September 8, 2012 – Transitioning Towards a Truly Sustainable Seattle

Seattle’s 20 year growth management Comprehensive Plan is subtitled “Toward a Sustainable Seattle”. In the introduction it includes the following:

A Native American proverb reminds us that “Every decision must take into account its effect on the next seven generations.” Sustainability refers to the long-term social, economic and environmental health of our community. A sustainable culture thrives without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

The Comp Plan has “four core values” (community, environmental stewardship, economic opportunity and security, and social equity) that shape the broader framework of our Urban Village strategy. And while the plan can be read as a rosy path for moving us into quaint, but dense, neighborhoods where pedestrians shop, children play, and we are shaded by tree-lined streets, something is missing. While much of the underlying plan context is geared toward addressing population and job growth, and minimizing environmental impacts (e.g. climate change), the Comp Plan (and arguably the City) fails to consider factors that are not yet broadly accepted but considered by many to be real. These concerns include “peak oil” and real limits to the resources that our society relies on, and the assumption that there will always be ongoing economic growth.

Around the world there is a grassroots movement that is redefining sustainable urban living by considering “sustainability” as more than just living in dense LEED buildings and the implementation of expensive public transit systems – the solutions which Seattle is now aggressively pursuing. This movement is called “Transition Town” and is a grassroots network of communities working to build community resilience in response to peak oil, climate change, and economic instability. It includes concepts of permaculture (a holistic systems approach to taking care of the environment and people by minimizing waste and maximizing self-sufficiency), promoting local economy, and a measuring of our success through less consumption and more interpersonal and family engagement.

Here in Seattle and the region a number of groups are actively implementing community “food forests”, defining safe pedestrian and bike “greenways”, installing local solar arrays, rainwater and grey-water systems, establishing neighborhood currencies and “time banks”, and building “tool banks”. And they are developing and sharing the skills necessary to move their community from dependence on the systems and infrastructure that are vulnerable to breakdown into a community that is independent and self-reliant. This is not about “survivalist” mentality, but instead looking at how urban dwellers can find a more truly sustainable way to live.

As the City begins a major update to the Comprehensive Plan, it will be important to ensure that we establish a broader definition of “sustainability”. The narrow thinking that has made “carbon neutrality” (itself arguably poorly defined and measured by the City to date) our penultimate goal has resulted in the “sustainable development” advocates’ call for “density at all cost” because of reduced energy and resource requirements. Yet with overall dwindling resources it is unclear that ongoing development, even if “smart”, is really a sustainable solution for the next seven generations of Seattleites.

Our speakers this month are Cathy Tuttle and Leo Brodie.

Cathy has a PhD in Urban Design and Planning from the UW, and is the staff writer and assistant editor of Urban Farm Hub and Chair of Seattle Tilth Board Advocacy Committee. In 2007, Cathy founded Spokespeople rides for willing but wary cyclists, building many leaders who in turn fostered five new Spokespeople groups and the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways movement that now includes 19 community groups advocating for safe and healthy streets (Cathy just received her certification for Comprehensive Bicycle Planning and Design from PSU). Since 2009, Cathy has been the administrative coordinator of SCALLOPS (Sustainable Communities All Over Puget Sound), a regional consortium of 64 communities, including her own Sustainable Wallingford.

Leo serves on the Steering Committee of Sustainable NE Seattle, an officially recognized Transition Initiative, and also is a co-founder of Transition Seattle. He studied with two of the founders of the Transition movement, and also holds a Permaculture Design Certificate.

Seattle Greenways
Transition Seattle

by Bill Bradburd 9/7/2012


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