design studio Umbrellium, the Starling Crossing (short for the much more tongue-twisting STigmergic Adaptive Responsive LearnING Crossing) changes its layout, size, configuration, and other design factors based on who’s waiting to cross and where they’re going.

“The Starling Crossing is a pedestrian crossing, built on today’s technology, that puts people first, enabling them to cross safely the way they want to cross, rather than one that tells them they can only cross in one place or a fixed way,” the company writes. That means that the system—which relies on cameras and artificial intelligence to monitor both pedestrian and vehicle traffic—adapts based on road conditions and where it thinks a pedestrian is going to go.

Starling Crossing - overview from Umbrellium on Vimeo.

If a bike is coming down the street, for example, it will project a place for the cyclist to wait for the light in the crosswalk. If the person is veering left like they’re going to cross diagonally, it will move the light-up crosswalk that way. During rush hour, when there are more pedestrians trying to get across the street, it will widen to accommodate them. It can also detect wet or dark conditions, making the crosswalk path wider to give pedestrians more of a buffer zone. Though the neural network can calculate people’s trajectories and velocity, it can also trigger a pattern of warning lights to alert people that they’re about to walk right into an oncoming bike or other unexpected hazard.

All this is to say that the system adapts to the reality of the road and traffic patterns, rather than forcing pedestrians to stay within the confines of a crosswalk system that was designed for car traffic.

The prototype is currently installed on a TV studio set in London, not a real road, and it still has plenty of safety testing to go through before it will appear on a road near you. But hopefully this is the kind of road infrastructure we’ll soon be able to see out in the real world.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Tokyo Tops List of Safest Cities in the World, New Report Says
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When choosing a city to call home, some might weigh factors like affordability, potential for job growth, and even the number of bookstores and libraries. But for many aspiring urbanites, safety is a top concern. This list of the world’s safest cities from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) proves you don’t need to trade your sense of welfare for the hustle and bustle of city life—especially if you're headed to Tokyo.

As Quartz reports, the EIU assessed the overall safety of 60 major cities using categories like health safety, infrastructure safety, personal safety, and the cybersecurity of smart city technology. With an overall score in 89.80 out of 100 points, Tokyo is the 2017 Safe Cities Index's highest-ranking city for the third year in a row.

While it was rated in the top five places for cybersecurity, health security, and personal security, Tokyo's No. 12 spot in the infrastructure security category kept it from receiving an even higher score. The next two spots on the EIU list also belong to East Asian cities, with Singapore snagging second place with a score of 89.64 and Osaka coming in third with 88.67. Toronto and Melbourne round out the top five. View more from the list below.

1. Tokyo
2. Singapore
3. Osaka
4. Toronto
5. Melbourne
6. Amsterdam
7. Sydney
8. Stockholm
9. Hong Kong
10. Zurich

You may have noticed that no U.S. cities broke into the top 10. The best-rated American metropolis is San Francisco, which came in 15th place with a score of 83.55. Meanwhile, New York, which used to hold the No. 10 slot, fell to No. 21 this year. The report blames the U.S.'s poor performance in part on America's aging infrastructure, which regularly receives failing grades from reports like these due to lack of maintenance and upgrades.

Surprised by your city's rank? For an idea of how other countries view the U.S. in terms of safety, check out this list of travel warnings to foreign visitors.

[h/t Quartz]


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