Seattle has long been considered a city in harmony with nature, a metropolis inseparable from and infused with the dramatic and picturesque Pacific Northwest landscape. Today, the city is frequently cited as a leader in sustainable urban development and this is due in large part to its unique relationship with its natural surroundings. However, the historical record of Seattle reveals this harmonious relationship between humans and nature to be a social construction. The founders of Seattle adopted an urban development approach similar to other North American cities and implemented large-scale engineering projects to rationalise the landscape while solidifying the municipal government as the ultimate arbiter of human/nature relations. The unintended economic, environmental, and social consequences of this so-called 'Promethean' approach to urban nature would be debunked in the 1950s, catalyzing a wide array of approaches by the municipality and residents to restore, protect, and live with nature in more benign ways. In this article, I examine the politics of nature in Seattle to understand how changing perceptions of the urban landscape are related to different forms of expertise, governance, and citizenship. I focus specifically on activities to reorient urban water flows because they reveal the multiple tensions between humans and nature. The article adds to contemporary scholarship in landscape architecture, human geography, and environmental history on the dilemma of urban nature while highlighting the central role of technical experts, practices, and networks as well as issues of governance, citizenship, and management. Seattle's reputation as a green metropolis serves as an entry point to interpret the various relationships between humans, technology, and nature while also suggesting potential routes to realise more sustainable urban futures.
Elsevier, 2010. Vol. 74, 153-202 p.
Environmental politics; Expertise; Seattle; Sustainable development; Urban nature; Water