Councilmember Clark left office on April 14, 2015.
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Never think neighborhood planning is easy



This past weekend’s neighborhood plan update town meeting in the Othello/New Holly neighborhood illustrated that neighborhood planning can be difficult, uncomfortable work. Several participants had pointed questions about who was running the show, where the process was headed and whether the day was really a cover for a city rezone agenda. The good news is people are struggling to wrest ownership of the process from the city. That’s great. It means people (at least rhetorically) believe in building the process and the plan update together or with the community in the lead. The not so great news is that distrust of city staff and city goals is thick and sticky and weighs down those who want to get going shaping the plan update. In the end, a small group of people caucused with Department of Planning and Development leadership to talk about plan update process while approximately 70 people broke into smaller groups to look at the walkability, sustainability and scale of the neighborhood.

We knew last year when we finalized the structure for updating the neighborhood plans starting with three neighborhoods in Southeast Seattle that it would be tough going. It’s tough being first in a new initiative. We’ve never updated the plans so we’re all learning from successes and mistakes. That’s not comforting if you’re in the first neighborhood in the first wave of updates. We also knew it would be tough going because, frankly, there are oceans of ideological and personality differences separating many of the most ardent activists in Southeast. Wounds from the community discussion on community renewal are still open and raw. Distrust of the mayor bleeds into distrust of city staff. Distrust of new development and added density means a sea of skeptics. We need skeptics, we need watchdogs. However, sitting back with arms folded won’t make change go away.

Neighborhood people we saw at Othello/New Holly Saturday want more communication and they want more say in shaping the meetings. That’s good and the city should jump at that desire for connection and ownership. It needs to happen in a way that respects all the new voices that are coming to the process by way of the tremendous outreach work by the Department of Neighborhoods. I can’t imagine the neighborhoods will feel any differently at North Rainier or North Beacon Hill, both of which have town meetings coming up fast (North Rainier on Saturday, May 16, 9 a.m., at the Northwest African American Museum and North Beacon on Saturday, May 30, 9 a.m. at El Centro de la Raza).