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Why spec house snobbery has to go

Guest Opinion: The average family can't afford a craftsman style home on Capitol Hill. Who are you to fault them for choosing the environmentally-friendly, well-designed modern row house?

A couple weeks ago, in a Carbon Efficient Cities UW graduate class I'm taking, one of the other students referred to modern high-density Seattle housing developments as 'monstrosities.' As someone who spent a year and a half designing, project managing, permitting, and planning for these homes at Alloy Design Group as an intern, and then as a junior designer, I have a slightly different view.

True, many of our clients were developers. True, the houses did not conform to the existing rules of one arts and crafts home per 4000- 7000 SF lot. True, the homes are taller than many of their counterparts, and true, they often exploit the changing zoning codes for density to add homes where many thought the existing density would last forever.

But, monstrosity? Are these homes, modern architecture and density so destructive to the city of Seattle? I think not. Believe it or not, care is put into these homes and projects. Sure, we would start with lot coverage and maximum zoning, and plan to edge any square foot out of the lot that we could. Rules about car backing distance, setbacks and access dominating the early schematic phases.  More units typically equals higher success. 

Then, we would consider views, add a roof deck in the most optimal area of the home, create an experience with the stair, design circulation and flow. Open floor plans, master suites, flex space and natural light in every room (yes, even bathrooms and closets and pantries whenever possible) rounded out the design package. We planned out optimal furniture arrangements to make sure windows weren't placed right where a TV was necessary, spent hours laying out kitchens and bathrooms, so space felt bigger than it was, and always worked extra hours on the entrance and façade. We worked closely with engineers to make sure there were no surprises during construction, and carefully detailed joints for well-made homes. 

And guess what else? These projects are green. The form and materiality comes from farmed pine 2x4s, Hardi-board and local cedar plank exterior finishes. The homes additionally feature electric water heaters, outdoor permeable pavers, bio-retention planters, local drought-resistant plantings, crushed quartz countertops, low-emissions paint and bamboo floors. Not to mention the positive environmental impact of adding density.

Formulaic? Sure. Better designed and oriented than other development speculative homes? Definitely. One of our row-houses with 5 units sold off in 18 days last March, before construction was complete. Office discussions of the sales success centered around the project's design, which was done not as one building with 5 units, but as though each was a separate home.

For a price of $325K, a family can own a real home, with a garage, three bedrooms, an open plan and modern kitchens and baths. These aren't just real estate listings; these amenities are 'market drivers' that will make or break a home sale. People don't actually care that they have a postage stamp front yard and they need to drag the grill up to the roof deck, if they can keep an eye on the kids while they cook dinner. 

A number of development and design companies are creating modern homes successfully, including Build LLC, B9 Architects and Shed Architecture. The phenomenon has spread to Portland, where Path Architecture and Holst Architecture are similarly thriving.  How are these companies successful amongst so much vitriol?

Seattle has one of the best housing markets in the U.S. and global trends are showing rapidly growing urban populations.  Companies like Amazon are setting their sights on South Lake Union and people like Matt Dillon are opening restaurants in Pioneer Square, formerly a place to steer clear of after dark. As more and more people are looking to buy in the city, prices are naturally being driven up.

A Redfin search of homes, rowhouses and townhouses (places where each unit has direct access to the ground floor outside) on Capitol Hill returns an average cost of $1,495,000. Compared with $618,000, the average price when condos are added to the mix, we see that low-density development is truly cost-effective. 


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Mar 20, 4:44 p.m. Inappropriate

One of Seattle's dirty little secrets is the closely-held belief that, in a city that is supposedly "progressive," change cannot be allowed to happen. The neighborhood where one's home is located must remain as it was when the homeowner moved in, never mind that the homeowner changed the neighborhood by the act of moving in. Under this circumstance, any deviation from this static norm is a "monstrosity."

But then, Seattle is a city populated by people who propose building walls and keeping "outsiders" out as a serious solution to population growth.

orino

Posted Sat, Mar 23, 10:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh boy, another urbanist who despises Seattle and wants to ruin it. Hey, why don't you just move back to Philadelphia?

NotFan

Posted Wed, Mar 20, 5:57 p.m. Inappropriate

It all sounds nice inside these town houses, but lets take a look outside. I spend some time in the area around Linden N and N 94 and what you see there is where single family homes on reasonably generous lots were pulled down and 5 or 6 townhouses put on the same lot. Now the garages are all between the front and back rows of the townhouses with a curving approach that would challenge a MiniCooper or Smart car driver, let alone someone in a small sedan suitable for a family needing a 3-bedroom unit. And of course the garage is only for a single car, and a few (like 99%) of these families need and have a second car. So look at the street after rush hour - it's parked tight with cars, and the street is narrow enough that it must be a challenge for a fire truck to get thru, especially if there are some largeish pickups or SUVs.
So, instead of an "Urban Village" it begins to look more like It's on its way to "Urban Slum".
This is not the kind of densification we need in Seattle. I fear Ballard is the next target for reckless densification. We can already see it in down town area and creeping around the edges of the single family blocks.

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 10:21 p.m. Inappropriate

BallardGuy, you've missed the plan. Seattle intends to take all those cars and make them illegal. It's the bus or light rail from now on, buddy and don't you forget it!

Posted Thu, Mar 21, 4:21 a.m. Inappropriate

I was born and raised in a neighborhood of row houses, in a city of row houses, four times the size of Seattle and with all the density and walkability that this "urbanist" cult claims it wants for Seattle.

Yeah, it was "vibrant." It also was claustrophobic, nerve-wracking, soul-crushing, and eventually mean and squalid. I came to Seattle in my early 20s, thought I had died and gone to heaven, and vowed I would never leave. And I haven't.

Be glad I'm not the dictator here, Mary, because you and your "new school of young designers" would all be breaking rocks in a penitentiary somewhere far away, for attempting to foist these monstrosities on Seattle. As long as I have breath in my body, my response to this kind of housing will be no and hell no.

ivan

Posted Thu, Mar 21, 7:20 p.m. Inappropriate

ivan, you are right on the mark! Well put.

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 10:22 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree, Ivan. In fact, I swore while writing my too many posts.

Posted Thu, Mar 21, 10:03 a.m. Inappropriate

A dwelling for $325,000 -- a down payment of $45,000 -- as something a "median income" family can "afford"? In what ivory-tower universe does Ms. Fialko live?

Posted Thu, Mar 21, 7:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Yuppiedom. Where the streets are lined with gilded, but sustainable bicycles.

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 10:25 p.m. Inappropriate

No, she clearly lives in lala land ... she knows darn well that a down payment of $45,000 just doesn't happen. I like the part where she thinks the buyers got an inheritance or have been saving bonuses.

Do any of you get bonuses? Inheritances? Ye gods.

... "and can afford a down payment of $45,000 (this is high, but maybe they received an inheritance or have been saving bonuses"

Posted Thu, Mar 21, 10:36 a.m. Inappropriate

"Seattle has one of the best housing markets in the U.S."

Please note that the survey quoted is based on "interviews with top investors and developers", and ranks Seattle No. 7 nationally for "investment, development and homebuilding", the top three cities on the same list are the most un-affordable in the country; Ney York, San Fransico and San Jose.

A perusal of home prices versus inflation over the last century will reveal that the growth in home valuations is an engineered phenomena that enriches the rentier class while making cities like Seattle unaffordable to the average people who made them vibrant and attractive places to live in the first place.

Home prices are "affordable" at 3.5% interest only if you are willing to overlook the massive amount of debt you must agree to burden. This is not the your grandfather's housing market anymore. Next up, the 40-year mortgage!

Posted Thu, Mar 21, 11:51 a.m. Inappropriate

"The median Seattle household income is $52,000, which is high compared to the national average of $45,000. So, if a family without debt brings in the Seattle median household income of $52,000 and can afford a down payment of $45,000 (this is high, but maybe they received an inheritance or have been saving bonuses), they could afford a home value of $290,000 at the high end. Suddenly a price tag of $325K is looking very affordable."

Mary's recitation and price tag suggests her employer may well in some cases respect buyers' and neighbors' long term investment values. However, she should not stop her education just yet. She needs help purging the wishful thinking substituting for social analysis in the above quote and her assumptions that 1) what she learned at one establishment applies to the entire class and 2) that we should buy her first assumption without a single piece of evidence.

The City of Seattle, itself, were it to manage for results, would evaluate whether the MAJORITY of the buyers and neighborhoods "sold" long double-rowed stacks of duplexes masquerading as townhouses have been treated to lesser or better long term investment value. If "majority" means 50.1% , by that definition, the majority of this construction self-evidently has a very short life cycle if the neighborhoods, but not the buyers are lucky. No study will be made in that the answer is so damagingly obvious.

The Great Recession, alone, stopped these long double-rowed duplex stacks so epidemic as to drain Seattle' zoning capacity in all multifamily zones through mid-rise. Apartment construction, shunned for more than decade is the new craze. Only time will tell if liberal code interpretation once again spell trouble. I wouldn't bet against it, but there's always hope.

afreeman

Posted Thu, Mar 21, 6:32 p.m. Inappropriate

I am one of the principals at alloy design group and I appreciate the commentary that has sprung up in response to this article. I knew Mary was writing it but I did not know any of the details...she simply asked if she could post pics of the Zoo5 project (as seen in the article). Now that I've read the article, and the public commentary, I feel inclined to comment myself. Zoo5 was the first rowhouse project designed and built in Seattle under the new multifamily code...and we are quite proud of the end result. While many people might not like the project, many people also love it. We knew from the get go that it would probably be love/hate. But the core issue at hand is density. Our population in Seattle is growing quite rapidly. As a city, we have the choice to either let more people in, or keep them out. Zoning maps were developed decades ago that clearly opened up the doors for more density in Seattle (thus the multifamily zoning for Zoo5). Yes, there was only a single family home there previously (and the giant Beech tree that we succesfully saved). People rarely have issues with SFR's. But they are not the future of housing. They are not a very sustainable solution when it's all said and done. We've already seen how the great experiment of Suburbia is panning out across the country. And that's the crossroads we find ourselves at now. We can either continue building outward, into our beautiful forests, closer to our pristine rivers, etc... or we can build inward (and hopefully preserve as much of our surrounding environment as possible). But there is essentially no vacant land in Seattle on which to build new. Thus, we need an increase in density. Five families living where only one used to sit is a very good start. And yes, they are not conducive for SUV's, or families with multiple cars, but that is changing as well. Or at least I hope so. Mass transit is desperately needed...and it typically only arrives with demand (aka density). But don't worry too much, Single family zoning covers the majority of residential zoning in Seattle. So there will be LOTS of it around for a VERY long time. But there are also many corridors and pockets of multifamily zoning that provide the framework for more walkable, sustainable communities. And rowhouse projects like Zoo5 are an example of what can be done. We are always trying to improve upon our projects, but I do believe the simple exchange of 5 units versus 1 unit (on the same amount of land) is a great start for minimizing one's footprint on the land. Whether you like our design or not is another thing altogether. But I do find it difficult to argue against the density. If you don't want more people living in Seattle where do you propose they live? The only solution I see is for thousands of new, single-family houses to be built outside of the city...pushing further and further into our remaining natural environment. Unfortunately that continues to occur(even with current housing development in Seattle) but I hope the trend reverses in the coming decades. Most studies show this is already the case, but there are also a ton of people out there who still want a giant yard, 2 car garage, and a large spread of land. I just don't think that's a sustainable approach we can afford to follow. And yes, those homes are often cheaper...but at what expense? They often require clear cutting forests, paving more roads, and spreading our footprint even bigger than it already is. Not to mention the commute one might have to get into the city for work or entertainment. All in all, I'm a true believer that density within the city of Seattle is the right direction for us. Figuring out how to best accomplish this will surely be an ongoing issue...but at the core it will demand that we all learn how to live just a little closer to our neighbors, become a little more communal in our thinking, make better use of common amenities such as parks, and work towards becoming the most sustainable city possible.

Mark Haizlip - principal
alloy design group

mhaizlip

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 4:51 a.m. Inappropriate

"But the core issue at hand is density. Our population in Seattle is growing quite rapidly.
--
The population of Seattle according to the 1960 Census was 557,087.
The population of Seattle according to the 2010 Census was 608,660.

If that's what you call "quite rapidly," and if that is what you use to justify projects that stand to make you a lot of money, what credibility can you claim in this discussion? Exactly who do you expect to take such obvious utter nonsense seriously?

ivan

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 10:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Ivan, basically when families had 3 - 5 or more kids, we needed fewer houses in Seattle. Now that most households seem to be 1 to 3 people max, we need more.

Hmmmm. Sustainable, not.

Posted Mon, Mar 25, 8:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Ivan,

I was not the developer/owner of this project. So alloy did not reap any financial gain beyond our architecture fee.

You might find the article below interesting with regards to population growth in Seattle. We've had a steady growth pattern for decades now and all those thousands of people need to live somewhere.

http://www.kplu.org/post/population-growth-and-housing-seattle-going

mhaizlip

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 1:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Ever heard of a paragraph?

westello

Posted Tue, Mar 26, 3:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Paragraphs aren't the future of writing. We can't afford to take up space with paragraph breaks and indentation. We need to fit five thoughts in the space that used to be taken up with only one.

talisker

Posted Fri, Mar 29, 11:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Good comment :-). Thanks.

Posted Sat, Mar 30, 6:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Man, that is a good comment.

jhande

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 6:49 p.m. Inappropriate

"As a city, we have the choice to either let more people in, or keep them out." False dichotomy: The choice is to accommodate infill with well designed buildings, increasingly non-car oriented, in locations where transit is in place or guaranteed, and with a process that accounts for--and mitigates--impacts on existing neighborhoods. Or not, like we do now.

"there is essentially no vacant land in Seattle on which to build new" is very misleading. There is a huge amount of underbuilt capacity in "corridors and pockets of multifamily zoning", as well in NC, M, and H zones. The issue is not whether but how--i.e., who has a voice in the scale and density (planning), associated infrastructure (concurrency/planning), and quality (design review). Right now, governance is very centralized with most of the directly impacted people largely disenfranchised. Hence the push back--misnamed "NIMBY", but mostly a shout out for more democracy.

"The only solution I see is for thousands of new, single-family houses to be built outside of the city." How about we stop breeding too much? Hubqueen54 is right. Furthermore, we are by every measure I'm aware of (peak energy, peak phosphorus, HANPP) well into population overshoot, so the problem will solve itself if we don't figure it out ourselves first. We're well on the way off that cliff.

And I concur with Westello--use carriage returns; your writing looks like an ugly building.

louploup

Posted Mon, Mar 25, 8:32 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree that overpopulation is an issue. Probably our biggest global issue in fact. I don't have much control over it as an architect, but this is a major reason why I'm interested in multifamily housing and density in general. As long as our population is increasing we must continue to respond. And I believe it should come in the form of density.

As for paragraphs, I didn't realize people would get so bent out of shape over that. Sorry. Lesson learned.

mhaizlip

Posted Tue, Mar 26, 6:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Not "bent out of shape," just annoyed. It is very difficult to follow an argument or narrative when there is no break in the text, similar to the reason architects want a different "vocabulary" in their buildings every now and then. Or something like that.

I'm glad you recognize the population problem. However, your comment below ("I simply don't think that is a sustainable way of thinking, especially with with a growing population.") indicates difficulty with the real meaning of "sustainable". e.g., http://dieoff.org/page37.htm

IOW, "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron.

louploup

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 10:29 p.m. Inappropriate

I am not willing to live in your world Mark Haizlip. It isn't sustainable.

Posted Sat, Mar 23, 10:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Mark Halzlip
principal - Greed & Ugly Associates
Destroying Seattle One Block at a Time
"Where are the eco-terrorists when we need them?"

NotFan

Posted Tue, Mar 26, 3:04 p.m. Inappropriate

So build more modest homes in the city. Put in two bathrooms instead of four. Use cheaper countertop surfaces than granite. Put the houses in reach of the typical renter who is seeking to be a homeowner. My complaint with townhomes isn't density but price. We bought a 2000 square foot home on a 7200 square foot lot two blocks from Jackson Park for 2/3 the cost of the new townhomes that went up a few blocks from us.

Density isn't about building a more livable or walkable city. It's about maximizing income from a piece of land.

talisker

Posted Thu, Mar 21, 7:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Whew! Well Mark,that was certainly long-winded. A lot of defense of an ugly ediface. Upscale chicken coops that are lined up in rows. Aptly named Zoo5!
I found Mary's remark that people "don't actually care that they have a postage stamp front yard and they need to drag the grill up to the roof deck" kinda funny. Funny peculiar. I Love my yard. In a small space I manage to grow old-fashioned roses, herbs and flowering shrubs which give me pleasure and calmness, as well as attract birds. I ain't rich, either.
Can't anyone mention the Elephant in the Room? Overpopulation!
C'mon people, quit breeding like rabbits. I don't want to live in a hutch..or look at one out my windows either.

Posted Mon, Mar 25, 8:40 p.m. Inappropriate

There are definitely varying attitudes on yards. Some people love them and some, believe it or not, want nothing to do with them. Something we're happy about with regards to Zoo5 is that each unit has a different size yard. This was accomplished by staggering the units. If you don't care for yard maintenance, Unit 1 would be desirable with it's tiny front yard (if you can even call it that). If you wanted a bigger yard, and a mature Beech tree as well, Unit 5 (on the end) would be desirable.

And yes, I agree with you on the overpopulation. See my comments above.

mhaizlip

Posted Sat, Mar 30, 7:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Over the last generation population gain in the United States has been driven by immigration. So, Citizens, who had achieved a sustainable replacement birth rate, have been responsible. What has not been responsible, is instead of capitalizing on the gains a sustainable birth rate allows, tens of millions of immigrants were allowed into the United States with no thought of the impacts.

The birth rate of Citizens is sustainable, the massive immigration and immigrant birth rates are not sustainable. We do not need to pack Citizens in like sardines because a bunch of foreign nationals wish to be here.

Seattle is not the only area within the Growth Management Boundary. Seattle is already the densest area within the Growth Management Boundary. Build your rowhouses and densify areas within the Growth Management Boundary to near the density of Seattle, outside of Seattle, before wishing increased density in Seattle.

Since, there is no effort to equalize density within the Growth Management Boundry, the contention that these buildings are being designed, and built, for the public good is nonsense. The major push for these in Seattle, but not outside of Seattle, indicates that these buildings are built with only the profit of the developer, and property owner in mind.

The attempt to portray these buildings as being anything other than a push for higher profits is disgusting, and insulting. We are not fools.

jhande

Posted Sat, Mar 30, 8:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Totally agree--good post.

louploup

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 6:10 a.m. Inappropriate

A family with an income of $52,000 who puts $45,000 down on a $325,000 mortgage will be faced with payments of approximately $1800/month. Take home pay for an income of $52,000 (claiming Head of Household) is about $2900/month. $1800 is 62% of $2900.

Sounds like SEIU-Dub needs to add a little math to the sanctimony curriculum.

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 8:51 a.m. Inappropriate

I have to agree with BallardGuy regarding the outside of these new developments. I too have watched the long, dark, windy corridors appear in Ballard as the tall developments spring up and block the sun and shunt the wind along the remaining open corridors. It is no longer pleasant to walk through these areas of Ballard. Ballard is windy compared to most of the rest of the city - I don't think the designers considered this. I am now much more likely to jump in my car whereas I used to walk 90 min. from my home in Ballard to the UW to work.

I just got back from a scientific meeting in Barcelona. It was interesting to see how much sun they managed to preserve by keeping the majority of the buildings at mostly 4 stories. However, our developers loudly lament that they cannot make money without a minimum of 6 stories. And thus darkness falls over Ballard. I strongly believe that, no matter what any developer will say, that money will be the bottom line. Even the embracing of green buildings seems to me a cynical means by which more money can be squeezed out of well-meaning home buyers.

Color me skeptical - and in favor of zoning laws that control the $$ bottom line in favor of urban livability.

word

Posted Mon, Mar 25, 8:54 p.m. Inappropriate

I think you are right. Most developers will say that money is the bottom line. And it should be in some regards. Because ultimately that cost gets passed on to us, the buyers. And that's where the difficulty lies. I spend alot of time trying to convince developers to add sustainable strategies to their projects...strategies that will also increase the building cost. I believe buyers will know a better product when they see it, and ultimately pay more for it. But the market in Seattle has not entirely backed up this notion. And in the end, my desire to design/build a slightly more expensive building is not exactly the way to keep housing costs lower. So it's a bit of a conundrum. But there are many design strategies we employ that we believe make for better living without necesarilly adding any more cost to the build. Either way, managing cost while still building the best unit possible is definitely a battle.

mhaizlip

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 9:01 a.m. Inappropriate

"The homes additionally feature electric water heaters,"

O.K. I agree that heated water is a nice upgrade.
Is electricity better than gas?

Posted Mon, Mar 25, 3:48 p.m. Inappropriate

It may be that she's referring to the electric tankless water heaters, sometimes called on-demand heaters. Since the water is heated as it's used, it doesn't need space for a large tank, and doesn't use additional energy to heat and re-heat the same tank, waiting for someone to use it. They've become quite popular outside the US, and are starting to be used here, especially in multi-family construction.

sandik

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 11:54 a.m. Inappropriate

The market speaks louder that the comment trolls. Thank you for forward-looking designs; I appreciate a modern and advanced approach, which is appropriate for Seattle as a city that cares about the future.

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 1:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Did you read my comment above? I grew up in a city full of row houses. That city is Philadelphia PA, where the row houses date from the eighteenth century. So you're telling me that an eighteenth-century design is "forward-looking," and a "modern and advanced approach." And you're calling ME a "comment troll?" Wow!
s.

ivan

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 10:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Anything brand new will sell. The real test is whether it sells easily the next time that owner wants to move. I'm quite doubtful.

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 5:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Barcellona is about six degrees latitude south of Seattle. That makes it easier for those folks to get sunshine down to the street level. I am not saying that invalidates your comment; we should recognize the low sun in our regulations. Mary F. and Mark H. did not write the code nor create the market; from looking at the photo I think they did a good job (a floor plan would have been a nice addition to the article).

kieth

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 7:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Dude! Where did all the transit junkies disappear to on this thread? What happened to the defenders of New Urbanism? I thought y'all hung out here at Crosscut 24/7 slamming highway projects! Why aren't you around to defend your peeps?

Seriously--it makes me ill to see the me-first elitism that permeates the comments here, masquerading as aesthetics or something equally noble. What... you don't have room in that one-car garage to park your Hummer? It's a moral outrage! And OMG, Seattle has only grown by 60,000 people since 1960... time to bring back 10-acre lots! Do note that the Boeing bust fell within that time frame, so 1960 is not an appropriate starting point for measuring growth... but that's really not the point. The point is that the commenters here don't actually want Seattle to become a real city. Because that would expose our sensitive psyches to horrors akin to those of--hold your breath and wait for it--Philadelphia. Not that, dear God! And it's astonishing that no one has yet brought up the repellent cesspool of density commonly known as San Francisco.

Listen to these folks. They are designing environmentally friendly, quasi-affordable homes that help promote the level of density needed to support transit in a city that professes to cherish it. What happened to the Seattle that used to celebrate such efforts? And yes, the company is building these homes to make a profit. Since when was that illegal, or even immoral?

Oh yeah, and "Ever hear of a paragraph?" SLAM! Guess you showed him! Talk about your enlightened civic discourse.

Jen27

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 8:35 p.m. Inappropriate

"Ever hear of a paragraph?"

Your boss or friend (most of whose comments I agree with) made his point difficult to read by not indenting or spacing. Not really a slam, unless you consider writing abilities.

I think some valid points have been raised which have nothing to do with accepted elements of density and such.

As a resident of Ballard, I agree with some comments above which decry the fact (as outlined above) that these abodes are built first and foremost with the automobile in mind. Is that a sensible way to design a dwelling? I do not think it would prevent me from walking to the University district, but to each his own.

The so-called green elements are mostly marketing ploys which allow the developer to charge more money. how many signs have I seen which advertise new condos w/ bamboo floors? too many to count.

jeffro

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 10:08 p.m. Inappropriate

The best GREEN is an older home that someone has taken care of. Updates are far less costly than new.

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 10:39 p.m. Inappropriate

And what did you show us?

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 11:34 p.m. Inappropriate

"the commenters here don't actually want Seattle to become a real city"

If I didn't want to live in a "real city" I wouldn't be here. I love cities and have lived in and visited many. Seattle is provincial in some ways (most places are), but it is definitely urban.

San Francisco is one of my favorites, and has many similarities to Seattle politically and demographically. Read about it here:
http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/local/san_francisco.html
and
Understanding the Effects of Progressive Era Electoral Reforms on City Elections: The San Francisco Board of Supervisors' Races, Lindgren 2006.

Civic discourse? A bit heavy on the sarcasm, perhaps?

louploup

Posted Thu, Mar 28, 10:21 a.m. Inappropriate

I have also lived in San Francisco - it is a beautiful, walkable city. A perfect example of how density can be achieved without tearing down historic buildings or building tall condo complexes. In most part due to limits on building heights and also the Coastal Commission which controls building down to waterways and allowing public access to coastal areas. These limits, as far as I can tell, are completely alien concepts to the development-hungry Seattle area.

Calling those of us who would argue limits on heights "elitist" suggests to me that there is no interest within the developer community to compromise. Don't knock your teeth out with your knee Jen27....

word

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 10:08 p.m. Inappropriate

I see a lot of those homes these days. Too many ever-so-slightly pitched roofs are a major problem in Rainsville.

Posted Fri, Mar 22, 10:18 p.m. Inappropriate

What??? "People don't actually care that they have a postage stamp front yard and they need to drag the grill up to the roof deck, if they can keep an eye on the kids while they cook dinner."

Are you kidding? Do you have kids and live in what you've dreamed up as utopian living with children?

Furthermore, you claim "The median Seattle household income is $52,000, which is high compared to the national average of $45,000. So, if a family without debt brings in the Seattle median household income of $52,000 and can afford a down payment of $45,000 (this is high, but maybe they received an inheritance or have been saving bonuses), they could afford a home value of $290,000 at the high end. Suddenly a price tag of $325K is looking very affordable."

Last I checked, $52,000 per year was $4333.33 per month. 30% of that is somewhere about what a bank will allow for a mortgage payment, which is $1300. Remember P.I.T.I? Principal + Interest + Taxes + Insurance? So, $1300 PITI works out to probably only $1000 for the P & I part. $1000 at 3.75% interest is a loan of only $215,928.87. Your math doesn't work.

Buyers who buy new construction for their first home are crazy. Buy an older home like we did. Don't buy in the snazzy expensive parts of town, buy in a stable area and work up. The American way did not ever start out with new construction as the first house 'norm', at least when your mom and I bought our first home. It was 700 square feet. That's all.

Posted Mon, Mar 25, 9:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Buying a new unit versus an existing unit is definitely a decision to think about. There are pros and cons for each. That aside, in my mind the American way started with new construction. For better or worse. Seattle didn't appear out of nowhere. Unfortunately we pushed out Native Americans to do it...settling where we pleased, and building new homes, schools, and factories where we pleased.

The feeling I have now, is that lots of people don't want anyone else to "move-in", now that they are settled. I simply don't think that is a sustainable way of thinking, especially with with a growing population. People need to live somewhere and I prefer it occur in cities versus expanding further into our natural environment. Change is difficult, but necessary.

mhaizlip

Posted Tue, Mar 26, 2:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Be very careful in this and future discussions, Mark, not to characterize those who disagree with your "vision" as doing so because they oppose or fear change. Many of us are as accepting of change as you purport to be. We just prefer that change to be in different directions.

ivan

Posted Tue, Mar 26, 12:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Well said Ivan. That's a very fair statement. I do try to stay as open as possible to other people's thoughts and beliefs. I'm clearly opinionated and that needs to be balanced out by listening to those that have differing opinions. I've appreciated this thread for that very reason...and I rarely join threads such as these. Especially as the designer of a project featured in the article. I just couldn't help but chime in. Especially with some of the negativity I found in the comments. You did state that if you had it your way, I would be "breaking rocks in a penitentiary somewhere far away". So I was compelled to chime in. I've never had someone say I should be locked up for a project I designed. But I'm willing to take the criticism along with any praise. All in all, I think Mary's article spurred some very good discussion. And perhaps that was the point in the end.

mhaizlip

Posted Wed, Mar 27, 10:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Mark, pleased that you care enough to carry on conversations your projects and an employee have started. Would like to extend my complaint about Mary's analysis to your contributions—both of you do yourself injustice by giving the definite impression of defending the jumbled, short-sighted mess made by developers throughout the entire city in what they and city-staff convinced themselves was a necessary response to what turned out to be a world-wide financial con job.

Supposedly, the "Multi-Family Update (MFU), which Mary notes your current work tests, resolves the ironically persistent underbuilding of sites zoned for twice or more the actual design density. Only time will tell. Reading would help too, e.g., "The Reflective Practitioner" (Schon, 83), "The Careless Society, Community and its Counterfeits" (McKnight,95), "Why Things Bite Back" (Tenner,96).

afreeman

Posted Fri, Mar 29, 11:27 p.m. Inappropriate

The American way started in new construction? Which part of the American way are you thinking about?

Pilgrims coming in on the Mayflower ... I supposed they did start out in new construction. So did the wagon train folks who forged West.
Seattle also didn't appear out of nowhere, but when I look at Seattle history, I see a whole lot of workers living in actual tents, not housing, and many homesteaders living in a 10 x 12 house, as a family unit.

So, sure. I agree, I guess the American way is new construction. Just not the full-on amenities type you think.

I also disagree that 'lots of people don't want anyone else to 'move-in' ... that is silly, when the reality is that architects like you cannot sell your product unless lots of people actually do move into Seattle.

Posted Fri, Mar 29, 11:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Mark "People need to live somewhere and I prefer it occur in cities versus expanding further into our natural environment. "

Hmmm. I prefer that people who need to live somewhere live wherever it is that they choose and prefer to live.

You are not the decision maker, although you can be an opportunity maker.

Posted Wed, Mar 27, 1:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Truth is design is in the eye of the beholder. Also true that there were a few years when the Land Use Code encouraged cookie cutter 'fake' craftsman built from standard plans that any developer could buy. But, go to Maryland and you will gag over the ubiquitous fake red brick colonial stuff .

There is no way new buildings are going to look like old buildings. Each time period has, for better or worse, its own styles. That is what I like about Seattle, the mixture of styles.

There are a few things I'd hope developers and architects will consider more:

1. The topology of the land. Standard plans expect flat. We have interesting hills and valleys.

2. Apply Passivhous ideas, or just basic engineering for air circulation and light.

3.Break out of the 2-master bedroom, tall skinny, 600K plus as the only option. Truth is these often do not create greater density in Low Rise zones, just bigger buildings with richer people. The two family duplex, each one with 3 bedrooms and 4-5 people(9-10 total) and a yard, ends up a 4-pack with 8 total only if there are a few couples along with the singles who purchase.

There is opportunity to build a bit differently in today's code versus 10 years ago. Creative design should be valued.

Posted Wed, Mar 27, 1:52 p.m. Inappropriate

I will add, however, that when developers and architects opine about the need for 'density' and, even more so, write our land use code:

A. The profit motive taints all of their opinions
B. Their qualities as designers are then questioned
C. Their technical knowledge is also questioned

My architect and developer friends just want to build nice buildings and understand the difference between studying sociology and economics and serving us by designing nice places. One does NOT make a person an expert in the other. Maybe we have too many people in schools of archtecture, driving many to go well beyond their level of capability to justify their profession. We DO, unfortunately, have architecture driven schools of planning and public policy.

Density is an utterly meaningless term and results from a complicated interaction of factors that has only to do with human beings and our own situations --- something that cannot be legislated. Planning for 'density' has just resulted in bigger and more expensive homes.

While actually cool for you to design 3BR (altho I do wonder if truly 3 usable bedrooms) for a cost much better than what the going rate is for most townhomes, the reaction here has to do with policies of endless growth as opposed to steady state economics, the culture of tear down and throw away and waste, and serious displacement of people.

I live in an older 1000 sqft townhouse, much shorter than what we get today, with enough land for me to garden more than I want, and parking. It was built by an archtect over 20 years ago. It was built in what WAS a multifamily neighborhood, and built in scale, style and economics with what was already there. It is still large enough for a couple or couple with a child or two to live in quite fine. I appreciate the attention to design details every day. I do not remember him being any voice in the development of land use policies.

Posted Wed, Mar 27, 3:04 p.m. Inappropriate

"policies of endless growth as opposed to steady state economics, the culture of tear down and throw away and waste, and serious displacement of people." Exactly!

"Density is an utterly meaningless term..." Not so; it's a useful metric. Seems to me you're referring to the lack of relationship between building size/cost and number of people in the building (density), not to the metric itself.

louploup

Posted Wed, Mar 27, 6:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Density as a measure, sure. As a fact or calculation of numbers of people/housing units. AFTER the fact, and it depends on a whole host of socio-economic factors. It is misused and meaningless in Land Use Code, unless one mandates the number of bedrooms and mandates that each be filled with 1.2 persons. That would not be legal, not legal to mandate that it be built and not legal to mandate how people live.

What is termed 'density' in Land Use code is number of units in some cases, but more generally the overall size of buildings on a lot. A 1-BR 3000 sqft luxury apartments and a 200 sqft shack -- each are one unit.

Posted Thu, Mar 28, 6:31 a.m. Inappropriate

I find it amusing you are referring to your townhome built in the 1990's as older, like it was built in the good ol' days.

Did the architect really build it, or did he/she just design it as per normal events?

"I do not remember him being any voice in the development of land use policies."

Well, Washington has just adopted the Growth Management Act in 1990, so there really wasnt much fuss made about it yet. however, the very fact thay a townhome was designed for your neighborhood was probably a direct result of the GMA. You know, to add density.

jeffro

Posted Fri, Mar 29, 12:51 p.m. Inappropriate

Most now try to make the 'sides' either knee jerk 'pro-density' or 'anti-density'. I know some who helped create the GMA and they are horrified at the triteness and shallowness of that framing.

The side we all should be on is to firmly draw and enforce the growth boundaries and make the places that we live, work, go to school, and experience culture great places for all of us.

Posted Fri, Mar 29, 11:31 p.m. Inappropriate

No kidding.

Posted Thu, Mar 28, 3:46 p.m. Inappropriate

557,087 to 608,660? People know that we've grown much more than that, right?

The Census counted 557,087 in 1960, then estimated 486,000 in 1986. That was due to smaller households. Assuming that the estimates/counts are realistic (both have their margins of error), that's an increase of 122,660 in 24 years to get to 608,660.

Obviously we're growing more quickly since 2010, given the size of the current boom.

mhays

Posted Thu, Mar 28, 8:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Most of the decline from 1960 was due to reduction in the number of children here, and much of THAT is thanks to the work of various Seattle School Boards. Had we a destination school district (instead of the opposite), what kind of city would this be?

simorgh

Posted Thu, Mar 28, 9:58 p.m. Inappropriate

A better city for sure, but many if not most of Seattle's monied liberals and neo-liberals prefer their private schools, and have for decades. This de facto segregation starves the public school system, no matter how many levies we pass.

louploup

Posted Fri, Mar 29, 8:42 a.m. Inappropriate

Households also got a lot smaller nationwide -- fewer kids per family, a lot more single people, people living longer, etc.

mhays

Posted Fri, Mar 29, 11:56 a.m. Inappropriate

True that, but Seattle has the second lowest percentage of residents younger than 18 among large cities. San Francisco is first. Our fraction of residents over 64 is not unusual.

simorgh

Posted Fri, Mar 29, 3:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Well, fyi, Seattle Schools has been growing over the last three years nearly 1,000 students a year. Seattle Schools has a high school and elementary STEM program as well as foreign language immersion/international schools from K-12. Seattle Schools now has three IB high schools. And, of course, Seattle has had its own version of charters schools (except these were ALL started by parents and, of course, have no profit motive) in our many alternative schools.

There are many good schools and good things happening in SPS. You just have to pay attention.

westello

Posted Fri, Mar 29, 11:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Are those 1000 growth students birth students from families here, or immigration? I don't have any bias against immigration, but I believe Seattle is being run as a city that isn't attractive to families with children, more and more so each decade.

Posted Sun, Mar 31, 3:20 p.m. Inappropriate

"Why spec house snobbery has to go
Guest Opinion: The average family can't afford a craftsman style home on Capitol Hill. Who are you to fault them for choosing the environmentally-friendly, well-designed modern row house?"

That silly non-factual lead for Mary's more sincere piece reeks of a red herring for the purpose of jacking up Crosscut's comment count.

In that the extended conversation has been fruitful, I guess my lament is that inflaming overly-nice Seattle is the only way Crosscut can think of to get us to compare thoughts on critical issues.

Here's James Howard Kunstler, himself bouncing from mad-dog inflamer to sage (Too Much Magic, 2012), half-way between those vantage points in (The City in Mind, 2001):

"It is tragic when a people recklessly erase their cultural memory. But [it] is also tragic when a people have no confidence in their ability to generate a material future worth caring about."

Unrealistic, widely held, warring ideologies deter 'generators of a material future' from taking responsibility for both sides of this coin. Cutting through warring to reality takes intrepid reading across all ideologies. Clearly Kunstler has settled down and may or may not have it laid out in time for the rest of us to grasp. Help wanted.

afreeman

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