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Originally published February 21, 2014 at 3:58 PM | Page modified February 21, 2014 at 4:28 PM

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Guest: Seattleites, stop ignoring your neighbors

Greater Seattle struggles to master the powerful personal connections that grease the gears of compromise and action. writes guest columnist Diane Douglas.


Special to The Times

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SEATTLE CityClub along with its partner, the National Conference on Citizenship, just published a report card on the civic vitality of our region.

How do we score?

A+ on civic action. According to the Greater Seattle Civic Health Index, residents of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties are among America’s most politically minded and active citizens.

Compared with 51 other top metropolitan areas, Greater Seattle ranks first in citizen involvement with schools, neighborhood or community associations; second in buying or boycotting a product based on moral values; third in volunteering; and ranks sixth in always voting in local elections.

The civic strength of our residents — the ability to roll up our sleeves, take on challenges and get things done — is a great asset that leaders should exploit to bring the best and brightest individuals, businesses and investments to Puget Sound.

But all is not rosy. Greater Seattle earns a D- on indicators of social cohesion. Our residents score among the worst in the country in informal civic participation metrics such as talking with neighbors frequently (48th) and giving or receiving favors with neighbors frequently (37th).

The “Seattle nice” or “Seattle freeze” syndrome is real. Greater Seattle struggles to master the powerful personal connections that grease the gears of compromise and action. And given the strong pace of immigration into the region, both domestic and global, this challenge of welcoming and empowering all residents, especially newcomers, is even more urgent.

Why is this important?

Our research confirms that civic health is not just a nice thing to have, icing on the cake of regional prosperity. It is an essential ingredient for attaining prosperity. It affects local gross domestic product (GDP), economic resilience, upward income mobility, public health and even student achievement.

So what do we need to do?

Educational attainment is the single most relevant predictor of civic participation, so education should be our most important civic health investment. We must attend to the disparities of opportunity and training that hold back so many of our youth and least advantaged residents.

We can also improve civic connection and trust. Leverage the power of networks and hubs to foster connectivity — physically through public transit, parks and high-speed Internet, socially through neighborhood associations, alumni groups and Facebook friends; and in time through block parties, arts festivals, public holidays and sports events.

We can also improve our strengths. Exploit our increasing diversity as an asset. Incentivize our strong civic, cultural and educational institutions to integrate their efforts for collective impact. Embrace civic engagement as a component of public health and devote resources to improve it.

Imagine if we could keep the 12th Man spirit going and deepen it to extend to everyone, to other issues, all year round. Imagine if we could hold on to this civic spirit as if it were the force that would catapult us to the next championship. What we’re playing for is not just the Super Bowl championship, but the high stakes championship of our regional prosperity.

So 12th Man: Go meet and greet your neighbors. Hang out at the library. Connect to fellow commuters. Vote. Give to the charity of your choice. Keep volunteering. Your civic investment is a renewable energy source that will fuel regional prosperity for many years to come.

The full Greater Seattle Civic Health Index report can be accessed at seattlecityclub.org/initiatives/civic-health-index

Diane Douglas is executive director of Seattle CityClub.




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