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A City at Work: Images from the Seattle Municipal Archives Photo Collection

History of City Work

6th Avenue Regrade (Click to Enlarge)
Sixth Avenue Regrade, 1914

In its 150-year history, Seattle (see map) has grown from a remote settlement outpost on America's fringe to one of this country's premier, most-livable cities. From the beginning, Seattle's citizens imagined greatness, and directed Seattle's city government to launch bold initiatives. These actions included:

  • Leveling the elevation of downtown Seattle from the International District to Lake Union, filling the tide flats, and constructing seawalls along Seattle's waterfronts, all to spur the city's development as a commercial and industrial center.
  • Spokane Street Bridges (Click to Enlarge)
    Spokane Street Bridges, 1931

  • Building a network of streets, arterials, and bridges so people could navigate a hilly city surrounded and divided by water.
  • Purchasing a pristine watershed in the Cascade Mountains and connecting this fresh water to Seattle through a system of pipelines and reservoirs, thereby eliminating threats from increasingly polluted local sources.
  • Establishing a professional fire department after the downtown was destroyed by fire.
  • Purchasing and designing a system of parks, boulevards, open space, and other public amenities to encourage the physical well-being of Seattle's residents.
  • Fire Station #38 (Click to Enlarge)
    Fire Station #38, 1930

  • Creating an electric utility by constructing hydroelectric dams and transmission facilities, thereby providing reasonably priced power and encouraging industrial production.
  • Establishing a municipal streetcar and bus network to promote residential development and ensure cheap, reliable transportation to and from Seattle's neighborhoods.
  • Safeguarding public health by establishing city hospitals to treat those with communicable diseases and creating a regime to inspect perishable food and food providers.
  • Cedar River Pipeline #1 (Click to Enlarge)
    Cedar River Pipeline #1, 1900

  • Protecting the environment and public health by creating a system of drainage, sewage treatment, and solid-waste removal.
  • Safeguarding consumers by inspecting commercial measuring devices and establishing public markets that enabled citizens to purchase fresh food directly from the growers.
  • Instituting building and zoning codes to ensure safe and compatible construction.
  • Condemned Scales (Click to Enlarge)
    Condemned Scales, 1917

  • Establishing a system of libraries, community centers, and cultural facilities to strengthen literacy, social awareness, and community cohesion.
  • Delivering social services, either directly or through charitable organizations, to serve vulnerable, hard-to-reach, and dispossessed communities.
  • As a result, Seattle city government touches every citizen's life on a fundamental level. Whenever a resident turns on a light or faucet, flushes a toilet, throws out the trash, walks or drives down the street, enjoys public space and cultural amenities, or otherwise benefits from municipal services and infrastructure (or services introduced by the City and assumed by other governmental bodies), that resident benefits from a legacy established by the vision, investment, and hard work of previous and current generations of Seattleites through City government.

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