Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Our Members

Many thanks to William Hucks and Lawrence Rodman some of our many supporters.

ALL MEMBERS »

Vision 2040 for Pugetopolis

An urban geographer uses un-rose-tinted glasses in peering into the crystal ball. He finds that we will not be able to do much about growing income segregation, congestion, gentrification in Seattle, and leapfrog development. Nor will rail transit help make things better.


I came to Seattle 53 years ago for graduate school and later joined the University of Washington Geography Department, where I taught for 44 years (urban, political, transportation, population). My academic philosophy is realist/naturalist/skeptic, rather than idealist — meaning that as a scientist, my goal has been to understand and explain the rich variety of actual needs, motivations, and behavior of individuals, groups, and institutions. I am uncomfortable with a normative approach (telling people how they ought to behave).

This approach produced my skepticism about two icons of a normative new urbanist planning: urban growth boundaries and rail transit. In my testimony to the Growth Strategies Commission 20 years ago, I warned about use of a crude geographic tool (growth boundaries) that would lead to land and housing price inflation, leapfrog development, and outcomes that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. (I think time has proven me right.) I further argued that fairness required that open space be acquired through public purchase, not through zoning.

On the question of rail transit, now very much back before the public, my skepticism is also based on economics and class. I have argued that light rail squanders limited public resources for limited results and once again benefits the rich at the expense of the poor. The real transit problem is not greater capacity but greater accessibility to people and jobs — where they actually live, as opposed to where urbanists think they ought to live. I like trains and have been on dozens of rail or subway systems around the world, many successful, others relative failures. Unfortunately, the geography of Seattle militates against rail's success here.

That said, I thought I would try to repeat my forecasting exercise of 1988 and this time try to look forward 22 years to 2040. In doing so, I hope to be clear and honest about the nature of our geographic setting; the people and their needs and preferences and capacities; the nature of our economy and of technology; the nature and limits of political and social institutions; the discretion of Seattle in the context of national and global realities; and, finally, of the constraints to change.

So let's start with the most important things that we know will impact the future city. The overwhelming reality is that there are people who prefer denser urban living (structures and neighborhoods) and people who prefer less-dense living (single-family homes and neighborhoods). Similarly, there are economic activities that need and prefer dense agglomerative settings and other economic activities that prefer and need greater horizontal space or external connections. Currently, about 40 percent of people and jobs are at the denser, more agglomerative end of the spectrum, and 60 percent are at the less-dense, more-dispersed end. Unfortunately for new urbanist idealism, far more than half of people do not live within walking or biking distance to work or school.

By 2040, the share of people preferring or accepting denser urban living could rise to 50 percent (owing to demographic and land-cost reasons), but that will still leave 50 percent (or 2.5 million of 5 million people in central Puget Sound) who don't. Planners should have learned from past housing failures that many people, particularly families with children, need private space (yards) as well as public (parks and playgrounds).

As for the workplace, it is truly difficult to envision a higher share of more agglomerative jobs. The current trends are opposite, particularly from declines in the financial sector. Rising costs of transportation will likely bring residences and workplaces a little closer on average, but there are many compelling reasons to limit this change.

The next inescapable reality is that trucks will remain the dominant mode for goods transport and that the car will still be the dominant mode of moving people. Transit (and walking and bicycling) could rise to 25 percent, and carpooling could become a lot higher than it is today, but cars, doubtless far more efficient and greener, will still be the rule. It is absurd to imagine otherwise, since greater efficiencies are precisely the kind of innovation that U.S. technology will excel at.

Political leaders and senior planners know these three "realities" perfectly well. It would be refreshing if they would be allowed to have more influence over idealistic staff planners, who often pretend these realities do not apply.

Now let me turn to a different kind of reality, which also profoundly affects the urban landscape, and that is economic inequality, now returning to levels last known in 1913. A Democratic regime might lessen this somewhat, but not much, since Democrats are the party of the intellectual rich and Republicans the party of the business rich. This matters because inequality, or, more specifically, segregation by class, contributes substantially to long distance commuting. And unlike Europe, there is little chance for a serious social housing sector.

There also are some things we do not know about 2040, the most obvious uncertainty being population. The forecast of a 50 percent increase, adding 1.7 million, is plausible but far from sure. I'd say the odds are better than even that growth will be moderately less, because of demography (aging population, lowering fertility of past immigrants) and the high costs of Seattle for residence and for business. We are likely to see spillover to less costly and restrictive cities like Spokane, Bellingham, Yakima, and the Tri-Cities. Another unknown is the course of the future economy, either for the existing dominant sectors, or possible new ones. Consider the different structure of the Seattle economy 32 years ago!

We also don't know the likely degree of housing affordability and of the relative severity of constraints on the land supply. Again, based on history and demography, I'd say the odds are in favor of continuing constraints, over-regulation, and housing unaffordability.

Likewise, much of our transportation policy is uncertain. There will probably be new trains, because people seem to want rail transit, although their contribution to mobility will be modest. But it might start to follow some different routes. As Nobel economist Paul Samuelson showed in 1956, a network connecting competing outlying centers to a central focus (like downtown Seattle) almost guarantees that the outlying centers will lose high-level functions and income to the central node. Accordingly, Tacoma, Everett, and Bellevue would each be better off without the risk of drainage to downtown Seattle. Consider the geographic reality. Bellevue's success as a competitive edge city is largely because of the barrier effect of Lake Washington, along with the existence of Interstate 405. If Snohomish County thought strategically, it would long since have worked for a sub-regional airport.

So what will Pugetopolis look like in 2040? First surprise: The future city will look and feel amazingly like the present city, just as the city today is much like the city of 1975. True, it will be somewhat denser, especially in the core cities and inner suburbs, for market as well as for planning reasons. The urban footprint will grow only slightly and begrudgingly, probably from pressure from large employers on behalf of their workforces, and probably in some rather than all of the four central-Sound counties. Thus, substantial leapfrog growth will occur in satellite towns and adjacent counties and beyond, not necessarily a bad thing. That is, Pugetopolis will grow, as much because of as despite controls on growth in the core planning area.

The popularity, site, and situation benefits, and the high land prices of the central city of Seattle, almost guarantee continued gentrification and displacement of the less-well-off to the suburbs. Inequality will remain high and segregation by class probably will increase. Transportation congestion and substantial long-distance commuting will not have lessened, despite trains or the implementation of demand management, because of likely over-investment in large glamour projects and the continued separation of residences and jobs.

I would sum it up this way: The future Greater Seattle region will continue to be the uneasy compromise between the idealist visionaries of the golden city and the reality of the human condition and the economy. This is not a pessimistic forecast, just a realistic one. The metropolis of 2040 may well be a somewhat better place than it is now, but just not very.

Richard Morrill is an urban demographer and taught for many years at the University of Washington's Department of Geography. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 7:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Feels Like the City of 1975?: Richard Morrill writes that, "The future city will look and feel amazingly like the present city, just as the city today is much like the city of 1975." A different perspective I suppose, but I don't think either Seattle or the suburban cities look or feel anything like they did in 1975. In 1975 Seattle was still reeling from the Boeing bust. Single family homes were inexpensive, there was one condominium downtown as I recall (at Third and Blanchard or nearby) and there were no high rises in Bellevue. Seafirst, Rainier Bank, Safeco and the Sonics are gone and nobody had heard of Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, RealNetworks or biotech.

That said, in 1975 it was possible to argue through and come to a consensus on the Mount Baker Tunnel, finance it and build the new I-90 bridge. Today we can't come to a consensus about anything and won't be able to finance anything if we do find a consensus. In 1975 Federal Highway Transportation funds were still available, the Trust Fund is now broke and can't pay for needed highway repairs let alone build any new infrastructure. Washington voters have decided through the initiative process to forego maintaining our existing infrastructure or to add to it by gutting the existing tax scheme. We want new roads and services but don't want to pay for them.

So perhaps in 2040 Seattle and the Puget Sound Basin will resemble 2008. However, I expect not, as events have a way forcing us to change in ways we do not expect. Perhaps when traffic grinds to a halt on I-405 for 12 consecutive days we will amend the State Constitution to repeal the Initiative process. Or perhaps Rapid Transit and electric vehicle van pools will come to pass. Things will change and dramatically.

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 8:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Same leopard, different spots: Morrill and Ratcityreprobate are "comparing" the region 1975 - present day - 2040 from different perspectives. Morrill's description of similarity argues for the future continuation of past-observed compromise between competing policies. RCR chooses data-point or factual differences between then and now to argue against Morrill's conclusion. Any geographic area can be quite superficially DIFFERENT in population, economy, etc., in any two time periods and yet illustrate commonality in the same policy compromises/tensions.

Excellent article.
Deb Eddy

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 8:42 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Feels Like the City of 1975?: Not to be rude RatCity, but how old are you? Surely you simply don't remember 1975?

In fact Morrill is dead-on correct and that qualitatively Seattle and the suburban cities do indeed look and feel much like they did in 1975 – there is just more of it. And the idea that there was some peaceful political consensus about I-90 and the Mount Baker Tunnel is just historically incorrect; there was tremendous turmoil and lengthy lawsuits.

But I think Morrill is wrong on one big point: even people in the suburbs hate their suburban strip-mall landscape. They like detached housing but they don't like commercial sprawl (even if they use it, as we all do) – what they understand to be "urban development." Puget Sounders have forgotten (if they ever knew) what a walkable Main Street settlement is like. So public policy which aims to reinforce/create such Main Streets is in fact very much in tune with public demands.

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Feels Like the City of 1975?: David, I'm 67 and I remember the Mount Baker Tunnel controversy very well. I was involved in the controversy as a participant and that involvement cost me my employment. In the end it was argued through, in the pubic arena and the courts, and a consensus was reached.

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 8:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle ~ Past, present, future: Morrill's article was a great read.

The pain of high gas prices is long overdue,
speaking as one who waited in the gas lines
of 1973-74, as I began looking for a job
with my newly minted UW degree.

As the saying goes "no pain, no gain".

I believe we're in for some highly innovative times
......... technology, policy, and "American" behavior
changes.
wcleak

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 9:45 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Same leopard, different spots: Dear Rep. Eddy ("debo"):

Do you and your colleagues in the legislature believe voters should approve "ST2 version 2?"

Would passage of that ballot measure help or hinder the legislature in the future as it tries to address the more critical transportation system needs in this state?

Do you believe it would be good fiscal policy for such vast amounts of our taxing capacity to be tied up for decades, as ST now wants?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts on these issues.

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 10:24 a.m. Inappropriate

You think that trucks will be running in 2040?: I see the base difference between my perspective and Morrill's is that he just doesn't believe in peak oil. That he thinks that trucks will be driving happily along, and people will be commuting hours away by car in 2040 ignores the fact that scientists have been telling us for 30 years that we'd hit peak oil - right around now. I don't know that we've hit it, but for all I know we've passed peak oil. If so cost of fuel, after a few years of volitility, will go up without end. In that world:
1. Trucks will only exist for high-value items and very short hauls. Batteries are just not an option for trucks.
2. The exurbs will empty out, as fuel costs become unaffordable. Battery powered cars will exist, but will be out of range for the furthest suburbs and more expensive than current vehicles.
3. Busses will cease to be affordable. Busses can't be run off batteries, and only trolley busses will be around.

If peak oil is a reality, then we need an electricity-based world, leading to dense cities connected by electrified rail. Even if oil hasn't peaked yet, this just pushes these requirements out a few years.

(oh, and I know you're hoping biofuels will save you - they won't)

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 10:36 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Same leopard, different spots: Digg: I never speak for my colleagues in the legislature; it's risky enough just speaking for myself.

Six days ago, my left knee was replaced. The medical literature probably advises AGAINST making serious policy pronouncements this soon after surgery (much less blog-posting!). That said, it's no secret, I think ST2 raises questions about cost/benefit - but, in truth, I've not looked at every detail of the new, improved version voted on last week. Maybe it changes things?

Voters will let us know in November how they read the situation. I'm still trying to figure out the ripple effects of either a yea/nay outcome.
Deb Eddy

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 10:59 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: You think that trucks will be running in 2040?: If I recall what I learned in my 8th grade Social Studies class (circa 1972) scientists were telling us then that we'd be reaching peak oil right about then. Or teacher told us we'd never be able to own cars unless we were spectacularly wealthy. The World of 1980 was going to be a scary, scary place. Luckily we all survived the 1970s reasonably intact despite the protestations of the gloommeisters, but it's fun to learn that they're still predicting that peak oil is just around the corner on their forever-sliding scale. Now I hear that the author of "The Population Bomb" is back in the news saying he was right, but we just don't know it yet. But there's hope for peak oil in that the prediction will come true eventually, even if we don't live to see it.

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

is growth irrevocable?: This does raise a question as to what effect a real energy constriction would have on growth. The Feds are saying that Americans have curtailed their driving this summer substantially: if a long termed, substantial energy shortages occur, dont the prospects of growth dim? The affects that energy shortages and climate change have on Seattle's growth seem to be assumed by policy makers. I see little discussion in the rush to rail that these factors might actually curtail growth long term. Is there a way to determine that point when energy costs tip the scales toward no growth?

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 11:39 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Feels Like the City of 1975?: A consensus, BTW, that included, indeed DEPENDED on the ultimate development of rail transit in the center roadway of I-90 -- a fact that various and sundry people now want to overlook.

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 11:45 a.m. Inappropriate

What regions serve as a model? And costs.: Are there any regions that serve as a model of what to do to actually create affordable housing that is somewhat convenient? How about Minneapolis, or Denver, etc?

I think there are plenty that serve as a model of what not to do - if our goal is to have average housing available for families with somewhat average income (not just the top 10%). In the Bay Area, the supply has not increased nearby to nearly the extent it needed to for creating affordable alternatives. Instead, people have commuted very long distances. Portland gets cited as an example of land use planning, but it seems there's been a lot of spillover to Vancouver and Clark County. Without that space, Portland would have much worse problems with affordability.

While the costs of transportation go up with increased oil, so do the costs of construction. It appears once buildings get above 3 or 4 stories, the cost of construction goes up significantly because of the amount of steel used in them. Energy prices help drive this cost up too. So it would seem the cost of transportation would drive people closer - but what will the cost of new construction be, and the impact on density and affordability? (these energy costs will also drive up the cost of construction of infrastructure too, like rail, roads etc).
sjenner

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 11:56 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: You think that trucks will be running in 2040?: Perhaps you shouldn't have been daydreaming, since your Social Studies teacher was exactly right. But he was talking about US peak oil, which was correctly predicted all the way back in 1956. World peak oil was predicted at the time to land in the late 90's, but hit us late due to new-found reserves and CAFE standards.

The optimistic models for peak oil land around 2020. But I think it's likely you're living through it right now.

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 12:11 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: is growth irrevocable?: You seem to be mixing population growth with economic growth. The two are very different and can even be inversely proportional (look at the population decline in Europe compared to Africa).

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 12:25 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: What regions serve as a model? And costs.: Considering a family takes up much less room in dense construction compared to the suburbs, construction costs would have to be much higher to balance this out.

Of course, density doesn't have to mean highrises. Narrow streets filled with even 4-story condos will result in dense, walkable cities (I've recently visited Dubrovnik, with 3-story houses built by the Romans, and would love living in such a city).

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 1:30 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: You think that trucks will be running in 2040?: I must have been daydreaming not to have noticed you sitting in the class. He was talking about world peak oil - I was there.

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 7:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Peak Oil? Hello....: Everything Morrill says in his 2040 Puget Sound prediction eliminates the reality of Peak Oil and its watershed wasteland. For a guy who has spent the last 40 years teaching at UW, he doesn't seem to be aware of the most obvious. Strange. LIght Rail, Buses, Cars, all of it, gone. Electrically motored Light Rail may be our only hope. Get a clue.

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 10:37 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: You think that trucks will be running in 2040?: U.S. production peaked in 1970. In 1972, OPEC was entering its prime. So, I am skeptical about a) your recollection, and/or b) your education. But hey, that book "The Population Bomb" sounds reasonable; I could hardly imagine encountering hysterics in a book titled as such. Nevertheless, it strikes me as prudent to actually consider the various arguments surrounding Peak Oil, rather than passing off responsibility to another generation in a typical "not my problem" fashion.

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 11:43 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Peak Oil? Hello....: Morrill does ignore Peak Oil. His assertion that trucks will dominate the distribution system appears particularly ridiculous when the industry is redlining @ 5 dollar diesel.

But come on...no cars? A well-practiced amateur can distill enough alcohol to keeping a vehicle running with modifications. My buddy is currently on the third iteration of an electric Jeep (he calls is a "Battery Box on Wheels), and according to him, he's recieved enough inquires about his work that he's begun the fabrication of a conversion kit with off-the-shelf technology.

The electric car has been traced back to the early 1830's, and preceeded the Model T in popularity. The Model T was, in fact, adapted to run on alcohol. Prohibition undermined the use of alcohol as a motor fuel, before issues of scale could be encountered. Sorry, dude...there will be cars.

Posted Wed, Jul 30, 8:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Better Now - Better Tomorrow: I went to the Madison Park beach the other day. It was the same as summer in 1975, thankfully. Getting there was the same too. There were more shops and things to eat.

The view to downtown Bellevue had changed dramatically. Downtown Bellevue is now an almost full fledged city. All of Bellevue is now as culturally diverse as Seattle.

In 1975 downtown Tacoma was in decline. Pulp mills soured the air. Same in Everett. Not so now. Redmond was a sleepy stop light. Same with Issaquah. Snoqualmie Ridge did not exist. No one had heard of Federal Way. Dozens of other cities have names, and are new and much different places, not just more dense. They are more urban, with growing amenities that are requirements of quality urbanism.

We have jobs and wealth nobody envisioned in 1975.

In 1975 you rarely ever saw Mount Baker from here. On almost any clear day now, the mountain pops. The air is cleaner. So is most of the water.

In my experience, Seattle's neighborhoods are better places than in 1975, when the city's population was actually less than in 1960. The outflow to the burbs has stopped. Seattle's population is more than ever. Everyplace else has more - and people don't need to trek to Seattle so much to get something, whether its a doctor or pants, or a great dinner out.

There has been wholesale change within 40 miles from Seattle since 1975. Expect more transformation in that direction.

It seems to me planning ought to intend to preserve what we all value most, and fit the growth to match the place with the new people. That is probably a little idealistic, but without some ideal, what are we likely to get as reality shapes places? Here, one result of unconstrained sprawl is probably an overly polluted Puget Sound, as more bad waters drain down.

It is not clear that buses will actually serve more for our money, especially if we never invest at the scale the mostly bus proponents idealize about. It is not clear that people really want all bus downtowns in Bellevue and Seattle, or to take roads cars use now, and make them all bus. Rails provide new capacity without clearing out all the cars and buses in those downtown places that are natural magnets for full scale transit.
Tarl

Posted Wed, Jul 30, 9:05 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: You think that trucks will be running in 2040?: I'm not pointing with pride to my formal education; far from it. I'm a product of the Peninsula School District, which in the 1970s roundly sucked. (Amongst other things, they were very proud of their enlightened "no homework" policy). I'm not citing that teacher as a source authority, I'm using what we were taught as en example of the type of hysteria that was routinely passed off as inevitability in the 1970s, a decade which itself roundly sucked and left me forever jaded in my opinion of authority figures, especially ones spouting alarmist rhetoric.

dbreneman

Posted Wed, Jul 30, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Better Now - Better Tomorrow: It is not clear that buses will actually serve more for our money, especially if we never invest at the scale the mostly bus proponents idealize about.

????

You need to get up to speed on local transit issues, Tarl.

Too bad you don't want more buses - we're going to be getting plenty of them, and no new "investments" are going to be needed!

Nobody's arguing (as you seem to believe) that we need to approve new taxing for more buses. We're already investing new taxes in a bunch of new buses, and greatly improved bus service as well. Transit Now's passage in 2006 means King County gets about 20% more bus service during the next 8 years.

King County Metro will be providing us with close to one thousand new buses in the next couple of years. We already are making those investments - how can you not know about Transit Now?

Here's a partial list of the new buses Metro will be taking delivery of by 2013: 389 40-foot buses, 431 60-foot buses, replacement of 800 vanpool vans, 35 25-foot transit vans. In addition we already are paying for the following buses to be delivered in the 2014 period: 116 40-foot electric buses, and 59 60-foot electric buses.

Posted Wed, Jul 30, 11:41 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: You think that trucks will be running in 2040?: So much for pigs flying! To continue the job of looking ahead and reasoning back: I see walkers with carts, bikers with carts, trackless trolleys and trains, I see local food and goods competing with passengers on the interurbans. Picnics in the local parks for vacations. Root cellars. Slow boats to China. Less disparity in ecological footprints. I don't quite picture the wealthy yet.

afreeman

Posted Wed, Jul 30, 11:48 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: is growth irrevocable?: Come again?

afreeman

Posted Wed, Jul 30, 4:50 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Peak Oil? Hello....: I agree that there will be cars, but they'll be electric and there will be much fewer and range-limited. The few biofuel vehicles will be very expensive to run. The reason that biofuels can currently come close to competing with gasoline is because gasoline is used to grow the corn in the first place (tractors, shipping trucks, etc.). Plus have you seen the price for a gallon of alcohol? Not to mention the fuel vs. food issues we're creating.

Posted Wed, Jul 30, 5:19 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: What regions serve as a model? And costs.: Affordable housing is the easy part of the essentials you raise. What's hard to remember in the middle of winning streaks is that the answer has not changed.

Where the going gets the toughest is looking political taboos and urban myths in the eye without flinching. Easy money bets with Morrill– growth pandering's new green suit takes down doubters. I think that's his message. Try not to shoot him. Think catastrophe.

Growing Seattle's in-city population half again in 30 years makes matters worse not better. Frying any reasonable approach to affordable housing puts us in the category of New Orleans.

Also fried is the Mayor's Climate Action Plan, which is why Appendix A at that link may be our last full inventory of CO2 emissions (concrete production on par with autos and light trucks on par with the jet age = name your poison). "Avoiding perverse incentives" (Seattle Metropolitan, Aug. '08 p. 107) suggests excluding large point source emissions like cement from standard protocol.
afreeman

Posted Wed, Jul 30, 6:08 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Feels Like the City of 1975?: A fact also that you have not documented, not saying it isn't true, but it would be nice to read up on the details.

D

Posted Wed, Jul 30, 9:23 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Better Now - Better Tomorrow: "Nobody is arguing (as you seem to believe) that we need to approve new taxing authority for more buses."

Huh?

I guess nobody is not less than Ron Sims, state transportation director Paula Hammond, former state director Paula Hammond, joined by Kemper Freeman and his whole crowd and a bunch of other people - many of whom are vocal in the no more light rail crowd.

People who know about transit NOW are wondering when NOW is. I am for more buses. They are on the way, but there's little to show yet. I'm just not buying the idea that the .05 of sales tax that Sound Transit will put on the ballot is better spent on more buses. It would take a decade to get a critical mass together to agree to that - and they'd need to take on the freeway lane people who don't want to add more lanes for cars, not give them up.

We have a three way going on: buses v roads v rail. When you need 50% at some point a three way needs to become a couple. The bus crowd needs to think deeper about its priorities: is it roads or transit?
Tarl

Posted Thu, Jul 31, 1:52 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: What regions serve as a model? And costs.: Sorry the taboo link is too long for crosscut: google OegonLive.com Treading on a Taboo, June, 15, 2008. Jack Hart, former managing editor

The taboo: "out-of-control population growth will wipe out the gains of the most ambitious conservations programs, here and across the planet. Stop treating growth as not only inevitable, but also positive." [Join the few willing to even think about what mature growth means– how to grow wiser when we stop growing bigger? Right now that is outside of "economics" and hence unthinkable, at least in that discipline.
afreeman

Posted Thu, Jul 31, 4:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Right on: I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, today's transporation planners, Sound Transit in particular, are too Seattle-centric to see the truth.

My favorite gripe is that Sound Transit's idea of building light rail to Tacoma, Bellevue, and Everett is trying to fix the effect of our transportation problems, not the cause, which is just dumb. The cause of our bad traffic is that too many jobs are in Seattle, but there isn't enough room (or the room is too expensive) to house all those workers, so they must live far away and commute. Sound Transit wants to make it easier for these residents to commute to Seattle. The correct solution is to make incentives that cause jobs to move out of Seattle and into surrounding areas so that workers don't have to commute so far.

I live in Tacoma, and too many of my friends have to commute to Seattle to make a decent salary, but I hate the idea of spending billions of dollars to help them make that commute. If we dedicated that money (or even a portion of it) to attracting jobs to Tacoma, they wouldn't have to commute at all, and then we don't need the expensive light rail line.

Posted Fri, Aug 1, 12:14 p.m. Inappropriate

thanks for all the comments: Thanks for the many comments. You all should appreciate that it's impossible in a piece like mine to include all the ifs, ands, and buts/
Of course are metropolis has changed dramatically since 1975 and will again by 2040. My point was simply there will still be many less dense single family home areas (might well be smaller, mores closely spaced) and still be "cars" (of whatever sort) even if their shares are somewhat less than today
According to simplistic engineering models, rail is "more efficient" and "greener" than busses (or cars) and denser urban neighborhoods "more efficient": and greener" than lower density suburban neighborhoods, but actual hard data on costs of infrastructure and urban services or on emissions show astoundingly little variation, except for higher per capita costs at the two extremes of super high (downtown) and very low density (far exurbs). Similarly the lowest costs per person trip are for carpools and vanpools, followed by busses , as the capacity advantage of rail is undermined by vast capital costs and low accessibility to enough jobs and people.
Peak oil. Duh, sure peak oil is real, and will not be the main basis for transportation long before 2040, but also real is the technology for electric vehicles (including busses and trucks) and yet unknown technologies. Trucks will still be around and competitive, and busses affordable and more pervasive, although, yes Matt, the N-S rail line could spur the development of a reasonable dense corridor.
David, people like and need BOTH neighborhood business areas (Main street) AND big malls; this was true in 1975 and will be in 2040. We all hate the ugliness of Aurora like commercial strips, but they work! Maybe a design revolution will help.
Sjenner, large cities with more affordable housing (like Minneapolis, Kansas City, Atlanta, Dallas) usually have less restrictive or no growth boundaries and/or there is more planning flexibility across the local government jurisdictions (Atlanta, Minneapolis).
Tarl, Seattle's population is not yet up to its highest level (over 600000 in 1955) because of much smaller households now and loss of families. Yes Seattle is booming - but mainly for singles and couples. The outflow to the suburbs has NOT even slowed; the outer fringe still absorbs two-thirds of net job and population growth.
The story is that the future city will accommodate both those who want a Dubrovnik like urban experience (I liked it in my visit too), but well-designed single-family home areas, with local business centers and nearby jobs and local business centers - which in fact characterize much of the country, will be a big part of the cityscape too.
DMorrill

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 1:35 p.m. Inappropriate

The comments here are terrific: as is the article. I, too, was here in 1975... my last year at BCC... and we were just starting to come back from the Boeing Layoffs. Sonics were starting to win games, and we were building a new, Spartan, domed stadium (which opened on time and under budget, and whose mortgage we are still paying).

Lots of discussion about growth and the role oil plays, but other issues also should be factored in. Most notably, the issue of WATER, and Electric power. Seattle is one of just six cities with its own full sized watershed as a major source. But we already see limitations to growth in some areas whose aquifers are not replenishing fast enough. Vashon and Bainbridge for starters...

Regardless of where you stand on Global Warming, weather patterns HAVE changed, and the snowpack that used to last all summer is gone. Courts and environmental stewardship demand we share the water flow, so the idea of a Drought in Seattle has happened before, and may happen more often.

Any dam able river has a dam on it, and while wind power is coming on line, wind, solar, and dare I mention nuke are all decades off...

And while we blame newbie's to the region for our growth, the truth is a lot of our kids don't leave here. A good percentage of our growth is our own prodigy...

The point? Fewer resources, and geography and geology that is not ours to move. Unlike previous generations, we can't remove hills, re-route rivers and change the landscape as they used to (for better or worse!). SO we have to bridge or tunnel, or travel on already overcrowded routes. AND We have to begin dealing also with the reality of pending geologic issues as we become more aware of them.

Back in '75, Mt. St. Helens had yet to blow. The theory of killer quakes and seven fault lines were still just theory. We now know we are in for some shaky times. SO whatever we build new has to be built much more expensively just to meet new code. And some lands will become less available or undesirable as the reality of our volcanic cycles and the potential activity on Mt. Rainier has become far better understood. UNESCO has placed the region on the top 10 of potential volcanic disasters worldwide with good reason. 2,200 volcano escape route signs is denial, not zoning.

Even before European settlement, this has been a trade based region. Trade between coast tribes and inland tribes keep this area vibrant. We are still the closest West Coast port to Asia, and Alaska. A quake or eruption could disrupt this flow for years. Neither unforeseen nor unexpected, such events would radically change the future, and impact the entire nation. So we must take that into account in zoning and building codes and transportation systems, again all having impact.

Bottom line: There are many more variables then just Oil at play here and predicting the future is more difficult than predicting local weather.

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »