Seattle is having what City Club Executive Director Diane Douglas describes as a “pregnant moment.”
The city’s population is growing at a breakneck pace due, in part, to its booming technology industry. Seattle’s left-leaning body politic is energized by the results of the November election. Plus the boom is pushing hot-button issues, like transportation and housing affordability, to the forefront of public discourse.
Those are some of the factors that make Seattle one of the most civically engaged cities in the country. In a new “Civic Health” study from the Seattle City Club, the region ranks in the top ten in 20 of 26 civic categories across 51 cities. Those findings are encouraging but there’s more work to be done. The study shows that civic engagement is very closely tied to race and socioeconomic status.
Douglas previewed the results during FullConTech, an event hosted by the Washington Technology Industry Association in Seattle on Monday. The conference brings together lawmakers, non-profit executives, and members of the technology community to discuss the role civic responsibility plays in the broader health of the community.
As the data show, Seattle is “at a moment of incredible opportunity that comes from wealth, that comes from a vital workforce, that comes from the fact that there are 61 cranes on the Seattle skyline,” said David Wertheimer, director of community and civic engagement at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, during the event. “We really really need to harness all of those things to address the fundamental inequities that exist right here in our backyard.”
Seattle is second in the nation for individuals donating $25 or more to charity each year, with 65 percent of residents falling into that category, compared to 49.4 percent nationally. Seattle also outpaces the nation in volunteering for charity and voting, according to the report. But civic engagement is still largely stratified among Seattle communities.
Seattle-area residents with a college degree attend public meetings nine times more than those without, according to the study. Those with household incomes higher than $75,000 attend public meetings three times more than residents earning less than $35,000. White residents are three times more likely to attend a public meeting than people of color are.
Douglas also said that while donations from Seattle residents to charitable organizations are on the rise, volunteer hours are decreasing, which “makes us wonder whether Seattleites have more money than time to give.”
“Political activism has actually long been one of Greater Seattle’s civic superpowers. The newest civic health data show that that trend is actually deepening. Greater Seattleites are first in the nation when it comes to rolling up our sleeves and joining organizations to solve problems and affect change…but again, that’s not true for all of us,” Douglas said, adding, “If we’re not training youth of color to vote and advocate for themselves then we’re really perpetuating an underclass.”
So how can the city bring communities with less time and fewer resources into the dialogue? We need to go to them, says Sili Savusa, executive director of White Center Community Development Association.
“If we’re really true to the work of engaging community, getting them civically active, we need to figure out how to talk to each other,” she said. “We need to spend time in these communities of families who don’t get to the voter booth and really hear what the issues are. Unless communities and residents and folks who can vote, unless they actually vote, then we can close some of those disparities but if the settings are like this and we expect people to come, especially a broader-base of communities to participate, it’s not going to happen. So we need to figure out how to work better together.”
The civic health report, which relies on census data collected by National Conference on Citizenship and the Corporation for National and Community Service. The full study is available here.