Committee Recap: Introducing the Department of Neighborhoods

Home » Committee Recap: Introducing the Department of Neighborhoods

I was very pleased to welcome Bernie Matsuno, Director of the Department of Neighborhoods, (DON) to her first Parks and Neighborhoods committee meeting last week. Bernie introduced our committee to her department and told us more about the philosophy behind the formation of the Department of Neighborhoods and the many many things they work on.

Seattle's more than 180 neighborhoods roll up into 13 district councils.

We all know that government can’t do everything that a great city needs done or that every neighborhood wishes the government would do. DON has historically provided resources so communities can cultivate the confidence of self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency often means learning how to advocate for improvements that will change the quality of life in the neighborhood. For over two decades, the Department of Neighborhoods has played an important role in “meeting communities where they are,” and helping them engage with city government to build strong communities.

DON is responsible for many services in the city.  Here are the ones Bernie highlighted in her presentation:

Community groups can apply for Neighborhood Matching Fund grants, which award money to local groups for local projects. Neighbors match the grant with cash, volunteer labor, or donated goods and services. There are three levels of funding, with $100,000 at the top.  For example, NMF helped to save Georgetown’s legendary “Hat and Boots” and to fund the new Jimi Hendrix Park.  One thing I have hear loud and clear:  Neighborhoods want more Matching Funds!  Here is a link to the upcoming Neighborhood Matching Grant Program.  The next applications for the Neighborhood Matching Grants Large Project Fund are due July 16, 2012.

DON manages Seattle’s P-Patch program, which is the largest municipally-managed community gardening program west of New York City, managing 76 gardens that serve more than 4700 residents. We heard about the newest one, which is being implemented on top of the Mercer Street parking garage at Seattle Center and will have more than 100 plots.  Imagine that benefit for Lower Queen Anne – what an excellent use of the top of a garage!

In 2010 P-Patch gardeners donated 20,889 pounds, or 41,778 servings of fresh produce, to local food banks.

DON works closely with neighborhoods and city government to ensure the neighborhood growth plans developed by residents in the 1990s have progressed over their 20-year implementation period.

DON’s District Coordinators are well-known to anyone who has worked with the city on community projects. They work with dozens of community organizations on a wide range of neighborhood projects and issues and work to engage and support citizens in the city’s 13 districts. They focus on encouraging community involvement, help with neighborhood improvement efforts, and make referrals to city services.

People who live near Seattle’s larger institutions, such as hospitals or universities, need to be involved in the development plans for these institutions. DON’s Major Institutions and Schools Program organizes and staffs city-appointed citizen advisory committees for each project, so that neighborhood concerns can be aired and addressed.

Through the historic preservation program, DON protects more than 450 historic structures, sites, and objects, along with eight historic districts throughout Seattle. Examples include a number of our lovely street clocks and the beautiful 1922 steamship Virginia V.

Carroll's Clock

One of DONs most recent accomplishments has been to help establish the South Park Information and Referral Center, a community-driven multi-lingual resource center that connects people to services and neighbors to neighbors. SPIARC is a trusted resource and advocate and tailors its services to respond to the language and cultural needs of the diverse South Park community. Right now, more than 35 South Park residents are attending English classes there.

 I am very pleased to be working with both Parks and Neighborhoods. Combining these fabulous departments into one Council Committee provides us with opportunities to strengthen every neighborhood city-wide. 

We did do a little bit of business in committee, as well as focusing on our Continuing Education. We passed the revised lease for the new Belltown Community Center out of committee and on to full council.  It was passed by full council today.

You can watch a video of the 2-2 Parks and Neighborhoods committee meeting, or download the documents we reviewed.