Photo: Nick Hall Photography

Shaping Seattle

How collective endeavor is driving the city

It’s no secret that Seattle is going through a transformation as it becomes one of the country’s fastest-growing cities. You need only to look at how it is physically transforming before our eyes. New construction, especially with Amazon’s expansion in South Lake Union, is part of Seattle’s ever-evolving story. In fact, everywhere you look change is happening at a fever pitch.

This pace of transformation belies the perception of the Pacific Northwest (more laid back, slower pace), but the fact is, this is an area that is leading some of the most important and profound change in the world.

Transformation, on its own, can take many forms. It’s not just the physical imprint it leaves, it is what the people and community bring to this change and how they manage it together. Sometimes this change can be messy and take away from the ethos of a place, but Seattle is, has been and always will be different because the people here know what makes the city unique and special.

Really, this has always been a city in transformation, pushing the boundaries of what it could be and what its people could accomplish. Its history is interesting but also provides a glimpse into a blueprint of change that illustrates how it sees itself, always moving forward and seeing the opportunities to morph into a place that matters in so many ways.

Seattle started as a gold-rush town, then became a logging town that transitioned into a port city, then evolved into an aviation center and morphed into a technology mecca and beyond. Yet through it all, Seattle has always remained Seattle in many ways: an urban metropolis situated in the middle of mother nature; a socially and environmentally conscious collection of people; a breeding ground for new ideas, bold brands and progressive values.

From being the first city to introduce a floating bridge to the first in the US to play a Beatles song on the radio, or from one of the first to legalize same-sex marriage to the first to challenge the recent immigration ban, this is not a city to rest on its laurels. It will continue to push forward, create and innovate, without ever changing what it truly is.

The same is true of companies who choose to call the city home. Brands such as Amazon, Starbucks, T-Mobile and REI have called Seattle home for decades and leveraged the city’s spirit to reinvent their categories, from the way we drink coffee to the way we buy almost everything. Their evolutions have been constant and yet clear. Each of these brands, much like Seattle, has a strong sense of self, and it is this commitment to who they are that has allowed them to grow, expand and innovate without losing their soul.

Even an old Seattle brand like Filson, long revered by outdoorsmen, fishermen and hunters, has reinterpreted its soul for today, connecting as a fashion brand for young, hip men and women. Seattle’s food, art and music culture is a constant playground of collaboration, experimentation and support that bobs and weaves, undaunted by conventional wisdom, creating moments that people remember and cherish every day.

This city is bursting at the seams, and not just physically but philosophically. It has experienced an eclectic past, is embracing its importance in the world today and can clearly see a future that paves the way for emboldening its place as a truly global city that is welcoming to the world and people who endeavor to do great things.

The city attracts people who like to zag while the rest of the world zigs. Once people get here, they stay and contribute in ways that they couldn’t imagine. Every nutty and zany idea is supported; there are no quizzical looks or attempts to squash the spirit of innovation in their ideas, no matter how big or small. People want to participate in those visions and help see them through to add to the collective kaleidoscope of interesting things that Seattle values. It’s a constant tinkering and reinvention of things, ideas and people. 

Today, as we look at what’s next for this city, we find that people are not deterred by growth or the new crane-filled skyline it has created. Rather, there is excitement about the possibilities ahead and how it will continue to share and shape Seattle’s story.

A few things stand out as important to this narrative:

One of the oldest continuously operated public farmer’s markets, Pike Place Market, doubled in size – not only allowing a wider range of Seattle’s artisans and makers to showcase their craft among more people, but also allowing visitors to be hands-on in those experiences, from making chocolates to brewing beer.

The new waterfront will become a greater place for creative thinking, giving access to more urban parks, ferries and other water attractions. As Americans spend less time than ever before in the outdoors (less than 5% of their day), it’s making us anxious, depressed and unimaginative. Yet research shows that spending time in nature increases energy, attention spans and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50%. As a city, we understand the importance of creating the right spaces to continue to allow innovative thinking to thrive.

A new addition to the Washington State Convention Center, Summit, will not only be a hallmark of design itself, led by architects at LMN, but will allow Seattle to host more industry-leading and creatively inspired brands, companies and industries, offering the city as their backdrop for new ideas. “We’re fortunate that our tickets sell out very fast, making it tempting to look around at larger markets or larger venues,” says Lance Fensterman, senior vice-president at Reed Exhibitions, the company behind the PAX gaming conferences held around the world. “But there is an undeniable link between the spirit and ethos of PAX and the city and people of Seattle. The gaming community, the tech activity, the startup and entrepreneurial spirit, the independent streak, these are all shared DNA between the community, the city and PAX. In short, this feels like home to us and our fans.”

Growth allows Seattle to celebrate and attract more like-minded people. It shines a light on the depth of experiences and textures Seattle offers, is a chance to celebrate its creative genes and inspires creativity and greatness in others.


*This article was first published in The Drum.


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