How dense can they be?

Many Seattle enviros are tied to a political machine and a brand of urbanism that is helping to make the city unaffordable, less diverse, and more elitist. And as cheerleaders of density, they often ignore the downsides of regional role models like Vancouver, Portland, and San Francisco.
Seattle: residentially dense and increasingly expensive. (Chuck Taylor)

Seattle: residentially dense and increasingly expensive. (Chuck Taylor) None

The folks at the Sightline Institute take great joy in Seattle's skipping gaily over the edge into becoming a dense Pugetopolis. They and most of the environmental community have convinced themselves that growth is good, as long as it is stuffed into high-rise shoeboxes that someone has dubbed "green." Look at Portland's light rail! Admire Vancouver's skinny towers! Envy San Francisco's density! While they act as a clearinghouse for new data and ideas of interest to greens, they are ever quick to applaud the urbanization of the region in the guise of "saving it." Like this recent blog post that cheers the fact that finally, at long last, Seattle has more multi-family housing than single family homes. Welcome to the big leagues, New York Alki. If you'll note, those who express skepticism about growth and development Seattle-style are labeled as gloomsters. I am "sackcloth." The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Joel Connelly is "ashes." We are not dense enough for Sightline. The dense ones, however, believe they are on the winning side of history. Time for a "mission accomplished" lap, perhaps, along with the developers and big business interests that willingly greenwash their corporate goals to co-opt labor, enviros, and progressives into supporting urban development policies that roll over the little guy. This is the coalition that powers Greg Nickels' machine, the mayor who can't say no to "more." We know that these green-backed policies are making the city more unaffordable. They are helping to drive the poor out of town. They are displacing long-standing communities. They are changing the scale of a once-egalitarian city that featured few poor people, few rich people, and a lot of folks in between. This old middle class Seattle is now seen as unsophisticated, not worthy of protection, backward even. Some politicians are finally taking notice: U.S. Sen. Patty Murray recently called this economic displacement Seattle's "silent epidemic." Well, I guess we were supposed to be a hub for biotech, right? Today's ecotopian vision rejects some of the main tenants of the original Ecotopia, which stood in defiance of the supposedly unstoppable free market. Todays greens don't think small, they think big. They moralize globally while disdaining locally. Sure, buy a locally grown organic parsnip. Fine. I do. But if you stand up for tradition and history, you'll be run over by their hybrids. For this new breed of ecotopians, Seattle is a blank slate to be manipulated like a Monopoly board, as if no one really lives here, except the Sackcloth and Ashes mossbacks who haven't seen the new dawn. And while they're acting as generals on their land of counterpane, they often ignore – or are oblivious to – the downsides of the models they tout so often. Take Vancouver, the Cascadian city green urbanists most admire. It's a dense Hong Kong in the making. But wait. Those skinny towers haven't stopped suburban sprawl; the tax policies that created the modern city are likely unsustainable; the cost of living is sky-high; and the boom in condos is making it more difficult for the city to offer the full range of jobs and services a city requires to be healthy. Downtown is so stuffed with rich, idle baby boomers that some critics worry that Vancouver is turning into Canada's Miami Beach. Portland is delightful in many ways, always a teacher's pet city when it comes to urban instruction. But their dirty secret has now been revealed. They've been outed. What made their urban planning work so well was that they were able to outsource sprawl across the Columbia River to growth-hungry Vancouver, Wash. On top of that, Portland-style urban planning has worked so well that it's contributed to a statewide backlash that sparked a property rights rebellion that may destroy Oregon. Hey, at least they have a new tram. And then there is San Francisco, the city many urbanists yearn for us to be. Which is funny, because I remember author Gore Vidal saying that he liked Seattle because "Seattle is the city San Francisco thinks it is, but isn't." And that's true in many ways. I know San Francisco. I lived in San Francisco. San Francisco was a friend of mine, and Seattle, you're no San Francisco. Which is a good thing. Don't get me wrong, I loved San Francisco when I lived there in the mid-70s – the era of Patty Hearst, Rolling Stone, Harvey Milk, Tales of the City, Herb Caen, and Italian mayors. I love it still when I visit. But what made San Francisco is something you cannot copy. It has to do with when a city is built, by whom, and when it comes of age. It has a unique essence we couldn't replicate if we built a thousand Victorian homes on our hills. Footnote to remember: Most of San Francisco's grand Victorians were built with wood that stood where Seattle now stands. Yes, our forests built their city so we'd have a place to build our city with someone else's forests. And so it goes. But while many of San Francisco's charms are intact – it was a city built for pleasure, unlike our nanny town – the city of today is less than it once was. Even in the 1970s, natives, the few you could find, complained that it had gone downhill, had lost it neighborly, even small-town, charm. As Vidal observed, the Seattle it always imagined itself to be. Since 1950, San Francisco has not only stolen hearts but robbed bank accounts: Real estate prices have increased at double the national average for the past half century. The New San Francisco is truly a Golden Gated community. Today's San Francisco is unbelievably expensive. A city for rich people. Its black population all but driven out. Its families headed to the burbs. It's great for tourists – in fact, much of it is designed for them. The working waterfront is a Disneyland for monied visitors seeking things like hand-picked exotic mushrooms and artisanal chocolates. It even has that SoDo new-car smell that comes with taxpayer-funded stadiums and their upscale pubs. But has San Francisco's density and affluence, has its progressive politics, redeemed the Bay Area? Did it save it from becoming a megalopolis? If Seattle doubles its density to match San Francisco's, if we take down the Alaskan Way Viaduct, if we cater to "knowledge workers," can we be assured that central Puget Sound will remain less paved? The San Francisco experience offers no such assurances. The Bay Area is a sea of sprawl, despite density and despite mass transit (and maybe because of it). The Silicon Valley is ghastly and overpriced, trapped in a tech-boom economy that has turned sleepy towns into vast megacities. San Jose was dead in the mid-1970s, almost a tumbleweed town. Today, it eats the countryside. Same with the East Bay, where the Ken Behring-style mega developments of the '90s are now dwarfed. Yesterday's McMansions are mere bunglows. Sprawl hops the mountains and spreads into once rural valleys beyond. Mass transit and rail make the commuting easier, but they've greased suburban growth too. Yet the freeways are still packed. Does Seattle really want to be a so-called "superstar city" like San Francisco, a magnet for trustafarians who love to live in elite urban environments? There's evidence to suggest that this model is reaching an economic dead end, especially since the vital middle class is fleeing to less glamorous, more affordable cities like Charlotte, Dallas, and Riverside. Joel Kotkin, fellow of the New America Foundation, pokes holes in the superstar city syndrome. We may be grasping for San Francisco status just as the market for such things is about to tank. Yet this ideal is at the core of Mayor Nickels' and Gov. Chris Gregoire's hype about global competitiveness and the upside of being a sparkling, expensive metropolis instead of a workaday town. Even more strange, it points up how twisted progressives and enviros have become in terms of their priorities. Kotkin observes that "the fashionable 'left' defines successful urbanism by its ability to lure the superaffluent, the hypereducated and the avant garde. ... One wonders what true progressives like Harry Truman or Fiorella La Guardia would think of such an approach." Is San Francisco uninhabitable, an unremitting hellhole? No. Will Seattle be one if it follows its urban footprint? No. Is density itself evil? No. But let's be honest: A bigger, denser Seattle is no panacea for sprawl; it's no assurance that what we love about Seattle today will still be affordable or even available in the future; it means sustaining a vastly larger and more complex city in an extremely sensitive ecosystem, Puget Sound, that our devotion to growth is already destroying. Let's admit, too, that you can do real damage if you ignore a city's past, if you threaten a settled urban culture with displacement, if you dismiss experiences and memories as mere obstructionism. You can do irreparable harm if your theories are built on the shaky premise that only elites can save us from global doom. And you disrespect the place you profess to love if your fantasies seek to replicate urban theories that sound good on paper but ignore the roots that are sunk deeply in the soil of an actual place.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 7 a.m. Inappropriate

Noblesse oblige geoduck style...: Amen, Mossback!

Seattle used to be a working town. People had real jobs where they did real work. Now, it's a haven for DINK elitist couples, so-called professionals, and other mega-income types who push development projects that are of the moneyed, by the moneyed and for the moneyed.

Case in point: What to do with the viaduct. I keep hearing that it's necessary to replace it with either a tunnel (now defunct, thankfully) or a surface street option in order to create a seamless flow between downtown and the waterfront, which would allow development where the viaduct now sits.

Hmmmm...??? My question: For whose benefit? Oodles of new high rise buildings with oodles and oodles of multi-million dollar condos all to be occupied by those who propose all this stuff in the first place. It would be interesting to find out exactly whose interests are actually being advanced with these proposals. Who actually holds title to some of this property? Who's proposing what development options and how are they connected to others. Developers, law firms, financial interests, property management firmsand last, but certainly not least, political interests...just what does this octopus look like?

Now, my general POV is that what you do with your property and how you develop it ought to be your business; it's the Libertarian in me. But I also smell a growing class distinction that's very disturbing. It needs to be exposed, discussed, and, if not opposed, at least acknowledged and recognized. It's not just the poor or minorities who will get squeezed out by "development;" the middle-class and especially families with children will find themselves increasingly marginalized.

Ask yourselves whether the total mess of Seattle Public Schools isn't somehow directly and intimately connected to development-driven demographic changes in Seattle over the past few years.

Comparisons to cities like San Francisco, Vancouver, and NYC are partially apt. New York has always favored density, and it developed accordingly accomodating families along the way. Other high-rise cities simply got dense (in more ways than one) without regard to whether density actually served the needs of people. Those cities stopped being interesting or fun places to go, and Seattle is quickly following suit.

The Piper

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 8:15 a.m. Inappropriate

density needed: Density is how we keep supply and demand in relative balance, and avoid San Francisco style hyperpricing -- our prices are half theirs.

It's also an obvious necessity unless you think we should sprawl over farmland and forest.

And it's how we reduce the distance people travel to work or to anything else.
mhays

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 8:23 a.m. Inappropriate

read it again: I read the article again. There's NOTHING in there that argues against density. Just a bunch of unrelated pining for the past.

Joel Kotkin? Please tell me you're not quoting the nation's leading apologist for sprawl. (Even worse than Morrill.)

Density doesn't stop sprawl? Duh. The only thing that stops sprawl is growth controls -- something like ours but applied tightly in all counties, not just King.

Developers? Developers will build on the fringes or in-town, your choice. What we're arguing about is location.
mhays

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 8:26 a.m. Inappropriate

It's not the green's fault: Seattle is going to get more crowded and more expensive regardless of what the environmental moralists say. Singling the greens out as the cause of urban density is like blaming the Seagals for a Seahawk's loss. The real cause is macroeconomics, but that doesn't make for an interesting column.

Personally, I'm looking forward to the day when the cranky, short-sighted, stick-in-the-mud, middle-class populists move out or die off, replaced by wealthy big city liberals who are intelligent enough to invest in the city's infrastructure.
Sean

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 8:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Why the cost of living is going up: Easy there, Big Fella. Before you blame rising cost of living on green regs... take a second look at your in-migration.
Here in Portland, the real estate price spike has less to do with zoming & land use planning, and more to do with the seemingly endless parade of Californians, New Yorkers and (gasp) Seattle families moving in with cash to spare from the sale of their previous homes. Please note there are other cities in the country that would kill for the economic health that the urban Northwest enjoys.
Would you really trade the high-density look of Portland & Seattle for the sprawling streets of Atlanta, Cleveland, or Los Angeles? What's next? Shall we get rid of trash collection because of the undue burden on homeowners?

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Hey Piper: The Piper,

Nobody is (or was) proposing "developing" the viaduct land. That would have remained public -- part street, part green.

It's too narrow for buildings anyway.
mhays

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 10:33 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: density needed: Density doesn't prevent sprawl. Density feeds sprawl, unless you propose allowing dense urban squalor as well as dense urban wealth.

Add 200,000 units of high-rise condos to downtown Seattle. Those particular people won't be sprawled out across the region. But their doormen and domestics, nannies and baristas, busboys and grocery clerks, all the low-wage jobs that support high-wage households, will have to be housed somewhere, and it won't be in Seattle unless Seattle decides to allow new inexpensive urban housing, i.e. tenements.

Seattle is too Progressive to allow market-rate low-income housing within city limits, and doesn't have the political will to subsidize enough low-income housing for all the low-wage workers it will need. So it will export its low-wage population, creating demand for growth outside city limits.

Transit will allow the working poor to make inexpensive two-hour commutes into the shiny urban core, so Seattle will not have to see or smell its laboring classes after hours.

This doesn't just apply to Seattle, of course, all the shiny new cities around it are following the same path, creating huge demand for housing in rural King, Pierce, Kitsap, and Snohomish counties.

If there were reliable commuter bus service east of the mountains, Kittitas County has lots of room for the working poor. It's a shorter commute than many outside San Francisco.

None of this means density is bad per se, it just means that targeting density primarily to upper-income households will inevitably encourage sprawl outside the dense urban core.

Nor is this anything new, look at the mobile home parks outside Seattle, the old ones that are now closed or closing because the land is too valuable for that first wave of exported laborers.
jputnam

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Hey Piper: The viaduct strip itself is too narrow for buildings. The question is who benefits from redevelopment of all the properties whose view is currently blocked by the viaduct -- all those old brick buildings that haven't been worth enough to tear down while the viaduct is right next to them.

The benefits of removing the viaduct would be so enormously concentrated on the properties just inland of it, I'd think the fairest way to pay for the upcharge from viaduct to tunnel would be a local improvement district that taxed only the properties between the viaduct and I-5. That's where the majority of the new wealth would have gone, seems much fairer to tax that area than to tax people in the rest of the city who would either not benefit or actually lose value because of the change.

Once again, benefits to the shiny downtown core vs. the city as a whole.
jputnam

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 11:33 a.m. Inappropriate

It's all a matter of assumptions: Mossback's columns always raise my hackles until I realize he is having a different discussion than everyone else. We are all comparing dense cities with sprawling cities - the only two choices if you assume a given number of people are moving into the area. Why these articles never make sense is that he complains about density without providing an alternative.

I think the debate he's actually engaged in (and correct me if I'm wrong) is not about density - it's about population. He'd prefer that Seattle doesn't grow at all. Here, I agree - but unless you convince the world to switch to China-style population control, you're dreaming.

You say that "The Silicon Valley is ghastly and overpriced", yet claim that density is the problem. But Silicon Valley is an absolute poster child for sprawl. It's spread out, low-rise, car-based land that is emensely expensive because people want to live there. Unless you propose we make Seattle a place that nobody wants to live, I think prices will rise regardless of density.

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 11:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Give me land, lots of land...: A few points...

Removing the viaduct will innure substantially to somebody's economic benefit. To say that the land upon which the viaduct sits won't be developed because it's too narrow or that theree are promises to keep it green or whatever ignores a fundamental premise of human existence: greed driven broken promises.

Shall we assemble a list of all the ones in our community's history?

I like my suburban lifestyle, which is antithetical to urban density. I like my yard, my gardens, my space. I like to muck in the dirt and eat the produce I grow. I like it that we raised five kids in this house and that it's paid for.

To those who say we need to regulate undeveloped land functionally out of existence, my response is if you want to keep it unregulated, then pony up the $$$ to buy the development rights from the owner. Land you do not own is land over which you have no business making decisions or determining what should or should not be done with it. Or perhaps we should go the other way...From here on out, no residential development in Seattle unless it's at least on a 1/4 acre lot. People need air and space and kids need yards and people need trees and flowers and condo living is inherently harmful to your health. Take your pick.

The purpose of government should be the fostering and protection of personal liberty, not dwelling in density...

The Piper

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 12:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Hey Piper 2: I'll take my urban-living, pedestrian-oriented health over anyone's car-based, big ass health. Study after study shows that urban neighborhoods promote activity by fostering walking even among people who don't "exercise".

Believe what you want about greed and the viaduct land. But it's public land, and how it's used is up to elected officials and voters. The only people who would directly profit would be nearby landowners who would have nicer views and less noise, but the same zoning they always did.
mhays

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 12:24 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Give me land, lots of land...: Please take a step back from personal rights (which I agree with, to a point), and consider the big picture. Assuming everyone has 5 children and a big house on big land, it doesn't take too many generations before you're out of land for your big house, out of land to grow food for your 5 children, out of wilderness to play in, and because you've had to move miles from anything interesting your 5-child SUV is making the sky gray, the land paved, and the oceans rise.

We all know that the suburban lifestyle is attractive to some people. But at some point it's time to take responsibility for what we're doing to our environment.

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 12:38 p.m. Inappropriate

When you assume you make an ass out of u and me...: A couple more points...

I've never owned an SUV, so you can take that accusation, stick it in your urban density pipe, and smoke it.

Freedom and liberty are the highest values. If I choose to live in surburbia, that's my right. I believe it's a healthier lifestyle than a dense, urban, squirrel cage dwelling. Too harsh? Well, so are the slings and arrows outrageously getting fortuned my way.

Your "environmental responsibiity" is, to me, the new millenium's fascist totalitarianism. Chicken Little has nothing on Al Gore. A lot of what we're hearing now is the same type of hysteria foisted on us in the late 60's by The Club of Rome types and Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb. Limiting freedom and denying people the liberty of choice all done in the name of clean air and clean water doesn't make it less tyranical. Green tyranny is tyranny nonetheless.

If people choose to live in dense high rises, that's their right. If people choose not to, that's their right too. I need my space! Otherwise where would the Ol' Piper play his bagpipe, eh what???

The Piper

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 12:47 p.m. Inappropriate

urban dwellers: I missed a comment above, something about density causing sprawl.

This is utterly wrong.

If 200,000 people were added to Seattle (your number), that's 200,000 people who would not be living just outside of Seattle. Or something like that.

When new units are built (assuming old ones aren't torn down), it helps low-income people, because the old units have now become available. Our stock of old "middle class" apartments is our best resource for affordable housing, as long as new units keep supply ahead of demand. Units tend to move slowly downmarket over time.

PS, most Downtown residents aren't rich. I'm sure not.
mhays

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 1:10 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: When you assume you make an ass out of u and me...: Back in the 60's there were a lot fewer people in WA. Your house probably cost a quarter of what it does now (even adjusted for inflation). There were much fewer roads, more farmland, cleaner air, more wildlife, and more trees. Exactly how were those people wrong?

If this has happened in just over a generation, what will WA look like 5 generations from now? I want to agree with you about personal liberties - I hold it as the highest value short of survival. But what I don't see from you is a long-term plan. How will your world look in 50 years?

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 2:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Seattle Density: Developer Welfare, Enviro Wet Dream: I applaud Knute's questioning of Seattle's density cult. It's taken on an "a priori", religious like fervor with some groups - an enviro wet dream for all our urban ills.

Increasing density "in city" is not necessarily a bad idea, it's all in the application - its translation into public policy.

Seattle's electeds and their clueless corporate "environmental" allies have utterly failed to articulate and implement intelligent land use and density policies without needlessly sacrificing the very qualities that once made Seattle such a desirable and affordable place to live.

While ironically, as Knute points out, accelerating the problems densification claims to solve.

It doesn't have to be this way. Density and retaining the past and present qualities of our city - including affordable housing and keeping families - are not mutually exclusive.

However, that seems to be the unfortunate case in Seattle, where land use polices are "greenwashed" as a means to provide rapid, very high rates of return for developers at great and lasting cost to the rest of us.

Density in Seattle is little more than a developer's relief act. It has little to do with the usual environmental buzzwords.

In Seattle, we, through our elected Mayor and Council, allow developers to set the political and land use agenda, exerting enormous power over the creation and implementation of said polices.

There's a reason why Nickel's DPD is euphemistically called the Dept. of Planning FOR Developers, and why the campaign treasuries of Mayor and Council are increasingly funded by development interests.

That's what's truly "green" about Seattle style environmentalism - the color of money.

Developers and their allies set and influence the agenda to their own profitable advantage. Why not? They're in business, not altruists. In the process of doing so they've cleverly co-opted a naive environmental element that's bought into the idea that densification as practiced here is a valid eco and "sustainable" principal.

It's not, of course.

Our electeds and their "green" constituencies have fostered a developer's profit driven, "land rush" mentality seeking quick buck, market rate residential and business opportunities justified under the illegitimate and deliberate misuse of otherwise reasonable urban design and environmental principles.

This is obvious to anyone living amongst the ever widening sea of expensive but shoddily constructed, cookie cutter townhomes and condos spreading cancer like throughout our neighborhoods.

Bringing (ironically) more traffic, pollution and sterile, pedestrian hostile landscapes while our city budget can't fund the increased services that such rampant, uncontrolled development causes.

There is nothing "sustainable" - particularly in fiscal terms - about Seattle's density policies. Rapid, endless increases in property and other taxes to meet public service demands from uncontrolled development has never been a long term formula for urban success.

Anyone who thinks we're going to beat that model this time around by catering to affluent retirees, singles and DINKS working tech jobs while every one else sprawls to the 'burbs should lay off the kool aid.

It's not "different this time". It rarely is, as the next major recession will amply demonstrate.

What we need, as I think Knute implies, is a new dialogue on density, land use and what kind of city policies - and politicians - we need to sustain a truly vibrant, diverse, fiscally stable and successful urban environment.

We don't have it now, and we are not getting it from this Mayor and Council.

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 3:23 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Seattle Density: Developer Welfare, Enviro Wet Dream: I think you make very good points except for this one:

//endless increases in property and other taxes// Surely more people equals more taxes, in the same proportion. Considering you aren't adding streets, perhaps in a more favorable proportion.

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 3:45 p.m. Inappropriate

where?: So you don't like density, or at least the real-world application of density. So where would you put all the additional people?

Maybe someone can do Knute one better -- don't just commiserate, propose a solution! Is it additional sprawl? Is it higher density somewhere else? Mandatory sterilization? A moat?

Walking is a huge plus in the pro-density column. Density gives more people the option of being within walking distance. And personally I like walking through dense areas with lots of stores and interesting streetscapes, as well as occasional parks. Preferably with all streets lined with wide sidewalks and big shade trees.

Of course high-density projects should be done right. But every type of project, from rural to suburban to urban, has plenty of examples of questionable aesthetics or quality, to put it mildly.
mhays

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 3:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Government planners at work: The discussion on sprawl and density needs to be informed by the earnest activity of the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), made up of elected officials from King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap Counties, supported by a central staff of professionals working in a downtown Seattle office headed by former Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel.

This organization is right now planning our 2040 regional landscape. In monthly meetings, it is all coming together. Click for the PSRC web home page.

The latest, just-published version of the PSRC vision, with a neat map and a recommended distribution of population among the various cities of the region, is viewable (only two clicks deep in the PSRC web, but you gotta know where to look!) by clicking here.

Look at the map and ask them questions. PSRC loves to hear from the citizens.

Over the next month, the PSRC will be certifying the compatibility between the planners' land use vision and the $25 billion next phase of Sound Transit's light rail plan to provide a means for about 2% of daily travelers in 2040 to look out train windows at the doubling (or maybe tripling) of traffic congestion that PSRC already forecasts as one outcome of the vision. (That 2% is PSRC's ridership forecast. I estimate that no more than 4% of daily travelers could possibly be on the trains with the light rail system maxed out at four-car trains full to crush capacity.)

PSRC is where land use planning and transportation planning come together. The agency wins awards from planning peers across America. Get to know them.
jniles

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 3:59 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Seattle Density: Developer Welfare, Enviro Wet Dream: Thanks for the comment.

The assumption is we get "more" people.

I don't think we are.

Part of the density fallacy is the ill supported assumption that Seattle's population is going to increase dramatically in a relatively short time, thus generating more taxes and need for more density.

This is not likely to happen for more reasons than I can state here, but will likely write about soon.

Suffice to say that most of the "official" population projects provided by such groups as the Puget Sound Regional Council and pro density corporate enviro groups, such as "Futurewise" (neither future nor wise but with a well paid staff), are bogus, imo.

Mostly linear projections based on past performance combined with impossibly optimistic economic forecasts and rose colored fiscal figures. Reminds me of SMP's mvet projections.

Population and economic projections generated by public and non profit institutions frequently reflect political and special interest needs and agendas, not reality. Guess who those political and SI's are?

Three things to consider in the interim.

One: I moved here in 1977. Seattle's (not the County's) pop was less than 500K as I recall, now 30 years later it's hardly 60-80K more than that. That's not growth - that's stagnation. You can't find that growth rate with an electron 'scope.

Two: What has changed are the demographics, from families and marrieds to singles, DINKS and retiree transplants. We're exchanging one population for another, but not growing it much. Ironically, the only population growth is in the number of cars: Singles and dual incomes bring more cars.

Three: What is more likely to happen is flat to negative population growth within the City limits, caused by ever increasing housing prices, higher taxes from a shrinking tax base, decline in city services and a deterioration in overall quality of city life.

Exactly what's happened to San Francisco proper, and other cities. Pop growth there is approaching negative, if not there already.

Entire demographics, those that represent the greatest potential for population growth, are systematically being barred from Seattle entry: Low to middle income, families looking for quality public schools, those in need of affordable homes and rentals, etc.

So where are these claimed Beijing like growth rates driving Seattle's density and preventing sprawl going to come from if entire demographic classes can't afford or otherwise want to live here?

That's why all the real growth the last 30 years has been in the burbs, and will continue to be so. Good schools, affordable and desirable housing and jobs drive growth. The ‘burbs dominate in those categories. Seattle doesn't.

Seattle's population growth rate is going no where, self serving developer and enviro wet dreaming urban visionaries aside.

That's why the Mayor and Council are so desperate to annex Highline and White Center, even though it makes no economic sense for Seattle. It's the only way to get our pop above the magic 600,000 number.

What then? Annex Renton?

Don't think they'd like that much.

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 4:10 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Government planners at work: "Government Planners at work"

That's what scares me.

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 4:31 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Hey Piper: Uhhh I think that you mean no one is publicly proposing developing that land. Nickles takes his marching orders from the developers. you don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to think that developer influence on the Mayor is why he fought so hard for that tunnel.

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 4:32 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Seattle Density: Developer Welfare, Enviro Wet Dream: I'm not sure I buy the focal point of your arguement:

"What is more likely to happen is flat to negative population growth within the City limits, caused by ever increasing housing prices, higher taxes from a shrinking tax base, decline in city services and a deterioration in overall quality of city life."

Let's look at each of these.
1. Are you saying that building more homes increases housing prices? I don't think you'll find an economist anywhere that agrees with you.
2. Higher taxes. This is certainly seperate from density. As I stated before, more people = more tax revenue with less tax requirements - overall a neutral or lower tax per person.
3. Decline in services. See #2. Unless you are including the fewer roads per person, there are the same services per person.
4. Quality of life. I only have anicdotal info on this one, but my life has improved drastically since I moved to the city - closer connection to neighbors, much smaller commute, world-class entertainment...

Your arguments seem very disconnected from your opinions. Let's start with the basics to understand each other. Are you saying that building more housing in the city is causing people to move away, and causing housing prices to increase? So there are people building condos with no expectation of anyone ever living there? If that wasn't their plan but is their experience, wouldn't they have some incentive to lower their prices, rather than raise them? As it feels ridiculous to ask these questions, I'll assume I'm not understanding your argument.

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 5:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Social engineering run amok...: The best laid plans, etc., underpins a lot of what's going on.

One comment talked about the need to be planning for the next 50-years. How in the world can we know what's happening over the next 50-years when we can hardly plan the next 50-hours?

All it will take is one Nisqually +++ sized earthquake to render those plans moot. No plan accurately predicts the future. People live, work, and move where they go. We put way too much stock in plans most of which look like something only a Soviet demand economist would love. Build those tractors!

Mossback or Joel Connelly can't hold a candle to the ultimate anti-migration guru, the late Emmett Watson. Founder of "Lesser Seattle," he was all for throwing you carpetbaggers out. Hell, I've lived here since early '63, but he would have yanked my...pardon my use of the politically correct term in this context..."green" card and sent me packing wihtout further adieu.

Californians have been moving here and mucking up everything for decades. It's in their nature, so don't put all the blame on them. Forgive them, greenies, for they know not what they do. There's something about the freedom to put your household goods on the truck and investigate all potential destinations of the truck including smug and smarmy Seattle.

What should be done with the land under the viaduct? How about a new one or, better still, retrofit the one we've got. The 100,000 plus people who can't afford to buy in Seattle's multiple versions of Fawlty Towers need that thing to commute through town on their way down to those dirty jobs on the waterfront or in what's left of the manufacturing sector of Seattle south of SoDo and all along the Duwamish. Anyone who says that the Viaduct property will be kept green or whatever hasn't been paying attention to what's happening in Renton with the new Sonics arena where bags of taxpayer cash will soon disappear. No man's (or woman's) life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature or - maybe especially - the Seattle City Council are in session.

I'm under doctor's orders not to discuss the King County Council.

Everyone complains about sprawl as if it's tantamount to the Bubonic Plague. Sprawl creates places for people to live, it creates jobs and economic viability. Sometimes sprawl is more people friendly than leaving land undeveloped. There's a place for sprawl, just as there's - shudder - a place for downtown cave dwllers.

All this urban density and genuflection at the alter of governmental planning and regulation smacks of something out of a George Orwell novel. High rise, tiny space, cubicle dwelling reminds me of the old Malvina Reynolds song, "Little Boxes." She intended it as a lampoon of conformist suburbia (Little houses, little houses, little houses made of ticky-tacky), but it seems to me that it applies more these days to the postage stamp-sized monk cell spaces urbanites call home. Yet these shoeboxes go for more than the gross national product of most third world nations.

Nah...I'll take human freedom in the 'burbs where I've got the neatest raised bed vegetable garden. Swing by in July and August, and I'll fix you up with more produce than you can handle. Hope you like beets.

The Piper

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 5:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Sprawl Great Neighborhoods Horizontally, Stack Offices Vertically: What used to be a great Seattle with a healthy middle class, great schools, good roads and a great environment has turned into a bizarre fish-worshipping, vision of utopia with a declining middle class, neglect of neighborhoods, and manure-headed boosterism projects such as
- the stadium-of-the-year (Whither the poor, impoverished, self-inflicted homeless Sonics? Tent City?)
- the trolley-car of the century (SoundTransit is the quintessential bloated, inefficient government bureaucracy), and
- vast inefficient environmentalism with no economic sustainability (the Critical Areas Ordinance effectively disallows any reasonable, normal or common use of land in rural King County).

Approximately one half the area of King County is owned by government. If everyone were given a telephone-booth-sized high density apartment, the entire population of the world would fit inside the Grand Canyon, yet we act as if every blade of grass in Seattle requires its own legal team, a non-profit green organization, and a government bureaucracy to support it. We arbitrarily (and quite sneakily) add 30%-50% to the cost of infrastructure construction with horrendous environmental and mitigation overhead. These are large tumors in the body politic. The cost of unbridled environmentalism with no checks and balances is long commutes, lousy schools, high-priced property, a dispossessed middle class, bad roads, dizzy-headed mass transit, and pampered fish, and bloated bureaucracy.

The unsustainable train wreck that high density assures is people living in cubicles ala Japan, traffic ala Manhattan (Ah! but it's "walkable" if you live in an $8M condo overlooking Central Park...), and the demise of homes with back yards (so called "zero-lot-line" development makes sure that no one has personal open space.)

Of particular note is the dismissiveness of balanced residential developments that characterize Seattle and the suburbs. These neighborhoods were and in most cases still are places near good schools and parks with a community feel, and with a respect for and an integration with the environment. "Sprawling" neighborhoods like this are what Seattle is all about and mainly why people want to live here. A dense Manhattan-like core with trains out of the 1800's chugging in and out of the Emerald City is not my idea of a great city. In fact, when I think of density I immediately think of tenements and the marginalized poor and not "what a great place to live!" I prefer sprawling well-thought-out green neighborhoods with homes with backyards, nearby schools and parks, and neighbors. Investment in density should be in existing and new neighborhoods, schools, and parks such as these, not in density for density's sake, and not in some concrete inner-city vision of Dante's Inferno with elevators between cell blocks.
Stuka

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 6:08 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Sprawl Great Neighborhoods Horizontally, Stack Offices Vertically: My God! A fellow traveller!

The Piper

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 6:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Bring in da density!: So Berger is against building new housing stock in the city, or, it seems, planning for growth in general. But he's awfully vague about the alternatives. What is the no-growth platform, exactly, and how is it achieved?

I'm not sure he knows. It might be instructive for Berger to study countries that are beginning to experience population decline as a result of slowing birth rates - like Japan and Italy. Should the experience of these countries be a model for the PNW? Oddly, Japanese and Italians don't see population loss as a very desirable thing...

But I give Berger too much credit, because he clearly has no interest in coming up with constructive approaches to problems we're facing, like affordability. He'd rather riff about how great things were in the old days, when streets were empty, taxes were low, and parking was free.

The transformation of Seattle into a livable city center is happening in spite of the Bergers and Connellys. I just hope they don't succeed in persuading people not to support new infrastructure like parks and transit - that will really harm quality of life for everyone.

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 6:44 p.m. Inappropriate

The Pipes, The Pipes are calling.: I believe the Piper is merely expressing what many of us are thinking. It is a question of freedom of choice in where to live and how to live. If Seattle and King County and been "Walking the walk" instead of "Talking the talk" on concurrency and infrastructure development we would not find ourselves in the situation we are in now. I have been in on PRSC meetings where representatives of the State, County and City all sit around and blame each other, it would be funny if it was not so pathetic and serious to the future of the region.

Solutions, that is what is needed. The problem is that with so much money involved all the power players want to be in control. Until we have someone in a position of authority at the City, County, State, Port and Tribal levels that is more interested in doing what is right, instead of letting their ego's and their staffs run amok, nothing will change. As a region we have wasted more money than it would have taken to fix these issues 20 years ago. Maybe we should form a Blue Ribbion Commission and do another study, afterall it's worked before...right?
Cameron

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 9:51 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Seattle Density: Developer Welfare, Enviro Wet Dream: Thanks for the comments.

1: Supply and demand operates with far more complexity than realized in the housing industry.

Increasing housing supply doesn't necessarily decrease price, and can increase it. Housing is built at "market rate", ie, the highest price the market will allow. When a given n'hood is subject to market rate development, not only is new housing more expensive, but it raises investment value of the properties around it. Prices, rents go up.

Public policy can help, but not in Seattle, apparently.

Example: A house in a single family zoned 'hood can cost 350K. Change the zoning to multifamily and profit potential increases by allowing more square footage developed on the same parcel.

One 350K home becomes 4 600K townhomes. The lot doubles in value when zoning changes because the return on investment increases - an actual example from my ‘hood. This is noticed by all other property owners barraged by offers from developers and realtors.

Repeat this a few hundred times; lose affordable housing stock and rentals to townhomes and condo conversions.

Increase the value of the land, increase the cost, of housing. Scaling back multi family zones can actually slow land appreciation. Bust 'hoods with MF zoning and watch the prices skyrocket.

Eventually an increase in housing stock will lower prices, but from say 600 or 700K to 10 or 20 per cent less. Big deal, how is that any more affordable to mid income, particularly now that sub prime loans are gone?

2: Again, your assumption is for more people. Again, I don't think it's going to happen. It's also dependent on the tolerance, pop increase or not, for ever higher taxes. History repeatedly proves people have limits, and vote with their feet if taxes become to burdensome.

3: It's a well documented phenom in American urban history, personally witnessed, that increasing taxes combined with stagnant population growth leads to decreasing civic revenue streams with concurrent decline in services. Negative impacts on the quality of life lead to flight of individuals, families and businesses.

Raise taxes more, repeat cycle. It's called "death spiral". See NYC 1976, etc. Taxes can't keep up with increasing costs and inflation, can't grow when population doesn't. Civic revenue streams are limited by what taxes and fees they have and the publics' tolerance to pay them.

Don't get your "roads" reference. Public services are Police, Fire, libraries, parks, schools, infrastructure maintenance and repair, transportation, social services, etc., all funded by taxes. You think Seattle adequately funds said now, in the best of times? Example: Why are we short, by Mayor's admission, 200 cops?

4: Quality of life can be a subjective, granted. Living here for 30 years, things are definitely less than they were, and the path our electeds are taking us leaves me with little confidence that critical issues before us will be effectively addressed.

Not to say Seattle isn't a good place to live. I'm still here and enjoy it. But I am looking elsewhere with an eye towards the future.

Yes, building more housing of the nature we're building is causing people to move, while others move in. This is the demo shift I referred and described before.

Yes, there are developers building condos with out people moving in: Its called "spec" housing, ie, "speculative", a Real Estate tradition in hot markets. Also called the "greater fool theory" and "musical chairs". See last week's Stranger on Vulcan's Westlake condo debacle for more evidence.

This might lead to lower prices, but don't confuse "lower" with "affordable". They're not the same.

None of this is new. It ‘s not "different this time". Rarely is.

Posted Mon, Apr 16, 11:11 p.m. Inappropriate

truth: It's great that the density opponents aren't even bothering to claim that they're environmentalists. At least we know what side of the aisle you stand on.

mhays

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 10:09 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: read it again: Actually your solutions would expand sprawl. King County's model encourages growth outside of King County. The best way to cut down on sprawl is add supply in King County. Eliminate all growth boundaries in King County and you instantly kill off much of the market in surrounding counties which in turn cuts down the sprawl.

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 10:18 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Social engineering run amok...: If you are against social engineering, why aren't you against the most influential and expensive forms of social engineering in Seattle? Building height limits, minimum parking space construction for building owners, massive highway construction, etc.

If the City of Seattle and King County allow density to thrive by ending this social engineering, it would reduce traffic, pollution, oil usage, etc. Density would thrive because supply is kept artificially low by the local, county, and state governments. It wouldn't affect your suburban house in the slightest. There will still be plenty of suburban houses for sale. Are you against giving people the choice to live in an urban environment?

The "downtown shoeboxes for the rich" argument is a strawman. Rich people need a place to live, and developers are happy to build luxury apartments and condos for them near the waterfront and on the most expensive blocks downtown. However, the vast majority of people who live in the city center are not rich -- most of them are middle class, many of them poor. There are dozens of buildings downtown and in the downtown area where most of the residents are on fixed incomes (social security). These buildings are scattered downtown so the residents are not ghettoized in certain areas. The brand new shiny condos for the rich and upper middle class will be the poor and middle class housing of the future. It's the circle of life.
jamier

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

All men are environmentalists, Socrates is a man, therefore...: These days everyone is an environmentalist. Claiming to be an environmentalist is like claiming to be mortal. The degree to which you can demonstrate you care about the environment is what counts, not unlike a religion in which members and priests must pay higher and higher prices, and belief in a mythology becomes more important than common sense or rationality. Ultimately the core beliefs can become distorted and mingled with hokum and hysterics (certainly not always), but more dangerously--in a public sense--being an environmentalist can substitute for being financially disciplined, economically rational, and politically aware to how various people and groups use environmentalism to serve their own interests.

I became an environmentalist as a kid when I came to value playing in the woods; when--in a Science class--an ecology teacher explained how us kids kicking near the roots of a large tree were part of the process of erosion; and when I'd go on vacations as a kid in the Northwest and see and complain about clear-cutting. So I've been an environmentalist for decades.

I have seen the economic arguments for density. In some ways they are really good. But they're good from a dense city's perspective. The norm and the apotheosis of density is a place like Manhattan. How many people want Manhattan? Is that Manhattan the ultimate "green" city? Is that environmentalism?

Also grating is the talk of the "inevitability" of population growth, and the need to plan for it now. Indeed, the great state environmental law is the GMA--the Growth Management Act--that essentially guarantees--increasing environmental devastation through population growth. Truer, more religious environmentalists should be looking for sustainability and zero population growth. It is in the area of growth that environmentalists so easily are co-opted by developers, government and the environmental "science" community at large, who are able to justify huge projects, huge costs, and self-interestedly their own jobs in the name of environmentalism. Checks and balances are required to keep environmentalism from becoming an invasive, noxious weed.

"Environmentalism" is about as Mom and apple pie as you can get. However, environmentalism is often inappropriately confused with conservationism. In such cases humans are kicked out of the world because people are presumably evil and nature is presumably good. Thus we end up with government buying up open space or restricting open space through zoning, and then denying access or use to only a few. Usually intended results are good, but the side effects can manifest themselves in profoundly detrimental ways.

Take density. When government forces density, then housing prices go up and access to open space goes down for everyone. So playing in the woods doesn't happen anymore. And the needy and the poor end up in tent cities. Or teachers and firemen can't afford to live near work, so they live far away and clog up the freeways. Or we end up with ridiculous overstepping tomes of regulation like the CAO, which don't allow "disturbing" the land. And we end up with no one anywhere telling you what the actual cost of environmentalism is.

This shows up really quickly when you try to pinpoint our cost and effectiveness at preserving salmon. How much does it cost, how much is it worth, are we being effective, and who is really responsible? And how many starving children, how many homeless moms, how many uninsured laborers, how many foster children, and how many poorly educated students are you going to say no to so that you can save a salmon or preserve an acre of open space, or build light rail to increase density? When environmentalism is unbounded and unrestricted by other human concerns it is evil; when that environmentalism fits in the environment of other public concerns it can be a great good.
Stuka

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 11:20 a.m. Inappropriate

And?...: What's your idea? What's the fix? What's the "right" solution?

I didn't see any "NO VACANCY" signs hung over the highway when I moved here nine years ago, and I'm sure you didn't either.

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 2:53 p.m. Inappropriate

my fix?: If you're asking me...

Density and mixed uses, with better transit and urban design to foster walking. In other words, what we're doing now but to a greater extent. We should also have tighter, King-type growth management in other counties to avoid leapfrog development. And more small parks in the denser areas.
mhays

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 3:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Shorter Mossback: 1) Building affordable housing makes housing less affordable.

2) Creating new places for people to live within the city is elitist. Shutting people out of the city (unless they can afford a ridiculously priced single family home) is egalitarian.

3) Planning for growth causes growth.

Good luck with all that, Knute.

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 4:21 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Seattle Density: Developer Welfare, Enviro Wet Dream: 1. So in your scenario there is a developer letting 3 of his 4 condos sit empty forever (you claim no growth), instead of reducing the price so that he could sell all 4 (even selling each one at $175k would make him $100k more profit than just selling one). I think what you're not seeing is that the price has gone up because people want to move there. I'm quite sure that if you knock on the doors of your new neighbors you'll find at least 3 families living there.

2. See #1.

3. Your arguement only holds if more people move out than move in. See #1.

You asked a question about my roads assumption. If you take 1000 families in the suburbs and compare them to 1000 families in a city, the suburb families likely need about 20x the amount of pavement for driving. This requires land for the roads, asphalt, labor, maintence, repaving every dozen years, car crashes, police enforcement, etc. All other services are similar - you need just as many teachers, police, fire stations, and hospitals per person.

4. I agree that speculative construction is a bad idea. I think that housing increases should be slow and gradual.

"Different this time" Compared to what/when? San Francisco's increase in density has worked out well. New York went through some bumps but it's worked out in the end. I consider any dense city a strong improvement over any sprawled city.

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 5:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Response to Mossback's density column at Sightline: People who have been commenting on this column should read Sightline's take:
http://tinyurl.com/2sb2je

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 7:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Do what you want in Seattle: Seattle has every right to increase densities to whatever level they want. Leave the rest of us out of it. The burb's will eventually recruit all of the businesses away that care about employees and leave Seattle with a lifeless honeycomb of concrete termite mounds and one heck of a tax load.

Cameron

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 7:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Seattle as the New New York: I read a good article in the New Yorker a couple of years ago using Manhattan as an example on how density both reduces infrastructure costs and makes for a vibrant city. I've failed to locate it in the New Yorker archives, but I mention it because it makes excellent arguments for density, yet I'm still not bought into the vision, because I basically can't bring myself to think of NY City and Manhattan in particular as the apotheosis of a green city. Yet the idea that NY City is the model for what we want to do in Seattle seems to hold sway. Even though I didn't find the mentioned NYer article, I did find this blurb on the internet (no source cited), which I think summarizes the case for NY as a green city:

Thanks to its storied (and widely used) public transportation,
energy-efficient housing and good water quality, New York rates a place among the nation's green cities..... More than 80 per cent of NYC residents use public transportation, something that earns the city bragging rights. In fact, New Yorkers burn gasoline at the rate the US did in the 1920s. The key to the city's low use of fossil fuels, pesticides and other energy sources is population density. Calculated by square foot, New York uses as much energy and produces as much solid waste as any city. alculate by population, however, and the numbers shift. Per capita, New Yorkers use fewer resources and put less pressure on their surroundings than any other city of its size.


I wonder if this is what Seattlites want, Seattle as New New York? It's really hard for me to get my hands around the idea that living in concrete and high rises is the green way to go, and that living in and with nature is evil. My point here is that a discussion of horizontal and vertical growth is what we should be discussing and not the trigger words "density" and "sprawl" which conjure up caricatures of what people envision. Sprawl is supposed to make you think of 1970's strip malls and endless roads and construction ala LA. Density, in my mind makes me think of the homeless, tenements and "The Projects."

I think a discussion of communities like Redmond Ridge or Snoqualmie Ridge is really apropos, since these are highly controversial, yet highlight some of the competing concerns. These communities in a lot of ways are models for creating new neighborhoods yet with environmental concurrency. On the other hand, they are outside the core City and can be construed as sprawl, and make infrastructure demands that people don't want to meet.

On the other hand, it's instructive to see that even though the Seattle metro area has grown significantly in population since institution of the GMA, infill of Seattle has not occurred, and indeed some would argue that there's flight from the City, particularly from its schools. Schools and roads is where you'd expect Seattle to invest in infrastructure to launch the population growth that would bootstrap the density that justifies mass transit, high rise condos, etc. Yet we're still waiting, and the Seattle Way seems to do whatever it can to undermine that growth.

I'm personally much in favor of things that pay for themselves. If Seattle want's to be NY City, then it should happily pay for the infrastructure to make that happen. The Viaduct is a perfect example. If the City and the landowners and the citizens think that a tunnel is going to help create a great city, then they should develop a financing plan that makes it happen. If a tunnel is really in their best interests, then the landowners should be able to bond future property tax revenue against the cost of construction. If that isn't enough, then put a toll on the tunnel. At least you then have a source of revenue that doesn't depend on people from distant regions willingly paying disproportionate taxes for stuff they will use disproportionately.
Stuka

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 7:57 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Shorter Mossback: You know, you make it easier to respond when you mischaracterize my positions. I'll respond shortly to your new Sightline post, but also let me say that your blog note earlier today accusing me of a "pro-sprawl propaganda campaign" was ridiculous. My post criticized sprawl and said that pushing upscale urban density was helping to drive sprawl. How did you get that I thought this was good? The fact that I don't think density is a panacea doesn't mean I am in favor of more sprawl.

1) I've never said I am against affordable housing. I am against tearing down affordable rentals and replacing them with less affordable condos and highrises. That's a probem facing a lot of cities, and a growing one in Seattle. I also think that density often drives up the cost of living. Greater density can create more demand for services and drive prices up, and it can make the cost of building new infrastructure much more expensive, resulting in tax increases that make city living even more unaffordable for low and middle income residents.

2) Creating new places in the city is not elitist. But emphasizing the creation of elitist places is. Raising downtown height limits with small trade-offs for "affordable" housing is not, I believe, good policy. What it really does is help developers maximize their profits with very little payback. At the same time, the poor are fleeing the city, which is generating a new generation of sprawl. More poor people in America now live in the suburbs than in cities. That's a fact. So which policies are elitist? The ones replacing poor neighborhoods with skysprawl? Or one that attempts to preserve affordable housing where possible?

3) I don't believe planning for growth causes growth. I supported the GMA and, in fact, have written that the main problem is that it was not strict enough. It is also not flexible enough--too cookie cutter in some respects. Growth is driven by demand, and we don't have total control over that obviously. But what I am suggesting is that we not accept "the market" as something we can't do anything about. Let's work on both sides of the equation. We have to accommodate more people and work on affordability, but we're fools if we don't develop some creative strategies that aren't developer-driven for dealing with growth itself.

Posted Tue, Apr 17, 11:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Boiling it all down...: So, if I'm understanding correctly, this whole debate appears to boil down to 2 points: 1. whether or not we manage to sufficient create affordable housing in the inner city (and/or the suburbs) and 2. whether or not we maintain enough green space in our neighborhoods to keep them livable. And maybe a third point: can we somehow manage to maintain or increase our feeling of community?

If we succeed in these three areas, presumably increased density would be OK? (assuming we do it all in an environmentally friendly manner)?

Posted Wed, Apr 18, 10:07 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: urban dwellers: Sorry if I wasn't clear.

If you build enough housing downtown for 200,000 people, under Seattle's current regulations that housing will be built primarily by tearing down affordable rentals, and the new housing will target upper-income markets. It will reduce the supply of affordable housing while increasing the demand for low-wage workers downtown.

Seattle's current regulations aren't the only option for density or growth, the city has chosen to cater to the wealthy while displacing the poor. Other choices are certainly available.

I do not believe Seattle's current political leadership would accept the construction of market-rate affordable housing, since this would mean construction of the sort of housing Seattle paid to tear down years ago, e.g. small SRO units for single workers. Allowing this sort of construction would be an admission that not everyone can afford better housing, and that's not part of their vision.

At the same time, I do not believe Seattle's political leadership would be willing to spend the money for enough subsidized low-income housing, since this would detract from the ability to build stadiums, "pretty" transportation systems, etc. Seattle's subsidies are primarily targeted to higher-income workers.

So no, density per se does not drive sprawl, density the way Seattle encourages it drives sprawl.
jputnam

Posted Wed, Apr 18, 5:19 p.m. Inappropriate

pop growth: Stuka, Seattle has grown substantially since growth management was implemented. We bottomed out in 1986 with 486,000 residents. In 1990, roughly when King County got growth management, we had 516,000. In July 2005 we had 573,000. That's pretty remarkable given that household sizes shrank in the meantime, and our city has never had vacant lots on the scale of other cities.

mhays

Posted Fri, Apr 20, 1:29 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: pop growth: Seattle's growth has been marginal. The compound growth rate of Seattle since 1990 is less than 1%. It's not remarkable, it's unremarkable. Growth of the Eastside has been an order of magnitude more remarkable. As you point out, household sizes have shrunk-- presumably as parents have moved to the Eastside for better schools. The implication is that within single family homes in Seattle, density has actually gone down! Without good schools, the residential communities will continue to shrink.

The GMA is supposed to direct population growth into the cities, which has happened in Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond. But it ain't been happening in Seattle.

(I may stand corrected on this, because I believe in the last 2-3 yrs Seattle is finally starting to get more people moving in. So the recent growth rate might be pretty good. I just don't have those numbers at the tips of my fingers. The notion that we build new communities near major employers, such as is intended for South Lake Union, is the right idea. Similarly, making Seattle commutable to Microsoft is also a good thing for Seattle commuting residents, and vice versa to the UW. And having condos down townmakes a lot of sense for the job bases down there. Notice how each of these strategies marries jobs and homes, and ideally makes for a reasonable commute. From government's perspective, each of these sources of jobs should be paying the infrastructure costs of the commute. Concurrency. I'd argue, for instance, that we should have a Microsoft lane on 520. Let them decide whether they want light-rail or HOV or general purpose lane, but in any event they'd get the privilege of paying for it, including naming rights, etc. )
Stuka

Posted Fri, May 4, 9:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Here's the New Yorker article mentioned above.: GREEN MANHATTAN

Why New York is the greenest city in the U.S.
By David Owen
Published in The New Yorker 10/18/04

www.walkablestreets.com/manhattan.htm
Stuka

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