For a couple of decades, Seattle‘s name has been referred to as “The Emerald City”, but why that name? Even though you might have heard this moniker in conversation about Seattle, or you might have seen it in a blog article like the one you’re reading right now, have you ever wondered or questioned why Seattle is called the Emerald City?

Let’s discuss this for a few minutes.

We’ll start with some basics. When one hears “Emerald City”, one’s first thought or visual is unlikely to be the metropolis that is the largest city in Washington State. Instead, one might likely recall the fictitious capital city of Oz, a far off land of fantasy created by author L. Frank Baum in 1900. (That means the original Emerald City is almost 120 years old)! When we think of the Emerald City, we recall its depiction in the amazing film adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz” released to theaters in 1939.

Behold the Emerald City! / “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

Yes. You remember that idyllic image of those shiny green, tubular towers rising from the green pastures beyond the poisoned poppies at the end of the yellow brick road. I have to admit that each time I see the skyline of a massive city, I still have the same reaction as Dorothy’s crew when they first lay their eyes on the Emerald City. It’s pure and profound amazement. That feeling has never outgrown me since I was a child, and this partially explains my quest to visit and photograph cities around the world in adulthood. I love that moment of encountering a city’s skyline, especially if it’s my very first time laying eyes upon it. Nevertheless, I still get that same sensation of wonderment whenever I gaze at the Seattle skyline as it continues to evolve and expand every year.

It’s pure and profound amazement.

I would be amiss not to reference Motown Productions & Universal Pictures’ film adaptation of Braum’s fairy tale in 1978’s “The Wiz”, a cult classic for Oz enthusiasts featuring an all-black cast of remarkably talented actors, actresses, and performing artists, in which the boroughs of New York are cleverly transformed into the Land of Oz with the towering skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan serving as the Emerald City.

Lower Manhattan as the Emerald City / “The Wiz” (1978)
(and yes, the Brooklyn Bridge is part of the Yellow Brick Road in this rendition!)

Alas, how on Earth is Seattle related to the Emerald City? What is the relationship? Through my research and curiosity on the topic, I can resolve that there are two reasons why Seattle has this nickname today:

FIRST: Back in the 1980s, Seattle’s bureau of tourism launched a very effective and successful marketing campaign in which it branded the city as the “Emerald City”. Apparently, it caught on very quickly. The names “Seattle” and “Emerald City” are virtually synonymous today.

SECOND: Seattle is literally a major city engulfed with greenery, from the forests in the parks to the trees dotting the streets, to the lush foliage on the hills, to the grassy fields and bushy shrubs in the different neighborhoods. Seattle is also embedded between two massive mountain ranges — the Cascades to the east and the Olympics to the west. Furthermore, Seattle has more than 6,000 acres of parks within its boundaries. Given the healthy amount of rain it receives each year, Seattle remains “green” all year round. Hence, because of these several attractive, natural features for a major city, the nickname is, arguably, more appropriate than it is obvious.

Funnily enough, Seattle’s nickname very nicely complements the nickname of Washington State, which is known as the “Evergreen State” for very similar reasons. (Never mind the fact that a portion of the state is desert, however)!

Seattle does have other nicknames that you may know:

The Emerald City is also the “Gateway to Alaska” if you live in the Lower 48 States.

Well, there you have it. Is there any other city in America or the world that you believe deserves the nickname of “Emerald City” more than Seattle?

Let me know! I would love to know your thoughts!

4 thoughts

  1. The article misses the whole point. From the 19th century up to 1980, the official nickname of Seattle was “Queen City”. They changed it to “Emerald City” because the word Queen had become associated with being gay. You can still find old landmarks like Queen City Grill or the Queen City bar that never changed their names.

    1. That’s a bit ironic, isn’t it. I hereby move that we re-include the name “Queen City” as a nickname of Seattle, in honor of the beautifully burgeoning LGBTQ+ Community.

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