Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Seattle's Anti-Public Sitting Law

In '80s and '90s Seattle had the "Teen Dance Ordinance," a law that tried to prevent teenagers from attending live music shows and events. It was a major hinderence to the music community because it made it very difficult for smaller clubs and promoters to put on all-ages rock shows. The Teen Dance Ordinance was just one of many nanny state laws enacted in Seattle. Nanny state laws in Seattle and Washington State tend to be protectionist in nature, they've been an attempt by government to control social behavior or limit personal choice - from anti-smoking laws and helmet laws to the TDO and anti-public sitting laws.

Yeah, I did say anti-public sitting laws. It's illegal to sit on a public sidewalk in Seattle, that's a shining example of how much city government interferes with the lives of Seattle citizens. Really though, the law was to enacted to govern the behavior of the homeless. When the police couldn't bust them for drinking in public or a criminal offense, they figured they needed another tool to push them out of a neighborhood. Why not make sitting down illegal? Great idea!

Seattle's anti-sitting law was part of a package of "Civility Laws" pushed through by then city attorney Mark Sidran in the early '90s. Some the other laws made more a little more sense. There was an anti-public urination ordinance and an anti-aggressive panhandling law, both of which behaviors invaded other people's personal space. But the anti-sitting law went too far, even for the yuppies and liberals of Seattle that don't mind big government telling them what to do. So when it was enacted, there were quite a few protests around town, including on Broadway and in the U-District, where these photos are from (The Ave, circa 1992). The city was eventually sued over the ordinance by political groups, but the city ordinance stood. For Mark Sidran, the reaction to his nanny state laws ended up costing him in his political career when he later ran for Mayor of Seattle. He has pissed off too many people as city attourney, including the music community with his defense of the Teen Dance Ordinance. And people remembered and mobilized against him with their money and votes.

Did the so-called civility laws eradicate Seattle of it's homeless population? Not at all. Although it did move them around a little, they built camps in "The Jungle" in the areas around and under Interstate 5 so they wouldn't be harassed so much hanging out downtown. But in recent years the city has kicked them out of The Jungle and they've moved back into city neighborhoods. A decade and a half later Seattle has just as much of a problem with homelessness, maybe because rather than trying to work towards a solution to the problem, city government's approach has been mainly to punish the results.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I swear Dan, this is the place I come to to remember what it was like when I lived there and to read about all the stuff I'm missing now. You're such a good archivist, you librarian you.

your guam friend