Seattle is changing. But the way the community came together after the Greenwood explosion shows that the city’s character remains intact.
As a lifelong Seattleite, I have always fancied myself as our greatest champion when it comes to the ethos of our city and the actions of my community. I unabashedly and without qualifications call Seattle the best place to live on the planet.
That’s changed in the past year, as the murmur of voices saying that “Seattle has changed” has grown louder each day. There’s no need to rehash what is happening to our city, but I had moved from the position of defending Seattle to the precipice of joining those who have concluded that Seattle, as we knew it, has died.
And then a gas explosion tore through my beloved Greenwood neighborhood.
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I grew up in Greenwood and remember when it was just Ken’s Market and 50 antique stores between the zoo and Northwest 85th Street. I am lucky enough to still live in the neighborhood, and even luckier that my family and I were able to convert one of those old antique stores into a vibrant cafe last year — the Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe, which is directly across the street from where the blast occurred.
The news of the explosion started an 18-hour odyssey that ended with my friend Scott and me nailing up the last of the plywood at 1 a.m. and hanging the open signs for the next day, as we couldn’t afford to be closed more than a day. What transpired in that 18 hours and the days following the event have altered my view — again — of my hometown.
The heroic first responders risked their lives to try and prevent what happened. The next wave of firefighters and police kept everyone safe and informed, and worked tirelessly to communicate what was happening in a calm and polite manner to all the people desperate for information.
And then the community came out.
These weren’t gawkers and rubberneckers. This was the neighborhood looking to help in any way it could. All of Seattle should take notice of how special that is. In the midst of this great cultural change we are feeling, we witnessed firsthand how the citizens of Seattle came together and showed who we really are at our core.
The list of incredibly kind and selfless acts that have occurred in Greenwood in the past 10 days could fill a book. From Rachael at Coyle’s Bakeshop baking cookies in her damaged store for first responders, to Tobey from Emerald City Karate allowing 50 muddy sets of feet in his space for the hourly update meetings, to the customer who called my cafe at 9 p.m. and offered to come down and help clean up because she “loves what (we) do,” everyone was there to support the community.
In the days since, support continues to flow. The transcendent Phinney Neighborhood Association and several other fundraising efforts have pulled together more than $150,000 for small-business relief efforts. Urban Hands brought out 150 volunteers last weekend to clean, paint, landscape and decorate the impacted area — and then go patronize the businesses. When my wife saw them working outside our cafe, she burst into tears.
Seattle hasn’t yet transformed into a disconnected city of uncaring nouveau riche. Neighbors still help neighbors, and people still care deeply about their community. When disaster strikes, we rise up and band together. I’ve never been prouder of my neighborhood.
We live in a great city that is at a crossroads in its history. Let’s resist buying into the story that Seattle is dead. What could have been a devastating disaster has shown us that Seattle is still the best place to live on the planet.