In the summer of 2015, Mayor Ed Murray proposed a new office to improve coordination of city planning and capital investments in rapidly growing Seattle: The Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD). The vision was to improve the integration of strategic planning functions across city departments, while also coordinating public investments in transportation, parks, housing and other critical infrastructure.
“When we develop new housing in a neighborhood, we must ensure we also have adequate open space, transportation and access to jobs, social services and other amenities,” said Mayor Murray when he proposed the office. “How we grow and how we invest will go hand in hand.”
The Seattle City Council responded to the Mayor’s call and provided for the new office to be established at the start of the new year. OPCD opened its doors in January 2016. I was proud to join the office in June.
In its first year, OPCD has already had significant impact on the future of several Seattle neighborhoods. Beginning in Lake City, OPCD worked with agencies across the City to integrate planning efforts in response to community needs. OPCD and the community created new development standards for buildings that create a more walkable streetscape and pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. Seattle Parks participated with a vision for new and expanding parks. New affordable housing investments are coming in coordination with the Office of Housing. Seattle Preschool Program classrooms, new sidewalks to support Safe Routes to School and other investments will support a stronger neighborhood.
OPCD’s efforts continued in the U District. With the Sound Transit’s new light rail station opening in 2021, Seattle is planning for future housing and jobs with excellent access to the transit station. After a five-year community engagement process, the City has announced a plan that responds to community priorities for rigorous design standards requiring new public spaces, attractive buildings, and active street fronts.
Going forward, all of OPCD’s work will be governed by Seattle 2035, the City’s comprehensive plan that is being updated this year. For the first time, race and social equity is identified as a foundational core values upon which the plan is built. Over the next 20 years, the plan will be the blueprint for how Seattle responds to and manages growth in neighborhoods, prioritizes infrastructure investments, and funds parks and other amenities that improve how neighborhoods function.
In 2017, OPCD will continue to play a leading role in implementing the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) agenda. As the city plans for more residents and jobs, OPCD will develop new community and citywide plans, with a special focus on a coordinated approach to density and investment in Seattle’s urban centers and urban villages. More homes and new housing types will respond to continued demand for more housing from residents across the income spectrum.
Additionally, OPCD will begin or expand more comprehensive community planning efforts in several neighborhoods experiencing significant change: Chinatown-International District, Little Saigon, Southeast Seattle, the Duwamish Valley and elsewhere. To better distribute economic opportunity and job growth throughout Seattle, OPCD will expand the implementation of its Equitable Development Initiative (EDI). Providing staff and financial resources toward the EDI is a major focus of OPCD’s budget request this year.
As part of OPCD’s coordinating role, I co-chair the Mayor’s Capital Cabinet with City Budget Director Ben Noble. The focus is on coordination on capital projects to address livability challenges, improve neighborhood quality and respond to long-standing equity issues. The Capital Cabinet will focus on planning on infrastructure improvements, leaving the implementation of individual project to city departments with the appropriate expertise. All city agencies with major infrastructure investment programs will participate. The first community to benefit from a pilot project of this approach will be the neighborhoods bordering the Duwamish River – places impacted by proximity to industrial land uses, legacy pollutants and risks posed by climate change and rising sea levels.
I look forward to working with you in the coming year. Together we will chart a bright and equitable future for the people of Seattle.
Samuel Assefa, Director
Office of Planning and Community Development