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A Big Idea For Seattle: The Weather Machine

2011 August 25
by dan bertolet

Note: For their September 2011 issue Seattle Magazine asked “dozens of prominent locals” to contribute a big idea, one favorite, money-is-no-object project that could “fix” Seattle. Here’s mine, the raw and uncensored version.

For those who tread the wonky realms of urban planning, all the best big ideas for Seattle could be neatly summed up in a single directive: Do like Copenhagen. Next please.

So allow me to propose a big idea that is way, way bigger than any of that, an idea that’s not afraid to take on the absolute worst thing about Seattle. No, not gridlock. No, not self-righteous cyclists. Nope, not even excess earnestness. Seattle’s lamest factor by far is its relentlessly damp and gray, cruelly calm, but ultimately suffocating, weather.

And the solution? A weather machine.

I got the idea from my wife who got the idea from the classic daytime soap General Hospital, that back in 1981 had arch villain Mikos Cassadine plotting to achieve world domination with a weather machine that could create blizzards. All we need is a similar machine that brings the weather of Santa Barbara to Seattle. Google could totally do it.

And the thing is, not only would some decent weather help snap us out of our collective vitamin D-deficiency-driven lethargy, it would also go a long way towards improving the stuff we urban planners endlessly fuss over. Because when it’s nice out lots more people walk and bike. The streets come alive with actual human beings exposed to the world rather than cloistered within shiny glass and metal boxes. Sidewalk cafe culture flourishes. People leave their homes, talk to each other face to face, and create this mythical thing we like to call community. Plus you get to wear sunglasses all the time.

But more importantly, I know I’m not the only one who’s thoroughly perplexed about how a city so full of smart people can be so timid when it comes to the mounting need to reshape Seattle’s built environment for the 21st Century. There is a remarkable lack of bold leadership. I’ve run out of theories except one: the weather. Can there be any other explanation for the thirty years it took to get light rail? Seattle weather turns backbones to mush.

Now, the one minor downside of my big idea is that it doesn’t exist yet. And so just in case the geniuses at Google fail to deliver the weather machine, I’ve got a  plan B: Fires. That’s right, great, big, nightime bonfires in strategic locations throughout the city. Picture the vibrant social scene that would ensue around a roaring, open blaze in an empty parking lot in Pike/Pine on a drizzly winter weekend night. Bake the soggy gray right out of us, those fires would.

Alas, the fire idea would no doubt come up against our timidity complex—Catch 22. So, not to be defeated, I’ve got one last fall back, a maybe not so big, but truly humane idea for the City of Seattle: Ban effin’ leaf blowers. There really isn’t any explanation necessary, is there?