When I walk through my neighborhood, I count the fresh sheets of plywood that cover newly broken windows. I try not to look at the people who are crouched over bits of tinfoil, preparing their next hit. I watch as street entrepreneurs pull stolen merchandise from backpacks, duffle bags, and wheeled suitcases, setting up their sidewalk stores, complete with shopping bags for the convenience of their customers. There aren’t as many as there used to be, now that the downtown Target has beefed up their security with city police officers, but the hauls seem to have gotten bigger. 

On my latest trip to Target, I saw a man carrying a blender into an elevator. Minutes later he walked toward the exit, holding nothing but his backpack and duffle bag. “That man has an appliance in his bag,” I said to one of the police standing near the door. He shrugged.

There was a shooting at Third and Pine three days ago. A man died on the street in broad daylight, at 12:28 on a Sunday afternoon. Third Avenue is the bus corridor through downtown and the busiest stops used to be the ones on Pike and Pine Streets. I don’t think I’m the only one who walks several blocks out of my way to avoid them. In fact I avoid Third Avenue as much as possible, only going there for trips to the post office.

The downtown post office occupies most of the block between Union and University Streets on Third Avenue. Its windows are covered with plywood and only one of its doors allows entry. This isn’t a security measure. The glass in one of the doors is smashed; a sign suggests using the set of doors beside it. Those doors are impossible to open from the outside so we all use the door set in the frame that also holds the one with shattered glass. So far this hasn’t sent the damaged glass flying from its frame but the possibility adds a note of adventure to what would have once been a routine errand. But this probably won’t happen since it’s been this way for months. A smaller door that faces Third Avenue was wedged open, immovable, when I walked through it yesterday.

The sidewalk tents have disappeared. Now people huddle behind opened umbrellas in doorways of businesses that have been abandoned, or they sit among their sprawl of possessions and garbage near hotels with rooms that cost hundreds of dollars a night. Welcome, tourists.

Once upon a time my husband and I came with our small children to stay in Seattle’s downtown hotels, which at that time were comfortable but not luxurious. We shopped at Frederick & Nelson, I. Magnin’s, the Bon Marche, Eddie Bauer, and Nordstrom. We bought books at B. Bailey in Rainier Square, had a choice of movie theaters within walking distance of our hotel, ate and bought flowers at the Pike Place Market, stood on the outer decks of ferries and took pictures of the city’s skyline. Now all the department stores are gone except for Nordstrom. So are the movie theaters and Rainier Square. The last time I was on a ferry, passengers weren’t allowed outside on the decks and the waiting area at Colman Dock felt like a processing center for refugees. 

The Market is still in place. Its shops, restaurants, and vendors are doing all the heavy lifting for downtown Seattle, doubtless because its doorways aren’t occupied by people with improvised tinfoil pipes. Market Security staff are vigilant and since I live in the Market, I’m grateful for that.

I marvel that the same city that marshalled its forces against protestors who broke several windows and the handful that looted stores in the summer of 2020 has decided to ignore a landscape of shattered windows and theft that’s a form of daily looting. I’m amazed that downtown Seattle has become a place where drugs are so legal that they’re consumed in public every day. I wonder why the avenue where buses travel has become so desolate and dangerous that commuters may never return to it.

Be careful what you wish for–I longed to live in downtown Seattle and now I do. I believe it may become the city’s vibrant, attractive, and safe heart once again before it turns into a dystopian slum forever. And to anyone who thinks this could never happen, I invite you to join me on a walk along Third Avenue –it’s already here.