Steve Shay
Author Knute Berger, a.k.a. Mossback, read from his new book "Pugetopolis" at the Ballard Library Tuesday, March 31.

Author's book challanges Seattle's 'metronatural' vision

Editor, author, public radio show pundit, and bearded curmudgeon Knute Berger gave a recent reading of his new book, “Pugetopolis,” at the Ballard Library, Tuesday, March 31.

He was not crotchety, however, as curmudgeons go. Instead, he seemed amicable and comfortable in his mossy skin. “Mossback” is his online sobriquet in his Crosscut columns and other essays featured in his book. The former Seattle Weekly editor seized his Ballard moment to gently excoriate Seattle residents, politicians included, for wanting their ecological cake and eating it too, the central theme in his book.

Berger (rhymes with "merger") explained, “There’s this notion that somehow a massive super-city and nature in all its glory can co-exist in a perfect way. That city slogan we have, ‘metronatural,’ is a contradiction. Nothing is less natural than a city.”

The slogan was created in 2006 for the Seattle Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

“Seattle settlers back in the late 1800’s had both a utopian and dystopian vision for the Puget Sound,” he said. “They were surrounded by all this natural beauty when they first arrived, but also envisioned a big city. A competition began about which city would be ‘the city’ on the Sound, and therefore who could exploit its resources first.

“I notice that Ballard has a lot fewer trees than most other neighborhoods,” said Berger, who lived in Ballard’s Loyal Heights neighborhood in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when he was a grant writer for the Hope Heart Institute.

“My Scandinavian ancestors believed trees were grass needing to be mowed. It was all a lawn," said Berger.

His Norwegian grandparents told his father bedtime stories about trolls, which he said terrified his dad. Berger offered one tongue-in-cheek theory about all the tree cutting. It allowed for fewer wooded places for trolls to hide.

“It is scientifically known that we are no doubt killing wildlife in the Sound,” Berger said. “It’s not all about big factories, but rather the drip-drip-drip from all those cars. All the things we do in daily life flow down to the Puget Sound. We’re killing off the fish and the Orcas are contaminated…Everything we put into our bodies ends up there, like the caffeine we drink.”

He said there is data showing that even vanilla extract is detected in the Sound between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“All this cuts against this vision of ‘metronatural,'" Berger said.

Berger lightened things up a bit by reading from his chapter “Mandatory Lutefisk” including this passage about a way to stem the tide of the thousands of newcomers ostensibly over-populating Washington State:

“Mossback had to choke down a pile (of lutefisk) every Christmas Eve to get his presents…Served properly, this steaming pile of lye-soaked, boiled cod takes on the consistency of sperm and exudes a fishy odor. The legislature should pass a law: ‘Once a week everyone has to eat a plate-or maybe a barrel-of lutefisk. Lutefisk testing stations at the state border can pass out samples, giving immigrants a chance to turn around before it’s too late.’”

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Sure cities exploit natural resources. Duh. But if you took all the metropolitan areas in the world and put them on a scale of offenses per capita, you would find some cities way at the bottom of the list and others near the top.

Cities and Nature must coexist. Seattle has the opportunity to prove to the world that this is possible. Are we better than many other cities? Probably. Do we need to do more? Probably. Is it going to happen overnight. Nope.

To say it is impossible does not move anyone to action. Metronatural was simply a marketing campaign to help educate meeting planners outside the Seattle market about the diversity of experiences that await the people they send here.

In its first week it generated over $15 million in free advertising by appearing on virtually every major metropolitan newspaper's front page worldwide. It was also noted on SNL. I'd say the word Metronatural has done what it was designed to do.

Go take a bus somewhere. Save the planet. Or better yet, save the people... the planet will be here long after we are gone.