Skip to main content
Log in

Revisiting the Local Impact of Community Indicators Projects: Sustainable Seattle as Prophet in Its Own Land

  • Published:
Applied Research in Quality of Life Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Sustainable Seattle’s Indicators of Sustainable Community project was the first of its kind and remains one of the best known attempts by a community group to measure a wide range of what it values most about local quality of life and sustainability. The great irony in the organization’s notoriety, however, is that S2’s reputation grows with distance from its home in Seattle. National and international recognition has come to S2 much more easily than uptake and implementation of the project, its method, or its recommendations at home in Seattle and King County. This article, based on case study research, provides a closer examination of this received wisdom about the limited local impact of Sustainable Seattle by foregrounding the local legacy of this first generation indicators project in the form of nine different indicator projects that have succeeded the S2 project. All of these projects bear some connection to S2 and can be shown to constitute second, third and fourth generation indicator projects in terms of organizational structure, indicator framework, and approach to mobilizing awareness and policy and behavioural change. This article also offers lessons from indicator projects in the Seattle area about the appeal of an indicators-based approach generally, and the various Seattle models in particular, from the perspective of different key policy actor groups. In sum, the research presented in this article contributes to filling the gap in the community indicators literature with regard to the policy impacts of community indicator projects in their localities and directions for increasing the effectiveness of projects from the perspectives of different indicator organizations and policy actor groups.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

Notes

  1. This survey was led by Sustainable Seattle co-founder Alan AtKisson after he left Seattle to work for Redefining Progress, along with other Redefining Progress staff. In 2003, this global directory of indicator initiatives reached a total of 589 initiatives and in 2006, 684 initiatives were listed (http://www.iisd.org/measure/compendium/).

  2. Seventy-one interviews were conducted. These included, in overlapping categories, interviews with 14 former members of Sustainable Seattle, including all but one of the organization’s founding members, nine members of the Sustainable Seattle board, four elected leaders, 29 city and county government employees, one state government employee, 26 people involved in nonprofit organizations (including research and education), six politically-active unaffiliated citizens, one newspaper reporter and nine people employed in for-profit sustainability-oriented businesses. Gender and racial balance among those interviewed was also a goal of this research methodology. Interviewees included 33 women and 11 people of color.

  3. Ron Sims, King County Executive, interview 15 May 2002.

  4. Cynthia Moffitt, King County Policy Analyst, interview 19 March 2002.

  5. See footnote no. 4.

  6. Sandy Ciske, King County Division of Epidemiology, Planning and Evaluation Program Analyst, interview 10 January 2002.

  7. See footnote no. 3.

  8. Nea Carroll, S2 Co-founder and consultant to Communities Count, interview 18 April 2002.

  9. Lee Hatcher, S2 former Director and consultant to Communities Count, interview 20 June 2002.

  10. David Keyes, City of Seattle DoIT Indicators Project Director, interview 25 July 2002.

  11. The Doomsday Clock was developed by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947 and regularly calculates and reports symbolically the global level nuclear danger http://www.thebulletin.org/doomsday_clock/.

  12. Alan Durning, Executive Director Northwest Environment Watch, interview 11 July 2003.

  13. Clark Williams-Derry, Research Director Northwest Environment Watch, interview 25 March 2003.

  14. See footnote no. 12.

  15. See footnote no. 13.

  16. Lynn Helbrecht, Department of Ecology, interviews 12 April 2002 and 19 June 2003.

  17. See footnote no. 13.

  18. Quotation excerpted from the organization’s website at: www.northwestwatch.org/topics/measuring.html. Examples of catalytic reforms include compact urban development, pay-by-the-mile auto insurance, and tax shifting.

  19. See footnote no. 3.

  20. See footnote no. 4.

  21. See footnote no. 6.

  22. See footnote no. 10.

  23. See footnote no. 12.

  24. Lish Whitson, Land Use Planner, Department of Design, Construction and Land Use, interview 25 June 2003.

  25. See footnote no. 4.

  26. See footnote no. 6.

  27. Steve Nicholas, S2 Co-founder and Director, OSE, interview 20 March 2002.

  28. Alan AtKisson, S2 Co-founder, interview 25 November 2003.

  29. See footnote no. 4.

  30. See footnote no. 4.

  31. See footnote no. 16.

  32. See footnote no. 16.

  33. See footnote no. 12.

  34. The Benchmarks program and the Growth Management Act as a whole have faced their greatest obstacle from a coalition of churches and schools led by he Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, arguing that size limits on new developments outside the urban growth boundary is religious discrimination (Dudley 2000). King County weathered this obstacle by putting a restatement of its commitment to religious freedom on the November 2001 ballot, which passed easily, along with a development moratorium pending further study (Pryne 2001).

  35. See footnote no. 12.

  36. The international Global Cities Dialogue is “a worldwide network of cities . . . interested in creating an information society free of digital divide and based on sustainable development.” The Global Cities Dialogue is attempting to begin an international conversation about the possibility of developing information technology indicators for cities worldwide. Information can be found on the organization’s website: http://www.globalcitiesdialogue.org/.

  37. See footnote no. 10.

  38. See footnote no. 4.

References

  • Andrews, J. H. (1996). Going by the numbers: Using indicators to know where you’ve been – and where you’re going. Planning, 14–18 (September).

  • AtKisson, A. (1999). Believing Cassandra: An optimist looks at a pessimist’s world. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baker, L. (1999). Real wealth. E: The environmental magazine, 10(3), 36–41 (May/Jun).

  • Brugmann, J. (1997). Is there a method in our measurement? The use of indicators in local sustainable development planning. Local Environment, 2(1), 59–72.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brunner, J. (2003). Feisty Seattle mayor gets it done his way. Seattle Times (5 January).

  • Cash Driskill, L. M. (1998). Measuring progress to affect progress: An analysis of sustainable community indicators. Master of Public Affairs thesis, University of Texas at Austin.

  • City of Seattle (1994, 2005). Seattle’s comprehensive plan: A plan for managing growth toward a sustainable Seattle. Available on-line at: http://www.seattle.gov/DPD/Planning/Seattle_s_Comprehensive_Plan/ComprehensivePlan/default.asp.

  • City of Seattle Department of Design, Construction and Land Use (2003). (March). Monitoring our progress: Seattle’s comprehensive plan. Available on-line at: http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/Planning/Seattle_s_Comprehensive_Plan/ReportsonGrowth/default.asp.

  • City of Seattle Information Technology Indicators Project (2002). (May). 2000–2001 Information Technology Indicators for a Healthy Community. Department of Information Technology, Community Technology Program. Available on-line at: http://seattle.gov/tech/indicators/.

  • City of Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment (2002, 2005, 2006). Environmental Action Agenda. Available on-line at: http://www.seattle.gov/environment/ActionAgenda.htm.

  • Dudley, B. (2000). Church fights rural growth plan. Seattle Times (13 November).

  • Dunn, E. S. (1971). Economic and Social Development: A Process of Social Learning. Baltimore: Published for Resources for the Future by Johns Hopkins Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eckerberg, K., & Mineur, E. (2003). The use of local sustainability indicators: Case studies in two Swedish municipalities. Local Environment, 8(6), 591–614.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Flyvbjerg, B. (1998). Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Farrell, A., & Hart, M. (1998). What does sustainability really mean? The search for useful indicators. Environment, 40(9), 4–9, 26–31.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gahin, R. F. (2001). Indicators as a tool to help create sustainable communities: A study of the outcomes of five community indicators projects. Master of Community and Regional Planning thesis, Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management, University of Oregon.

  • Glessing, M. (1994). Catching up to Sustainable Seattle. San Francisco Bay Guardian:6(April 20).

  • Greenwood, D. (2001). Measuring quality of life with local indicators. Colorado Springs: University of Colorado Center for Colorado Policy Studies.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hall, P. A. (1993). Policy paradigms, social learning and the state: The case of economic policymaking in Britain. Comparative Politics, 25, 275–296.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hardi, P., & Zdan, T. (Eds). (1997). Assessing sustainable development: Principles in practice. International Institute for Sustainable Development, Winnipeg, Man.

  • Heclo, H. (1974). Modern social politics in Britain and Sweden: From relief to income maintenance. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hirschman, A. O. (1971). A bias for hope: Essays on development and Latin America. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Holden, M. (2004). A pragmatic test for sustainability indicators: The case of social learning in Seattle. New School for Social Research. PhD dissertation, New York.

  • Holden, M. (2006). Sustainable Seattle: The case of the prototype sustainability indicators project. In J. Sirgy, D. Rahtz, and C. Patterson (Eds.), Community quality-of-life indicators: Best cases II (pp. 177–201). Berlin Heidelberg New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Innes, J. E. (1990). Knowledge and public policy: The search for meaningful indicators. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jackson, T., & Roberts, P. (1997). Greening the Fife economy: Ecological modernization as a pathway for local economic development. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 40(5), 615–629.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jacob, A. L. (1996). Creating sustainable cities: Community-level sustainability indicators and public policy. Master of Arts thesis, Department of Political Science, University of Colorado.

  • King County GMPC (2000). Motion no. 00-4. A MOTION to Recognize Social and Health Indicators in King County. Seattle.

  • King County GMPC and Office of Budget (1998–2006). King County Benchmark Report: Tracking achievement of the King County Countywide Planning Policies’ twenty year growth management plan for 37 cities and unincorporated King County. Seattle: King County. Available on-line at: http://www.metrokc.gov/budget/benchmrk/.

  • King County Growth Management Planning Council (1994, 2005). Metropolitan King County Countywide Planning Policies. Seattle. Available on-line at: http://www.metrokc.gov/ddes/compplan/CPP-current.pdf.

  • King County News Release (2002). Community report card shows progress and setbacks. Available on the King County website at: http://www.metrokc.gov/exec/news/2002/120402.htm. (4 December).

  • Kline, E. (2001). Indicators for sustainable development in urban areas. In D. Devuyst, L. Hens, and W. De Lannoy W. (Eds.), How green is the city? Sustainability assessment and the management of urban environments (pp. 275–297). New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lee, K. N. (1993). Compass and gyroscope: Integrating science and politics for the environment. Washington, DC: Island.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leibman, D., & El-Eini, A. (1996). The sustainability movement: Rhetoric or reality? Friends of the Earth (Sep/Oct):7–11, 14.

  • Lewis, T., & Buttel, F. (2001). Environment, energy and society. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverley Hills: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lindecke, F. W. (1994). Group aims to improve environmental, economic quality of life. St. Louis Post-Dispatch:5D (13 November).

  • Maclaren, V. (1996). Urban sustainability reporting. Journal of American Planning Association, 62(2), 184–202.

    Google Scholar 

  • Meadows, D. (1993). Using salmon runs and gardens to measure our well-being. Plainfield Valley News:24 (22 May).

  • Meter, K. (1999). Neighborhood sustainability indicators guidebook: How to create neighborhood sustainability indicators in your neighborhood. Crossroads Resource Center and the Urban Ecology Coalition, Minneapolis, MN. Available at: http://www.igc.org/crossroads/guide.pdf, Accessed 9 January 2002.

  • Michalos, A. (1997). Combining social, economic and environmental indicators to measure sustainable human well-being. Social Indicators Research, 40, 221–258.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Miller, D. H. (1999). Design and use of urban sustainability indicators in physical planning: A view from Cascadia. In D. Miller, & G. de Roo (Eds.), Integrating city planning and environmental improvement: practicable strategies for sustainable urban development. Aldershot, England: Ashgate.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mitra, A. (2003). Painting the town green: The use of urban sustainability indicators in the United States of America. London: RICS Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Navares, E. (1995). Local officials hear benefits of cooperation: Seattle grass-roots group helping guide booming city. Boulder Daily Camera: 1A–2A (June 5).

  • Nickels, G. J. (2002). Mayor releases Environmental Action Agenda to honor Earth Day. Seattle: Press Release (22 April).

    Google Scholar 

  • Northwest Environment Watch (now: Sightline Institute) (2004–2006). Cascadia Scorecard. Seattle. Available on-line at: http://www.sightline.org/research/cascadia_scorecard.

  • Pinfield, G. (1997). The use of indicators in local sustainable development planning: A response to Jeb Brugmann. Local Environment, 2(2), 187–189.

    Google Scholar 

  • Porter, T. (1995). Trust in numbers: The pursuit of objectivity in science and public life. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Portney, K. (2003). Taking sustainable cities seriously: Economic development, quality of life, and the environment in American cities. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pryne, E. (2001). Religion ballot issue mainly symbolic. Seattle Times (31 October).

  • Puget Sound Regional Council (1990, 1995). Vision 2020: Growth Management, Economic and Transportation Study for the Central Puget Sound Region. Seattle. Available on-line at: http://www.psrc.org/projects/monitoring/index.htm.

  • PSRC Puget Sound Milestones (2001–2005). Seattle. Series available on-line at: http://www.psrc.org/projects/monitoring/reports.htm.

  • Public Health-Seattle & King County (2000, 2003, 2005). Communities Count: Social and Health Indicators Across King County. King County, (p. 78) Available on-line at: http://www.communitiescount.org/.

  • Redefining Progress (2000). About the community indicators project. San Francisco.

  • Russell, D. (1994). From bureaucracy to brave new world? Amicus Journal, 16(2), 27.

    Google Scholar 

  • Snow, D. A., & Anderson, L. (1991). Researching the homeless. In J. R. Feagin, A. M. Orum, & G. Sjoberg (Eds.), A case for the case study (pp. 148–173). Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • State of Washington (1990). Growth Management Act. Olympia.

  • Stille, A. (2000). Beyond GNP to subtler measures. New York Times:B13 (May 20).

  • Sustainable Northwest and Oregon Solutions (2001). Founders of a New Northwest 2000. Portland, OR, pp. 119–122.

  • Sustainable Washington Advisory Panel (2003). A new path forward: Action plan for a sustainable Washington. Achieving long-term economic, social, and environmental vitality. Seattle. Available on-line at: http://www.sustainableseattle.org/sustpanel/actionplan.html.

  • Sustainable Washington Advisory Panel (2004). Progress report on the action plan for a sustainable Washington. Seattle. Available on-line at: http://www.ofm.wa.gov/sustainability/progress04/progressreport04.pdf.

  • Wenger, E. (1999). Communities of practice. Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yerton, S. (2001). Quality of life is goal of project: Locals want region to be one of the best. C1, New Orleans, LA: Times-Picayune (Mar 21).

    Google Scholar 

  • Yin, R. K. (1984). Case study research. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Young, B., & McOmber, J. M. (2003). Neighborhood activists take Nickels to task. Seattle Times (2 May).

  • Zachary, J. (1995). Sustainable Community Indicators: Guideposts for local planning. Santa Barbara: Community Environmental Council, Inc.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

I would like to acknowledge the financial assistance of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for the research that led to this article and the comments provided by the journal’s reviewers.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Meg Holden.

Additional information

All websites verified as of 5 February 2007.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Holden, M. Revisiting the Local Impact of Community Indicators Projects: Sustainable Seattle as Prophet in Its Own Land. Applied Research Quality Life 1, 253–277 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-007-9020-8

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-007-9020-8

Keywords

Navigation