The small, squat chess table nestled in the bushes alongside the Burke Gilman Trail caught Tyler Dupuis's eye. He grabbed a sandwich from the Fremont neighborhood just blocks away from the table, settled onto the bench facing the Fremont Cut, and pulled out his notebook to write. Cyclists, runners, and boaters bustled past him just beyond the periphery of his pen and paper. Time oozed by slowly.
Dupuis, 32, is a substitute kindergarten teacher who moved to Seattle in late 2019. Oof. Last March, jonesing to learn the city better and to get out of his damn apartment, he started the Public Writing Spots Seattle Twitter account. Through the account, he documented the best places to sit and scribble or break into a book in Seattle.
Dupuis said he aims to pick more urban places so that anyone plopping down at these spots can have a moment of solitude within the community. He longed for that type of connection last year, and even as the world eases back to normalish, spending time simply among other people still feels special to him.
"Going outside of my apartment and realizing that I can go and exist in so much of this is really appealing to me," Dupuis said.
The Fremont chess table, with its cracked concrete and weather-worn edges, became Dupuis's first post to his account. Sandwiched between the Burke Gilman Trail and just below the rest of Fremont (and right next to the farmer's market if it's a Sunday), the table is the perfect example of a place that is separate but part of the city life around it.
"Writing is a very isolating activity," Dupuis, who writes poetry and fiction, explained. "You do it on your own and it feels very isolating when you’re doing it in your apartment alone."
He started hunting out other places: Tables and chairs outside the Center for Wooden Boats in South Lake Union, a picnic table tucked into Post Alley Park, the tables along Urban Triangle Park. Some he stumbled across, others people recommended to him with vague instructions. What he realized was that though this infrastructure existed all over Seattle, there was no easy way to find it. So, Dupuis started to catalog the places on Twitter.
Two picnic tables, often busy during the day, many passing tourists. Closed at 9pm.
— Public Writing Spots Seattle (@publicwritesea) May 13, 2020
In his posts, he included descriptions of the writing spot, its coordinates, and a little review of what the writer could expect. The UPS Waterfall Park in Pioneer Square, for instance, is loud. Some holey tables require something thick to write on. The tables in Westlake Park come with the "buzz of downtown" and shade depending on the time of day.
Usually he excludes picnic tables since they're ordinary, moveable, and sometimes they're too close to other picnic tables, which poses the risk of someone trying to have a writerly moment near a family barbecue. However, his most popular post is a picnic table in a grove at Volunteer Park.
Secluded behind the Asian Art museum, plentiful shade. Old, uneven surface with gaps, fyi.
— Public Writing Spots Seattle (@publicwritesea) October 5, 2020
As his account grows and summer bleeds into fall, Dupuis said he's trying to find more indoor public spaces where people can write. These places won't include cafes or bars because they aren't free. Luckily, privately-owned public spaces exist all over the city.
With his Twitter account, Dupuis has hit on a desire that's been percolating around Seattle.
"I really like the idea of the 15-minute city and being able to access things very easily especially without a car," he said. "The idea of being able to step outside your apartment and have a lot available to you is really enticing to me. Especially if what's available is out in the community with other people."
In the wake of the pandemic, the 15-minute city ideal is everywhere. After having spent so much time living their lives entirely from home in the last year, people want goods and services closer to them. This urbanist dream is the focus of at least two Seattle mayoral candidate platforms right now. Both Lorena González and Andrew Grant Houston spell out the importance of a dense city in their platforms. That can mean an urban utopia with everything from grocery stores, health clinics, theaters, bars, workplaces, and, yes, nice tables where you can sit and write, all accessible within walking distance.
Feel free to tweet him more suggestions.