Wednesday, 22 January, 2020

Measuring Success on the Urban Villages Strategy, Part 3: Open Space, Development, Shared Prosperity, and Opportunity

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Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 in a three-part series on measuring the success of Seattle’s urban village strategy. For background on the report, see our primer in Part 1, and then take a look at some of the indicators in Part 2. In this article, Scott synthesizes the last 10 indicators from the report.

The fountain at Cal Anderson Park, courtesy of Lay-Luh.

Open Space and Development

These indicators are perhaps the most influenced by land use policy and reflect the effects of the concentration of urban growth.

  • Area of parks and open space: This standard quality of life measurement used by many cities has a baseline goal of one acre of open space per 1,000 households in Seattle. With the exception of Rainier Beach, most of the ten urban villages do not meet this goal or barely exceed it within their boundaries. However, the study authors also calculated the addition of park space within a quarter mile of the villages’ boundaries, showing much higher numbers. The selected villages are densely developed, but immediately outside the villages lower densities permit larger parks. The city is working on acquiring more park space. The comprehensive plan identifies the minimum size of useable open space as 10,000 square feet.
  • Proximity to parks and open space: This indicator measured what percentage of residents within urban villages are within a quarter mile walk of a park, including parks a quarter mile outside of the village boundaries. Most of the selected villages score fairly high, with the exceptions of Westwood Highland Park and Aurora-Licton Springs. As with the previous data set, this indicator has not been traceable over time.
  • Tree canopy coverage: Urban trees provide numerous benefits, such as shade, habitat, stormwater filtration, and human livability, though they must be carefully maintained to prevent damage to sidewalks, power lines, and other infrastructure. From 1993 to 2014, there were increases in tree canopy coverage in eight of the urban villages, now with a current average of 18.2 percent compared to 28.5 percent citywide. Seattle has a detailed Urban Forest Management Plan with a goal of increasing tree coverage citywide to 30 percent of the land area, an ambitious goal. Since 2007, 3.5 trees have been planted for every tree removed. The analysis did not differentiate between trees on private parcels and trees on public land.
  • Impervious surfaces: Roads and buildings are impervious to rain, necessitating complex stormwater systems that convey water to streams and holding ponds where it can return to the water cycle. Reducing impervious surfaces reduces the need for such systems, and this can be achieved with green roofs, permeable pavement, and bioswales. For this indicator, the authors look at two time spans. From 1995 to 2011,  there were increases in of impervious surfaces in all of the urban villages and a 1.5 percent increase citywide. Percent of land covered by impervious surfaces is higher in urban villages than citywide.

Shared Prosperity and Opportunity

These indicators evaluate the allocation of public resources and services to assess differences in equity between urban villages.

  • Public infrastructure investment: The budgets from 2005 to 2014 were used to calculate the distribution of money spent on capital facilities in each of the ten urban villages, including everything from parks and libraries to streets and sewers. Of $445 million spent in villages during this period, most was spent in downtown, Rainier Beach, and West Seattle. However, the authors readily admit that this data is not useful due to inaccurate and ambiguous project locations. Better tracking is needed in the future.
  • Neighborhood matching fund: This fund provides competitive funds to volunteer groups for small neighborhood projects. It has provided $49 million to over 4,000 projects since 1998. The funding is needs-based and has not been distributed proportional to geography or population; for instance, up to 2014 Rainier Beach received $159 per person and Ballard only $3 per person. The study notes that the funding data is only available at the “neighborhood district” level, which encompasses areas outside of the urban village boundaries. The authors recommend better tracking and more equitable project selection.
  • Academic performance: This indicator measured the rates of fourth graders meeting standards on performance tests. From 1998 to 2013, all of the elementary schools within or near the urban villages (excluding downtown) have seen increasing scores, but there are substantial differences. Only 62 percent of Rainier Beach students met the standards in 2013, for example, compared to 88 percent in Lake City. Student performance may reflect other factors, like health and family stability.
  • Unemployment rate: While Seattle has had an unemployment rate lower than the rest of the nation, this varies across the urban villages. The 2008-2012 American Community Survey shows census blocks in the Rainier Valley had the highest rates, above 12 percent, while West Seattle Junction was the lowest at 4.5 percent. These numbers can provide direction on efforts to improve employment, workforce training, and social support.
  • Poverty rate: As of 2014, the U.S. poverty level for a family of four is an annual income of $23,850 or less, and in Seattle the 2008-2012 American Community Survey estimated 13.2 percent of residents fall within that. Rates across the ten urban villages varied significantly, but Rainier Beach, downtown, and the U-District have seen the highest rates at over 20 percent.
  • Housing cost burden: Also using 2008-2012 data, this indicator shows what percentage of income residents are paying for housing. Over 30 percent is considered a moderate burden, and over 50 percent is a severe burden. The U-District has the highest share in these two categories, with over 50 percent of the population burdened by housing costs, but the problem is prevalent throughout the ten study areas and is different in scale and cause. Housing affordability is being studied by a mayoral committee and needs to go beyond issues of supply and variety.

The Seattle Sustainable Neighborhoods Assessment Project (SSNAP) concludes with a comparison of other municipal indicator projects, community profiles, and how neighborhood planning can move forward with involved citizens. Overall the report is somewhat disjointed, with wildly different data timelines and geographic scales. But this is a reflection of opportunities to improve data collection and reporting at public agencies, providing more reliable and consistent tracking on an annual basis at the urban village level. Regardless, SSNAP is a launching point for conducting similar assessments on a regular cycle to evaluate citywide progress and civic health.

To learn more about the report, you candownload it (PDF) from the Seattle 2035 website or view a summary presentation (PDF).

This article is a cross-post from The Northwest Urbanist, the personal blog of Scott Bonjukian. He is a graduate student at the University of Washington’s Department of Urban Design and Planning.

The Case for a NE 130th Street Station

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Option A for the NE 130th Street Station, courtesy of Sound Transit.
Option A for the NE 130th Street Station, courtesy of Sound Transit.

Members of the Sound Transit Board are expected to make a decision in April 2015 regarding light rail station locations on the Northgate-to-Lynnwood extension. One station being considered is a NE 130th Street Station on the east side of I-5 and NE 130th Street. The proposed 130th Street station would not have a parking structure and would rely on people walking, biking, and riding transit. A proposed King County Metro bus route could serve an east-west corridor stretching from Bitter Lake to Lake City while providing direct service to a NE 130th Street station. On top of that, protected bike lanes are planned for the area, which would encourage more people on bikes to ride to the station.

The 130th Street/125th Street corridor has far greater room for additional capacity than Northgate Way or 145th Street. It also offers a shorter distance between the urban hearts of Lake City and Bitter Lake. A new bus route could easily and efficiently serve both communities with quick access to light rail without the delays and congestion on 145th Street and Northgate Way.

Service at the station is scheduled to start in 2023 and would cost about $25 million to construct, considerably less than the cost of building parking garages at a suburban station.

A NE 130th Street Station would be very beneficial to North Seattle communities, and here’s just a few reasons why:

  • Fast and dependable light rail access to two of the densest and most underserved communities in North Seattle: Lake City and Bitterlake.
  • Easy and fast connections to Broadview, Haller Lake, Jackson Park, Pinehurst, Olympic Hills, and Cedar Park;
  • Promoting more walking and biking to the light rail station. Many residents of Haller Lake, Jackson Park and Pinehurst commuters are in the walkshed of a NE 130th Street station, and would easily be able to walk to the light rail station. This would reduce their need to drive or take a bus to the Northgate or NE 145th Street stations.
  • Take pressure off for building expensive parking garages at both the Northgate and NE 145th Street stations.
  • Significantly increase ridership on Link light rail. At least 3,200 riders are expected to board at a NE 130th Street station daily.

This project is relatively inexpensive compared with other light rail stations, and Sound Transit projects are coming in significantly under budget. One would think that this would make it an easy add-on with savings, but Sound Transit decision makers have not indicated support for a NE 130th Street station.

While there may not be any vocal support from Sound Transit board members at this point, nothing is yet final. An extremely strong showing of community and business support could turn the tides in favor of approving this station. Now is the time to show your support before the April board meeting, and you can do that by directly contacting the decision makers. Simply send them a message to let them know that North Link must have a NE 130th Street Station to open with the line in 2023. Here’s who you should contact:

Sound Transit Board, Seattle Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien, King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, Seattle Department of Transportation Director Scott Kubly, King County Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond, and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

Hawks and People

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Picture 8

 

This was right after the big game concluded. The entirety of the city, in its best effort to impersonate a small town, seemed genuinely despondent, and who could blame them? Months of fever-pitch anticipation, with no climax. I was feeling a touch heavy myself, but for unrelated reasons.

“How’s your night goin’?” I asked somebody.
“Oh, quiet. Just goin’ home,” he said. In his thirties, getting off at Broadway and Harrison.
“That’s good, keepin’ it mellow.”
“Yeah, I just wanna get inside. Everyone out here’s so bummed out!”
“Yeah, you can feel it! Like the whole city’s depressed!”
“Too much of a bummer, man!”
“We all need to go home and eat ice cream!”
He laughed. “Yeah, that’s basically what I was gonna,”
“It’s like we’ve all just been dumped! Time to get away from all this mess!”

In a way I find the loss more thought-provoking, like a great film whose bitter aftertaste of an ending forces you to discuss it. I listened to conversations on the stoops of my neighbors’ houses, listened to hugs and cackles of riders as they talked it out, searching for new perspectives and reconsidering their own. These conversations were longer and more probing than they would have been after a winning game.

Elsewhere, a group of four or five twenty-somethings, girls and boys all, were dominating the landscape at Fourth and Pike, howling in high spirits. They all had jerseys and that ruddy complexion which comes from drinking too much. Definitely not sober, this contingent. Paying fare was not part of their headspace as they boarded, though upon entering they politely stuffed their drug paraphernalia in their jacket pockets. The lead fellow, of scrawnier build but with no less of a voice, bellowed at his captive audience with wild, joyous abandon.

“SEA,” he roared, and the tumult was returned, first by just a few, then by many:
“HAWKS!”
“SEA,” he hollered, with a stentorian, naked masculinity that would’ve done a Roman legion proud;
“HAWKS!”
“SEA,” reaching deep in the throats of our earlier selves, harkening back to a time of chants and guttural clamor;
And so on.

You would’ve thought they’d won the game.

This group had been riling up the crowd even before they boarded, and in their Bacchanalian fervor was also the romantic pang of loss, of the knowledge that events have happened which can’t be turned back. But their vigorous, scrappy exuberance did not arise from denial. “Don’t get down!” somebody screamed at somebody else, by way of explanation. “We still love the Seahawks even when they lose!”

In their profuse, inebriated, Dionysian exhilaration they understood the point of getting excited about such things in the first place. The ultimate intention of fandom in sports is not to win games. The ultimate, end-all, be-all is to be able to turn to the person next to you, a stranger apparently nothing like yourself, and to know the two of you have something in common. One doesn’t need football to figure that out, but sports nonetheless serve as a straightforward and manifest reminder that we are as one. It’s a reminder all the more potent for existing outside of education and status.

The parade is not exciting because of the win, but because of the chance to revel in the idea of humanity as a collective, to live in that warm hum of togetherness. It’s there ever and always, but it more easily rises out of latency when organized around something literal. The scrawny drunk kid and his friends, above, may not have looked smart, but they were. They innately grasped what mattered. You don’t need the parade or the win. You just need other people.

King County Metro Transit is seeking input on new long-range planning effort

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Planning themes for Metro, courtesy of King County.
Planning themes for Metro, courtesy of King County.

King County Metro Transit just launched a comprehensive planning effort to chart a new vision and direction for the agency. Metro recognizes that transit will continue to play an instrumental role in moving people, reducing congestion, and driving the region’s economy. Of course, no transit system stays the same forever. Metro wants to lay the groundwork for growth and change in the future by planning now. To do this effectively, the agency hopes to a develop a plan that will analyze a 25-year period. The agency also plans to engage a wide range of stakeholders–like riders–to inform the goals, policies, strategies, and investments that will be outlined in the final plan

To give a bit more context, here’s how Metro describes the planning effort:

With King County growing fast, it’s time to lay the foundation for a public transportation system that moves more people and moves them better. What should our transit system look like in 25 years? How can we support our economy, our environment, and the people who live here? How will Metro integrate with the expanding light rail system? These are the kind of questions that captured the imagination of civic leaders years ago, and their vision led to the public transportation system we rely on today. Now it’s time to imagine a new future.

Metro’s long range plan will present a shared vision for a future public transportation system that gets people where they want to go and helps our region thrive. The plan will describe an integrated network of transportation options, the facilities and technology needed to support those services, and the financial requirements for building the system. It will be developed in close coordination with Sound Transit and other transportation agencies.

Over the next two years, Metro will work with transit riders, cities, community groups, and motorists to shape a long-range plan for meeting our region’s growing and changing public transportation needs.

Metro has put together a website to introduce the public to the long-range planning effort. At the moment, it is a bit sparse with content, but as the project moves forward, Metro will continue to add to it. Now is the time to help shape the long-range plan. Getting involved is easy: you can take a short survey, provide comments, or throw your name in the hat to join a community advisory group.

Measuring Success on the Urban Villages Strategy, Part 2: Resource Use, Conservation, and Healthy Communities

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Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 in a three-part series on measuring the success of Seattle’s urban village strategy. For background on the report, see our primer in Part 1, and then then take a look at some of the indicators in Part 3. In this article, Scott takes a look at 12 of 22 indicators from the report. 

Pike Place Market in the rain, courtesy of Tom Baker.

Resource Use and Conservation

The six indicators in this category looked at how efficiently the city is using its resources, namely in the realms of traffic, utilities, and historic buildings. This is representative of environmental stewardship.

  • Transit ridership: Seattle transit ridership continues to grow, with over 300,000 daily rides on the Metro bus system within city limits. From 2004 to 2014, ridership per person per acre increased in all of the study areas except Eastlake. This indicator does not include data from Sound Transit or other agencies.
  • Traffic counts: Though traffic volumes have decreased over the past decade, of the ten study areas the U-District had the highest traffic volumes compared to its capacity. While the data didn’t include occupancy or vehicle types, an overall decrease in volumes suggest opportunities to reconfigure arterial streets with protected bike lanes and bus-only lanes.
  • Residential energy use: Energy use per person has been steadily declining, dropping 17 percent from 4,777 kWh in 1994 to 3,948 kWh in 2010. While energy efficient appliances help, the project credits Seattle City Light’s conservation programs and environmentally minded residents. One-third of downtown’s commercial properties are LEED certified. Data was not available at the urban village level.
  • Residential water use: Since 2004 water use per capital declined in all of the urban villages, except for a slight uptick in the U-District, which also has the lowest consumption on the order of 1,500 cubic feet per year.  Not surprisingly, neighborhoods with lots of single family homes like West Seattle Junction have higher water use per capita, edging towards 3,000 cubic feet per year.
  • Residential landfill waste: Also trending downward, this measure declined an impressive 30 percent from 1990 to 2010 to 0.19 tons (380 pounds) of solid waste per capita. While data is not available for urban villages specifically, the citywide recycling rate as of 2013 is 56.2 percent. The previous comprehensive plan set a goal for 69 percent by 2020, which will probably be met.
  • Historic preservation: This simple measure only reported that the city has 346 official historic landmarks, with 180 of those added since 1994. While it is notable that downtown has the largest share, this indicator would be more useful if it provided any indication of the importance of historic landmarks or comparing preservation and demolition over time.

Healthy Communities

Indicators in this category reflect general well-being of neighborhoods, including safety and health.

  • Crime related 911 calls: While not a perfect representation of actual crime statistics, this measure showed a decline in 911 calls to report violent, vice, and property crimes in all ten urban villages between 1998 and 2013. Downtown had the highest volumes in both years, and also the biggest drop. Emergency calls may be linked to residential stability and social cohesion in neighborhoods.
  • Access to arts and culture: This measure counted theaters, galleries, arts offices, rehearsal rooms, libraries, music clubs, museums, and cinemas in each of the urban villages being studied, and expressed access to them as a ratio to the size of the village. Downtown scores best, with one cultural center for every five acres. The residential villages, such as Eastlake and Westwood, scored lowest. The authors acknowledge that while such amenities can enhance community spirit, they may also be indicative of gentrification and rising property values.
  • Farmer’s markets: Of the ten villages studied, five have active farmer’s markets. Downtown alone has three, including two offshoots of Pike Place at City Hall and in Pioneer Square. Such markets provide access to local food and community cohesion. This measure is difficult to compare urban villages with, though there is a clear opportunity to expand the markets to neighborhoods without them.
  • Community gardens: This indicator has more useful data for analysis, as the city’s Department of Neighborhoods runs a formal “p-patch” network of community gardens citywide. The program is so popular that the wait lists for plots average two years long. The authors indicate that an ideal ratio is one garden per 2,500 households. Three of the studied villages have no community gardens, while the U-District has the most at three. Megan Horst, a UW planning student, has done an inventory showing there are 45 unused city-owned parcels, 122 school properties, and 129 parks that are suitable for urban agriculture.
  • Low birth weights: Defined as less than 5.5 pounds, the prevalence of low birth weights is a proxy for community health and nutrition. Downtown and Rainier Beach had the highest rates, over 8 percent during the 2000-2012 study period. But rates in the other eight villages varied widely. Efforts to address other public health problems, such as drug addiction or food deserts, could improve infant health.
  • Life expectancy: From 2000 to 2010, average life expectancy at birth has been on an upward trend across the ten urban villages. But it also varies by quite a bit between them; children born in Lake City can expect to live to 80, while those born in Eastlake can expect to live to 85. Research has shown that availability of open space, exposure to pollution, crime, healthcare access, and a variety of other factors play into this indicator.

To learn more about the report, you can download it (PDF) from the Seattle 2035 website or view a summary presentation (PDF).

This article is a cross-post from The Northwest Urbanist, the personal blog of Scott Bonjukian. He is a graduate student at the University of Washington’s Department of Urban Design and Planning.

President Obama budgets $75m for Tacoma Link expansion

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Tacoma Link Expansion Options
Segments A1 and B1 are the preferred alternatives for Tacoma Link expansion.

President Obama has released his 2016 budget, which places a strong emphasis on transportation funding. A portion of that funding could end up in the hands of Sound Transit if all goes to plan. Under the President’s budget proposal, $75m from the Small Starts federal grant scheme would go directly toward Tacoma Link expansion.

Tacoma Link is a 1.6-mile light rail system that stretches from the Tacoma Dome to the Theater District in Downtown Tacoma. Another 2.4 miles could be added to the system for a relatively small price tag. The expansion plan would cost up to $165 and go from the Theater District to the Hilltop District via Stadium Way, Division, and MLK Way.

Funding for this expansion has already been partially secured. Sound Transit has pledged $50m to the project under Sound Transit 2 revenues. A further $13m has come from the City of Tacoma, which is a mix of local tax dollars and separate grants. But even with existing funding sources and the possibility of federal grants, the project has a serious funding hurdle to cross–$27m remains unsourced at this point. As a partner of the expansion project, the City of Tacoma must help secure the remaining $27m in order to make good on their promised $40m.

In a statement yesterday, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said:

I am grateful to the Obama Administration for including the Tacoma Link Expansion in its FY 2016 budget. The City of Tacoma and its residents have spent several years working with Sound Transit to identify an alignment to best serve the needs of those who live, work, visit and invest here. This Small Starts grant, if approved, will help secure the remaining funding needed to advance this important regional project for Tacoma.

Of course, there should be a word of caution to this news. The President’s budget must first be approved by Congress. And, there’s no guarantee that the Small Starts grant program will be fully funded, especially by a Republican-controlled House and Senate that are rabidly anti-transit. As the legislative process moves forward for 2016 FY, we’ll have a better idea of whether or not the grant will flow into the coffers of Tacoma Link.

Measuring Success on the Urban Villages Strategy, Part 1: What It’s All About

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Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 in a three-part series on measuring the success of Seattle’s urban village strategy. For the the 22 independent indicators, see Part 2 and Part 3. In this article, Scott distills down some key background details from the report.

Roosevelt Crane
Redevelopment around a future light rail station looms in the Roosevelt urban village. Photo by the author.

Correction: The SSNAP report has been updated to correct statistics on where Seattle residents work. 38.2 percent of Seattle’s employed residents work outside of the city, not 62 percent.

A new report by consulting firm Steinbrueck Urban Strategies, headed up by former City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck, details the changes Seattle’s urban villages have experienced over the past 20 years. This information will be used by planners to prepare for the next two decades with the Seattle 2035 comprehensive plan update, though the study itself has some issues.

The Seattle Sustainable Neighborhoods Assessment Project (SSNAP) assesses the city’s original 1994 comprehensive plan and “urban village” strategy, which called for focusing growth in existing commercial centers. SSNAP found that, in terms of population and employment growth, the urban village concept has been successful. About 75 percent of new households and jobs in the last 20 years have been located in hubs like Downtown, Ballard, and Beacon Hill. On the flip side, public investment has not been equitable across the city’s 32 villages. And many of them are not achieving goals in housing affordability and access to education. The project aims to form lessons from the past and make recommendations for the city’s future.

Many cities are now using indicators, which are metrics that measure various aspects of civic life. Indicators are most often used as annual benchmarks to check progress towards social, environmental, and economic goals. Sustainable Seattle was the first to do so at an urban level in the early 1990s. SSNAP developed 22 such indicators in four categories: resource use and conservation; healthy communities; open space and development; and shared prosperity and opportunity.

Seattle DPD - SSNAP Report 2014
Seattle’s urban villages. (City of Seattle, Steinbrueck Urban Strategies)

The authors selected 10 urban villages for analysis based on geographic distribution and diverse demographic characteristics. The ten selected are, from north to south: Lake City; Licton Springs; Ballard; University District; Eastlake; Downtown; Beacon Hill; West Seattle Junction; Highland Park; and Rainier Beach. Much of the report’s data was not divisible at the urban village level, or was not available at all for certain neighborhoods. This makes clear from the get-go that the study’s methodology has limitations.

Citywide, Seattle faces the challenge of planning for 120,000 new residents in 60,000 new households over the next 20 years. The city’s goal is to balance this with 1.8 new jobs per household, and with the current balance at 1.6 this means over 180,000 new jobs are needed in same time period. Along with attracting employers, the City will need to update zoning rules to enable sufficient capacity in urban villages, which make up only a small portion of the city’s land. According to SSNAP, 69 percent of the city’s developable land is zoned exclusively for single-family homes, which means the core neighborhoods are going to become far denser than they already are. Their boundaries may also need to be expanded, spilling larger buildings into quieter neighborhoods to the delight of urbanists and the dismay of homeowners.

Another key point is that only 61.8 percent of employed Seattle residents work in the city itself. 38.2 percent commute outside of the city for employment. In an email, Steinbruck told me, “This is an important measure of regional growth management, which seeks to reduce travel trip [sic] by linking residents more closely to employment centers.” The Puget Sound Regional Council has not established any goal related to this fact in the Vision 2040 plan, which is preparing for a regional population of five million. The situation also highlights the immense appeal of living in the central city, the huge amount of employment growth in the suburbs, and the pressing need for building up multi-modal transportation systems that accommodate bi-directional commuting patterns.

To learn more about the report, you can download it (PDF) from the Seattle 2035 website or view a summary presentation (PDF).

UPDATE: The original presentation to the city and report indicated that nearly 62% of people commuted out of Seattle for employment and we reported that number here originally. This number was updated by the city and we have edited this article to reflect that update.

This article is a cross-post from The Northwest Urbanist, the personal blog of Scott Bonjukian. He is a graduate student at the University of Washington’s Department of Urban Design and Planning.

The 12th Man Lives On

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12th Man
Downtown Seattle lit up in honor of 12th Man and Seahawks.

I don’t really care for football. In fact, I take issue with its non-profit status and insistence on public financing for private stadiums. But I do appreciate its contribution to a community spirit that has enlivened Seattle and the entire Pacific Northwest over the last few years (along with soccer, apparently). This spirit is shared by the people who live in this region, from the friendly Canadians to the hippie Oregonians. As with other challenges, we must move past Sunday’s heartbreak loss and forge ahead in making our home better for current and future generations.

The concept of Cascadia, a bioregion linked intricately with its economy and people, predates the Seahawks. There is something about our unique geography that has become ingrained in our culture and ties together the people who live here. Every day we share a misty blend of soaring mountains and inland waters, and iconic wildlife like the tall evergreen and silvery salmon. Our architecture favors warm timber, cozy social spaces, and views upon sweeping vistas. Modern civilization has nestled among the hills and forests only recently, and unlike other west coast cities our metro areas are relatively compact, giving rise to a very localized sense of place. Being somewhat isolated from the rest of the country makes us turn inwards and intrigued by local affairs. These factors have even prompted an underground movement to secede Washington and Oregon with British Columbia to form a new nation.

Recent writings have sneered at newcomers and enshrined what it means to be a Northwest native. We’re a hardy bunch, forgoing umbrellas and taking pleasure in a stroll among mossy pines or drifting across an alpine lake. And even if some of us are tied down, we like to know we’re only hours from skiing or pitching a tent on the beach, if we want to. We delight in comfort food and good company most of the wet and dreary year, and then move outside in droves during an explosion of festivities and celebration during the precious few summer months. Surely, only someone born here can appreciate the glory of blue skies and warm sunshine.

Our economy is also distinct. From aerospace and startups to microbrews and coffee, we take pride in local products and institutions that are the envy of the world. Seattle is home to one of the world’s largest fishing fleets and top research universities. We also treasure the agricultural products and landscapes of the eastern plains, even if our politics don’t align. But collectively we do lead on social issues, like equal marriage and the end of costly drug prohibition. Governmental partnerships foster a shared sense of purpose, and even a future vision of high speed rail between Vancouver and Portland. We also reap the bounty of inland wind and hydrological resources that cleanly power our cities and industries. The local food movement is evident in a growing variety of local farms, neighborhood markets, and the proliferation of urban agriculture.

The Northwest spirit is also visible at the neighborhood level. While Seattleites endlessly debate policy, we are some of the nation’s most active citizens. We vote, volunteer, and get involved wherever we can. Grassroots campaigns are taking the lead on safer streets and regional bike infrastructure, tackling homelessness, and environmental stewardship. We still have to work on thawing that Seattle Freeze thing, though, if it actually exists.

We’re socially resilient and endlessly optimistic. Even after Sunday’s defeat, I heard people cheering and chanting on the streets. “It was a hell of a season”, I often heard, and “there’s always next year” said a guy who came all the up from Oregon. Whether we lose in the legislature, see our homes swept away by landslides or wildfire, or lament the closure of beloved establishments, we have infinite potential in our ability to pick ourselves up and move forward to better things. Because if we don’t get the job done of making our home a better place to live, who will?

This article is a cross-post from The Northwest Urbanist, the personal blog of Scott Bonjukian. He is a graduate student at the University of Washington’s

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