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Ideas for Seattle, Climate Neutrality and Election Insights
Sarah Kuck, 4 Dec 09

A few weeks ago at Seattle's Town Hall, Alex said that Seattle should set its sights on becoming the first carbon neutral city in North America.

Soon after, a user added carbon-neutrality as a goal to Ideas for Seattle, a new site that Seattle Mayor-elect Mike McGinn is using to get input from citizens on how to make Seattle a better place. People can sign up, submit ideas or search and vote for other people's ideas. Forums have been opened for ideas about arts/culture/nightlife, government 2.0, senior service, transportation and more. Making Seattle the first US carbon neutral city has already gained more than 180 votes and has made it to the top five ideas.

Just yesterday, the American Institute of Architects in Seattle took up the call with an op-ed in the Seattle Times titled Seattle can lead the world as a carbon-neutral city:

Aligning the city's agenda with the goal of carbon neutrality makes sense, not just environmentally, but socially and economically.

What if the pursuit of carbon neutrality became the organizing principle of all our municipal policymaking? As an indicator of environmental health — just as salmon recovery is to ecosystem restoration — using carbon as a yardstick would require a host of policies that more broadly promote the beautiful, equitable, livable city we all want.

While over at Grist, Jon Hiskes has a piece exploring why in a environmentally-minded city like Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels lost his re-election bid, despite a record of national political leadership on climate:

Nickels didn’t lose the election for any reasons related to this climate work, according to him and everybody else I asked about this. There was a botched response to a snowstorm last winter—city plows cleared the mayor’s neighborhood but few other streets in the city for several days. There was a perception that Nickels favored downtown interests over other neighborhoods, and that his leadership style was too aggressive for Seattle’s consensus-driven, feel-good political culture. (Characterizing him as a Richard M. Daley-style bully is a favorite local conceit.)...

But more than anything, the downtown tunnel may have sealed his fate. The plan is for an auto-only behemoth, perhaps the largest such public infrastructure project in the country, with no room for public transit lines. It skimps on downtown exits, fueling criticism that it’s designed to shuttle suburbanites from one edge of the city to another. City taxpayers are responsible for cost overruns, and the perception is that urban representatives—who wanted a less costly street-level option—were outmuscled by suburban and rural interests in the statehouse.

Nickels opposed the tunnel at first, then fought to get it reduced from six lanes to four. Eventually he supported it, noting that, even with new light-rail lines, “there still will be a need for the delivery truck and people to take trips that transit will just not quite be able to replace.”

Local environmentalists and urbanists, says Steffen, view the $4.2 billion investment in fossil-fuel transportation as “not just a bad decision, but a catastrophic decision.”

In comments following up on the piece, Alex added:

The great irony here is that he acquiesced on the tunnel (it seems to me) in order to avoid a long fight and be able to push forward the rest of his agenda (including his climate plans, many of which were excellent, in and of themselves, however much they may have fallen short of others' expectations).

But the tunnel is such an appallingly bad choice for Seattle (pretty much guaranteed -- if it gets built -- to worsen auto dependency, to cost billions more than the very low-balled $4.2 billion estimate, to increase regional greenhouse gas emissions and to decimate the city's budget for all sorts of essential programs) that it pretty much fired up the green voter base in Seattle.

Want to weigh in on Seattle's future? Head to Ideas for Seattle and put some government 2.0 to work for better policies.

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