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Seattle and the Roots of Urban Sustainability

Inventing Ecotopia

Jeffrey Craig Sanders

Publication Year: 2010

Seattle, often called the “Emerald City,” did not achieve its green, clean, and sustainable environment easily. This thriving ecotopia is the byproduct of continuing efforts by residents, businesses, and civic leaders alike. In this book, Jeffrey Craig Sanders examines the rise of environmental activism in Seattle amidst the “urban crisis” of the 1960s and its aftermath. Like much activism during this period, the environmental movement began at the grassroots level—in local neighborhoods over local issues. Sanders links the rise of local environmentalism to larger movements for economic, racial, and gender equality and to a counterculture that changed the social and political landscape. He examines emblematic battles that erupted over the planned demolition of Pike Place Market, a local landmark, and environmental organizing in the Central District during the War on Poverty. Sanders also relates the story of Fort Lawton, a decommissioned army base, where Audubon Society members and Native American activists feuded over future land use. The rise and popularity of environmental consciousness among Seattle’s residents came to influence everything from industry to politics, planning, and global environmental movements. Yet, as Sanders reveals, it was in the small, local struggles that urban environmental activism began.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: History of the Urban Environment

Front Cover

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Front Flap

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p. vii


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pp. xi-xiii

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Prologue: “The Battle in Seattle”

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pp. 1-15

On November 30, 1999, Seattle’s wet downtown streets echoed with chanting voices and festive horns. That fall, Seattleites looked up from their lattes to witness a carnival of protesters and impassioned street theater descending on their city. As Christmas drew near and shoppers filled the streets, dignitaries of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) ministerial conference converged on Seattle. The WTO conference...

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1. Market

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pp. 19-64

In the summer of 1963 the Seattle Art Museum hung a show by the painter Mark Tobey. A local art world hero, Tobey spent his formative years, during the 1940s and 1950s, as part of the “Northwest Mystic” school, a regional group of painters that included Kenneth Callahan and Morris Graves. By the 1960s his work had garnered national attention, and he had immense cultural cachet in the provincial upstart city. The museum show in 1963—entitled “Mark Tobey and the...

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2. Neighborhood

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pp. 65-98

While developers and their critics battled over the future of the Pike Place Market in 1969, less than three miles away, in Seattle’s Central District, an integrated team of neighborhood organizers set out on their first annual “Fall Drive on Rats.” The group, including white college students, African American residents, and Asian American activists from the city’s International District, reportedly inspected 10,090 manholes and used over 500 pounds of poison bait in their effort to rid the area of rodents. The city government had neglected the problem for years...

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3. Open Space

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pp. 99-130

Before daybreak on a March morning in 1970, a large group of men, women, and children made their way along a Puget Sound beach, just north of downtown Seattle. Braced against the chilly salt air, the figures moved past darkened windows of beach houses in the ritzy Magnolia neighborhood. Their destination was a U.S. Army base, Fort Lawton. A 1,100-acre military outpost established in the late nineteenth century, the compound sat atop a promontory with a view of the Olympic Mountains to the west, only eight miles from...

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4. Ecotopia

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pp. 131-179

In the spring of 1974 Richard M. Nixon stood on a platform on the glimmering Spokane River where he addressed a crowd of over 50,000 people at the opening ceremonies of Expo ’74. Thousands of miles from the scandal that dogged him in the other Washington, Nixon took refuge at this mini–world’s fair deep in the Republican territory, Washington’s vast agricultural hinterland once proudly dubbed the “Inland Empire.” In his speech Nixon told fairgoers, “The time has come to get Watergate behind us and get on with the business of America.” Spokane’s...

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5. Home

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pp. 180-214

Jody Aliesan estimated that between the winter of 1979 and the following spring, over 4,500 strangers milled around her kitchen, examined her living room, and peered at her raised-bed gardens. At a time when the energy crisis of the 1970s was at its most severe, Aliesan made the private realm of her North Seattle home a public display as part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Appropriate Technology Small Grants Program. She offered the throng that filed through her home in the series of open houses the chance to see how someone...

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Epilogue: Commons

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pp. 215-237

“Park Here—Whispering Firs and Salmon Runs: A Different Sort of Downtown Space.” With this tantalizing headline, John Hinterberger, a popular food columnist for the Seattle Times, departed from his normal discussion of Seattle’s flourishing food scene in April 1991. For two years, Hinterberger told his readers, he and “a small group of people sitting in a room at City Hall” had been quietly eyeing the Cascade and south Lake Union neighborhoods just north...


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pp. 239-277


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pp. 279-288


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Back Flap

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Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780822977575
E-ISBN-10: 0822977575
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822943952
Print-ISBN-10: 0822943956

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 40 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: History of the Urban Environment
Series Editor Byline: Martin V. Melosi and Joel A. Tarr, Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 777026790
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Seattle and the Roots of Urban Sustainability

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Seattle (Wash.) -- Environmental conditions.
  • Urban ecology (Sociology) -- Washington (State) -- Seattle -- History -- 20th century.
  • Sustainable development -- Washington (State) -- Seattle -- History -- 20th century.
  • Seattle (Wash.) -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Neighborhoods -- Washington (State) -- Seattle -- History -- 20th century.
  • Suburban life -- Washington (State) -- Seattle -- History -- 20th century.
  • City and town life -- Washington (State) -- Seattle -- History -- 20th century.
  • Suburbs -- Washington (State) -- Seattle -- History -- 20th century.
  • Environmentalism -- Washington (State) -- Seattle -- History -- 20th century.
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