Long-time REVITALIZATION readers know that I (Storm Cunningham) have been researching, consulting on, speaking about and writing about community revitalization successes and failures since 1996, which was the year I started writing my first book, The Restoration Economy.
In that time, I’ve probably been exposed to or involved with more revitalization plans, strategies, visions, policies, initiatives and projects that anyone on the planet.
One strange aspect is that—despite the incredibly diversity of opportunities and obstacles related to local cultures, politics, economics, environments, disasters, needs, dreams and resources—the underlying causes of both failures and successes tend to be remarkably similar.
I discussed this in detail in my 2020 book, RECONOMICS: The Path To Resilient Prosperity.
I recently read an excellent new book, Showroom City, by John Joe Schlichtman (University of Minnesota Press, 2022).
It documents the long, fascinating series of attempts to develop and revitalize the downtown of one of the most unusual local economies in America: that of High Point, North Carolina.
The book showed me that I could still be surprised by unique community redevelopment dynamics.
Now, I was surprised yet again when Seattle‘s mayor, Bruce Harrell, revealed a downtown revitalization plan with a uniquely narrow focus: fentanyl.
I’ve certainly encountered my share of “law and order” and “public safety”-based downtown revitalization plans over the years. A few of them have actually been very successful (look at Manhattan’s Times Square). But Seattle’s new plan has an unusually limited focus: a single illegal drug (plus some of the usual “space activation” tactics).
On April 17, 2023, Harrell unveiled the first stage of his comprehensive Downtown Activation Plan to revitalize and reimagine Seattle’s downtown.
Joined by dozens of downtown community, civic, and business leaders, Mayor Harrell introduced a set of immediate actions and short-term steps to make downtown neighborhoods safe, welcoming, and active, including issuing an Executive Order to address the public health and safety impacts of the fentanyl crisis.
About the plan, Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis said, “Our goal is to build a great Downtown for all Seattleites to enjoy, whether to live, work, or play. I look forward to working with my colleagues to move these proposals forward and reinvigorate the core of our city.”
These steps represent the first components of the Downtown Activation Plan, with additional actions, policies, and legislation to be announced in the coming weeks building toward the downtown of the future – a complete and thriving downtown neighborhood welcoming to families, workers, small businesses, visitors, tourists, and everyone who calls Seattle home.
“Downtown is the heart of Seattle and is powered by people – workers, neighbors, families, and visitors alike. Today’s actions are centered on immediate steps to make downtown safe, welcoming, and a destination for activities and experiences that bring people together,” said Harrell.
Ensuring downtown is safe and feels safe is at the core of the Downtown Activation Plan. Mayor Harrell issued an Executive Order to advance sustainable solutions focused on disrupting the distribution, sale, and use of synthetic drugs with a law enforcement approach to arrest and hold accountable narcotics traffickers and an evidence-based public health approach to support people struggling with addiction to these dangerous and highly addictive substances.
Markham McIntyre, Director of the Seattle Office of Economic Development, said “Seattle’s downtown is the beating heart of our city. Right now, our downtown, like downtowns across the country, is undergoing a metamorphosis. We have an opportunity to shape its future so that it pumps life, energy, and opportunity into our city, region, and state. Downtown runs on people, so the whole purpose of the Downtown Activation Plan is how we get more people to come downtown. This is an exciting moment when the whole city can pull together to address immediate challenges and dream about the future for downtown.”
Mayor Harrell’s Executive Order will:
- Direct the Seattle Police Department to prioritize efforts to disrupt the distribution and sale of narcotics in concert with other law enforcement partners, furthering enhanced collaboration between the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington, the DEA, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security.
- Launch a pilot expansion of the Seattle Fire Department’s Health One program to include an overdose response unit dedicated to quickly engaging overdose survivors to increase acceptance of services or referrals for support.
- Pilot a research-based drug abatement program known as “contingency management,” an effort to encourage individuals with substance use disorder to accept treatment services by providing incentives (low dollar gift cards). The 12-week program rewards individuals with substance addiction for abstinence and, in a novel approach, is administered where people live instead of in a medical clinic.
- Site, explore funding for, and work with public health partners to establish a post-overdose diversion facility where people can be brought after non-fatal overdoses to recover, get stabilized on medications, and access resources.
- Expand access to treatment services and overdose reversal medications, particularly in high-overdose locations.
- Form a Public Health Work Group and Law Enforcement Task Force to analyze current strategies and programs and design improvements to increase effectiveness.
Erika Vazquez and Jessica Ghyvoronsky, owners of River said “Activating empty spaces to support the success of local artists, musicians, and designers, visibly shows that Downtown is for creatives like us. We are thankful that the City of Seattle is investing in programs like Seattle Restored as it is making our creative dreams come true.”
Additional immediate actions, short-term initiatives, and first steps for the Downtown Activation Plan will:
- Fill up to 20 vacant storefronts by early summer through the Seattle Restored program, a special City government effort to help small businesses, entrepreneurs, and local artists.
- Reopen City Hall Park on June 15, 2023, with new programming, safety, and lighting enhancements, 24/7 security every day of the week, and activities designed to draw people to the park, including movie days, jumbo chess board, concerts, food trucks, and more.
- Increase the number of Metropolitan Improvement District ambassadors who help keep downtown streets clean, safe, and welcoming for everyone. Additionally, earlier this month, Mayor Harrell proposed legislation granting a 10-year renewal of the MID with expanded service boundaries to include part of the stadium area south of Pioneer Square.
- Encourage more frequent closings of downtown streets for special events, such as on-street Pickleball competitions, the First Thursday Art Walks in Pioneer Square, street festivals and music concerts.
- Increase opportunities for food truck operators and pop-up food vendors to establish a presence downtown by waiving street-use permit fees.
- Request the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board to issue “Sip ‘n Stroll” permits for First Thursday Art Walks so patrons can carry a beverage as they walk from gallery to gallery.
- Improve street and sidewalk lighting in areas of downtown where crime and disorder is concentrated.
- Increase trash and litter removal and expand graffiti abatement, focusing on the Chinatown-International District.
- Update land use policies to create upwards of 30,000 jobs and more housing units in neighborhoods adjacent to downtown and activate the stadium area south of Pioneer Square by allowing more hotels, restaurants, bars, and entertainment centers.
- Explore the potential for repurposing downtown office buildings for housing and other uses, including through a competition hosted by the Office of Planning and Community Development.
“We are showing you our work in progress and acting now because Downtown is too important to wait. These steps today will be followed by the kind of Space Needle Thinking and long-term transformational enhancements necessary to redefine what a downtown can be,” Harrell added.
“This is not about restoring the downtown of the past, but rather boldly reimagining what is possible for the future. Working together across levels of government and with private, nonprofit, and philanthropic partners, we are building a new downtown that embodies our One Seattle values and vision,” he continued.
The Downtown Activation Plan is rooted in the following visionary goals:
- Creating a downtown that is safe and welcoming for all to live and visit.
- Transforming downtown into a thriving residential neighborhood for people from all walks of life to enjoy.
- Creating a vibrant and diversified downtown worker ecosystem that makes people want to work downtown.
- Re-envisioning downtown as Seattle’s hub for arts, culture, and entertainment.
- Reinvigorating downtown as the commercial heartbeat of the city.
- Making downtown a top destination for visitors from the Puget Sound region and beyond.
- Committing to our ethos as the Emerald City by promoting a healthy, sustainable, and green city.
“Essential to any long-term neighborhood revitalization is safety and health: The fentanyl crisis on our streets is causing death and disorder – we have an obligation to do more for those suffering from substance use issues and for all neighbors,” concluded Mayor Harrell. “There are no quick fixes to this complicated challenge, but our Executive Order takes urgent steps to decrease trafficking of deadly drugs and to deliver new, innovative, and sustainable approaches helping those suffering from substance use disorder.”
Photo courtesy of the Office of Mayor Harrell.