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Bringing Sexy Back to the Comp Plan

2011 July 27
by Leslie Miller and Josh Brower

Whether you call us the stewards, champions, or guardians of Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan, it’s undeniable that the Planning Commission has a very special relationship with Toward a Sustainable Seattle, that massive, sprawling document that guides our city’s growth. Yes, perhaps it is only a Commissioner that feels drawn to tend the Utilities Element like a prizewinning rose, or who commits the Housing Appendix to memory. But allow us to unabashedly confess to having spent many a stormy evening, glass of wine in hand, passionately debating the merits of Land Use Policy 59 or a proposed amendment’s effect on the Future Land Use Map. Say what you will, for a Planning Commissioner this makes for a scintillating evening.

Okay, we recognize that most people don’t get hot and sweaty in the same way we do when there’s talk about a major update to the Comp Plan. We get that it doesn’t titillate in the same way as do backyard chickens, or the prospect of mobile food pods, or (and this might be understandable) the placement of adult cabarets. But the thing is, it should.

For those of you who have never cracked the big brown binder, the Comp Plan is where the framework policies for all these decisions get made. This is where we lay out how we should focus new jobs and housing, and what our neighborhoods should look like. The Comp Plan guides how we invest city dollars in transit, pedestrian and bike connections, parks, libraries and community centers. In truth it is the genesis, the framework from where all big-picture land use, growth, transportation, and housing decisions start. The Washington State Growth Management Act requires it.

After all, the place your backyard chickens call home is also the economic center of the region, expected to welcome at least 120,000 new residents and 115,000 new jobs by 2031, with more likely as Seattle proves an increasingly attractive alternative to the suburbs. Now is a critical time for a robust public dialogue on the opportunities and challenges Seattle faces as we grow over the next 20 years.

If you care about keeping Seattle affordable, creating neighborhoods where you can walk to what you need, prioritizing where we spend city dollars, becoming a climate-friendly city, or promoting great urban design, then it’s time to bring sexy back to the Comp Plan and get in on the major update process starting now.

What difference might it make? Consider that in 1994 light rail was a distant dream for the future, composting was for hippies, and the idea of concentrating housing and jobs around frequent transit in Urban Centers and Villages–now considered a no-brainer–was practically causing riots in the streets. Change is certain, and will bring us both new opportunities and new challenges. It’s up to us to help the city think through how we address all of these important issues and help shape the future of Seattle.

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Josh Brower and Leslie Miller are the Chair and Vice Chair of the Seattle Planning Commission. The Commission, comprised of 16 volunteer members appointed by the Mayor and the City Council, is the steward of the Seattle Comprehensive Plan. In this role, the Commission advises the Mayor, City Council, and City departments on issues that shape Seattle including land use, transportation, housing, and environmental policy.