Beginning in the late 1980s, the city of Seattle, in response to citizen protest through their independent community councils, created a Neighborhood Matching Fund that enabled residents in all neighborhoods to apply for competitive grants for a broad range of physical, cultural, aesthetic, ecological, and other improvements, on condition that they match the dollar value of the grant with their own labor and expertise, in-kind contributions, or cash raised locally or from foundations. The first director of the Department of Neighborhoods had himself been trained as a community organizer by the Gamaliel network. Citizens, in partnership with city staff, are responsible for design and implementation. As of 2011, they have completed more than 3,800 projects—parks, playgrounds, community gardens, public art and sculpture, ecosystem restoration and education—through more than half a million hours of public work by ordinary people, ranging from unemployed minority youth to high-tech professionals, and from every ethnic, minority, immigrant, and refugee community in the city. Seattle’s matching fund has also served as a template for more systematic neighborhood planning, mandated by the state’s Growth Management Act of 1990. First implemented under Mayor Norm Rice in the 1990s, neighborhood planning is now part of the comprehensive planning process for a sustainable Seattle. It has been conducted through deliberative public forums to generate broad legitimacy and through one-on-ones with all sorts of stakeholders to create trust. The city council holds all neighborhood-planning groups accountable for demonstrating adequate stakeholder inclusion (with clear norms of diversity and social justice), as well as for feasible and cost-effective proposals. City staff in a dozen agencies, from planning and transportation to parks and public utilities, have learned how to collaborate with empowered citizen groups. Rice, though a skeptic at first, convened his cabinet in a special retreat to make sure they understood the public philosophy behind the new approach. Voters later approved hundreds of millions of dollars of bonds and levies to fund proposals for new and renovated libraries, community centers, parks and open space, and low-income housing. Investing in everyday civic agents, and in the complementary skills and culture change of “civic professionals” in public agencies, helped produce still further democratic investments in public goods. For instance, the technology matching fund in the Department of Information Technology is now helping to catalyze what is arguably the most robust civic communications networks of any city in the United States, adding further to capacities for problem solving.
Source: Carmen Sirianni, "The Network of Self-Governance," Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Issue #24, Spring 2012. http://www.democracyjournal.org/24/the-networks-of-self-governance.php?p... [verified 4/25/14]