Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan: Not in the mood

Good lord, I am jaded I guess. The latest effort to get community engagement with the upcoming revision of Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan comes complete with a sweet You Tube Video. The thing is that I know that the Comprehensive Plan (usually referred to as the Comp Plan) isn’t exactly a controlling document like the land use code. It is, like the Declaration of Independence, largely an aspirational document. Legally the City is supposed to follow the plan. But it really doesn’t. It does this using words. Here is an example:

Explore ways for City actions and decisions to have positive effects on the natural environment and human health, and to avoid or offset potential negative effects, including those caused by private projects permitted by the City.

What’s the City committed to do here? Explore!

Here’s another example from the mixed use section of the land use part of the plan. I’ve bolded some words:

LU109 Consider limits on the size of specific uses in commercial areas when those limits would:

Help ensure that the scale of uses is compatible with the character and function of the commercial area;
Encourage uses likely to draw significant traffic to an area to locate where traffic impacts can best be handled;
Promote compatible land use and transportation patterns; and
Foster healthy commercial development.

The entire Comprehensive Plan is in the subjunctive mood. Wikipedia defines the subjunctive mood like this:

In grammar, the subjunctive mood (abbreviatedsjv or sbjv) is a verbmood typically used in subordinate clauses to express various states of irreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, necessity, or action that has not yet occurred

I discovered grammer in college, something that wouldn’t surprise my editors, who must often feel as though they are reading a written version of the endless Monty Python sketch on the Spanish Inquisition.

I discovered the subjunctive mood (a mood, isn’t that awesome) when I was failing Latin. I loved my teacher, a brilliant speaks-all-the-ancient-language nerd, but I just couldn’t get it together. There were so many things to remember. I thought I’d slide through Latin but I was distracted with my last year of college and other things. I managed to pass the class, an early lesson in mercy.

But, one thing I did love was the subjunctive mood. When fellow fraternity brothers would bother me about the next “all house” meeting, the exchange would go something like this:

Frat bro: Hey dude, what’s going on?

Me: Ummmm. Not much…

Frat bro: Don’t forget, dude, that tonight is one of our big freakin’ All House meetings.

Me: Mmmmm hmmm. Right.

Frat bro: You gonna be there, dude? We gotta be there. We need a quorum to deactivate the dudes that aren’t showing up for All House meetings.

Me: Oh yeah, I should be.

And there it is, the beauty of the subjunctive mood. I should be. I should be, but I’m not because all house meetings are lame and I’m going to be at my girlfriends house. The Comp Plan is full of these kinds of hedges and ducks and dodges. It’s really a problem. And it makes it hard for me to take the process seriously. Sorry. But I promised Barb Wilson I’d share this. Please don’t let my cynicism discourage you. There’s even a Survey Monkey. Watch the video and take the survey for God’s sake!

I know I should.

What are your priorities for Seattle? 

Build on Transit?

Foster Healthy, Complete Communities?
Invest in Growing Neighborhoods?
Become a Climate-Friendly City?
Promote Great Design?

Click here to Take the Seattle Comprehensive Plan Survey!!

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One Response to Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan: Not in the mood

  1. Matt the Engineer says:

    Now I can’t even take the survey. I tried. But you’ve put me in a mood to not even be able to vote for “help create jobs and attract new businesses to growing neighborhoods”. Obviously the right choice is to vote that down – who needs jobs and businesses, or growing neighborhoods? If I was 10 I might be less cynical, and I’d think hard about the question and say “Yes! More jobs would be a good idea!” And I know the correct button to push. But sometimes it’s hard to volunteer my time to push a button that’s designed for me to push. Especially when it will just lead to a sentence in the Comp Plan saying “We should create jobs and attract businesses to growing neighborhoods.”

    Proposed survey questions (on a scale of “less important” to “more important”): “Pedestrians should be free to walk on sidewalks.” “We should not round up the homeless and gas them.” “We should keep buying fuel for our fire engines.”

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