Politics Demand Side
posted by May 17 at 14:11 PMon
I was at their kickoff event (at Triad Development’s downtown yuppie/green offices) and wanted to second two of Erica’s observations.
ECB noted that civic-minded people like Mike McGinn (the group’s founder and director) used to run for office, but now they start groups instead.
An anecdote from the event: When the charismatic McGinn, former chair the state’s Sierra Club and 47 going on 16 energy-and idealism-wise, jumped up on a coffee table and speechified in his easy manner, an attendee whispered to me: “In two years he’ll be doing this on the election trail.”
Wrong wrong wrong, I protested. That was the story: He’s not running for office. In fact, fixated on the idea, I asked McGinn about it. “Why aren’t you running for office?”
After all, Great City’s biggest accomplishment so far is a legislative one. They, along with the Cascade Bicycle Club, lobbied and helped pass the Complete Streets ordinance, which dictates that any new roads fixes in the city must be designed with pedestrians and bicyclists as part of the equation. If that’s the kind of thing McGinn is focused on, why not run for city council?
“The question,” McGinn, who drops phrases like “We can make a better world” casually and elegantly into sentences, says, “is how to be most effective. I believe it’s ultimately public demand that pushes issues. Politicians in Seattle always tell me they will only go as far as the public will let them go. Well, I’m in the public demand side to demonstrate that the public is ready to make the changes we need to make.”
McGinn’s list for seattle includes retooling car-dominated public rights-of-way. He wants more dedicated bus lanes—and bike lanes, HOV lanes, sidewalks. His to-do list also includes changing design and zoning codes so we can have taller buildings without building butt-ugly condos in our neighborhood urban hubs—housing more people and simultaneously creating prettier ground-floor streetscapes. Additionally, he wants to push what he calls green infrastructure—building sustainable, energy-efficient buildings.
The other observation Erica made is that McGinn, who came up in the neighborhood movement, is helping redefine what it means to be a neighborhood activist. Neighborhood activist used to be shorthand for folks that wanted to limit heights, limit growth, zone against multi-family housing, prioritize cars and parking (using public policy to dictate car-dependent lifestyles.)
Now, folks like McGinn—reclaiming the neighborhood movement— want to throw off the regulations that dictate car dependence; throw off regulations that dictate bad building design; throw off regulations that prevent more people from living in neighborhoods; throw off regulations that dedicate our streets to single-occupancy cars.
The old neighborhood movement accuses people like McGinn—people who want to get stuff done—of turning process into a dirty word. It’s a political ploy, they grouse, meant to silence the neighborhood movement. They’re wrong. McGinn is a pro-consensus, pro-process, pro-neighborhood guy.
What the old neighborhood movement doesn’t like (really) is the consensus McGinn’s building and the impact that’s having on “their” process.