Hub Seattle's Brian Howe: If I Were Mayor

The co-founder of the Pioneer Square-based coworking space looks to data visualization — and a little imagination — to open doors in Seattle for more citizen-led projects.
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Brian Howe, founder of HUB Seattle.

The co-founder of the Pioneer Square-based coworking space looks to data visualization — and a little imagination — to open doors in Seattle for more citizen-led projects.

Seattle mayor. It's a tough job, dogged by police reforms, a stretched budget and no end of public safety crises. And while there's mayoral criticism everywhere you look, it's not likely you'll come across much that's constructive. We'd like to change that. Crosscut is linking up with leaders across Seattle to ask them what they would do if they were elected mayor.

Next up, Hub Seattle's Brian Howe. Howe runs a coworking and events space in Pioneer Square for folks working on socially-responsible business.  What would he do with the key to City Hall?

1. Prettier Data! As last month's IPO of local company Tableau Software has them soaring, it's an appropriate time to talk data. Have you seen The amount of knowledge the city has gathered there for the sharing is pretty incredible, but most of it is not yet citizen-friendly and can be difficult to search, sort and understand.

By partnering with a company like Tableau to find the best ways to visualize this wealth of civic data, we could encourage a more informed civic discussion. What if every town hall question was followed up by: "Great opinion, but what does the data say?"

The Fremont Bridge bike counter site is an example of where the city is already doing this really well.

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Notice the company responsible for the charts on the site? Maybe it's a good time to ask Tableau CEO Christian Chabot for some help making Seattle famous for the most beautiful, accessible and meaningful civic data.

2. Build Ice Town. As mayor, I would draw inspiration from fictional "Parks and Recreation" former mayor Ben Wyatt, who spent the entire city budget of Partridge, Minessota on an unecessary ice complex. And from Jon Gnarr, the very-real mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland, who publicly stated that he would not enter a coalition government with anyone that had not watched the HBO series "The Wire."

Yes, there's a real point here. As one of my heroes, local attorney Bob Goff, has said, "Even good work can steal our imaginations. [We need to] rediscover a compulsion for finding creative, audacious ways to discover our dreams." Maybe it won't take building an ice town, but finding ways to model wise audacity would be a first-term goal.

3. Re-imagine public goods. Now that we have accessible, citizen-friendly and beautiful data at our fingertips, let's kickoff a city-wide "Imagine if" campaign. Seattle has an incredible wealth of underutilized public assets.

Our libraries are incredible and — compared to other cities — extremely well run and well loved, but what if we re-imagined the library entirely? Currently, they're still primarily viewed as warehouses of books to be shared. What if they were seen first and foremost as places where, as Seth Godin wrote, "people come together to do co-working and coordinate and invent projects worth working on together"?

With a combination of great data and a city-wide "Imagine If" campaign, we could see a lot more citizen-led projects that help us all better use, "hack" and enjoy our public systems.

The city has done a lot already to encourage this, through running civic innovation weekends and launching the Startup Seattle campaign, but I'm convinced the latent capacity of our citizenry's imagination has just begun.

What if local journalist Derek Erdman's alter ego, Rap Master Maurice, was responsible for all overdue ticket collections? How many vehicles could we cut from the city fleet through a partnership with Car2Go? What changes would we make to our parks department and education system if we took the fact that city parks launched Seattle's other rap master's career more seriously?


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