Courtesy Sasquatch Books

Let’s take the Seattle Times comment section trolls convinced our city has turned into a Soviet dictatorship at face value: If we’re going to have mandatory social reeducation under punishment of passive-aggressive shaming, I suggest we force everyone to buy Seattleness: A Cultural Atlas. It’s more fetching on a coffee table than Das Kapital or Mao’s Little Red Book.

Published by plucky local imprint Sasquatch Books, this 192-page visual treasure trove is a data-driven antidote to the nostalgic woe embodied in #VanishingSeattle and Ghosts of Seattle Past. The trio of authors—designers Tera Hatfield and Jenny Kempson along with landscape architect Natalie Ross—bring a wealth of professional talent to this lush and lovely project: urban design, psychology, human geography, cartography, and a zest for the weird and obscure. (They will be at Elliott Bay Books tomorrow—Saturday, November 3—and Rainier Arts Center on Thursday, November 8.)

As they describe in the introduction, “Seattle, our own little slice of heaven, is a mythical notion as much as it is a real city, storied with fact and fiction that all tie back to place.”

That blend informs the sheer curiousness of this book, which takes “Did you know that...?”-type lines of inquiry to new heights, from mapping statewide Sasquatch and UFO sightings to cataloguing every exhibit at our two world’s fairs—did you know that Prince Albert the Educated Horse was displayed at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, and there were peep shows in Seattle Center during the Century 21 Exposition?

(c)2018 From Tera Hatfield, Jenny Kempson, and Natalie Ross. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Seattleness by permission of Sasquatch Books.

With the finest in 2010s-era data visualization at their disposal, Hatfield/Kempson/Ross have pulled off some mesmerizing visual feats, like a terrifying map of post-apocalyptic Puget Sound as enshrined in tabletop role playing game Shadowrun.

Readers will gravitate to their own favorites in a book of sheer variety, from the more overtly cultural—a map of ’90s grunge venues or segregation-era Jackson Street jazz haunts—to crowd pleasers like a flavor profile dissection of the gum wall (spoiler alert: it’s mostly spearmint). I traced the thin line of my birthplace along a 150-year population timeline by state of origin (spoiler alert: Washington-born residents are outnumbered by transplants).

(c)2018 From Tera Hatfield, Jenny Kempson, and Natalie Ross. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Seattleness by permission of Sasquatch Books.

Mostly I lingered on the immutable, from the massive regional scale to the most intensely urban. The map of Cascade mountains by elevation. The diagram of every island in the Salish Sea. The profile of our steepest streets. The calculation that found we have as much acreage in downtown alley space as Freeway Park. Seattle is a place that rewards exploration at multiple scales—walk downtown to experience the whopping 71.9 percent grade on Seneca Street, drive to the mountains to gawk at volcanoes and fire lookouts, take a ferry to explore the largest estuary by water volume in the U.S. The landscapes outside our city limits are nevertheless inside the bounds of our cultural geography.

Our former city tourism slogan “Metronatural,” which I gleaned from a periodic table of Seattle nicknames, may have gone over like a lead balloon, but the underlying concept resonates: Seattle is a place you can be both flaneur and alpinist.

Of course, the tension in today’s Seattle is who can afford to live that lifestyle. While I respect the authors’ decision to tread lightly on contemporary concerns—their forays into the downtown building frenzy immediately acknowledge “the moment it is published a map is outdated, and so our attempts to depict the real Seattle can only be a snapshot in time”—I pondered a hypothetical map visualizing where the bulk of the Central District’s African-American community has moved. Or an eye-catching way to represent rising rents and house prices over time. A pinch hit from FYI Guy would have done wonders, or a collab with Seattle University urban historian Marie Rose Wong, whose new book on the International District’s residential hotels charts the movement of pan-Asian Seattle.

These quibbles don’t discredit the book, and the authors have their own social justice markers—portraits of pioneering women in Seattle history, the full story of the Pioneer Square totem pole—that hit those notes. Pure demographics also speak for themselves, as with the pie charts and bar graphs comparing Seattle to three similar cities in population: Detroit, El Paso, and Washington, D.C. (We’re really white in comparison.)

Of course, those questions are duked out daily in local media, neighborhood protests, and the graffiti screaming on the notice of the proposed land use action sign down the block: “IS THIS HOUSING GOING TO BE AFFORDABLE?”

As a result, I appreciate Seattleness’ desire to step back from the noise and offer something timeless in an ephemeral moment of fever pitched civic churn. I’ll content myself to check out a Sherman Alexie or Jonathan Raban novel from the third-generation Central Library, try a new staircase from the two-page contour map of local hills and stairs—Katie Black’s circa 1914 Beacon Hill garden looks intriguing—and wallow in some Seattleness.