Seattle’s neighborhood summit: better connection to City Hall or NIMBY city?

Holding to a campaign promise to do more to make City Hall responsive to regional issues in the nooks and crannies of Seattle, Mayor Ed Murray is holding a “neighborhood summit” early next month. It could be the start of new connections between City Hall and its neighborhoods just as Seattle prepares to shift to a new district-based City Council system — or it could be NIMBY city.

“Seattle’s unique neighborhoods are what make this city special,” Murray said about the April 5th event. “I want to build strong relationships with the leaders of these neighborhoods and community members and keep an open dialogue as well as build an administration where no one has to ask for a space at the table.”

As the first of what the mayor’s office says will likely be a series of similar meetings, planners hope the Seattle Center summit will serve to initiate an ongoing dialogue between Seattle’s communities and the city government.

According to a representative for the mayor’s office, the event was designed to help address “a need for greater transparency and consistency” in communications between City Hall, community leaders, and the citizenry, and will present an opportunity for residents to have their voices heard on the issues most important to them and their neighborhoods.

“Mayor Murray would like to build positive changes in the City’s relationship with neighborhoods, restore confidence, improve the effectiveness of those relationships and strengthen purpose,” the mayor’s spokesperson said. “He hopes this will be an ongoing conversation, with the Seattle Neighborhood Summit being an important first step.”

Although similar community meetings have generally been held to discuss a pre-determined set of issues, the potentially disparate topics and concerns that denizens of different neighborhoods will bring to the summit means that in-depth conversations about specific issues will be unlikely. Instead, the mayor’s office says that the initiation of this conversation and the fostering of a stronger working relationship between the neighborhoods and the city government is the paramount concern of the summit.

But that hasn’t stopped organized community groups from looking at the summit as an opportunity to further their causes. Publicola reports that density opponents have “mobilized” in advance of the summit. CHS reported earlier this week on the continued momentum for a petition calling for the roll back of higher zoning limits in the city.

The summit comes after years of paring down the Department of Neighborhoods and as Seattle prepares to shift to a district-based City Council system designed to create better opportunities for all parts of the city to be well-represented and for regional issues to be better addressed. CHS looked at the early start of building coalitions within our own District 3 here.

The big changes in the future and fears of NIMBY dominance aside, the mayor’s camp says it expects the summit to be more of a “boat show” of city services that helps community organizers — and potential community organizers — get in touch with the people and tools they need to make changes in their own neighborhoods.

banner(0)As part of this process, the mayor’s office is opting to let the participants determine the course of the summit themselves by asking interested parties to fill out an online survey in order to better gauge what issues people consider most important in their own neighborhood and how the city can be more effective at solving these problems better.

However, given the focus on relationship-building for this initial summit, the survey is also meant to explore how the city can be more effective in communicating with the citizenry entirely, including how active they currently are with their neighborhood, who they feel is a good representative of their community’s interests, and what steps should be taken to improve the relationship between city hall and the neighborhoods.

“[The online survey] is a good way to start preparing and help organizers prepare to answer questions the community has,” said a rep for the mayor’s office. “All neighborhoods should be excited for this event because it’s about starting fresh, developing a new relationship and allowing everyone a space at the table.”

The summit will be held at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall on Saturday, April 5th from  9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. RSVPs are strongly encouraged but not required. You can learn more at seattle.gov/sns2014.

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