Department of Neighborhoods (DoN)

What is the State of the Department of Neighborhoods (DON)

Seattle has a long history of informal definitions of districts and neighborhoods.  Early definitions had to do with the name of plats. Eventually community clubs and community councils were established and lobbied for public libraries (Libraries were among the most used public buildings.) and parks.  These along with the elementary school designations bolstered neighborhood assets and identification and increased civic engagement; on the other hand some community clubs used covenants to restrict the ethnicity of residents. In 1968 the Seattle Open Housing Ordinance meant that those covenants were no longer enforceable. But of course, the history and memories remained.  During the 1970s and 80s a system of Community Service Centers (CSCs) was created for coordinating municipal services. In 1991 the CSCs were renamed Neighborhood Service Centers (NSCs) and were placed under the jurisdiction the new Department of Neighborhoods.

Mayor Charles Royer appointed Jim Diers the first director of the new Department of Neighborhoods in 1988. Affordable housing, traffic congestion, adequate parking, safe crosswalks, increases in utility bills, and the desire for good schools were among the concerns, along with drugs and gangs.

In 1995 Seattle undertook an effort to create”vibrant, safe and healthy”neighborhoods with 38 neighborhood plans with urban villages and centers to address growth, and the City Council approved the process that was created through neighborhood engagement in 1999. And until recently the designation of thirteen District Councils made up of representatives from neighborhood feeding into the City Neighborhood Council served to organize the DON website.  In the 1990s Seattle’s neighborhood planning process was considered bottom up and innovative.  Building community connections to work toward a common goal of each plan was integral to success.

In 2003 there was an extensive 170 page audit detailing the progress of the plans, 

In 2016, Mayor Murray announced that he would replace the neighborhood district council with the Community Involvement Commission.  Of course, district councils have not disbanded, and the Community Involvement Commission proposed is not prominently displayed on the DON website. You have to search for

References to the neighborhood plans can be found in the archives:

The current DON website mainly emphasizes city services, and neighborhoods are only defined by the Seattle City Council Districts, along with four listed community engagement coordinators. So far, the Central Seattle Coordinator has continued to show interest in the Central Area Neighborhood District Council and the local community councils.

Obviously, the department is in flux. District Councils serve a purpose, are not perfect and would benefit from additional support from DON for outreach. There are legitimate latecomer, newcomer, and burnout issues, but those should not be used as excuses to justify implementing a top-down process masquerading as community engagement. This is just one issue could be addressed with Councilmember Sawant at our January 13 meeting.



Citing a lack of equity, Mayor Murray has chosen to preempt the city council by attempting to flatten and replace the existing district council system.  This was just days before a response was due from the Department of Neighborhoods (DoN) on the council’s statement of legislative intent. For years the city has failed to address or implement even one of the twelve recommendations of the City Auditor’s 2009 report that sought to address the lack of engagement and inequity in the system, and to top the disgust off, the mayor’s press conference displayed an appalling and shocking lack of diversity.  Many in the community described being “blinded by the white” (click here or on the photo at the right ro enlarge it) by the group of supporters who appeared on the stage with Mayor Murray.  The City Neighborhood Council and the district councils have long been frustrated by a lack of action by the city to improve equity and engagement and now are feeling disenfranchised in what has been characterized as retaliation for not supporting the mayor's pet projects.  Blaming volunteers for the city’s failure to engage is certainly not going to bring more people to the table.  Rather than being an effort to increase engagement and voice, it appears to be an effort to divide and conquer communities who might question the mayor's proposals.

The only thing we really know for sure at this point is the Mayor wants to replace a bottom-up, grass roots, small-d democratic process with yet another hand-picked commission, with appointees, that are supportive of the Mayor’s efforts. Even with no formal announcements, rumors and allegations of a quid pro quo system are rampant.

Despite the Mayor’s stated intentions, many in the Central Area are concerned that his actions will result in additional disparity for those most at risk in our community. Please contact Councilmembers Sawant, Burgess, and González. Tell them this process is happening too fast and with no transparency or community input.

Check back here <> to keep tabs on what this means for our community.

ACTION REQUESTED: Please contact:

Kshama Sawant


Councilmember Kshama Sawant
PO Box 34025
Seattle, WA 98124-4025
    Tim Burgess


Councilmember Tim Burgess
PO Box 34025
Seattle, WA 98124-4025
    Lorena González


Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez
PO Box 34025
Seattle, WA 98124-4025


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