Port of Seattle

Where we will see the impact of a trade war first, in our ports

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The ongoing escalation of threats since March between the administrations of President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, have many economists and industries in the United States seriously concerned about a possible trade war.

This week, Trump’s administration suggested it might add an additional $100 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports, on top of the $50 billion in of tariffs that were announced in March 2018. For its part, China had retaliated this week with proposed trade duties valued at $50 billion on U.S. products, including airplanes produced by Boeing and commodities like soy and pork. It threatened on April 6 to meet the latest Trump administration proposal with additional tariffs on $100 billion in U.S. imports.

Most of these goods pass through the United States’ main cargo ports, including the Port of Seattle. According to the port, it shipped 5.2 million metric tons of agricultural cargo in 2015. Primary products included soybeans, and China, along with South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, are the port’s primary markets. The tariffs likely mean less ag exporting business at the port. The port also handles many consumer and finished products coming from China. It is not clear how American consumers will respond to higher prices.

Whatever happens, daily movement of global cargo at the port will not stop. Trade with China represents more than half of the port’s trade. In 2017, the port’s trade was valued at more than $26 billion. There is simply too much mutually dependent trade taking place to halt the flow of goods both ways. However, the percentages of exports and imports to and from China may fall, and businesses will feel the pinch throughout the supply chain. They simply may feel it first at the big West Coast ports like Seattle, Tacoma, Oakland, and Long Beach.

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Seattle’s South Park neighborhood

South Park is located in south Seattle, surrounded by industrial activities, the Duwamish River, and some major arterials. It is, by Seattle standards, lower income, given the physical and built environment. Still, it is home to many families and others who live here, in single family homes, subsidized housing, and apartments. More Latinos call it home than any other racial or ethnic group. A number of Latino-owned businesses can be found in the main intersection at Cloverdale and South Fourteenth Avenue. The South Park Bridge, which has been under repair for four years, cutting off a lot of potential business for the area, finally reopened this summer. The bridge now includes a lot of steel artwork, which I like. I also spied some developments along the industrial Duwamish, on land claimed by the Port of Seattle. I have no idea what is happening there. (Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Full buck moon rises over the Port of Seattle

Last night, July 12, a so-called full buck moon or super moon, took light over the heavens. Hundreds of people gathered along Elliott Bay in West Seattle to watch it rise over the Port of Seattle. It was quite spectacular to put it mildly. I decided to slightly adjust the colors of one of these pictures to punch up the orange. You can see the difference. The colors of the moon last night started as light pink, turning to orange, turning to yellow in about one hour. (Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Port of Seattle icon

The Port of Seattle is surrounded by light and heavy industrial facilities, including a former cement kiln seen here. There are endless forms, shapes, and typologies to photograph and document in this area. I could spend days in these spaces and still never tell their story.

Public, you are not invited to the port


Port authorities, as quasi-public entities, with minimal and almost no public oversight, amaze me with the scope of their power and the size of their land holdings. The Port of the Seattle is the largest property owner in the city. It runs an international airport and one of the country’s largest cargo container ports. Yet almost none of the city’s 600,000 or so residents have the slightest idea what happens behind the razor wire fences. Mainly all of those low-cost Asian-made goods come in, and some of our heavy materials, industrial goods, and agricultural goodies go out. I cannot fault any authority for maintaining security, but is this management structure more about protecting the interests of the large corporations that utilize these public resources for their business models or about keeping our commercial sector safe from “bad guys.” And have no doubt, bad guys do use this port to smuggle everything, from illegal drugs to people. They are like a big no-go zone that everyone agrees is good for all of us. That remains the weird part. Who decided all of this, and who benefits from all of this? (The port would say, I do, with cheap goods and a strong economy, I know.)

Port’s eye view of Seattle

The Port of Seattle is the biggest landholder in Seattle, and it occupies miles of land along reclaimed tidal areas. This is a view looking toward downtown Seattle from the southern end of the cargo container port berths. (Click on the photo for a larger image on a separate picture page.)

Port of Seattle shipping, it never, ever stops


About 70 percent of the U.S. economy is driven by consumer spending. That really means, because we shop, our economic boat stays afloat. But what does that mean outside of the discount and electronics goods shopping stores? It means large ports processing containers filled with goods manufactured in Asia for the North American and U.S. market. This particular Maersk Line cargo ship, the Axel Maersk, stacks containers eight high, and its control room stands even higher. Here are different angles on the Axel Maersk, unloading its cargo today at the Port of Seattle (April 26, 2014). The ship can reportedly carry up to 9,000 containers at one time. (Click on each photo to be taken to a separate photo page with a larger image.)

There and back again: commuting Seattle style

The massive Port of Seattle provides an impressive backdrop for my there again and back again, and there again and back again commute. This is one of the country’s largest cargo container ports (eighth busiest, it claims), and most of it is blocked off to the public for miles. Highway 99 is one of the few places citizens can see where our nation unloads containers filled with consumer goods destined for Walmart and other retailers nationwide. In essence, I am penetrating the beating heart of our nation’s mostly consumer-driven economy everyday, enveloped by its brawn, by its scale, and by its relentless motion. For some stretches, this also happens to be one of the most scenic commutes in the country, too.