NeighborHuh?: Harbor Island Is Where the Machines Will Rise Up Against the Humans

Welcome to NeighborHuh? , a new series that looks at the more obscure neighborhoods in Seattle and asks: “Is that really a place?”

Shaped like the time-traveling train in Back to the Future 3, Harbor Island is arguably the most distinct area in Seattle. So far we’ve been questioning whether neighborhoods that are primarily residential qualify as neighborhoods. Harbor Island presents the opposite scenario: It’s all work and no place to go after work.

No one lives on Harbor Island, not even Wall-E. It’s completely industrial, and may be the only place in Seattle where you’ll find a sign that says “Attention: Remote control locomotives operate in this area. Locomotive cabs may be unoccupied.” Yikes!

The artificial island was built in 1909 when Lex Luthor threw some magic crystals in the Duwamish River, and is home to various industries that I’m unqualified to work in, including metal fabrication, lead smelting, shipbuilding, and petroleum storage. (I can hold petroleum for people.) What’s clear is that when machines rise up against human beings, the attack will be launched from Harbor Island. (The war will end, incidentally, at China Harbor in Westlake, because it just looks like the kind of building where an Alamo-like battle would take place.)

Lest you think that no one’s having any fun on Harbor Island, know that it also contains a few gas stations, a Time Out coffee, and Mountaineers Books, a cool nonprofit that publishes books on recreation and the outdoors, though none of them have anything to do with Harbor Island, understandably.

What’s interesting about the island is that for all its businesses, you can be sure that most people are bringing their lunch to work, because there are only one or two eateries around, not counting Westway Feed Products. They make food for animals. Still, it’s an option.

Verdict: Here’s the thing: I would guess that at least one person working on Harbor Island has slept at work, and in doing so rendered Harbor Island a legitimate neighborhood. There may be no houses, apartment buildings, or parklets (if you gave Harbor Island a parklet, workers would just stack a bunch of shipping containers in it anyway), but Harbor Island is easily as big as many Seattle neighborhoods—and it was the world’s largest artificial island until Japan’s Rokko Island took the title. So out of spite, let’s just say that Harbor Island is a neighborhood, and Rokko Island is not.

Previously on NeighborHuh?

Is Bryant Really a Neighborhood?

Victory Heights and the Moon, a Comparative Study

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