Early Days: The Streets are Yet Empty


There is no one on the street. There are construction workers and demo people, there are the transit security and the city cleaners, there are Metropolitan service workers and sweepers, there are service people in uniforms of service, there are numerous people who will clean, watch, count, and prepare, there are homeless people and people selling to them, there are unemployed people, sitting, there are bag people and mad people and crazed people, there is litter and disgusting debris, the leaves and grass of a deeply wounded civilization. No one is working harder, or in harder urban conditions, than those who are working on the street, cleaning the street, walking on it to get there. No one but the people who are in actual wars.

There are no police on the street, only in their cars. There are precious few white collar office people, no bankers and no realtors, no doctors and no lawyers, no smiles and fewer hellos or even acknowledgement, there are people walking dogs but in a defensive fashion.

To a majority, the people are visitors, they have come, perhaps from even less favored places, to see Seattle, the Market, the thrown fish. They have come because as difficult as it is here, it is different than where they live, at least in terms of modernity. 

They are acutely defensive. They will stop midblock and stare to their phone but you cannot help them; they do not talk to strangers, that is where they are from. They wait in line for a chowder or a cheese or Starbucks for the same reason that my mom took me to the top platform at the Empire State Building to look out through binoculars in 1954.

The Pike Market has borne the bulk of the visitor weight and the Market will feel the most relief when the waterfront is completed, safe and makes some sense. The waterfront will save Seattle, open it like a shuttered, saddened room, give it air and wind and salt and length and even health. And something to do that is longer than squeezing the fruit and waiting in lines. 

There is little down on the waterfront as yet. And new retail tends to be concepts more than human brilliance and inspiration. But these are new days. Our tulips used to be only red and yellow and ten inches high. Now they are 100 colors and as many deckle edges and twice as tall and many times as exuberant. Such, with luck, will be your town, your Seattle.

When the tulips are taller and the visitors will ask, “Could you help me, please, we are looking for the best place for lunch.” Then you can rightly be proud.

Peter Miller
Peter Miller
Peter Miller runs the Peter Miller Design Bookshop, in Pioneer Square, in the alley between First Avenue and Alaska Way. He is there, every day. He has written three books, Lunch at the Shop, Five Ways to Cook, and How to Wash the Dishes. A fourth book, Shopkeeping, A Manual, will be published in Spring 2024, by Princeton Architectural Press.


  1. Thank you. We are proud be residents of downtown Seattle. You captured the living spirit and the hope that we see every day on our city streets.

  2. It was our hope when, as councilmembers back in the teens, we fought naysayers to free the waterfront from the crumbling viaduct and those who would foolishly rebuild it.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.