I am pleased to announce that I have started work on a new book about the evolution of the topography of Seattle. Tentatively titled Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, the book should come out in 2015. It will be published by the University of Washington Press.
More so than most cities, Seattle has shaped itself to suit its needs. The citizens of Seattle have dug up, dug into, dumped upon, and carted away its original topography as few other cities have. They have completely removed a 245-foot-high hill that covered 60 blocks of the downtown; built in the harbor what was for many decades the largest artificial island in the world; rejiggered the drainage of the second largest lake in the state so that it flowed out of its north end instead of its south end; and dumped millions of tons of dirt and rock to fill in the area’s only tide flats, which created almost 3,000 acres of new land. And they did most of this within 75 years of the settlers’ landing.
In Too High and Too Steep, I plan to tell the story of how and why Seattle looks like it does. Each chapter will weave personal observations, via a guided walking or biking tour, discussions with experts, and examination of both historical and more recent documents to give the reader a close-up view of the landscape, why it was altered, how politics and money led to those changes, and how reshaping of the land still influences decision making.
The title comes from an article in the Harvard Business Review. “The Hill was too high and too steep to be utilized for business purposes so that inevitably…the Hill had to be removed.” That specific hill was Denny Hill, which will be the feature I focus on in one chapter of my book.