Citizens Report: Climate Action Lab

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By Neel Blair

Editor's note: There is always so much going on around Seattle, and we'd all like to take in more than our schedules allow. Posts titled "Citizen's Report" are notes from others in your community who have found something interesting in the local scene and volunteered to share the best bits. If you'd like to contribute your own report, email

Earlier this month, Climate Dialogues and Sustainable South Seattle hosted the Transportation Shift Action Lab in the Columbia City neighborhood (we announced the lab back in June). More than 60 people attended from communities all over Western Washington to discuss opportunities for practical grassroots actions to address a variety of climate change related topics.


To get everyone revved about the lab's overarching topic – transportation -- Michael McGinn of the Seattle Great City Initiative spoke briefly on the topic of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). McGinn used a variety of familiar scenarios to reinforce his point: that we cannot simply move to alternate energy sources and/or more efficient transport. To curb climate change and make our communities more sustainable, we must reimagine the very infrastructure of our cities to support a lifestyle of fewer and shorter car trips (for more on this issue, read Alex's post, "My Other Car is a Bright Green City").

-2.jpegAfter McGinn's talk, we split off to our choice of breakout sessions on a variety of topics including land use, public transit, walkable communities, and climate change. I attended the land use breakout first, which was led by Sara Nikolic of Futurewise. We dove deep into one concept that was totally new to me: the issue of affordable retail and commercial space as an ingredient for sustainable communities. Mixed income communities have gained some traction with the New Holly and Rainier Vista projects in Seattle, and affordable housing has certainly been a major local consideration. But planning communities so that lower grossing, locally owned, small businesses can thrive pays huge dividends for mixed use, mixed income communities. Local ownership means business profits stay in the local economy, and increases the likelihood of hiring local workers. Participants who had witnessed firsthand the effects of new development along the light rail line were particularly vocal.

Public transit was the second breakout I attended, and it was much more complex and larger in scope, unpacking the many system-wide changes that are currently under way in Seattle.

-3.jpegMcGinn, who led this breakout session, stressed that 75 percent of vehicle trips are not work-commute related, so it's frustrating that so much of our local transportation system is designed to support commuters. He urged participants to join a transit advisory committee to influence service, which is at a critical decision-making point due to coming adjustments around new light rail stations and between neighborhoods.

I found that the lab offered a good mix of big-picture thinking and practical, focused strategizing, leaving attendees with the feeling that we as individuals can take responsibility and effect change. The pace was rapid and intense, but information-packed and inspiring. And in our breakout sessions, we identified concrete actions to take immediately, to capitalize on our newfound motivation.

Photo credits: Climate Dialogues

Top photo credit: flickr/bejan, licensed by Creative Commons.