Towards an inclusive neighborhood planning process


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For the past three months, my committee – the Seattle Public Utilities and Neighborhoods Committee – has had the opportunity to review the draft updates  to the North Rainier, Othello and North Beacon Hill neighborhood plans.  On Monday, the Council passed a resolution that outlines the final steps for completing and recognizing these plans and I thought I’d take a few moments to share some thoughts on neighborhood planning.

My philosophy is that neighborhood plans are only as good as the actions and outcomes they stimulate.   In an earlier post about Linden Avenue, I pointed out how the City must build reasonable amenities, alongside development, in a timely manner.

Neighborhood plans need to reflect the values and ideas of the people in the community, and we need to strive to ensure these plans are as diverse and broad as possible. My experience at the Sierra Club showed me the power of volunteers when they organize for issues they care about.  I am eager to harness the energy of neighbors who have the stepped up with the passion, time and creative ideas about how to make their neighborhood a great place.   

However, when I spend time in these three particular neighborhoods, I recognize that the neighborhood is often far more diverse than those neighbors who are participating in the planning efforts.  Our resolution notes that according to 2000 census data (old, I know – looking forward to updated numbers – have you completed your form?) 90% of residents in the Othello neighborhood are non-white.  This metric of diversity is amazing, and there are many more differences based on age, ability, socio-economic class, political beliefs, etc. 

In 2009, the City developed an inclusive planning process that reached historically underrepresented communities in unprecedented ways.  The outreach model overcame several barriers to participation, particularly around culture and language, and is being adapted and replicated in other planning efforts such as the Youth and Families Initiative.

I will work to ensure this expanded outreach is consistent in the planning process and, that we begin finding ways for residents of traditionally represented and historically underrepresented communities come together for plan implementation.   

In short, our resolution asks the Executive to do the following things before returning to the Council in late summer for final recognition of the neighborhood plans:

1)      Continue practices of  inclusive community engagement in the development of action plans, and urban design frameworks;

2)      Produce action plans with clear priorities, roles and responsibilities for both city departments and neighbors;

3)      Show evidence of community support for the goals, policies, strategies and actions outlined in the plans.

I will be spending more time in these neighborhoods in the coming months.  I will be participating in May action planning meetings:  May 14th on North Beacon Hill and May 18th in North Rainier and Othello.  I will also be planning walking tours and hoping to attend some of these neighborhood community festivals and events. 

In addition, I will be considering the recommendations from Planning Commission’s thoughtful report a report on Findings and Recommendations for Future Neighborhood Plan Updates that was released this month.

If you see me in your neighborhood, or at City Hall, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can continue to develop an inclusive neighborhood planning process.

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