s a New Yorker, one of my favorite ways to see my city is to walk it. Other than 10 years in Washington, DC, I have lived in NYC ever since my family and I moved to this country in 1976. Exploring my city on foot allows me to discover new parks, restaurants, or any other sign of change and growth throughout this vibrant place. Now some New Yorkers may take this to another level, walking every block in New York’s five boroughs, but for me and many of my friends and family—this is simply how we stay connected with our hometown.
At the end of June, I traveled with Rachel Greenburg—a Program Manager for Cities of Service—to visit Seattle, Washington, one of the seven Cities of Service Love Your Block grantee cities we support in their efforts to revitalize their neighborhoods and strengthen the relationship between citizens and city leaders. Back in 2014, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and his team created a program called the Find It, Fix It Community Walks. These walks are led by the mayor and bring together neighbors, community businesses, and city officials to identify physical elements in a neighborhood that make it feel unsafe or contribute to a sense of neglect amongst the community. They also work to build relationships and foster a community of people who know one another. Some identified instances of neighborhood blight include overgrown trees, graffiti, street light outages, and litter, among other things. After the issues are identified, the city and the citizens work together to fix the problems, helping to make the neighborhood—and the city overall—an even better place to live.
So far, Seattle has conducted 15 walks since the program began—with seven held in 2014, six in 2015, and two completed so far in 2016. There are five more walks scheduled for 2016, ending in November. From June of 2015 until March of 2016, during the first year of the three year Love Your Block grantee period, the city worked with citizen volunteers to revitalize neighborhood issues across Seattle based on these walks, resulting in 235 bags of litter being removed, 22 art displays created, 12 lot clean ups, and six park clean ups. In addition, over 700 new volunteers were recruited from the neighborhoods during this time and nearly 200 volunteers returned from the previous year’s walks.
In addition to the city taking action to address the challenges identified during the walk, the residents of the walk neighborhood can also apply for a Community Project Grant to aid their own revitalization efforts. These grants are awarded at a $5,000 max, and can be used to create a community garden, host graffiti and litter clean up events, paint a mural, or install public seating in a park, among other citizen-led ideas. During the first year of Love Your Block, the City of Seattle received 23 Community Project Grant applications, most of which were grounded in issues identified during the walks. A total of 17 grants were awarded, resulting in much of the impact recorded throughout the year.
These walks also help to uncover some of the hidden barriers that stand in the way of effective citizen engagement. During the first walk of this year, which was held in the Aurora-Licton Urban Village, the citizens and the city realized together that there was a lack of community meeting spaces in the neighborhood. The neighborhood group was hosting its meetings in Lantern Brewing, a small, locally-owned brewery. When the walk planning began, Lantern Brewing offered to be a partner in the walk and lent its space for planning meetings and the post-walk conversations with city officials. This idea inspired the neighborhood residents to think of additional restaurants, pubs, and parks that could be used as community meeting spaces and incorporated into the walks, with the hopes that an official community meeting space could be established in the future.
During our visit to Seattle, we had the pleasure of joining the second walk of this season, which was held in the Belltown neighborhood. Over one hundred residents participated in the walk and more than 10 city department heads and representatives helped to kick everything off at the Belltown Community Center. Residents raised their concerns to city officials, including unsafe alleyways, walkability issues, and a lack of green space. The mayor answered many questions and addressed concerns, and emphasized his commitment to the citizens of Seattle. You can check out our pictures from the walk here.
As Seattle embarks on year two of Love Your Block, we look forward to what will be accomplished through the remaining 2016 Find It, Fix It Walks and the neighborhood revitalization efforts that are cropping up all over the Emerald City!