A bank of photojournalists lining the platform, their cameras a symphony of clicking and whirring. Bagpipes squeezing out a mournful tune. Protestors pressing forward, signs in hand. As I stepped off the train in Glasgow on October 30, the energy and urgency of COP26 was palpable. Like the days that would follow, this moment of arrival was equal parts summit, protest, and festival.
I was invited to attend COP26 as part of a delegation from the American Institute of Architects (AIA), a UN-recognized observer to the climate summit. It was AIA’s first engagement with COP, and a tremendous learning opportunity. Our primary purpose: urge countries to include aggressive action for buildings and cities in their Nationally Declared Contributions to carbon reduction (NDCs).
Billed as our “last best hope” to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, COP26’s serious stakes were evident to me in the thousands who took to the streets, the expectations of negotiators and the ambition of non-state actors from almost every sector of the economy. Chance meetings with officials from countries like Burkina Faso, Pakistan and Fiji put a face to the real and present impacts of climate change and the urgency that Least Developed Nations (LDCs) feel for action and investment from Europe and the US.
Hundreds of events at the official COP venue and across the city served as a master class on our climate and biodiversity crises. And arts events, including a Patti Smith concert and the premiere of The [uncertain] Four Seasons, tapped into human creativity and story-telling.
Here are a few of my personal observations and key takeaways:
Single family zones overwhelmingly swung for Mayor-Elect Bruce Harrell, Councilmember-Elect Sara Nelson, and Seattle City Attorney-Elect Ann Davison, as new precinct-level final results map verify.
Harrell’s 17-point victory over Council President Lorena González was the most resounding, while Davison (the first Republican elected in Seattle in decades) won by just four points over abolitionist Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. However, the pattern of denser multifamily areas supporting more left-leaning progressive candidates remains pretty consistent across the races.
For Harrell this meant nearly a clean sweep in some of Seattle wealthiest enclaves. Some Laurelhurst precincts gave Harrell more than 90% of their votes and most Magnolia precincts more than 80%. Meanwhile 98% of Broadmoor backed Harrell, and he cleared 94% in one View Ridge precinct (a ritzy area west of Magnuson Park that isn’t shy about announcing its view corridor status). Seward Park, where Bruce Harrell lives, gave 82% of their vote to him, while González barely eked out victories in the core of West Seattle Junction, where she lives, while losing the rest of the peninsula pretty handily.
Most of North Seattle was a blood bath, too. González had showed more strength there in the primary — when Harrell and González together took nearly two thirds of the vote. However, it appears the third of the electorate the pair didn’t win in the primary broke heavily toward Harrell rather than her, flipping some of those precincts.
González had precincts where she cleaned up, but not nearly to the degree that Harrell did in view corridor land. A good precinct for González topped out in the 60% range rather than the 80s and 90s that Bruce managed. And that proved decisive, especially when paired with a strong turnout advantage for older homeowners over younger tenants living in the denser core of Seattle.
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda won by 19 points over civil engineer Kenneth Wilson, but she also saw her greatest strength in dense urban center as opposed to the single family view corridors that were a bastion of strength for the centrist slate. Most coastal precincts are still red in Mosqueda’s map, but the interior is so solidly blue that it more than canceled out that advantage. Dominating urban villages and carrying the interior appears to be the formula for progressive candidates to win, but only Mosqueda pulled it off facing a lackluster opponent. Harrell, Nelson, and Wilson all ran on preserving single family zoning, but that issue alone didn’t appear decisive given Wilson’s struggles. A recent poll found adding density in single family zones is popular among voters, although less so with seniors who are the most reliable voters.
The pattern of single family zones preferring more conservative candidates and apartment-heavy urban villages breaking for progressives has been persistent in recent elections. The difference in the 2021 election appears to be how strongly single family zones broke for the centrist slate and turned out in greater numbers than denser precincts. U District turnout in particular seemed abysmal. Precinct maps from 2019 shows progressive Council candidates ran up their totals in the dense core neighborhoods to a greater degree while not losing single family zones quite so badly.
No child is born taciturn. What makes some men so? What wrongs have they suffered, what kindness of theirs thwarted, scorned, ridiculed? Fragility is what drives the urge to present a deadened exterior, and no creature is more fragile than the human male. How tantalizing it is to embody invincibility, especially in the spaces which all but demand it: armies, sports, prisons. The street. You do it long enough, and you might even begin to believe your facade. So rough, so tough. You speak no longer in sentences, but assertions. You dominate. It is at this point the last part of your soul’s capacity for love drifts off, and its final slumbering thought is, “well, at least this is easier.”
But is it worth losing your ability to feel? What is living if not feeling? Are not the harder thing, and the right thing, usually the same?
He was a master of the hard front, and I wasn’t about to criticize him for it. You get your heart railroaded enough times and the animal urge to protect yourself makes the decision for you. Shut down time. This man’s face said Closed for Business to any stranger, with one difference: he still looked people in the eye. The principal difference between street smarts and book smarts is the former demands direct engagement with one’s immediate present. A ready awareness. He may have been taciturn, but he responded to me at least half the time, stalking quickly past me after putting his bicycle on the rack.
Me, giving the upward nod: “How’s it goin’?” Him, gruffly: “‘Sup.”
Me, calling out as he zipped past me to get his bicycle: “Thanks man.” The deep voice: “Yup.”
It’s been a year, and we’ve said some questionable things. As we draw to a close the grand national celebration of colonization and move to the next celebration of frosted capitalism, let’s keep in mind the true meaning of the holidays: movie watching! Seattle’s season of The Dark Wet means plenty of time to pull the blankets around and enjoy an evening of holiday cinema with the ones you love. You deserve it more than a mouthful of soap.
Just like all the seasonal traditions, Christmas movies come with expectations. Family, carols, redemption, and nutmeg. There’s also a few other tropes that touch on the experience of living in the city. So what happens if we consider a few holiday films in the light of our experience as promoters and appreciators of city living? What’s good fare for an urbanist holiday movie night?
The holidays are the perfect time to see urbanism at work. The private introspection of the new year, the solitude of winter, the dissociation after Thanksgiving gluttony. Match that with the season’s public ceremonies and festivals and family obligations. It’s a recipe for personal growth taking place on the most outgoing of festivals. What is Scrooge’s character arc but a private transformation played across his public appearances in the past, present, and future?
Except, we have to leave New York out of this. With movies like Miracle on 34th Street, New York’s role in filmmaking made its own holiday weather, conveniently creating Christmas tropes with the city as the (brightly lit, gently snowy) star. Manhattan in winter is a holiday crutch as simple and flimsy as Tiny Tim’s. The city itself is a shorthand for complexity and traveling there is the basis for a whole genre of finding oneself movies. Those are all great, but too often it’s just window dressing to make the actual story seem deeper than it is.
In reality, the full spectrum of the “holidays in New York” movies fall somewhere between Elf and Ghostbusters 2. Someone has arrived in The City! Watch their unique personality bounce off some gruff locals. Blue disposable coffee cups to show how “hard” the city is to crack. Cue a montage of a decorated Macy’s (or a stand in), then there’s a sing along, and someone’s covered in syrupy goo. The only question is whether the entering force is innocent or malevolent. The story is about someone learning the True Meaning of Christmas. The City is a cardboard set.
We can do so much better than New York at the holidays. Here are six urbanist holiday movies that get out of Manhattan and into some real seasonal feelings.
The Seattle City Council approved the City’s 2022 budget on Monday after a few dramatic last-minute amendment showdowns. Advocacy groups quickly set to work framing their victories and pointing to losses to be rectified in future budgets.
For example, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways pointed to the tripling of the Vision Zero safe streets budget and climate justice group 350 Seattle celebrated $16 million for the Seattle Green New Deal and $194 million for affordable housing. Much of the drama hinged around the police budget this year, and groups were framing it in a number of different ways.
Perhaps the biggest last-minute fight was Council President Lorena González’s proposal to remove 101 vacant and unfillable “ghost” positions out of the Seattle Police Department (SPD), which would have freed up $19 million. Pro-SPD and anti-accountability forces, rallied by a eleventh hour scare tactic video by interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz, beat back that amendment and it failed on a 5-4 vote (more on that here), even as González decried the misleading cynical ploy. This means SPD will keep a privilege no other City department has to reserve staff positions in future budgets (draining other departments of resources) even though it can’t fill those positions in the near-term due to its officer training pipeline being maxed out.
On the other hand, the Council rejected efforts by Councilmember Alex Pedersen (and a smaller proposal by Andrew Lewis) to pump millions of rainy day funds into SPD hiring incentives and overtime pay. They also passed a few minor cuts to the Mayor’s police budget, but ultimately funded her proposal to hire 125 new officers next year.
Only city to reduce its police budget two years in a row
A Solidarity Budget coalition statement celebrated progress in reining in SPD spending. This year the coalition took the unprecedented step of proposing their own budget from scratch instead of only reacting to the Mayor’s proposal (I helped craft the transportation and housing sections).
“Building on last year’s uprising in defense of Black lives, the 2022 Budget shrinks the Seattle Police Department’s budget footprint for the second year in a row, the only major U.S. city to accomplish a reduction,” the Solidarity Budget coalition wrote in a press release. “The budget now goes to out-going Mayor Durkan to approve, setting the stage for incoming Mayor Harrell to follow through on the City’s commitments to racial equity and environmental justice.”
Solidarity Budget member Travonna Thompson-Wiley of Black Action Coalition pointed to work that remains to be done.
“Our community continues to feel the pressure of a global pandemic, climate crisis, and housing crisis,” Thompson-Wiley said in a statement. “With Solidarity Budget, we fight to ensure the most vulnerable folks have access to resources that will truly help Seattle thrive. Previous city budgets have not reflected the cries from our community — cries for help with housing, childcare, food access, and more. Those same budgets continued to prioritize the investment in harm and not in care. When will Seattle protect poor and working class folks? When will Seattle actually invest in care? Our Solidarity Budget is the best hope to protect our wins and protect our people.”