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Seattle Tackling Equity Challenges With Global Lens

Seattle is faced with an affordable housing crisis that has led the new Planning & Community Development Director Sam Assefa to look globally for solutions.
June 30, 2017, 9am PDT | rzelen | @rzelen
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When Samuel Assefa was nominated to lead Seattle's newly consolidated Office of Planning & Community Development in 2016, Mayor Ed Murray touted his experience implementing holistic planning in cities around the United States and the world. In an exclusive interview with Assefa, The Planning Report investigates the global lessons he is applying to the tumultuous situation in Seattle.

Seattle is currently actively trying to address equity and mitigate displacement of existing residents as the communities bear the burden of increased population and diminished housing production. Assefa, who previously oversaw neighborhood redevelopment in San Francisco, shares what he's learned from other cities—and what other cities can learn from Seattle—on producing affordable housing, accommodating future growth, and revitalizing city centers for the next generation. Communication of why new housing needs to occur in many parts of the city, he says, is critical for residents to understand the overall challenge and opportunity of planning.

As part of Seattle's Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, the city released a report that laid out two scenarios regarding upzoning and modeling potential displacement. In one, neighborhoods across the city are evenly upzoned for greater density. As Jen Kenney of Next City lays out: "In the other, neighborhoods with high displacement risk and low opportunity are upzoned to a lesser degree. The report, a draft environmental impact statement for the city's new inclusionary zoning policy, gets to the heart of an ideological battle playing out in many cities."

Assefa helped establish a Capital Cabinet with the heads of all the departments that manage capital projects, such as City Light (the city's electric utility), Public Utilities, Parks, Transportation, Housing, Economic Development, and a few others. The cabinet helps better coordinate and integrate the city's investments.

Using the holistic model of local government he learned from Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago, Assefa has embedded the 'team-first' mentality that believes that each of the services the city provides should not be viewed as the work of individual departments and rather be viewed as services of "the city."

Now, Assefa is charged with envisioning the future of the Seattle Center, which is one of Mayor Murray's key initiatives. Utilizing his experience of championing Millennium Park in Chicago, Assefa is thinking about how the Seattle Center can remain relevant to future generations, and what version of the Millennium Park story could take place in Seattle.

Read more in The Planning Report. 

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Published on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 in The Planning Report
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