On my walk to work in the mornings, I pass a bench situated about two feet behind a bush that’s not particularly spectacular enough to warrant anyone deciding to sit down staring aimlessly at it. It’s just a bush and the bench was placed there so the city can say they put benches around for people.
But this bush and poorly placed bench — even if the bush is growing at super-plant speed and was once a tiny lil’ bush that didn’t obstruct a view — is a perfect metaphor for how the City of Seattle is run.
Seattle city government often pushes aside actual policy that might help people, for symbolism that could potentially mean something to some people but doesn’t usually lead to any meaningful change.
Seattle City Council is pushing income tax legislation that they know is against state law, hoping the Washington State Supreme Court justices will ignore the law and judge according to their ideological perspectives. But assuming an honest court, the law will be rejected, no one will be helped the way we’re told the law is intended to help people, but the council will say they tried. This was about symbolically standing for a so-called Progressive policy against regressive taxes.
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) just added pricey bike lanes to Roy Street between Dexter Avenue N. and Ninth Avenue, taking a dozen or so parking spaces with it. No one took the bike lanes that existed previously, but SDOT decided to give them their own, unshared bike lanes so they can say they’re committed to the safety of bicyclists. Bicyclists still don’t use the lanes. This was an empty, symbolic gesture.
Councilmember Mike O’Brien was OK permitting the homeless to camp in our parks, which doesn’t actually help them get off the streets but a symbolic gesture that O’Brien truly cares about the comfort of those living on the streets (or parks, I suppose).
Seattle changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This, of course, does nothing to address the serious issues facing Native American communities, but it’s a bit of symbolism that lets white Progressive leaders feel like they did something. We have rainbow crosswalks in abundance — a move I supported — without actually addressing the safety concerns of LGBTQ Seattlites who feel like they’re more susceptible to hate crimes being committed against them on Capitol Hill.
Seattle is about symbolic gestures, not policies of meaningful change that run the city more efficiently or help people better themselves. Yes, I’m speaking in generalities because obviously, the city pushes legislation that is more than symbolic. But they push symbolism more often than I think we realize. And, in the end, we’re not especially better off as a result. We’re just kind of left here sitting on a random bench aimlessly staring at a dumb bush waiting for something to happen.