For neighborhoods throughout Seattle, last November’s election represents a sea change. The amendment to our City Charter to elect our Councilmembers by district starting in 2015 has already engendered organizing in the districts, declarations from grassroots activist candidates, and motions at City Hall to reconnect with communities and understand local issues. And while we haven’t seen an elaborate movement such as the 1960s Choose an Effective City Council (CHECC), networks are forming and conversation is intensifying.
And while arguably the working-class/anti-corporate stance of Socialist Kshama Sawant contributed greatly to her appeal, the ouster of Richard Conlin can be partially attributed to his unfavorable treatment of neighborhood interests while chasing the golden calf, density, late in his career.
Similarly, Mike McGinn’s favoring of glamorous (and expensive) downtown-centric projects (the waterfront, the arena, the grooming of South Lake Union for Vulcan, Amazon and UW), and his indifference to neighborhood concerns about such things as over-development without transportation capacity and unfettered micro-housing development could just as well helped put Ed Murray into office.
So it appears that neighborhood interests may once again be in the forefront after more than a decade of neglect.
Coached by Peter Steinbrueck in what appeals to neighborhood interests, Murray adopted a Neighborhoods Agenda that calls for a renewed focus on neighborhood planning, smarter allocation of capital improvement dollars, and better attention to neighborhood business districts. Says Murray: “We need to restore the faith and confidence that the city is committed to strong neighborhoods and equitable resource allocation. The end goal is to implement positive changes in the city’s relationship to neighborhoods to restore confidence, improve effectiveness, and strengthen purpose”.
Murray has offered a slew of campaign promises that foretell a kinder/gentler Seattle – one that rationalizes and balances growth with an emphasis on quality of life. For example, “as Mayor, Ed will develop a long-term plan to put density where we have the infrastructure and transit to support it in order to protect the unique character of our neighborhoods and keep what we love about Seattle while we grow”.
The Department of Neighborhoods, restricted in reach and role since the Nickels administration, will be reinvigorated according to Murray, including the possibility that comprehensive planning functions and the Planning Commission would be moved there. The latter would alleviate a long held belief that greater city planning had been biased away from the interests of neighborhoods and towards development interests. The removal by McGinn and Conlin of preface language in the Comprehensive Plan stating it is “the collective vision of the citizens of Seattle” should be reversed. And the Design Review program, also long suspect in terms of bias and effectiveness, will also be evaluated.
In particular note however, Murray proposes to re-root the planning process with Seattle’s citizens beginning with a Neighborhoods Summit within his first 100 days in office. This summit will “identify key organizational issues, clarify roles, and establish new neighborhood priorities to prepare for the 7-year update to the City’s Comprehensive Plan in 2015”.
Such a collective endeavor has not been undertaken in years, and is greatly needed.
This effort is currently in the early planning stages. As such, what a successful summit and real citizen engagement in planning looks like, should be revisited.
The Seattle 2000 Commission of the early 1970s was the first full comprehensive planning effort in Seattle. Hundreds of citizens participated in defining goals for Seattle, including resisting automobile domination in the neighborhoods, and demanding accountability and citizen participation in land use decisions.
Starting in the 1980s the Royer administration helped usher in the most recent wave of citywide citizen-based neighborhood planning including updating the multi-family land use code and providing funding for neighborhood-based planning. In the 1990s, under Norm Rice, 38 neighborhoods took on the challenge of accepting more growth by developing neighborhood plans with this nominal financial backing from the City. This process engaged thousands of citizens, and was a bottom-up approach to addressing the challenges of accommodating growth.
Since then however, extensive citizen-based planning has been shunted to the back in exchange for a more top-down, departmental-driven planning which many argue only has the veneer of what occurred in the 1990s. Two decades have passed since our broad-based neighborhoods planning exercise, and with only a handful of contentious planning efforts completed since then, we now again face the challenges of how to best accommodate growth and change in our communities. Now is the time to test the commitment of the Murray administration to restarting the rich and successful planning efforts Seattle is known for.
The new administration appears to be serious about making this work. Kathy Nyland (from Councilmember Sally Bagshaw’s office) has been temporarily added to Murray’s staff to help plan and coordinate the Summit. She is seeking guidance from the SNC in these matters and suggestions for making the Neighborhoods Summit a success.
And to help us understand more about the Murray transition activities and plans for 2014, we will also be joined by Bennett Barr.
Please join us for what promises to be an excellent opportunity to influence the new administration and to express the priorities and concerns of the neighborhoods.
[by Bill Bradburd, Jan 7, 2014]