A City at Work

History of City Work

 Sixth Avenue Regrade, 1914

Sixth Avenue Regrade, East on Columbia Street, 1914
Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 8

 West Seattle Bridges Spokane Street #1 and #2 from Pigeon Hill, 1931 Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 5110

West Seattle Bridges Spokane Street #1 and #2 from Pigeon Hill, 1931
Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 5110

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

 Condemned scales and measures

 Condemned Scales, Weights & Measures Division, 1917
Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 1210

Cedar River Pipeline

Cedar River Pipeline No. 1 under Construction, Hauling Pipe Up Hill East of Renton, 1900
Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 7299

 Fire Station

Fire station #38 at 33rd Avenue NE and E 55th Street, Ravenna, 1931
Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 4646 

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.