October 26, 2016

The Street Where You Live

Every city has neighborhoods. We value neighborhoods. The idea is at the core of every American Dream. It’s the microcosm of the idea of tribalism: our country, our state, our city, our county…our neighborhood. It’s a way that we set ourselves apart and bring ourselves together. Travel through Europe or Asia and encounter Americans and if you happen to find one from your hometown…instant bonding, trust, friendship. And meeting someone from your own neighborhood in those place would be an experience you’d remember for the rest of your life.

But, as you travel America, you find that there are neighborhoods and then there are neighborhoods. In the former, you’re just another face. They frequently are nothing but bedroom clusters that serve their nearby city as a pit stop between workdays, with all the appeal and atmosphere of a grade school gym. But in the latter, you’ll find quality of life, friendships, peace, and an appeal that strikes right into the heart of what we all think when we use the word “home”.

Kirkland, Washington, is entirely about neighborhoods. Diverse neighborhoods, filled with interesting people from cultures all over the planet. People who share a ridiculous level of educational and professional accomplishment. And those people, drawn to the area by Microsoft and Apple and Adobe and Google and the dozens of other world-famous companies that call the Seattle suburbs home, are looking for something considerably more than just that grade school gym…and they find it in Kirkland.

To call Kirkland “sprawling” understates the case. The primary areas – downtown, Houghton, Juanita, Totem Lake, and Kingsgate – are as discrete as snowflakes but each one follows a common aesthetic: preserve nature, make access easy and fast, and keep the residential areas for homes and the commercial areas out of the way.

The true thumbnail sketch of Kirkland is “tree-shaded lanes, with homes built well apart and with ample yards, and have them follow the contours of the land, rather than imposing our will upon Mother Nature”. As a central point in the suburban Seattle commute, Kirkland could be just another noisy, dirty, traffic mess that leaves everybody at home, after work, with gritted teeth and a tall Scotch. Instead, the commuter roadways are isolated into an eastern corridor, lined with sound-barrier walls and given ample off-ramp access that feeds traffic into the neighborhoods slowly and with plenty of space to maneuver. Once into the neighborhoods, you’re in another world; a quiet, slow-paced rebuttal to the hustle of the commute and where people actually talk to each other, share common interests, and socialize frequently and without stress. Is it possible to actually engineer this? Absolutely, and that’s been the main principle behind the civil engineering of the Kirkland area for decades: home as antidote to work.

This is NOT an unspoken agreement, either. The Kirkland City Council, to some degree, saw what Seattle would eventually become at least two decades before Seattle did. They adopted this plan to create buffer zones between traffic, commerce, and livability as the master plan for expansion and every step in the city’s growth has been filtered through that ideal. Kirkland, by near unanimous agreement, is regarded as Seattle’s most appealing and pleasant suburb, as well as being one of the closest. It’s the step out of the rat race that a healthy life demands and, while it’s just one bridge away from Seattle, it’s light years away from all the stress and problems of big city life.