More Great Big Ideas

Seattle City Council, readers and more add to our "Big Ideas" story, published in the September 2011

By Seattle Mag August 30, 2011


Our call for Big Ideas to fix Seattle yielded so many interesting, impassioned entries, we didn’t have room to put them in the print story. Here are another several dozen fascinating ideas, including many from Seattle City Council members.

A Seattle Speaker’s Corner
by Hanson Hosein

It still bugs me that our already elevated sales tax pays for those two privately held
stadiums by I-5. Sports are important to a community, but not at the cost of corporate blackmail that professional teams inflict on a regular basis nationally.

What our region needs is more public spaces where we can convene and create
community; places where we can share and debate our ideas, inspiring each other to accomplish great things.

London’s Hyde Park has Speaker’s Corner. Seattle needs an open-air (and sheltered) venue too. How about in Seattle Center, somewhere between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation campus and the Pacific Science Center? Or perhaps on the south shore of Lake Union, ably served by public transportation and bike paths? We could incorporate an innovative digital capture and distribution system, so that the communities we create around our ideas continue well after we’ve all gone home. As a living, breathing monument to what is so special about our corner of the world, I propose that we name this unique public space the “The Four Peaks Forum.”

Why “Four Peaks?” The Pacific Northwest is endowed with smart, talented, and
productive citizens. However, we move mainly within our respective social circles and comfort zones. So I co-founded the Four Peaks initiative to “extend our reach,” by not just connecting idea generators, media creators, community leaders and entrepreneurial innovators, but colliding them.

In this way, we bridge the “Four Peaks” or core elements of our region: Innovation,
Community, Entrepreneurship and Entertainment. It will spawn a creative leadership
network that I hope will redefine our region’s place in the world and help sustain its
economy. But it begins with a physical structure that stands at the crossroads of our
communal dreams and aspirations.

Hosein is director of the University of Washington’s Master of Communication in Digital Media program and co-founder of idea-sharing group Four Peaks

Retire Tim Eyman by Dave Russell

If I had a blank check, I would retire Tim Eyman. Or set him up in another country, just to be sure. Tim’s initiatives that have passed have typically curtailed government income.  But we have now overdone this with the current requirement for a supermajority to raise any tax. This threatens to paralyze our legislature, and makes a mockery of representative government.

Much of Tim’s material has appealed to our meaner side, for instance, prohibiting affirmative action and legalizing discrimination. His various transportation initiatives hark back to the days when the car was king, and ignore the essential role of transportation choices for a livable urban future. One initiative would have eliminated carpool lanes.  Another is I-1125, which we will vote on this fall.

Initiative 1125 would reinforce the car culture, politicize toll fees, prohibit efficient variable tolling, and restrict intelligent use of tolls. And, despite an overwhelmingly favorable vote on both sides of the lake, it would deny use of I-90 for light rail. This will be a statewide vote, and the campaign for the initiative is well funded by a few well-healed individuals who have a different view of our region’s future!

After 13 years it is past time to say goodbye to Tim, and move ahead with the serious business of building a sustainable future for ourselves and those who will follow.

Russell is a professor (emeritus), Aeronautics & Astronautics, UW; former Kirkland mayor and City Council member; past Puget Sound Regional Council president and Sound Transit board member

Fix the Weather by Dan Bertolet

(note: the first part of this submission ran in print; we’re including the full text here)

For those who tread the wonky realms of urban planning, all the best big ideas for Seattle could be neatly summed up in a single directive: Do like Copenhagen. But allow me to propose a Big Idea that is way, way bigger than any of that, an idea that’s not afraid to take on the absolute worst thing about Seattle. No, not gridlock. No, not self-righteous cyclists. Nope, not even excess earnestness. Seattle’s lamest factor by far is its relentlessly damp and gray, cruelly calm, but ultimately suffocating weather.

My solution? A weather machine.

I got the idea from my wife, who got the idea from the classic daytime soap General Hospital, which back in 1981 had archvillain Mikkos Cassadine plotting to achieve world domination with a weather machine that could create blizzards. All we need is a similar machine that brings the weather of Santa Barbara to Seattle. Google could totally do it.

And the thing is, not only would some decent weather help snap us out of our collective vitamin-D-deficiency-driven lethargy, it would also go a long way towards improving the stuff we urban planners endlessly fuss over. Because when it’s nice out, lots more people walk and bike. The streets come alive with actual human beings exposed to the world rather than cloistered within shiny glass and metal boxes. Sidewalk cafe culture flourishes. People leave their homes, talk to each other face to face, and create this mythical thing we like to call community. Plus, you get to wear sunglasses all the time.

But more importantly, I know I’m not the only one who’s thoroughly perplexed about how a city so full of smart people can be so timid when it comes to the mounting need to reshape Seattle’s built environment for the 21st century. There is a remarkable lack of bold leadership. I’ve run out of theories except one: the weather. Can there be any other explanation for the 30 years it took to get light rail? Seattle weather turns backbones to mush.

Now, the one minor downside of my big idea is that it doesn’t exist yet. And so just in case the geniuses at Google fail to deliver the weather machine, I’ve got a  plan B: Fires. That’s right, great, big, night-time bonfires in strategic locations throughout the city. Picture the vibrant social scene that would ensue around a roaring, open blaze in an empty parking lot in Pike/Pine on a drizzly winter weekend night. Bake the soggy gray right out of us, those fires would.

Alas, the fire idea would no doubt come up against our timidity problem—a Catch 22. So, not to be defeated, I’ve got one last fall back, a maybe not so big, but truly humane idea for the City of Seattle: Ban leaf blowers. There really isn’t any explanation necessary, is there?

Dan Bertolet is an urban designer and the founder of City Tank (, an “online think tank” that features commentary from urban thinkers on the importance of cities.
Guard the Greenway by Bill Chapman
What if you came with me for a long dog walk, starting on Lake Washington’s shores, wandering the paths east along Coal Creek in Bellevue, connecting to the trails on Cougar, Squak and Tiger mountains, taking us down Squak’s East Ridge Trail and up to Tiger Mountain’s Poo Poo Point where the parasailors launch?

What if we bicycled east across the I-90 bridge across Lake Washington, through Bellevue into Issaquah to the East Lake Sammamish Trail, turning north and looping back via Marymoor Park to the Burke-Gilman Trail, through the Arboretum, returning to Seattle?

Guess what? We can do this now.

Almost 90 percent of this 80-mile route already exists on separate paths, and the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust just won a National Scenic Byways grant to plan the details for connecting a regional trail through Bellevue to Issaquah’s western border. The completion of this separated bicycle path will be a regional jewel in just a few short years.

So what’s the Big Idea? A National Heritage Area (NHA) designation for the Mountains to Sound Greenway, a landscape bound by multiple watersheds and stretching from central Washington to the Seattle waterfront. An NHA designation supports work to conserve farms and forests and recreational opportunities that are in such close proximity to our cities and towns. A blank check would enable us to keep it beautiful and accessible for generations to come.

Chapman is an environmental attorney and president of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.


More money for schools. More money for schools. -Jonathan Flint via Facebook

Nurture Risk Takers by Lew McMurran
Recruit, educate, train and motivate the next generation of entrepreneurial engineers. These are the people who want to solve problems and have the vision to make it a reality. These are the risk takers, and we need more of them. We need more of them to be female; to be of diverse backgrounds and heritages; to be highly motivated and well educated in math, science, reading and writing; to want to further their knowledge and horizons; and to have access to affordable higher education or other opportunities to reach their goals.

Our region has a paucity of this kind of talent. If we want to create 1,000 new jobs, we need 10 entrepreneurs to create 100 jobs each, or 100 entrepreneurs to create 10 jobs each. My “blank check” would be spent on the education system to produce the kinds of people who want to, and are able to, lead others and build enterprises, whether they are companies, nonprofits or something else. This means refocusing the K-12 system to not just educate students in the basics, but to help them think big; to not just work for someone else, but to start their own project with their other well-educated and motivated friends. This means reforming an education system to reward results and achievement.

 McMurran is the vice president of government affairs for the Washington Technology Industry Association.


FREE PARKING! -Melissa Hernandez via

World Class Schools by Karen Bryant
My blank check would launch and fund (in perpetuity) a new organization dedicated to establishing Seattle’s K-12 education system as the most successful in the world – by all measures. These funds would ensure that all K-12 students in Seattle, regardless of socio-economic status or any other factor, receive a world-class education throughout 12 years of formal schooling.  My daughter Lindsay would be able to attend any school in Seattle knowing that every classroom teacher would deliver the same consistent, high quality instruction. The unlimited funds would be used to attract and retain top talent for management and educator positions, reduce classroom size, invest in technology, upgrade and build additional facilities, offer annual incentives for high-performing teachers, and much more. I know how hard my sister Trisha works as a first grade teacher, and I know she is not alone. Teachers who consistently get positive results should be adequately supported, recognized and incented. Funds would also be provided to develop comprehensive programming and facilities to ensure that each student is educated on healthy lifestyle choices and provided with multiple and diverse opportunities to participate in sports and other physical activities on a routine basis. (And, on top of all that…I’d bring the NBA back!)

Bryant is president and CEO of the Seattle Storm.


Put adult fitness equipment [in parks] to help moms get fit! -Kelly Singer via


Monorails citywide! -Ben Jammin via Facebook


A big fan to push the clouds away. -Jonathan Flint via Facebook


Awesome prenatal and postnatal care, parenting classes, and classes that teach respect, manners and empathy. -Gretchen Anthony via Facebook


A more business-friendly city. A place where you are not afraid of your own city when opening or conducting business. -Farshid Varamini via Facebook

Look to Europe
by Nick Licata

If I had a check for a big idea to correct a problem or create an exciting new vision, I’d have to balance off spending it on either a major one-time capital expenditure that would require no ongoing operational costs, or on one great event to introduce a new vision for our city. Financing major projects is an easy one to identify. Replacing the Magnolia Bridge, older than Alaskan Way Viaduct and as great a risk of being taken out by an earthquake, would take a $252 million check. Building 1,700 low-income housing units, to shelter that number of people sleeping each night on our Seattle streets and parks, would take a $438 million check. Completing our Pedestrian Master Plan would be $840 million.  

Still, I would be sorely tempted to spend that check instead on one major event that could create a vision for Seattle, our state and our nation. I would pay for the leaders of the major European cities to visit Seattle to discuss how they and their respective nations, can live in cities where the streets are relatively free of people begging or sleeping on them; where workers enjoy three times the amount of paid vacations; where students attend colleges with no or minimal tuition; where the sick are cared for without causing their families to go to the poor house; and where their quality of life is at least as good as ours. I would also pay for the leaders of the 100 largest US cities to participate in this multi-day event, in the hope that we can all learn how to set our visions higher for the welfare of our citizens. We need to take a step into the future, where providing needed and appreciated public amenities exist in other cities.

Start Early and Finish Strong by Sally J. Clark

When I have a blank check to use improving Seattle I will invest in education. Now, there will be a few Big Idea submissions that put the money into education, so let me be very specific. I will invest in the Seattle of tomorrow by funding a strong start and a strong finish to basic education.  I‘ll plough part of my enormous amount of money into full day, creative, fun kindergarten that nourishes curiosity and engagement, and plough the other part of my enormous pile of money into a 13th year of study, exploration and skill-building.

For full-day, full-on kindergarten I’ll pay teachers a decent wage, invest and reinvest in great books, a never-ending supply of art materials and awesome snacks. Every child that needs one will get a free ride to and from school. Each child will feel noticed, cared about and supported.

Instead of graduating students out into the world after senior year of high school, I will offer them one of three tracks – another year of core studies, year one at a college or a year of job skills prep. Studies show that the longer you stay in school (within reason), the higher your lifetime earning potential will be. Too many of our kids in Seattle don’t graduate or they graduate, but pitch around rootless before realizing they’re out of step with the grades they need for college and the skills they need for jobs that pay a living wage. At the same time we are home to some of the best four-year colleges in the nation and we have a core of great Seattle businesses that report they can’t find enough home-grown skilled job applicants.

I will call this Project Bookends—Year K and Year 13. Later someone will rename it something better.

Safe Housing by Mike O’Brien

Given a blank check, I would invest in affordable transit-oriented housing in Seattle. We would create safe and healthy housing while simultaneously increase density in the city. Housing would also be near healthy sources of food, as well as good schools and vibrant community centers. By placing the housing near transit, we would help minimize household transportation costs. Further, this would be take strides towards housing many homeless individuals in our city—while there are many systemic reasons that residents find themselves homeless, the plain fact that there isn’t enough affordable housing is one of the many reasons so many people sleep on the streets or in shelter at night. Finally, supporting the creation of more affordable housing near transit, would put a much-needed boost in our economy by creating green jobs for the countless number of unemployed residents in Seattle.

Create a Continuum by Tim Burgess

Seattle school children continue to face a daunting academic achievement gap based on racial and socioeconomic lines. Simply put, many kids in our city face a bleak future. Nearly half of our students in our public schools are at great academic risk. The same is true across the country and the consequences can be devastating; nationwide, black men aged 20-34 without a high school diploma are more likely to be behind bars than employed.

I would create a continuum of academic interventions from birth to college for the children in this city who need the most support. And the good news is that we know exactly what to do: nurse home visits for pregnant low-income mothers, preschools focused on early learning, one-on-one mentorship programs, school-based health clinics, individualized college and career counseling, to name a few. This opportunity pipeline could once and for all close the achievement gap for our schoolchildren and would have lasting benefits for our city’s livability and economic vitality.

Just imagine a city where your neighborhood school is clearly the best choice for your kids. Imagine a city where every child in every neighborhood grows up knowing they can go to college if they want to. Imagine Seattle being known nationally as the city that cares for all its children. That’s a city I want to live in.

One Bus Away by Sally Bagshaw

I would invest in a truly Comprehensive Transportation System. Expensive yes, but worth every penny. I wish I could change the results of our February 13, 1968 election, when we rejected  $900M in Federal funding for our regional light rail system. Our failed Forward Thrust transit vote—which would have given us nearly 50 miles of fully funded light rail around our region—became Atlanta’s gain. A huge missed opportunity for us.

Yes, we have started a light rail system in 1996: we have 12 miles up and running, with more to come. But it’s in its infancy stages, costs millions more per mile, and, at this point, competes with bus routes. I want to see a truly connected system that works for all of us.

My Comprehensive Transportation System is layered with complementing and connecting routes. We’d have north-south RapidRide as well as the much needed east-west connectors. We’d have truly fast corridors with light rail and BRT, and circulators that serve local needs. Our system would include Neighborhood Greenways throughout for bicyclists and pedestrians. Everyone would have a ride, and our mobility needs—whether local or commuter—would be met, sans S.O.V.! One Bus Away would be a thing of the past because the next bus or trolley or light rail train would be along within 10 minutes. Because more of us would be walking, biking, or bussing, we’d have more eyes on the street. We will walk down the streets safely, or jump on a bike and be on a buffered lane or separate cycletrack.  And for those of us who need to drive occasionally, there would be room on the roads, congestion-free.

So, that is what I would invest in. Now, where is that check?!

Help the Homeless by Councilmember Tom Rasmussen

If I had a blank check to do one thing it would be to create the housing and the supportive services that are needed for all the men, women and children who are homeless in Seattle.

The Biggest Idea by Councilmember Jean Godden

Given a blank check (there is such a thing?), I would use the money to create the spectacular waterfront Seattle will have, once we’ve jettisoned the grimy, dilapidated Alaskan Way Viaduct that fences Seattle from the sweetest deep-water harbor in the world.

What would it be like to reclaim the waterfront? In my dreams, I see a city playground that extends from the stadium district to the Sculpture Garden. There would be tons of open space and greenery; Pea Patch, wildflower, herbal and plants that make for low-maintenance but sustainable gardens. I see broad sidewalks with room for outdoor dining, a spray park for the kids, a green boulevard and reconstructed piers for Summer Nights concerts. And bathrooms.

Near Pike Place Market, a slice of the Viaduct would be repurposed as a linear park, a Seattle version of New York’s Highline. The Pike Place Market would tumble down the hill to display produce and flowers for sale. Like the Sculpture Park, there would be a sheltered cove, a sandy beach—perhaps two—where we could actually touch the water.

There would be a fishway along the waterfront, a place to launch our kayaks, a small boat harbor and a water taxi depot. We would want public art (a giant salmon, a cascading fountain), pedestrian corridors and green streets to connect us to the city, Eurostyle plazas, an amphitheater (Shakespeare on waterfront?), or perhaps a carousel where we could float on the wings of make believe. There would be shops with curbside retail appeal and a funicular terminal with tram cars that mount the hill near Broad Street, connecting the waterfront to the Seattle Center.

Finally, there would be reminders of the city’s beginnings and its maritime heritage—a lighthouse, a Native American longhouse and a floating barge outfitted for community events. No tourist trap this waterfront, but a playground for all ages.
Let’s discover our own waterfront and create something magical: it’s the least we deserve after all we have gone through to get it.

Editor’s note: Seattle City Council Members not included here declined to contribute to this story.

Travel to Transform by David Mesenbring

Seattle now has the grant makers, universities and corporations (non-profit and for-profit alike) to change the world. But how? It’s more apparent than ever (and apparently more obvious to this corner of the U.S. than elsewhere) that a tired ethic of dominance is unsustainable. So what’s next?

Many well-intentioned Americans travel abroad on an agenda of “service projects” they inflict on populations too desperate to protest. What if the world’s single greatest ‘need’ turns out to be more basic understanding by North Americans of simply how most people live?

A dozen Seattleites recently visited Nicaragua determined to resist the American instinct to fix anything or anyone. They did urban and rural home stays with an agenda dedicated simply to learning the historical, economic and political terms of ordinary peoples’ lives. Over and over again, Nicaraguans responded “No one’s ever treated us this way before!” Afterwards, a local professor of cultural anthropology who travelled with the group subsequently wrote, “This trip was very special; something most Americans who travel abroad never experience or even imagine possible.” Such ‘travel to transform the traveler’ needs more discerning leadership than dollars to transition find our role in the future.

(The Revd.) David Mesenbring, Pastor for Church in the World Ministries
Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral


This post has been edited since it was published.


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