Seattle process

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The Seattle process or Seattle way[1] is a term stemming from the political procedure in Seattle and King County, and to a lesser extent other cities and the Washington state government. The term has no strict definition but refers to the pervasively slow process of dialogue, deliberation, participation, and municipal introspection before making any decision and the time it takes to enact any policy. An early definition came from a 1983 editorial in the Seattle Weekly, "the usual Seattle process of seeking consensus through exhaustion."[2]

"In its positive connotation the Seattle Way values popular participation, transparent process and meaningful debate. More negatively, it has been decried as a culture that values process and debate over results, that bogs down and can't get important things done."—Mark Purcell, Recapturing Democracy.[3]

"The Seattle Way usually is defined as circular consultation reaching indecision. But it also consists of an uninvolved electorate and public decisions taken carelessly, without regard for experience elsewhere and unmindful of consequence."—Ted Van Dyk, contributing columnist to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer[4]

The Seattle process, and claimed devotion to it, has been an issue in political races. In the 2001 Mayoral Election candidate Greg Nickels used devotion to Seattle process as an issue against his opponent, city attorney Mark Sidran, who promised a more decisive style.[5] However, eight years later Nickel's style as Mayor would be criticized in a re-election race as top-down, autocratic, and antithetical to the Seattle process.[6]


Prior to the election of Wes Uhlman as mayor in 1969, civic decision making was relatively quick and powerful groups could influence civic leaders without seeking wide consensus.[1][7]

Proponents of the Seattle process, such as former city councilman Richard Conlin, praised it as a thoughtful method of generating the best results at the expense of time.[8] In return, opponents referred to Conlin in 2005 as the "Duke of Dither" for his devotion to process.[9]

As the Seattle process became more drawn out, it has been criticized, usually by business interests as too slow and dithering. As an example, during the massive redevelopment of the Cascade and South Lake Union neighborhoods in the early 21st century it was criticized by Vulcan Inc. and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center that an in-depth discussion of all of the ideas would wear out the patience of other groups providing financial capital. Meanwhile, neighborhood activists complained that the proposed development ignored the neighborhood plans that were previously, and laboriously, developed in a consensual process.[3] City neighborhood activists generally like the deliberative process.[10][11]

The process has also been criticized for bland results.[10][12]

A sample of projects affected[edit]

Replacing these water towers took 14 years and almost $3 million in planning and development costs


The Seattle process as an informal method values study, discussion and civic engagement. It will involve numerous stakeholder groups. It requires the community to present effective data, and for organizers to translate data from different constituencies into useful reports for decision makers.[26] Using process to seek out consensus and hearing all opinions even extends to the corporate boardroom, not just government.[27]

Methods of participation typically include council meetings, neighborhood forums, ballot measures, and marches. Stakeholder groups are all-inclusive and usually include citizens, corporations, non-profits, neighborhood representatives, and identity or issue specific groups.[1]

Despite being called a "process" there is no definitive methodology to the Seattle process; in fact, while writing about Seattle taking four decades to build a light-rail line, The New York Times called it a "mysterious and maddening phenomenon".[17]

Outside of the public meetings and methods open to the public, the Seattle process also causes delay while politicians either tinker with, or obstruct, proposals.[8] Other cities in the area declare their ability to get projects because of the lack of Seattle process.[28]


  1. ^ a b c Bennett, Michael (2008). Economic Development in American Cities: The Pursuit of an Equity Agenda. SUNY Press. p. 115. The Seattle Way, while time consuming, reflects the city's bias toward openness, accessibility, and citizen participation.
  2. ^ Moody, Fred (2004). Seattle and the Demons of Ambition: From Boom to Bust in the Number One City of the Future. Macmillan. p. 66.
  3. ^ a b Purcell, Mark Hamilton (2008). Recapturing Democracy: Neoliberalization and the Struggle for Alternative Urban Futures. Taylor & Francis. pp. 111, 119.
  4. ^ a b c d e Van Dyk, Ted (February 19, 2004). "Seattle Way blocks transportation issues". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
  5. ^ VERHOVEK, SAM HOWE (17 November 2001). "Winner Emerges in Seattle Mayor's Race". New York Times.
  6. ^ Tibbits, George (9 August 2009). "Making nice: Seattle mayor's style a primary issue". Seattle Times.
  7. ^ The Economist. 361: 31. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ a b c d e f Brunner, Jim (27 May 2005). "Seattle Councilman Conlin flaunting penchant for process". Seattle Times.
  9. ^ a b Balter, Joni (21 July 2005). "Monorail casts large shadow over City Council races". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
  10. ^ a b Galloway, Angela (September 25, 2006). "Seattle City Council forges dull legacy". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. I am sure from the point of view of the downtown let's-get-it-done crowd, this council may deliberate too long. But the much-maligned 'Seattle process' may be a good thing,
  11. ^ a b Ho, Vanessa (March 2, 2006). "City urged to pick up pace of decisions". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "The argument that this is a 'Seattle way' and a 'Seattle process' is a compliment in many aspects, because the people here have a greater tendency to examine a project and get a better deal," said Kent Cammerer, a Greenwood activist.
  12. ^ Westneat, Danny (Jan 29, 2011). "An outpouring of viaduct love". Seattle Times. I have a difficult time imagining that the famous Seattle process could ever come up with anything that exciting,
  13. ^ a b Thiel, Art (September 27, 2006). "Huskies putting house in order". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. If he waits until state and local officials and Seattle's process-constipated citizenry are done dithering about yet another transportation issue, Isaiah Stanback's grandkids will be explaining to their friends how Grandpa's dreadlocks helped him fly.
  14. ^ Locke, Hubert (February 23, 2007). "Viaduct choices are bad and worse". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. any more inane displays of the infamous "Seattle process" of decision-making. We've had enough of the latter to last us a lifetime and, at the rate we're currently going, that's about how long it will take to get this mess resolved.
  15. ^ Gutierrez, Scott (February 18, 2011). "Demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct begins". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
  16. ^ Coney, John (October 26, 2004). "Don't undermine our best chance to fly past city's looming congestion". Seattle Times. Let's get with it, Seattle. Three votes were enough; the fourth is a corruption of that "Seattle Process."
  17. ^ a b Yardley, William (31 July 2009). "After Years of Debate, Light Rail Trains Enter Town". New York Times.
  18. ^ Cheek, Lawrence (April 29, 2008). "On Architecture: What Seattle buildings to save, It's worth preserving some of modernism's mistakes". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Juggling all the demands within the Seattle Process may mean that these buildings get saved by default: The studies, hearings and referendums might roll on forever.
  19. ^ Paynter, Susan (July 29, 2007). "Once again, the Seattle 'process' gets us nowhere". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
  20. ^ "A better shine for an urban gem". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. July 28, 2003.
  21. ^ Kim, Anne (July 10, 2006). "Water tower design criticized". Seattle Times. The project is a poster child for the "Seattle process," Rasmussen said: "It's taken so long and cost so much to get a product that isn't satisfactory to the community,"
  22. ^ Jenniges, Amy (April 10, 2003). "Raise the Roof, Broadway leaders had a strategy to jump-start the ailing business district. Why has it taken so long for the city to get on board?". The Stranger. As usual we are getting bogged down in the 'Seattle process.' Call me in about a year or two, after Broadway hits bottom.
  23. ^ Brodeur, Nicole (March 2, 2006). "Part of the process, or else". Seattle Times. Angry about being left out of the process, Friends of Gas Works Park filed a lawsuit against the city and series promoter One Reel.
  24. ^ Crowley, Walt (January 30, 2010). "Sea-Tac International Airport: Third Runway Project". Retrieved March 23, 2013.
  25. ^ "At A Glance: The Seattle Process". Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved March 23, 2013.
  26. ^ Whitacre, Paula; Annina Catherine Burns; Cathy Liverman (2010). Community perspectives on obesity prevention in children: workshop summaries. National Academies Press. p. 59.
  27. ^ Lyke, ML (November 22, 1999). "Seattle will extend a hand in greeting and raise another in protest for WTO". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Decisions are by consensus, and discussions in corporate boardrooms and council chambers can be interminable. This "Seattle Process," it is said, may satisfy everyone but pleases no one. "It's a very frustrating process. People talk forever. But the city does get things done, eventually," says Richard Morrill, a University of Washington professor who has spent decades studying Seattle and its demographics.
  28. ^ Cheek, Lawrence (June 23, 2008). "Bremerton could teach Seattle a lesson about its waterfront". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Mark another reason comparisons may be unfair: no Seattle Process in Bremerton.