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Putting Cities to the Test

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I confess: I like cities, though not all cities or all parts of all cities. Of the great cities of the world—greatness measured by my own parameters—I’ve visited Washington, D. C., St. Petersburg and Moscow. That’s Russia, not Florida or Idaho. Moscow, Idaho, ain’t bad for a small town; nice downtown, great farmer’s market. They have a university there. I’ve never been to St. Petersburg, Florida.

Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, I like; at least the parts I was able to observe in about 15 days over two different visits. They talk funny there, but the Metro systems are incredibly beautiful and fun to explore. Historic buildings and museums abound. The art and architecture are fantastic.

Moscow has Khrushchev-era, graham cracker apartments, massive Stalin-built blocks and a burgeoning new city center of glass and steel high-rises juxtaposed against the ancient red brick Kremlin, the black cobblestones of Red Square and 460-hundred-year-old St. Basil’s cathedral. It’s been a city since 1147 and has the street design to prove it.

St. Petersburg is 556 years newer, begun in 1703 by Peter the Great, and finished—sort of—by Catherine the also Great. You could live your entire life within three miles of the Hermitage—the fabulous museum that was Catherine’s Winter Palace and the scene of the beginning of the Revolution—and never lack for a new aspect of Russian or world culture to explore.

I don’t want to live in a city full time. But I have a fantasy in which I am relatively well-to-do, and among keys in my possession is one that fits an apartment entrance in a major metropolitan area of my choice.

Moscow and St. Petersburg were once options, but since the “Putinization” of Russia—a return to oligarchy—and the accompanying rise of corruption, they have become, “nice places to visit, but....” I’ve turned my attention to more domestic places.

Washington, D.C. An apartment in Georgetown (I would have to be very well-to-do.) Season tickets to the Nationals. Great museums, the Mall, Library of Congress. Minutes or just a few hours to many historic spots. Incredible restaurants featuring every ethnicity imaginable. Good public transportation. But, it’s a long ways from home. Popping in and out would require many visits with TSA folk, which would be tiresome; and many hours on crowded airplanes, which even for me, who still loves to fly, could take the fun out of it. So, sorry, Washington; you’ve missed the cut, but not really by your own fault.

Los Angeles. Maybe if you’d had the forethought to put things closer together and to leave some orange groves. San Francisco, I hear you’re okay, but I’ve never spent enough time with you to get acquainted. Austin, no offense; great music scene, college town, good architecture, friendly folks and you’re in a beautiful part of Texas, but still.

Denver, I love your downtown; 16th Street Mall is wonderful, but I think you had too much room to grow and decided to take it all. Maybe the Rockies will stop your sprawl.

Spokane. You’re not a big city, but still, you’re a city and I like you. Interesting architecture, easy to navigate; nice downtown; great neighborhoods; good selection of good restaurants, fine museum; affordable golf courses; and closer to my house than any other city. (Okay, it’s a tie between you and Missoula, but you are the more mature.) You have a wild stretch of river to pay attention to, and a great bike trail complex. Until recently, I’ve thought you could fulfill my fantasy. A little apartment in Browne’s Addition, close to the Museum of Arts and Culture and downtown.

But then, my buddy Gary and I spent a recent rainy day exploring downtown Seattle. On foot. Never mind that we were greeted upon arrival the day before at the west exit of the I-90 tunnel—still the most stunning city entrance I’ve ever experienced—with a classic Seattle traffic snarl, and in spite of the weather (I’ve never seen so much Goretex in one spot as I did in Pike Street Market last Monday), the Emerald City has my vote for most likely to issue a key to me when I get moderately rich. Alki Way in West Seattle is my prime location. Great transportation options, fantastic view, good restaurants within walking distance or just across the sound. The Mariners play, if not well all the time, at least within affordability, and there is always next year. I can drive there in less than a day.

It’s a city with a fabulous mix of architecture that can be explored by chunks, with lots of distinct districts encompassed by the larger body of urbanity, and a good bus system. And water taxis. And ferries! I love ferries. The second most stunning entrance to a city I’ve ever experienced is coming from Bremerton to Seattle’s Alaska Way terminal on a ferry. Okay. It’s a tie.

There’s an ocean not half a day away and a big chunk of salt water in the front yard. And, if you pick the right moment, you can be out of the city—and in my case, on my way home—in less than hour. So, Seattle. It’s you.

Now, all I have to do is get well-to-do. Working on it.

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Author info

Sandy Compton Sandy Compton Sandy Compton is one of the original contributors to The River Journal, and owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com). His latest book is Side Trips From Cowboy: Addiction, Recovery and the Western American Myth

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The Scenic Route, home, city life, Seattle

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