After conducting a comprehensive status check on 24 of Seattle’s Neighborhood Plans, the Seattle Planning Commission released Findings & Recommendations: Future Neighborhood Plan Updates on April 8, 2010. During a lengthy deliberative process, commissioners recorded neighbors’ comments and concerns in citywide meetings and reviewed the feedback submitted by nearly 5,000 constituents in an online forum designed to broaden the participation pool. Adding their own expertise and viewing the findings through an objective lens, the commissioners were able to formulate a set of recommendations and findings to help guide city officials and neighbors as the neighborhood plan process moves forward.
Among the commission’s conclusions is the retention of the Urban Village Strategy as a meaningful way to focus jobs and growth in areas around the city and its continued use in refining spending decisions related to infrastructure and amenities. The commission also found that while investments like Link Light Rail have or will alter the landscape of other neighborhoods, the vision statements outlined in most of the neighborhood plans are still relevant and accurately reflect the expressed goals set out a decade ago.
As such, the majority of the 24 plans reviewed do not require a full-scale update at this time. Instead, the Seattle Planning Commission encourages the City to focus attention and resources at the neighborhood level toward implementation and leveraging citywide efforts already in place. Additionally, it is worth remembering that while neighborhood plans are important guiding documents for Seattle’s neighborhoods, they are but one part of a full continuum of planning and implementation tools. Instead of focusing solely on neighborhoods, smart planning will take in to account where broader area or sub-area planning might be warranted instead, where rezone proposals might provide better solutions, or where planning specific to station areas or corridors makes more sense, just to name some of the strategies available.
Though the status check showed complete updates are unwarranted for most neighborhoods at this time, the commission advocates for more frequent attention to be paid to the neighborhood plans and implementation, responding to the oft-echoed concern that the plans are not currently nimble enough to respond to emerging issues and opportunities. Using the annual Comprehensive Plan amendment cycle, for example, might be one way to address challenges as they arise.
Concomitantly, the commission encourages a rethinking of the current system for recording implementation progress in the plans. The approval and adoption matrix system now in use is inaccessible to most community members. The commission recommends a system that focuses achievement of overall goals and strategies. By formulating a more accessible and flexible system for tracing implementation goals and achievement, it is the commission’s hope that the plans might become even more useful and dynamic tools to guide the future of Seattle’s distinct and diverse neighborhoods.
Commissioner Leslie Miller currently serves as the commission’s vice chair and previously served as co-chair of the Housing Neighborhoods and Urban Centers committee. She is a partner, in Girl Friday Productions, a local editorial and book development company. Leslie has experience in community organizing and outreach, specifically related to growth, equitable development and transportation. She is a voting member of the Southeast District Council, a steering committee member of the Othello Station Community Advisory Committee, a steering committee member of Othello Park Now, and represents ROSA on the South Precinct Advisory Committee. Leslie lives in the Othello neighborhood.