January 08, 2006

Back to Seattle

Seattle_from_queen_anne_hill_small Before I left Paris, I wondered how I would re-adjust to the United States. After spending the first five years of the Bush presidency in London and Paris, I was worried I wouldn’t recognize my own country.

On a local level, I was wrong to worry. Seattle is a great place to be, even from the perspective of the recently Parisian. First of all, the food is really spectacular. Our sushi-eating, latte-sipping needs have never been more satisfactorily sated.

Then, there’s the progressive social and environmental policy. Kyoto Protocol? Seattle follows it:

On February 16, 2005, the historic day when the Kyoto Protocol takes effect, Mayor Greg Nickels announced the City of Seattle’s 2005 Environmental Action Agenda to protect our air quality, the health of our community and our environment. The cornerstone of this agenda is a new goal for the City to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions across our community and region, seeking to meet or beat the Kyoto target.

The local power utility, Seattle City Light, reached a target of emitting zero net greenhouse gases. It is the only utility in the country to have done so. For our part, we are now the proud owners of a Toyota Prius, which is super fun to drive—and it seems like every fifth car on the road here is one, too. We’re trying to make do with one car, which has so far been feasible thanks to Flexcar, a Seattle-based company that parks “hundreds of cars in cities across the country and let members use them by the hour.”  We also enjoy the free downtown bus service.

As for health care, it’s still a nightmare here, but at least the poor are covered by the state government. And the minimum wage in Washington is the highest rate in the nation with the exception of San Francisco, at $7.35/hr.

But all these crazy social programs must be ruining the economy here, right? Not quite. The Washington State poverty level is lower than the national average, and the per-capita income is higher than average. The unemployment rate in King County in November, 2005 was 4.9%, slightly below the national rate.

Plus, thanks to a voter-sponsored ballot initiative that was recently approved by a margin of 63% to 37%, all workplaces in Washington state are now smoke-free, including restaurants, bars, etc. That is certainly a welcome change from Paris.

In addition to progressive social policy, Seattle has expanded culturally over the past 5 years. The incredible Seattle Public Library is the best example of this trend, but there is also a new opera house, a relatively new home for the Seattle Symphony, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has built a new sci-fi museum. The Seattle Art museum is undergoing a major expansion, including a large outdoor sculpture garden.

So though there are of course many things I miss about Paris, especially our family and our wonderful friends there, it’s good to be back in Seattle.

By Will Friedman in Seattle | Permalink  | 

Comments

Welcome back 8^) You're just in time for some rollicking repubican scandals. Good timing!

Posted by: SheaNC | Jan 9, 2006 12:49:09 AM

Thanks SheaNC! It's true that I seemed to have missed the zenith of the Bush presidency. Here's to tossing tha bums out!

Posted by: Fomerly Overseas Will | Jan 11, 2006 5:58:29 PM

Welcome home! Some more progressive boosterism:

The state of Washington is currently the only state of the Union where both federal senators and the governor are women. The state legislature has had an openly gay represented for many years--who is also one of the most powerful legislators.

The Queen City already recognizes same-sex marriages and civil unions to the extent they are or will be performed in other jurisdictions--even though they are currently disallowed under state law here. (Despite this prohibition, the county executive here is a strong GLBTQ ally who invited lawsuits against him as executive to help overturn these laws.) In addition, many mainline churches in the Seattle area active support GLBTQ rights, even going against their national organizations.

When the Minutemen of the southwest arrived in Washington to "protect our border" to British Columbia last year, they were met with ridicule and derision.

Seattle requires a percentage of public spending be devoted to public art.

Seattle frequently tops lists as the city where people:
- read the most books
- are most educated
- are most physically active or fit

Also, mountain skiing is but a 20 minute drive outside of town. (True, in Vancouver there is skiing *in* the municipal limit, but Vancouver is a great city too!)

Dan Savage lives here. Ron Reagan lives here.

Washington's tribes are relatively vibrant and politically active, compared to many other regions of the United States at least.

Even in a country with such a screwy health
system, this state now requires mental health parity with other health coverage.

We are the only state in the Union with a trade *surplus* with China.

Of course, there are many negatives...but those are for another time.

Posted by: Jamie | Jan 13, 2006 10:08:21 AM

Thanks Jamie for pointing out those other Seattle benefits! Actually we should probably cut it out, or we risk driving more people to the city, increasing congestion :)

Though personally "I have no cow," it would be interesting to hear from residents of rural Washington as well.

Posted by: Formerly Overseas Will | Jan 13, 2006 10:32:21 AM

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