Between SoDo and Georgetown, the Seattle area grows wild and inhospitable. As one heads south, the creature comforts of a downtown metropolis gradually diminish. When all that remains is asphalt and electricity, you know that you’ve reached the industrial zone.
South of the stadiums, the railroads begin to dominate the landscape. Proud 17th century technology, they are the arteries that supply the modern industrial heart.
Here, train tracks metastasize across the landscape, iron tendrils reaching out in a non-deterministic mesh, separating from oneness to multiplicity and merging back to singularity.
The industrial zone is the nerve center of Seattle’s intermodal freight transportation. Containers arrive from the Port of Seattle, the gift of our efficient, flexible and diligent cousins across the Pacific. Here they find a new host to sustain them, fresh tracks to grind, fresh wheels to continue the migration.
Bereft of natural ecology, artificial lifecycles establish a pulse. Habitat is reduced to primordial simplicity. Scavengers emerge, sustained by side effects. An alluvial plain becomes a paradise of crows.
The industrial zone is not a place for humans. It is a liminal zone where the things that make civilization civilized leave the womb and come into being. Defying entropy and nature itself, they are unpackaged, transferred, rebranded, remade, renamed, handed off, fulfilled, bought and sold. Reshaped, they find a new name and the beginnings of a purpose.
Here also, the raw materials of the earth are digested, refined and made more useful. Stone is divided and polished until it is tile. Wood is treated until indigestibly strong. Limestone, sand and clay become concrete. Metal ore becomes chain links and fences. And everything is wrapped in plastic and transported by container.
Long ago, in this place and in many like it, an archetype was born: the factory city. Greatly improved upon by more modern implementations in the far east, the shadow of the original aspiration still remains in this place.
For the builder in all of us, the taming of the world was never enough. In disorganized thrusts and tragically brief lives, we thirst beyond the survival of the moment for the omnipotence of creation itself. But only infinity can slake that thirst. So this is the dream: a perpetual motion machine that builds and recycles itself daily.
In the industrial zone we see our future and our present. Our civilization is no longer born; it self-replicates. It is constructed by the previous generation of machines, transported by kin, recycled by successors. It is powered not even by petroleum, but by market forces harnessing mass desire; by the hundred year plan of structured ambition; by gravity and inertia; by unplanned obsolescence and obsolete ideas; by the sociopathic thermodynamics of inevitability.
In such a landscape of mechanization, we cannot avoid searching for ourselves. We strain to discern the work of our own hands. We deface the purity of determinism with our unintelligible humanity. We focus on the ragged forms of beauty that remain.
And perhaps, some day, we will dream of something different.