If there's one word to describe Mayor Ed Murray's long-planned neighborhood summit (Erica's tweets here) it's this: Unconvincing.
For starters, the commitment from the city to re-activate neighborhood planning was unconvincing—primarily because it was never clear what the purpose of this past Saturday morning's summit actually was.
The room at Seattle Center's Exhibition Hall was arranged A) with tables from each city department—from the new office of the waterfront to the SPD—staffed by friendly city employees in the back of the hall, where citizens could peruse department displays as if they were at a farmers market to B) chairs and a stage in the front of the hall where the mayor and a series of speakers emceed discussions about how to jump-start the neighborhood district councils and the neighborhood planning process to what the community wanted to see in the new Seattle Department of Transportation Director.
The arrangement led to constant shushing from the mayor which was not a particularly good metaphor for community engagement.
In between the formal discussions, Murray cruised through the crowd—a good mix of longtime neighborhood activists, younger urbanists, and a surprisingly strong showing from immigrant communities. (There were also a lot of city staffers in the room.)
It was the chatty group in the back of the hall, talking about parklets, bike lanes, mixed-use housing, the new waterfront, and artist spaces, that seems to already have revived the city and moved on. Despite the shushing (and perhaps as evidenced by the noise) it was a fun set-up, and fostered lots of nerdy policy conversations, particularly in the back of the room at the city department tables. (Fizz was trying to get a bead on how the waterfront project actually plans to get funded and heard about the city's efforts to preserve artist space in gentrifying Capitol Hill).
But with the random topics in the front and the potpourri in the back, there was no sense what the outcome of the day was supposed to be. And without a specific goal, it was hard to feel convinced there was a real intellectual investment from city in the discussions beyond giving the mayor the ability to check a box.
Perhaps even more unconvincing, though, was the showing from old-school Seattle groups such as the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition and the Seattle Community Council Federation who had threatened to turn the day into a resurgence of their cause to slow density and development and bike lanes.
Yes, there was an Eastlake business leader with a sign proclaiming Murray as Mayor McSchwinn II, and there were leafleters at the entrance to the hall—"Developer impact fees now"; "Growth controls now!"—and the opening discussion led by CityClub Executive Director Diane Davis did get hijacked by people who wanted to complain about development instead of answering the admittedly leading questions (though important ones) about what people liked about their neighborhoods.
But bike advocates, transit activists, community housing developers, and green urban planners, perhaps not leafleting or raising their hands, came out in equal—if not greater—numbers. And the immigrant (Asian, Mexican, and African) communities also had a strong showing, bringing concerns about basic issues like crime, transportation, jobs, and access to city government.
The most symbolic moment of the day was this: Former City Council member Jim Street (as if it wasn't already symbolic enough that a council member from the 1980s and early 90s was leading the discussion on the so-called neighborhood movement) concluded his session by telling the crowd how excited he was that this new generation was taking up the cause to revive the process. The group assembled in the chairs, however, was a graying crowd.
It was the chatty group in the back of the hall, speaking with the city staffers—the most energized crew in the room, it seemed—talking about parklets, bike lanes, mixed-use housing, the new watefront, and artist spaces, that seems to already have revived the city and moved on beyond the endless meetings into projects such as the Westlake bike lane with specific timelines and dates already on the calendar.