Democratic Planning in Seattle: Distributive Outcomes Across Neighborhoods
In 1994, the City of Seattle launched a citizen-led neighborhood planning process that over a period of four years engaged over 20,000 residents from 38 neighborhoods in planning and policy decisions with far reaching consequences for the city's natural and built environments, identity, and civic capacity. At its core, the planning model of Seattle's Neighborhood Planning Program recognized the need to expand the responsiveness of municipal institutions and at the same time to empower a demand-making civil society. The history of municipally sponsored neighborhood planning programs in the U.S. exposes three common problems with the implementation of resident-created plans. First, cities often lack the institutional architecture needed to coordinate implementation of neighborhood plans that call for action from several departments. Second, cities may fail to allocate sufficient funds to see projects through to completion, and lack the mechanisms required to assure an equitable distribution of implementation funds across neighborhoods. Finally, cities may suffer from a lack of unified support for plan implementation from the city's political structure, especially when the time needed for implementation spans several administrations. This study examines how Seattle's Neighborhood Planning Program addressed these issues, with a special focus on a description of the distribution of municipal funds in plan neighborhoods. It describes the changes made in administrative geographies, bureaucratic culture, and interdepartmental operations that enabled the completion of 80-90 percent of the plans' 4,200 recommendations by 2006. Lastly, the analysis of the distribution of implementation funding demonstrates that a number of small policy decisions made by City staff and elected officials resulted in the largest per household share of municipal funds being invested in low-income neighborhoods.