There were three community meetings in the last few days regarding the City’s land-use plans: U-District, Queen Anne, and Madison Valley. I was at the U-District meeting (pictured above), and I have notes from the other meetings. The common thread: The City is selling a plan that is already in place, making a show of asking for input, and ignoring the fundamental issues. This will not end well.
At each of the recent meetings, people who live in the communities pleaded with government officials to pay attention to the consequences of the plans they are enacting. In the U-District, hundreds of low-cost dwellings and small businesses will be lost. In Queen Anne, new construction will force low-income residents from existing affordable housing. In Madison Valley, an environmentally important (and beautiful) forested slope will be replaced with a 65-foot high concrete wall.
The City’s response is to point to their outreach process, their public meetings, and their “focus groups.” But all the talk seems to have no results. My friends the note-takers provided these snippets:
The structure of the meeting essentially prevented a real discussion about the community’s concerns about the current plans.
Failure to involve the neighborhood has resulted in a lot of bad feelings and a lost opportunity to do something really positive.
This is more of the top down, one size fits all type of planning that people are angry about.
In the view of many, our city appears to be using outreach as a fig leaf to cover their intention to carry out HALA without any changes.
We are being managed. The City and its commercial backers see people who live in the neighborhoods as an obstacle to “growth.” They are taking power away from the neighborhoods and centralizing it at a higher level of authority, so they can enact policies over the objections of the people who live in the affected areas. The City is acting not as a representative of the people, but as a manager for giant private-money interests who want to transform Seattle into a high-tech business hub, and into a bedroom community for the tens of thousands of workers they require.
Do the neighborhoods hate progress? No. But we demand that it be managed carefully and equitably, with respect for the people who live here as well as for the “newcomers” lured by high-paying tech jobs in the urban core. We demand an honest accounting of the consequences of growth: the demolition of existing low-cost housing units; the destruction of irreplaceable green and open space; the fracturing of long-standing, cherished communities.
We support affordable housing for people of all races and economic status – as would any decent person – but we see the City and its backers using that issue as a cover story for a much larger agenda. There are ways to create affordable housing that do not result in the devastation of existing neighborhoods and the degradation of the very fabric of the city.
Finally, it is a question of justice. Everyone can see that there is an enormous influx of wealth into Seattle occurring now. The question is: How will that wealth be distributed? Will every sector of society receive its fair share? Or will the new wealth be concentrated in giant towers built by private interests, with a pittance diverted to build housing for workers to serve the new elite? Will the consequences of growth be paid for by those who profit from growth, or will the people pay – with new taxes, with congested roads, with the disappearance of sunlight and air?
We have lost the government to the power of big money. We cannot count on them to protect our city, no matter how much they smile and collect our comments on sticky-notes. We must take action. We must learn how to exert power. We must discover how to make democracy work, if that is still possible. Let’s hope it ends well.