A friend recently posted on Facebook about a place that served Japanese soft-serve ice cream and since she said it was only around ten blocks away on my street, yesterday I set off to find it. I was surprised because that part of downtown had always been suffering from incurable urban blight, a collection of parking lots, cheap motels, and rundown apartment buildings. Its one dubious highlight had been the Greyhound Station but that had moved years ago.

As I walked through my neighborhood, wondering when it would ever come back to life, I passed the drugstore where I occasionally buy a magazine, beyond which I’d had no reason nor desire to go until now. Suddenly I was in a place I’d never seen before, a street full of shiny new buildings with windows that didn’t sport pieces of plywood nailed over broken glass. A gleaming U.S Courthouse that took up an entire block had a huge amount of beautifully designed public space in which nobody was puffing on tin foil pipes or nodding out. Even the sidewalks were pristine and unstained. 

I found my ice cream nestled in a bright little oasis at the base of a building that looked as though it had been recently Windexed. Other people sat outside with their food, seated at tables that faced a street with no urban traffic of any kind. Not even a mail truck sullied its tranquility and when I moved on, I was the only pedestrian.

I began to walk home but as I walked across the street, all I could see before me were more of those midrise sparkling buildings and an enticingly empty sidewalk that lured me into a different direction. Artfully designed public seating dotted the space in front of buildings, all of it unmarred by human occupancy. An occasional sign announced the presence of HBO or Redfin, in small and tasteful lettering. 

And then were the Spheres, the giant glass globes that announce the presence of Amazon, and nearby was what looked like a playground. On the other side of the street were pavilions with people clustered around them. It looked like the scene for an urban garden party with young, neatly dressed guests and in a way it was. A sign told anyone who passed by that free banana splits awaited them.

I’d already had ice cream and I detest banana splits but this was too intriguing to ignore. As I approached one of the pavilions, a smiling young woman asked me if I wanted chocolate sauce on the dish of ice cream she held and another brandished a can of whipped cream. At the end of the line a cheerful young man handed me a hermetically sealed plastic spoon and a napkin. It was efficiency of the kind once dreamed of by Henry Ford.

In the cluster of ice cream eaters, there were no children. There were few people who seemed to be over forty and the only woman who appeared to be around my age was wearing a salwar kameez. Across the street, in the shadow of the spheres, the playground held swings that looked as if they belonged in a porch and the people sitting in them were all adults. I saw only one child and the only teenager was a Black girl wearing the vest of a Downtown Ambassador, sitting in the shade and staring at her phone. 

I walked past only two shops, a “Flower Boutique” and a place that sold Glassy Babies, those brightly colored little vases that might hold as many as three flowers. One building held the eerie and vaguely ungrammatical sign of “Likelihood Coming Soon” and above the doorway of another was the word “Industry.” There were restaurants tucked into the base of all the glittering glass and a couple of Amazon Go groceries offering a doughnut and a coffee for 79 cents. 

Nothing cluttered the sidewalks, not even a mailbox. And all of this hygienic perfection began only blocks away from the broken windows, the flea market of stolen goods, the row of nodding junkies near the Pike Place Market, and the sidewalks that all too often bore signs of human excrement.

As I walked back home, I realized I lived in the new area of urban blight and that was only going to change when the new robber barons of tech business decided they were going to take over. Mushrooms of change were already being developed, slowly, while other areas lay vacant. The block that once held one of Seattle’s leading department stores is now owned by Amazon. So is the once glorious shopping area known as Rainier Square. Meanwhile the urban mall that used to hold Barney’s and Tiffany’s is a husk that holds a few restaurants and a movie theater. No bonus points for guessing who will take it over soon.

Two new pieces of plywood, one already covered with graffiti, shrouded a window in an upscale outdoor wear boutique and another in a newly opened branch of Wells Fargo. But no worries–the future lies close at hand and it’s on its way, with the promise of free banana splits.