This is what it feels like to do urban planning.
This is what it feels like to do urban planning. Viktor Makhnov / Getty Images

Oooh hey hi, remember me, a droplet of water? You won’t believe where I’ve been lately: inside a pipe in the walls of your house, then you drank me and I spent some time circulating throughout your body, then we parted ways in a particularly undignified manner. Since then I’ve been splitting my time between local city sewer pipes, drifting up into the air and hanging out with my friends in a cloud, and then falling back onto your face and trickling down into your shoe to get your socks wet. (It’s nice to see your feet from the outside.)

We’ve been through a lot, haven’t we? Seems like we’re destined to be together. But get this — Seattle Public Utilities wants to come between us. They’re formulating a fifty-year plan to improve the city’s pipes and tubes, a plan that’s going to impact your life every single time you summon me by washing your hands, drinking from the tap, or taking a bath.

It’ll change what happens when you want to get rid of me. It’ll impact what happens to you when you take a walk in the rain and I splash on your face, it’ll redesign the time we spend together in your favorite park, it’ll change the plants that I feed around your home. It’ll even shape the ways that I make you sick — or, SPU hopes, keep you healthy.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but weather on Earth has been changing, and one of the major challenges we’ll face in the next half-century will be getting clean water to everyone who needs it, and then getting dirty water away from them as fast as possible. To tackle whatever climate change throws our way, SPU’s launching a “Shape Our Water” plan, which sounds like they’re going to train everyone in Seattle to be a waterbender. Given our climate, maybe not a bad idea.

Water planning might seem fairly straightforward: put the tube in the ground, make the water go. Done, right?

Well, no. Water has a funny way of complicating things and issuing demands to every aspect of city life, from small things (the slope and material of a sidewalk) to big decisions (the types of businesses and apartments that can go into a new building) to life-and-death moments (how to stabilize soil and keep people from dying when an earthquake hits).

SPU is just getting started on their Shape Our Water plan, and they’re starting with a question that’s both simple and deep: What are your water priorities? It’s hard to know how to answer something so broad; what do you mean, what are my water priorities?

And that’s why the SPU has prepared a few surprisingly lovely experiences to help spark your liquid imagination. An interactive map illustrates the potential ways that water planning has already reshaped the city — pavement torn up and replaced with plants in Ballard; toxin-trapping trees near Northgate; new bike trails and playgrounds in Madison Valley; tennis courts on the shores of Lake Washington. All this and more could be yours, if you want it.

Support The Stranger

There’s also a splendid walking tour of High Point and Madison Valley projects that you can experience at your desk, or now that the weather’s nice and you’re waiting to get your second vaccination, on foot. Go for a virtual or IRL stroll and check out the ways that water has shaped these few blocks, and the ways that the city has altered the neighborhoods to ensure that residents can live in harmony with rainy weather.

Look, I know, unless you are some kind of weirdo who gets off on imagining the inner monologue of a water molecule, you probably do not spend a lot of time thinking about sewage projects. You just want to turn the faucet on and drink, or bathe, or fill up the little inflatable pool on the roof of your apartment building.

But every time you do that, you’re tapping into a vast network not only of pipes, but of interlocking decisions that alter the shape of your habitat like a river cutting through stone. SPU’s giving you a chance to divert that river as you see fit. Just imagine what you could do with it. Sign up for updates over here, and I’ll see you next time it rains.