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C200: The Region’s Most Pressing Problem: Seattle’s Political Weakness

2011 March 17
by Stephanie Pure

< Daniel Friedman FAIA, Dean of the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments, Provost Lecture: City in Five Acts: Interpreting Urban Experience, April 21, 2010 >

Despite Seattle’s vital role in driving our economy, it continues to lose funding and support, thereby threatening our region’s prosperity.  This is due to the most pressing problem facing the Puget Sound region today:  Seattle’s own political weakness as a regional and statewide player.

According to CEOs for Cities, “cities constitute 30-40% of the assets and productivity in major metropolitan areas” and Seattle is no different.  That means when the UW loses funding, when our transit system is crippled, when our public schools fail, when our arts community is marginalized, our entire region loses.  We lose talent, we lose growth, and we lose one of most competitive advantages: innovation.  These investments in Seattle do not stop at Seattle’s borders.

Instead of apologizing for our funding needs, we should be boosters for them. (Can we have dedicated, rapid transit through a watery, hill terrain?  Yes we can and not only that, we have to.) We can take our entrepreneurial spirit— after all we are the land of the Gold Rush, the start-up, the new band, the large company that came up from scratch—and use it to create the kind of region we all aspire to.

This isn’t the old City versus the suburbs saw; this is Seattle recognizing its leadership position and utilizing it effectively:  Actively listening, inspiring a shared vision, and modeling the way.  We must be persuasive and compelling, not just large.  Then Seattle can truly affect change for a more sustainable future for all.


Stephanie Pure is the External Relations Director at AIA Seattle, a Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and the above are her personal views.

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Trevor permalink
    March 18, 2011

    Sorry but where are you going to tax to pay for Seattle’s “entrepreneurial spirit”? Turns out entrepreneurs don’t seem to want to be taxed (witness the income tax vote last year). So if Seattle wants more of a shrinking pie, it has to take it from the rest of the state. Is that the leadership you’re advocating?

    • Matthew 'Anc' Johnson permalink
      March 18, 2011

      Where does it get the money? Lets start with just trimming back some of the money Seattle and it’s Metro send out to the rest of the state.

      “In the 2007 fiscal year, King County contributed just over $6 billion to the state’s tax coffers, according to the state. That year it received $3.5 billion from the general fund, for an expenses to revenue ratio of 0.59.”

    • kurisu permalink
      March 21, 2011

      Seattleites are willing to be taxed. We could start by giving our cities and counties more local, flexible funding options to provide the services their residents do or don’t desire.

      • Jane Jacobs permalink
        March 22, 2011

        Not this Seattlite. I’m concerned that while the long term picture for the region is good, the ineffectual and delittane city government we suffer doesn’t understand that commerce drives revenue, not residents.

  2. Devin Glaser permalink
    March 20, 2011

    Yes, by all means, let’s put in more money.


  3. keith permalink
    March 20, 2011

    i’m all for this entrepreneurial spirit and think that people like dean friedman could actually do something that directly affects his institution. for example, the college is looking at 10% cuts to its budget over the next two years. this is bad, yes, but even worse is the fact that this 10% will be cut from everywhere except faculty salaries, meaning teaching assistants, support personnel, supplies, lecturers from the industry, etc will be reduced even more. i won’t post the dean’s salary here — okay, yes i will: $18,374 per month in 2009 (source: if we’re serious about educating future leaders in the built environment then i think people that are compensated at levels like this should consider being the vanguard, the boosters.

    i’m no economist but sense that something like a microfinance approach could *at least* keep a few professionals in the studios to relate real world experience and frustration, keep teaching assistants who are the next generation of scholars in the classrooms, and keep research moving along, both contributing to the body of progressive knowledge and allowing people to devote their time to such work.

    it’s cliche to say but talk is cheap. the dean can promenade around giving talks all he likes but when the most academically sophisticated segment of his student population cannot find funding, then he is failing miserably. and yes, i’m obviously only talking about one portion of the problem and specifically the part that directly affects me, but it’s what i know. i think there is something to be said for local and immanent solutions to larger problems.

  4. Stephanie Pure permalink
    March 21, 2011

    Just a quick comment for keith: Totally hear you re: University of Washington and Dean Friedman, but I want to be clear that my only reason for including this photo is because a) I took it myself and b) I love the giant projection of the word “CITY”, not because I was trying to target the Dean in this discussion in any specific way. (Lots to say about your original point, but I’m on deadline at work…)

    • keith permalink
      March 30, 2011

      right, thanks for the response; and i agree, the photo is great! the man, though, has a lot of work to do before he gets *any* respect from those of us in his charge.

  5. dan cortland permalink
    March 23, 2011

    Rather than trying to persuade citizens in legislative districts outside Seattle that Seattle should have more power, Seattleites should simply move to those that are lightly populated in numbers sufficient to tilt elections. Let’s say, hipsters, for every mandatory three years living in eastern WA, you get to live for one year on Capitol Hill in one of those MFTE-supported affordable apartments, so as not to lose your appreciation for Seattle entrepreneurship. Then it’d be off to Walla Walla with you all over again.

    A few might go native after having external relations with a cow or a bird or a farmer, or god help us all, a single family house on a few acres of land, but it’s probably worth the risk.

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