Seattle Indicators ’95

One of the articles in Generation NExT (IC#43)
Originally published in Winter 1995/96 on page 11
Copyright (c)1995, 1997 by Context Institute

Sustainable Seattle has been engaged in a five-year project to identify and record data which provide insight into Seattle’s "long-term health and vitality." The project, which was born at a conference in 1990, follows models created in Jacksonville, Florida, and in Oregon.

With more than 200 volunteers, Sustainable Seattle’s "civic forum" is comprised of citizens from business, government, environmental groups, and many other sectors of the community. They have defined, identified, and researched a diverse set of indicators of sustainable community, distilling the data into two reports. The first, issued in 1993, profiled 20 indicators. Since then, 20 more have been added, creating a set of 40 indicators, which are presented in the newly published Indicators of Sustainable Community 1995.

An indicator, as defined in the report, is a "bit of information that highlights what is happening in a large system." Indicators must meet general criteria, such as being statistically measurable, and logically or scientifially defensible.

The Seattle indicators report is a snapshot of the rich texture of life in the city. Measures you might expect, such as "air quality" and "real unemployment" are present, as well as many you might not – "volunteer involvement in schools," for instance, "gardening activity," and "public participation in the arts."

Taken as a whole, the news is not good. Only eight out of the 40 indicators are improving, with another 14 "showing no discernable trend." Seattle, in general, is moving away from sustainability. Wild salmon runs are decreasing, asthma hospitalization rates for children are increasing, and automobiles account for almost half the energy used in King County. Only one indicator has shown signs of improving since 1993: the number of infants born with low-birth weight.

This important report not only seeks to measure the health of the community in terms much broader than the traditional economic measures, but it also presents "sustainability" as a community goal. It acknowledges that we must establish a quality of life that can endure for our children. And it presents a model of participatory democracy in which citizens determine the most vital indicators of their city’s health and create a baseline from which progress can be measured. As its authors say, "This report is not meant to sit on a shelf; it is a call to action – to encourage changes in what we pay attention to as a community."

To order the 1995 indicators document, please contact Sustainable Seattle, Metrocenter YMCA, 909 Fourth Ave, Seattle, WA 98104, tel. 206/382-5013, e-mail Individual copies are $15 postpaid.

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