In October of 2020, the city of Sammamish, Washington, was named ‘The Best Small City to Live in’ in the United States.
The City of Sammamish has also, reportedly, taken zero sustainability actions in the past year. While they have not taken any explicit actions towards sustainability, they have signed onto the King County Cities Climate Collaboration, a coalition of most major cities in the Greater Seattle Area, encompassing over 1.9 million people in total.
This was, presumably, merely to save face, as nearly every other city on the Eastside continues to push for targeted sustainability action.
To put it frankly, Sammamish is being left in the dust.
And yet… nothing. The City of Sammamish has no sustainability staff or coordinator, no environmental advisory board, no climate action plan, and no set framework for sustainability goals in the present or for the future. While this may not seem like a big deal, its important to contrast this with the fact that every other city on the Eastside, and many beyond, have at least one of the above. At bare minimum.
And Sammamish has nothing.
We recently spoke to a Sammamish city councilmember, who informed us that the city’s current approach to sustainability is ceasing commercial and residential development all together. In reality, these plans are the result of listening to a mere handful of voices intent on maintain some sort of suburban façade, and achieving goals such as traffic reduction. The ‘sustainability’ tag is attached to it not on a factual basis, but rather to appease those who speak up.
There are multiple problems with this approach. For one, the Greater Seattle Area has over 12,500 homeless people living in shelters or on the streets. Residential development is a necessity. And just because Sammamish closes its borders does not mean that development will cease- it only means that it will be shifted to neighboring cities. And with the development will come the deforestation, the pollution, and everything else that Sammamish was trying to avoid.
As for commercial development, the City reportedly has 0.4 available jobs per person as of right now. If commercial development is stopped in its tracks, as the city hopes to do, this will remain stagnant, and residents will have no choice but to continue commuting to neighboring cities on a daily basis. The traffic may not rise in Sammamish itself- but it will only be relocated outwards. This is not a solution.
Sammamish Town Center, Courtesy of 425 Business
The City of Sammamish has two main problems regarding sustainability. For one, the City doesn’t prioritize sustainability.
It’s not just about the environment, either. That’s important to recognize. True sustainability refers to the triple-bottom-line of social, economic, and environmental sustainability, and all three go hand in hand- you cannot truly achieve one without the other two. One or two of these tenets on their own are simply unsustainable, and cannot be maintained in the long-run.
This is why it is so crucial to have a plan, that ensures everyone can benefit while the environment is preserved and protected. A Sustainability Action Plan. The last plan that came anywhere near this was published in 2011, the City Sustainability Strategy. That was almost a decade ago. And since then, we’ve heard nothing.
Second, as aforementioned, the City focuses solely on itself. If a problem is relocated out of Sammamish, it doesn’t exist. The natural world, however, does not care about municipal borders. No matter where these problems are relocated, they will continue to harm not only the environment but also local communities, until the problem is stamped out once and for all. With these problems originating in Sammamish, it is Sammamish’s role to stamp them out, and preserve equitable sustainability for all. Doing so will, once again, require a Sustainability Action Plan.
Governments in the United States operate off of what is called a ‘social contract’, in which constituents give up some of their own personal freedoms to maintain order. In other words, governments cannot exist as self-serving entities, as they derive their power from the people. And in a fair, democratic society as ours must be, serving the people is the sole responsibility of those in public office.
If sustainability is strongly expressed as a community priority, then the City of Sammamish, and all others like it across the democratic world, must move to prioritize it as well. If enough people call for a Sustainability Action Plan, the city must implement one.
Clearly, sustainability benefits all, as true sustainability ensures a triple-bottom-line of people, profit, and planet. If sustainability is in the best interests of all people, why has nothing been done?
The Triple Bottom Line, Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin
At present, cities- and not just cities, but all governments, whether municipal, state, or federal- listen to the loudest voices. As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In Sammamish, a handful of privileged people with strong connections and selfish interests often serve as the ‘squeaky wheel’, shouting their personal concerns in the faces of the city until something is done.
But if communities can truly gather in numbers and voice that sustainability must be the goal, this can be undone. This is one of the core purposes of MarbleWatch- crowdsourcing information and pressing sustainability issues in local communities, to push for targeted sustainable progress with the voices of the collective. The reason this isn’t done all the time is because it’s much harder said than done. You cannot just bring an entire city into city hall on a Saturday, and get everyone’s voices heard at once. Even with crowdsourcing, our best solution so far, reaching substantial numbers of people even in one community can be a monumental task.
Courtesy of Crowdsourcing Sustainability
So what can you do to push for a Sustainability Action Plan in Sammamish, or a targeted sustainability action in your own city?
In Sammamish, the city council has a retreat on the 22nd of December- next Tuesday. It is then that the priorities for the next year and perhaps beyond will be decided, and until then, anyone can email the council to voice themselves. All you have to do is write up a brief letter pressing for a specific action, and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and CC the City Clerk at email@example.com as well, to ensure that it is included in city records.
If you live in another city in King County, chances are your city already has some sort of a focus on sustainability, as most major cities in the area do. Still, it’s best to look around on the site a little, and if you see that they are missing something, such as a Sustainability or Climate Action Plan, find the email to send your letters to (they should be listed somewhere on the site), and write up something powerful.
For Sammamish, the 22nd is fast approaching. However, another important date is January 15th, as this is when everything will be officially set in place. While reaching the city before the 22nd is optimal, any emails before the 15th of January can still have an impact.
Here at MarbleWatch, we’re working on setting a sustainability baseline for local King County cities. Though we may not reach the numbers we need by Jan. 15, we’ll be working with the city afterwards to push for targeted sustainability action through crowdsourcing. The easiest thing you can do to help today is to take our survey at marblewatch.org/survey. All data will be kept anonymous, and will be immeasurably helpful in pushing for targeted sustainability action in King County and beyond.
Again, just to reiterate, in Sammamish, the priority right now must be a Sustainability Action Plan. Nothing will be done until there is an official city plan for sustainability, and all our efforts must go towards this first. Once the plan is in place, we can push for specific community actions.
In other cities, in King County, in the Puget Sound, and even worldwide, your city might be in the same place as ours, or it may be much farther ahead or behind.
For me, it’s been immeasurably helpful to be in touch with local stakeholders, activist groups, and city insiders, and they’re much easier to reach than you might think.
Get connected in your city through existing environmental groups if possible, learn the ropes, and get started.
Because there’s no time to waste.