The Seattle Neighborhood Coalition has been meeting the second Saturday of the month for 25 years without missing a beat. That record could be broken, however, if the group isn't able to find an adequate, affordable, new meeting place. Their old digs, a downtown diner, have been shut down.
I'm a big fan of the SNC, attending meetings from time to time and serving as a guest speaker on a couple of occasions. The group is a rag-tag assemblage of Seattle's most worthy grumps and skeptics — the folks who on their own time work at keeping the city and the media honest. Their longtime meeting place has been a room at the Greenhouse Cafe & Bar, connected to the Day's Inn in that no-man's land south of the Elephant Car Wash, not far from where the legendary Dog House used to be.
The great part of the meeting place, despite its utter lack of pretension, is that the SNC had a cozy side dining room where they could get basic privacy, full breakfast service, and separate checks. It was also centrally located; folks come from every corner of the city to attend the monthly meetings, which center around a featured speaker. The atmosphere is informal and interactive: Speakers are peppered with tough questions and free advice — but only after they've had a chance to grab some old-school diner coffee and a plate of eggs and hash browns. Lattes and scones were never on the menu.
But the Greenhouse is closed and the SNC is homeless and looking for a new roost. Kent Kammerer, the group's Yoda-like host (and an occasional Crosscut contributor), has sent out an e-mail asking for help in finding a new location. Naturally, there are many different opinions within the SNC — there always are — on what would be best. Many restaurants downtown charge for private rooms or are too pricey for the gadfly crowd. A new room at the 13 Coins was considered but appears too pricey, and even public locations (like library conference rooms) are being mulled over, but Kammerer would prefer a place where food can help "lubricate" the conversation. He thinks dialogue is different when people are breaking bread together. In an e-mail appealing for ideas and prospects, he wrote:
There are divided ideas as to whether meeting in places that provide food is essential. While maintaining the concept of a social gathering around sharing a meal together has some positive aspects, it definitely makes finding a location much more difficult.
I confess to feeling that in some abstract way the idea of people eating together, socializing, conversing with each other listening to new ideas and discussing them is very different than the more typical public meeting with folding chairs in a public building or church basement. SNC has been rather remarkable. Those who come very often represent very diverse ideas yet find a way to seek understanding and solutions rather than what divides them. I personally hope to continue with food as at least some part of the gathering, even if it is only coffee and a roll.
The mayor stresses dense walkable communities and has incorporated restrictive parking regulations and stiff fees, those who attend SNC come from the far ends of the city and from locations not served well by public transit. Available parking is desirable.
The SNC represents the essence of the kind of civic discussion and engagement Seattle needs and is often said to lack. It is made up of people who are not part of the insider, Vulcanized crowd. While there is something very "old Seattle" about the group, they are not stuck in the past. They are the kind of grassroots activists and unconventional thinkers the "new Seattle" truly needs. Here's hoping some Crosscut readers or restaurant owners have ideas of a good, affordable place for this Saturday morning group to meet and continue what they do best: debate the issues while the rest of us are still sleeping in on Saturday morning.
The SNC's next meeting on Oct. 11 will be held at the Seattle Parks Department HQ. The guest will be a former compliance officer with the Region X office of the Environmental Protection Agency.
You can post your ideas or tips on possible new meeting places in the Comments section below or email Kent Kammerer at email@example.com