City Summit: Does Seattle really do neighborhood living?

Seattleites raise a variety of concerns at the Seattle Neighborhood Summit as Mayor Ed Murray encourages a dialogue about how to renew the city's communities.
Mayor Ed Murray

Mayor Ed Murray John Stang

In a recent "civic health" survey that looked at 51 large metropolitan areas, the greater Seattle region ranked No. 1 in citizen involvement in community, school and neighborhood groups, No. 2 in buying or boycotting goods based on moral values and No. 3 in volunteering. 

But in two other categories the area did not fare as well, checking in at 37th when it came to exchanging favors with neighbors and 48th in terms of how frequently people speak with their neighbors.

“When it comes to social cohesion, when it comes to neighborliness, our numbers are not so hot,” said Diane Douglas, executive director for the Seattle City Club, which published the Civic Health Index.

She made her remarks on Saturday at the Seattle Neighborhood Summit, organized by Mayor Ed Murray's office.

One of Murray's goals for the summit was to foster conversation among neighbors. Another was giving Seattleites a chance to discuss neighborhood concerns with city staff and officials.

“This summit is about engagement,” said Murray in his opening remarks. “We have to be able to listen to each other.”

The event featured comments by former city councilmember Jim Street, a discussion about the qualities people would like to see in the next permanent Seattle Department of Transportation director and tables with representatives from over 20 city agencies.

The diversity of the city's neighborhoods and residents was reflected by the issues attendees raised.

Ayan Mohamed attended with a group of about a dozen Somali residents from a number of neighborhoods, including Othello and Yesler Terrace. She said they were concerned about schools, housing and especially crime. Mohamed said she would like to see more outreach from the police department in south Seattle. "The only time we see police," Mohamed said, "is when someone gets killed, or there's a car crash."

Focusing on the city's pedestrian master plan is the priority for Jack Whisner, a Ballard resident. "The most pressing issue is the lack of sidewalks" in north Seattle, he said. Whisner also mentioned to a Department of Planning and Development official at the event that he believed a recently opened Starbucks drive-thru in Ballard is creating hazards.

Melanie Mayock, who lives in Ravenna, said she feels that renters sometimes get overlooked in the neighborhood planning process. Even though she rents, Mayock said, "I'm still interested in what happens in my neighborhood."

As a councilmember during the 1980s, Street took the lead on an ordinance that created what is now known as the City Neighborhood Council. The neighborhood council is a citizen-led advisory group, with elected members from each of the city’s 13 recognized neighborhood districts. It is intended to help the city coordinate neighborhood planning and budgeting.

The council also helps guide the city's distribution of neighborhood matching funds. The funds are used to match donated labor, materials, services and cash for community-driven projects with city money. Awards are capped at $100,000 for large projects.

During his comments at the summit, Street noted that neighborhood values and overall city planning goals do not always coincide. "There's a tension," he said, adding later that "the neighborhood effort is not going to take care of everything." But he said that neighbors can tap into their "tremendous capacity" to do things for themselves. He recalled a Lake City park that local residents built in the 1980s with financial help from the matching fund.

In the questions and comments that followed Street's remarks, audience members brought up a variety of topics including micro-housing, gun violence and the minimum allowable amount of space between residential buildings.

Murray didn't directly address the Civic Health Index but he told the audience: "The idea of a neighborhood has an idea within it called 'community,'" adding that community is about working together. 

Check out Crosscut’s City Beat page for all the news and commentary about Seattle.

Bill Lucia writes about Seattle City Hall and politics for Crosscut. He can be reached at bill.lucia@crosscut.com and you can follow him on Twitter @bill_lucia.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Apr 7, 10:11 a.m. Inappropriate

"a discussion about the qualities people would like to see in the next permanent Seattle Department of Transportation director "

Just one thing: when SDOT has more revenue than they were expecting, the money needs to go to street maintenance and not to building more bike lanes. Fix the potholes first. Let's take care of what we have first.

talisker

Posted Mon, Apr 7, 11:19 a.m. Inappropriate

"renters sometimes get overlooked in the neighborhood planning process" Everyone gets overlooked, because there is no "neighborhood planning process" any more. Candidate Ed Murray recognized this with his number one Neighborhoods goal during his campaign being "Reinvigorate neighborhood planning" (http://murray4mayor.com/issues/ : "Neighborhoods" pdf).

Murray's platform went on to say "The update to the City’s Comprehensive Plan in 2015 will be an important opportunity to review progress against the targets and renew the Neighborhood Planning Process on citywide issues like residential versus commercial growth, environmental goals, social equity, quality of life, and affordability." If we the people are going to help Mayor Ed Murray implement his platform, we need to act.

The deadline for commenting on the three comprehensive plan "alternatives" is APRIL 21! http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/cityplanning/completeprojectslist/comprehensiveplan/whatwhy/ All three alternatives assume significant "growth" but do not address how growth targets are established, or what should happen when neighborhoods exceed established long range targets (2024). For example, new housing units have already exceeded 2024 targets by 347% in Pike/Pine and 317% in Ballard. In theory, the council directed that a "neighborhood review" should happen when neighborhoods significantly exceed their growth targets. Resolution Number: 30728 (Find it here: http://clerk.seattle.gov/~public/RESN1.htm). The Council even established a year-long Neighborhood Plan Advisory Committee (http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/npi/npac.htm) that produced detailed reports on how to continue with the successful neighborhood planning activities of the 1990s. The Council (and the Mayor/Executive) have never implemented these "good governance" measures.

The City's failure to actually implement neighborhood planning was not addressed at the April 5 Summit. Instead, Jim Street talked about the "City Neighborhood Council" (district councils) system, "intended to help the city coordinate neighborhood planning and budgeting." Does it succeed? Not many in the neighborhoods think so, nor did the City Auditor in 2009 (http://www.seattle.gov/audit/2009.htm : "Seattle District Council System Needs Renewal"). The Dept of Neighborhoods agreed with the auditor: http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/documents/DONresponsestoDistrictCouncilSystemAuditReportfinal_1.pdf.

If you want to engage with the City to make positive changes in how our neighborhoods are served, please comment on the comprehensive plan amendment. Ask for an alternative that explicitly
"reinvigorates neighborhood planning."

If you're interested in getting more active, please check out
• http://calseattle.wordpress.com/ and
• http://seattledistrictsnetwork.net/

louploup

Posted Tue, Apr 8, 8:35 a.m. Inappropriate

50 years ago we were one community, only separated by allegiances to local schools, and that was lost with entrance to college. Now we have have enshrined not knowing your neighbor, let alone your "community" with multiple numbers not being able to speak a common language, adhering to disparate cultures. Then sociologists coined the words "anomie" and "alienation." Too bad they couldn't see how refined the application of those words became today.

Posted Tue, Apr 8, 10:13 p.m. Inappropriate

50 years ago Seattle was a small Scandinavian-majority town. If you don't want to live in the Seattle of today, you'll have to move, because this city is not going to shrink and retreat to make you more comfortable.

sarah90

Posted Tue, Apr 8, 3:10 p.m. Inappropriate

One way to get involved is to look up what's happening in Loup's links - then jump in!

Treker

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