I wrote this in January 2013 for a friend on Facebook whose family was considering relocation:
Seattle info for new residents.
Seattle is shaped like an hourglass, with the oldest neighborhoods at the waist. the edges of the city, east and west, are large bodies of water, Lake Washington and Puget Sound.
East of Lake Washington is where most development since 1990 has taken place and the city of Bellevue is a rapidly developing contemporary urban downtown. Further east and north is the Redmond area, where Microsoft is primarily located.
Seattle developed in several stages, with the former northern border of the city at 85th street demarcating the end of pre-war housing. North of 85th, there are no sidewalks in most residential areas and the remnants of neighborhood commercial districts are few. South of 85th, the city has a pre-car flavor with great walkability and access to shops and restaurants.
In the south end, several formerly independent communities were merged into the municipality over years. These formerly independent communities to a greater or lesser degree served as centers of immigrant culture and the south end retains great ethnic diversity as a result. However, the industrial, working class, and agrarian economic base of these communities has resulted in ghettoization in some areas including really egregious examples of municipal neglect and industrial pollution. The community of South Park, which is isolated from the rest of the city by a river and only three roads into the community, is the most troubling example of this, with issues which include Central American gangs and PCB pollution.
The community of Georgetown on the other side of the river and near to Boeing field is the last affordable community for independent creatives in the city and has the same issue with PCBs but little violence. The Duwamish valley and the low-lying areas up through the coast of downtown are all built on sedimentary fill and subject to increasing inundation due to global warming, earthquake, or Mt. Rainier’s possible future eruption.
In between the south end and the north end, the are a number of great neighborhoods. Fremont is likely the most expensive area, and while it is vibrant, it has lost much of its regional character due to the location of several international tech firms in the area.
Seattle has two main arterials, the I5 freeway and state road 99 also known as Aurora. The freeway was built in the mid sixties and was originally designed to have two north-south corridors, however, the second corridor passed through upper middle class neighborhoods and was defeated politically.
As a result, Seattle has the worst rush hours of any small city in the country. If you have the ability and budget, I strongly reccommend relocating to within a mile of your workplace destination.
Seattle is fairly compact, though – from the north border at 145th to downtown is about eight miles, so it should not be too hard to locate near to work.
Areas near 99 north of the ship canal and Fremont (roughly north of 65th) have high rates of house crime. Locating near 99 (but not too near) south of 65th should solve this issue because the arterial has limited access from that location to downtown.
Neighborhoods I think you want to rule out include lower Queen Anne (northeast of downtown, where the space needle is), Belltown (right downtown) and south Capitol Hill (just up from downtown across fthe freeway. These are all great neighborhoods, super urban, but with mostly high density housing. Northern Capitol Hill has *great* houses but they are generally older, larger, and the most expensive real estate in the city (with the possible exception of parts of Fremont).
If you guys need to locate near to Fremont, look at Ballard between 36th and 65th, roughly. The houses here are circa 1920-1950, there is direct and level access to Fremont and to Lake Union and Shilshole Bay, and Ballard retains a great deal of Seattle’s regional character.
Directly north of Fremont is the Greenlake area, which is also a very nice area with vibrant commercial and leisure activity around the lake. However, the neighborhood is somewhat isolated from a walking perspective in terms of getting to other areas of the city.
North of the University District are several decent neighborhoods, including some pretty fancy areas built in the late fifties/early sixties, with mountain views and water access. However, crosstown traffic east-to-west at rushhour is a nightmare and I would not suggest that location for you if your husband will be working in Fremont. If he is working on the eastside, it’s a better fit.
So to recap: traffic sucks, and there’s nothing to be done about it, because the city is shaped like an hourglass. Try to live north of downtown and south of 85th, more than half-a-mile from Aurora. Don’t live in the U-District. Ballard is great, Fremont is great, upper Queen Anne is great, the north end of Capitol Hill is great, Magnolia is great.
south of Capitol Hill and next to downtown is First Hill, very high-density and the center of the area’s health care industry.
Near to Capitol Hill is the Central District which blends into the International District. The ID is great but high-density only and a bit gritty. Central is actually REALLY great, singlefamily prewar houses affordably priced, but has some crime issues and was historically the redline area for persons of Afican descent. It was never a wholly segregated area by any means though and is very ethnically diverse. There are some amazing houses and really interesting restaurants. It is FAR from well to do.
Wedgwood is ok. Sandpoint is great but only if you work east side. Madison Park is great but best if you work downtown, in Capitol Hill, or eastside.
Looking south a bit, across the Dearborn valley, you find Beacon Hill. This is a prewar area but it is economically challenged. to the east of Beacon Hill you find Columbia City, which is awesome but again economically struggling. west of Beacon Hill is Georgetown and South Park. West of everything is West Seattle, which is sooooo nice, prewar housing, great houses, interesting commercial districts, but it is VERY isolated from the rest of the city with only one arterial link.
Anyway, hope that helps. Bit scattershot, I didn’t outline anything. If you want I can email this to you as well so you can work with it more easily than in FB.