Seattle leads the country as the city most involved in community and school organizations. Its inhabitants rank second in using economic power for protests; its youth and millennials are most likely to volunteer; and its eligible voters usually participate in local elections. The city can pat itself on the back.
“But here’s the other news,” Executive Director of CityClub Diane Douglas told residents at last weekend’s Seattle Neighborhood Summit. “All is not rosy. Our work is not done.”
It turns out that Seattle is one of the worst cities in America when it comes to social cohesion and neighborliness. Think: busses, grocery store lines, and coffee shops filled with people on their computers and phones, ignoring the human beings two feet away. Think: neighbors not knowing each other’s names and being unwilling or reluctant to do each other favors. Think: newcomers creating the term “Seattle Freeze” because locals will say, “How are you?” but not actually care.
To be fair, it’s hard to get to know everyone. As well, not all Seattlites appreciate what the growth translates to, like changed infrastructure and more competition for the few remaining parking spaces. In 2010, Seattle’s population count totaled 608,660 residents. Three years later in 2013 the population estimate reached 626,600. That’s 17,840 added people, and more arrive daily. Douglas says that it’s essential that Seattle do a better job of welcoming these newcomers and making them feel a sense of connection.
“Civic connection and social cohesion is critically important. You can think about it in terms of your workplace – we know that when people are really jazzed about the places where they work, they feel connected to the outcomes of their work; they feel connected to the other people at their work; they do a better job, and the products of their labor are stronger. And the same is true of community. If people feel belonging and connection to their neighborhoods and their community, it’s better for the community.”
Meaning, if your neighbor knows and likes you, they’re more likely to invest in their neighborhood’s well-being, which makes it a better place for you to live.
Mayor Edward Murray, who facilitated the Seattle Neighborhood Summit, said that this is true of our civic duty, too, and that the future character of the city’s neighborhoods shouldn’t be left to City Hall’s staff.
“Only through influences and collaboration can we get things done,” Mayor Murray said. “You might think that micro-housing is the worst idea in the world. Or, you might think that micro-housing is the best idea in the world. The important thing is that we respect each other, listen to each other, and try to solve our differences.”
In Capitol Hill, there are lots of ways to be purposeful about getting involved in the betterment of the neighborhood and connecting with neighbors. Neighborhood groups interested in the community happenings and improvements, like the Capitol Hill Community Council, the First Hill Improvement Association, and Miller Park Neighbors, are a good place to start. The umbrella to those groups, the East District Council is a way for neighborhood groups to share information with the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods about what’s important to the community, and it assists the DON in ranking Neighborhood Matching Fund and Neighborhood Park and Street Fund applications.
At the more casual, less political end, the Capitol Hill Branch of the Seattle Public Library as well as The Elliot Bay Book Company host monthly book clubs; a French conversation group meets regularly at the Starbucks on 15th Avenue East; and pick-up sports teams are always looking for new members at Cal Anderson.
Be intentional. Join a dance class at Century Ballroom or a writing course at the Richard Hugo House. Chat with the person next to you at the bus stop. Invite your friends and the new person in town over for dinner. Start a Neighborhood Matching Fund project. Bring your neighbor flowers on May Day. Say “How are you?” and care.
Borrowing the words of Mayor Murray, like sugar from a neighbor, “I want to encourage all of you to stay engaged.”