The Grind of the Grid

Trends are moving towards more people living in the city, less car ownership, and a feeling for some that this whole you-have-to-get-in-a-car-to-do-anything way of living maybe isn’t the best for our physical and social health.  However, there are many disadvantage of city living: noise, traffic, cramped spaces, and the relentlessness of the grid. Density cannot be all about efficiency. There has to be green space, variety, breathing room, and some quirks or breaks in the grid.

You can help influence the future landscape of your city through the public process, but today you have to enjoy what is already here.

Explore:  even small trails and places where cars cannot go can be a delight. Look for pocket parks, public alleys, shortcuts. Seek out urban college campuses.  These can provide a great relief from the grid and can provide a park like setting.

Look for outdoor eating spaces and beer gardens. Enjoy even a few outdoor tables at a coffee shop. Take advantage of grills and roof decks on top of multifamily buildings.


Seven Hills Park in Seattle’s dense Capitol Hill neighborhood, a pocket park developed in recent years with bbq pits for public use. Photo credit

Seek out different types of housing and hidden treasures, like cottage and clustered housing communities and historic sites [Locate using the National Register of Historic Places]. Take walking tours. Become a tourist in your own city.

Don’t just take parks at face value. Look for the paved and unpaved trails. Find small forest preserves. Follow outdoor staircases [Check out Seattle Stairway Walks]. Utilize elementary school playgrounds. Explore zoos, museum campuses, botanical gardens, church grounds, docks, piers, reservoirs, creeks.

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13th and Marion Community Urban Garden, behind the parking lot of the Photo Center NW, in the South Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.

Gardens can be found in many places. Look for P-patches, public gardens, botanical gardens, guerrilla gardens in traffic circles. Urban gardens can be developed in an unused section of a lot. A neighbor developed a community garden in an overgrown section behind a parking lot by simply asking the property owner. [Read about the 12th Avenue Community Garden here]

Even in places like our rapidly changing Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle, there are little urban treasures to be found. You just have to be looking.