Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dirty Windows Kill Neighborhoods

Photo courtesy Flickr user Wonderlane
My long exercise in urban homesteading has paid off with a bustling, fashionable neighborhood. The Hill wasn’t always like this: in the Sixties it had emptied with cheap gas, the growth of the suburbs, and the dire unemployment of the Boeing Depression. When I fulfilled a childhood ambition to live in what had been described as the arts neighborhood, both the unemployment and vacancy rates were around fourteen percent. Property owners were, no kidding, paying responsible people to live in their places to protect them from squatters. 

Central Seattle was in worse shape than Baltimore, the benchmark definition of urban decay. The dreary, occluded glazing of windows neglected for decades cast a literal pall over perception. When, young and foolish, I settled up the street, I was prepared to cope with the local housing situation by six itinerant years following a graduate student/draftee from city to city in the US. 

The simplest exercises in housekeeping yield the biggest returns. We take them for granted, but having a window is a privilege. Having a pleasant outlook is even more of a privilege. Generous glazing is a vital sign that the neighborhood is secure and the state prosperous enough not to tax a house on how many windows it has. While I was babbling about the evolution of interior lighting from log cabin to the “picture window” of the Fifties tract house, the in-house archaeologist reminded me that it was Sweden that produced the glazing that enabled the daylighting of the literal Enlightenment. Swedish forests fueled the industry, and Swedish sand provided the raw material. Swedish tabletop glass is still a benchmark of quality.

A friend moved to Seattle from New Orleans and developed the predictable pits of winter depression that dominates the local February. She had survived several of them and was whimpering at the prospect of another. Seattle needs a term for people who have not been through a February, like Alaska’s cheechako for newcomers who haven’t lived through the winter that can freeze eyeballs. I advised Cary to manage her windows as my grandmother had insisted: keep them and the sills spotless inside and out. It worked for Cary. If it worked for a tropical sybarite like her, it will no doubt work for anyone.

Sparkling windows transmit sparkling light that reveals the sparkle, or lack of it, in metabolism, housekeeping practices, and ultimately, intellect. Safeguarding something as simple and fundamental as daylight literally illuminates daily life. Burnishing reflective surfaces protects them from the microscopic pitting that evolves into corrosion. A very careful hand with 0000 steel wool will remove the varnish-like layer of urban decades. German biker’s chrome polish is a good bet, too. Try either abrasive in an obscure corner of a pane.


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