Alan Lai, from the Chinese Information and Service Center, speaks during a discussion session at the 2014 Neighborhood Summit held at Seattle Center Exhibition Hall on April 5. • Photo by Joshua Bessex
Alan Lai, from the Chinese Information and Service Center, speaks during a discussion session at the 2014 Neighborhood Summit held at Seattle Center Exhibition Hall on April 5. • Photo by Joshua Bessex

The “Seattle Freeze” is a very real thing according to the “Civic Health Index” survey presented at the Seattle Neighborhood Summit on April 5.

The event, held in the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, drew a crowd of about 600 people in an attempt by Mayor Ed Murray to bring neighborhoods together and start conversations.

The greater Seattle region ranked 37th out of 51 large metropolitan areas when it came to exchanging favors with neighbors and 48th in how frequently people speak with their neighbors, said Diane Douglas, executive director for the Seattle City Club, who presented the club’s findings.

While Murray did not specifically respond to the findings by the Seattle City Club, he did express a need for communication between neighborhoods.

“This summit is about engagement,” said Murray during his opening speech. “We have to be able to listen to each other.”

The summit included talks from Douglas, former Seattle Councilmember Jim Street, and a community question-and-answer session for people to discuss what they want to see in the next Seattle Department of Transportation Director.

When Douglas asked audience members to share things that make them proud of their neighborhoods, many attendees spoke about problems with zoning laws.

“I can’t say I heard what I was proud of,” said Linda Clifton from the Fremont Council.

“I heard we really need a change in the design review process so that new buildings going in single-family zones and everywhere get better design reviews so we can live by them more comfortably.”

Dorothy Wong and Alan Lai from the Chinese Information and Service Center were at the event to help coordinate community members and translate concerns from members of the Chinese community. They said public safety and transportation were the two biggest concerns coming from their community. During the summit, someone handed Lai a letter written in Chinese pleading with the mayor’s office to help fix public transportation in Chinatown.

Hodan Mohamed, from South Seattle, expressed a need for more public safety in the Rainier Beach neighborhood.

“Rainier Beach is one of the most violent neighborhoods, it’s not safe,” Mohamed said. “We need some kind of patrol in the area.”

To address transportation, the mayor called for public input about the new SDOT director. Attendees called for someone who uses transit services, understands the geographical challenges presented by the region—especially snow—and could balance support for many types of transportation.

Other parts of the summit included over a dozen government and community booths—Seattle Fire Department and Emergency Management to the Waterfront for All Project— organized farmers-market style near the back of the hall.

Discussions near the booths were so loud that Murray often paused the speakers to shush the crowd.

In the end, many of the attendees were happy to have their voices heard but felt that the summit wasn’t enough on its own and that Murray’s office needs to take the next steps.

“I think they should go back, and visit and see what people said and then maybe three or four months later say we heard your concerns, your questions, and this is what we have done so far,” Mohamed said.

Mohamed also expressed the need for more inclusion and an interpreter at the next event.

“There was a lot of families here where English is not a first language,” she said.

Seward Park resident David Okimato expressed similar views and called the summit “a start” but expressed disappointment at the lack of solutions he heard.

“I’d give [the summit] a C as a beginning,” Okimato said. “It depends on where it goes from here.”

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