Collaboration in Civic Spheres

City Of Seattle Needs A Unified Vision For Its Future

by March 26th, 2010

In 2005, Calgary launched the largest community visioning process of its kind in the world.

imagineCALGARY“ was a city-led, community-driven effort that defined a 100-Year Vision for the city.

5 Simple Questions

Grassroots constituencies including youth, ethnic, disabled, aboriginal, and others, participated in a process that asked as many citizens as possible the following questions:

– What do you value about Calgary?
– What is it like for you to live here?
– What changes would you most like to see?
– What are your hopes and dreams for the next 100 years?
– How can you help make this happen?

18,000 responses were collected at venues ranging from sporting events to lemonade stands. In June 2006, the city published the imagineCALGARY Plan for Long Range Urban Sustainability.

Calgary Plan Overview

– There was a 100-year vision, goals, targets, and strategies. The long-term approach allowed creative thinking beyond the city’s current problems and consideration of larger trends, such as demographic changes and resource scarcity.
– The City of Calgary provided project staff and resources to support the more than 150 stakeholders responsible for developing the plan.
– The city was viewed as a whole system with inter-related parts, such as people, housing, transportation, education, energy, environment, health, income, governance, recreation, animals, and qualitative areas, such as meaningful work.

The key findings included 117 targets with strategies. The targets – on pages 5-11 of the plan – are quite specific, typically combining firm quantitative and clear qualitative elements. They emphasize indicators such as such growing non-oil-related industries; improving air and land environmental quality; improving sustainability in commerce, housing, transportation and waste management; and boosting voter turnout, health and wellness, public engagement and sense of community.

The lifelong learning targets include specific, quantifiably-expressed aims to increase the extent of school readiness; improve achievement in elementary, junior high and high schools; increase post-secondary training or education completed by age 25; and broaden learning opportunities for adults, and adult literacy and numeracy.

However, the plan doesn’t explain how each strategy will be implemented or funded. Instead, a large cross-sector network of partners developed a process for working together, decided which targets to collaborate on, and agreed the partnership will become a model of community action for the future.

Calgary currently convenes partner meetings, publishes reports, and shares success stories. But it’s not clear whether the city is on track to meet its 2010 targets. The consensus-building piece was a success in Calgary, and holds real promise. Yet any city will be challenged to hew to such a vision 25 years hence (not to mention 100), while also meeting interim performance goals and securing the economic and social resources needed for implementation. Still: picturing what civic success looks like, and creating vibrant frameworks in which to build it, are crucial first steps for city and regional governments faced with growing populations and growing public policy challenges.

What is Seattle’s Vision?

Seattle is updating its existing Comprehensive Plan, which filters urban vision through the prism of growth management, development and land use. It’s an important effort to be sure, and public input is being sought. But face it: Comp Plan updates never have and never will capture the public imagination, and connect all the parts that need connecting. Mayor Mike McGinn’s “Vision” page on the City of Seattle website links to an online tool called “Ideas for Seattle“ that collects suggestions from the public and allows anyone to vote on them. As of St. Patrick’s Day 2010, the top five ideas included:

– Expand as much light rail and subway as possible (2,221 votes)
– Legalize marijuana and tax it (1,425)
– Set aside park beach areas for European-style, clothing-optional recreation: sunbathe + skinny dip (763)
– Make Seattle the first US city to be carbon neutral (662)
– Revitalize Pioneer Square (614)

Ideas for Seattle is an interesting engagement tool but it’s not enough. In contrast, the Calgary process is systematic, future-facing, and draws on a diverse base of contributors, including people who have tuned out civic affairs yet have basic needs, such as streets in good repair, more police, and better public schools.

Mayor McGinn also solicits ideas at community forums on high-priority items such as his Youth and Families Initiative. The Ideas for Seattle website and forums engage the public but what is the next step? In the case of his signature Youth and Families Initiative, McGinn has made clear his view that implementation, if it occurs, is not all about legislation and public funding, though those are likely to be parts of the final action proposal. Community-based agencies, philanthropic entities and other non-government players are parts of the puzzle as well, McGinn has said. It’s hard to fault the initial focus on a particularly resonant policy area. But a more comprehensive approach for Seattle, call it a “cross-enterprise” effort, with tangible targets and a social infrastructure to build needed resources, could help focus civic thinking here.

Pamela Kilborn-Miller creates information sharing strategies to accelerate positive change. Pam’s background includes graduate research via the United Nations and work in various capacities for the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, Microsoft, KING Television, and several foundations. She can be reached in Seattle at pamkm (at)

6 Responses to “City Of Seattle Needs A Unified Vision For Its Future”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by SocialCapitalReview, said: Calgary 100-Yr. Vision has lessons 4 Seattle #government #oil #sustainability #education #urban planning #seattle […]

  2. Pam Kilborn-MIller says:

    Announcing collective progress in unexpected public places might help build momentum to accomplish a city’s vision, unleash the power of self-organizing groups, and inspire visitors to launch similar campaigns in their own cities.

    Can we awaken the competitive spirit and apply it to the common good?

    For example, at the Las Vegas airport, there are massive screens with animated casino and entertainment ads that scream for our attention. Perhaps cities could add a positive spin to this idea by creatively, quietly, and visibly sharing success stories while people wait in long lines at customs and other public transportation hubs? For example, the City of Seattle government has a 100% green fleet of low-carbon emission vehicles but most people don’t know it.

    The above idea to visibly share success stories in civic places maps to #1, #2, and #4 in the following United Nations “change process” to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

    1. Awareness and Outreach
    2. Training and Learning
    3. Implementation
    4. Measure and evaluation

    Does your city have a change process? If so, what is it?

  3. John Lewis says:

    I have been involved in imagineCALGARY since it’s development over 5 years ago. To date, the imagineCALGARY has 55 Partners (organizations that have signed on to do “their part” towards the plan). These include 4 of the 5 largest employers in the city and represent a diverse range of sectors. There hasn’t yet been major headway in the measurement of the targets community-wide. The majority of the work has been done by Partners trying to determine how they can best implement sustainability within their own cultures, which takes a great deal of time and patience. In addition, the imagineCALGARY Partnership requires time and effort to create a collaborative network where lessons learned can be shared amongst organizations. These efforts, while not the highest profile, are essential, foundational steps to ensure longer-term change.

    While it has been over 3 years since the plan was created, the scope of the plan and the level of citizen engagement gives imagineCALGARY a level of legitimacy that allows this diverse range of Partners to contribute. How these folks were engaged – by going to where people are, allowing for more diverse voices to come forward – also played a role in creating a plan that has continually inspired those that have been involved for a long time and new citizens and organizations that are just coming in contact with imagineCALGARY. As an example, this year, grade 6 students at a local elementary school are using imagineCALGARY to give them direction for local sustainability projects in their community as part of their social studies curriculum.

    Our approach to engagement has been replicated and adapted in a variety of places such as Portland (VisionPDX), Durban, South Africa (Imagine Durban) and Saint John, New Brunswick (Vision 2015). These processes also have a great wealth of information on how to engage your citizens in a way that both encourages them to voice their opinions and inspires them to action.

    All the best to Seattle in your efforts to engage your community.

    John Lewis
    imagineCALGARY Communications Coordinator
    President, Intelligent Futures

  4. Pam Kilborn-MIller says:

    Hello John – Thanks very much for your thoughtful response!

    Kind Regards,

  5. I just placed this article on my facebook account. it’s an interesting read for everyone.

  6. […] Bhatt, a reporter at the Seattle Times, and Pamela Kilborn-Miller of the Dalai Lama Center spoke about the Global Health Reporting Initiative which emerged out of […]