Tuesday, February 5, 2008

First Impressions

This is a space for notes, for conversation, for suggestion. This is a space wanting to function as does the Seattle neighborhood that it details: Laurelhurst.

I don’t pretend to know Laurelhurst firsthand. I realize my current role, as an outsider peering into a community and trying to better understand it. Though through my journalistic guise, I attempt to translate into words the sights, sounds and overall impressions that Laurelhurst gives me. Again, I welcome all input and ideas, maps (leads) and misgivings.

Laurelhurst didn’t disappoint my expectations when it came to beauty, though I was hoping for a bit more vibrancy culture-wise. The neighborhood has a nice park and a beautiful community center. They both sit atop a hill overlooking a body of water on one side and University Village on the other. Next to the park and center is an elementary school, and near that a community church. Many of these buildings are clustered around 24th St. and spill a short way down the hill toward University Village Mall.

In riding the bus over from downtown, the line felt somewhat obscure. I don’t think that it gets much use from the Laurelhurst residents. I almost felt as if I were back in France, coming home on the tram. Waiting downtown in a mess of people, with a destination of a quiet apartness. As the bus approached University of Washington, the clientele became more student-dominated. It was easy to imagine the daughters and sons of Laurelhurst-home-owning Seattleite parents on their almost daily trek home from school. And the neighborhood had that stillness about it that comes from Friday afternoons when school has ended yet work has not.

There was a playground. Mothers and children enjoying the crisp afternoon sun as it threatened to dip below the horizon. When it did disappear, the cold set in quickly as the wind picked up. I made my way down the wide avenue, flanked on both sides by homes, steadily decreasing in property value as I approached University Village Mall. Suddenly I was upon the Center for Urban Horticulture. I found myself settling into my surroundings: I had been here before. Reading poetry in the gardens to a bird watching group; Freezing my feet off on a cold December morning wearing rubber rain boots (which, by the way, are completely incompatible with cold weather, no matter how wet). ‘So this is Laurelhurst too?!’ I silently yelped.

As I slowly make my rounds to each corner of Seattle, I constantly find reassuring connections with areas previously discovered. Today was one such example. It seems that one constant throughout each neighborhood that I explore is the sheer intimacy of the community. Even for such a small area as Laurelhurst. The houses are packed one on top of the other, yet most feel as if they have their own space. They each have their own personality, this is certain. Yet more than the density of residences, is the presence of associations such as the Laurelhurst Community Club, the Center for Urban Horticulture and the Laurelhurst Beach Club. The presence of these fixtures shapes the community and their lives. The community, then, makes use of the organizations. It’s all in the family.

Upon a second visit, my reactions had a slightly different angle. Though still very much a community oriented neighborhood, though still emanating that distinctive silence, through still met with the same surprised response to questions such as “Where does one go for a cup of coffee?” “What defines Laurelhurst?” etc., I encounter an approachability that I wasn’t able to access before. Or perhaps it was only that before, I didn’t try.

I think that the unwillingness or lack of desire to immerse oneself into a society, community or group of people perpetuates stereotypes. Oftentimes, what one hears on the outside, what one is confronted with upon a first impression, is a world apart from the reality that lies just inside. If people are more willing to adopt – or not even go as far as to adopt... just listen, truly listen – to other viewpoints, lifestyles and opinions, I believe one will inevitably find something to bring into one’s own life, or at least something to stew in the mind for a while; inspiring some sort of effect chez nous.

Oh, a tid-bit noticed last week:

In the Friday, February 1st edition of The Seattle Times there is a review of the recently opened Enotria, an Italian restaurant on NE 45th street, just before the busyness of University Village Mall gives way to the quietude of Laurelhurst proper. I like how the reviewer, Providence Cicero, describes the two banks of restaurant-goers. Some, “the most dressed-up diners you are likely to find in Seattle,” others, “relaxed and animated,” Chianti-swirling and oily fingered “after raising a slice of pizza from plate to mouth.”

Unlike many Seattle neighborhoods, you won’t find many of these small, boutique-like restaurants in Laurelhurst. A Seattle Times search turns up a scant two. Yelp yields better results at 14, though all lie on the boarders of Laurelhurst. And exploring the area on foot proves even more discouraging. I did, however, remark upon Enotria upon that first visit, as I am seemingly unable to pass by an enticing restaurant without perusing the menu.

Needles to say, I will be watching for other like-minded restaurants to venture into this neighborhood’s territory. It would be nice to create some diversity in option when it comes to dining east of University Village Mall and west of Lake Washington.

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