Many will say that Seattle’s incumbent mayor Greg Nickels failed to make it through the city’s primary and into the fall general election because of snow.
But the weather wasn’t really the problem. The problem was information. Seattle was hit with a situation that required systems of communication and information distribution that it did not have. The city’s dying newspapers couldn’t keep up and City Hall’s various departments were too busy trying to dig out from underneath the snow and ice to turn to their antiquated systems of information distribution. They couldn’t connect information to the neighborhoods and streets where it was needed. The County’s Metro bus system fared no better despite its established Web site. There was no planned information core to power Seattle. And so it slipped on the icy sidewalks and tried to make the best of it.
But the best wasn’t good enough for the mayor to keep his job.
The lesson for the surviving candidates Joe Mallahan and Mike McGinn is not to buy more snow plows. These candidates need to form data and information policies for their administrations and promise to lead the city to invest in its communication core. Look at what San Francisco has created in DataSF.org and start there. Create a role for a data czar in the city. Hire a city ‘editor in chief’ to work with professional, community and citizen media. Yes, it will be a local news and information gatherer’s dream. But it will also be the answer to helping citizens make the best choices and understand their environment. When we have information, sites like CHS can help make sense of it and keep life moving.
The sidewalks will get icy and the streets will be blocked with snow, again. The city will face moments of chaos. Make a plan to combat confusion. That plan should start with information.