A good friend, a liberal green, dropped me a line saying "By gawd Crosscut's making the chips fly! I love it." He was referring to my post on Monday, April 16, questioning Seattle's devotion to density as an unquestionable civic good (or is it God?). I think he only partly agrees with me, which is fine. Hell, even I don't always agree with me. But he loves a good fight. Response to the story has been rabid. Crosscut readers are posting thoughtful comments, pro and con. I urge you to read them if you haven't already. Lots of bloggers are weighing in too, and some are way off base, either wrong in their assertions, or misrepresenting what I said. Let's take a look: Will at Horse's Ass posted an attack on my piece under the heading of "Condos Are Evil." First off, Will, no, I don't think condos are evil. What I do think is that it's bad policy to encourage high-rise skysprawl for the rich, especially when we get so little in the way of "affordable" housing for the poor in return, and virtually nothing for the middle class. I consider the raising of height limits downtown to be misguided. I also question condo developments that destroy relatively low-cost existing rental housing and replace it with expensive condos or townhouses, or, even worse, single family megahouses. We lose daylight, we lose green, we lose scale, we lose history, and, worst, we lose cheap housing. In response to my assertion that there is a political alliance of greens, labor, and progressives to promote policies that have hurt the little guy, Will says: What an unbelievable load of shit. Labor, enviros, and progressives all want more growth inside urban boundaries for different reasons. Union guys who swing hammers get construction work. Enviromentalists like the fact that denser urban development is energy effecient and allows people to walk to work. Progressives like it because, well – it's cool. And we don't want to move to Auburn. They may want it for different reasons, but the effect of the green/labor/liberal alliance is troubling. But thank you, Will, for being honest enough to validate my suspicion that progressives will put "coolness" above rationality when it comes to density – it's a snobbery that asserts that the urbs are infinitely superior to the burbs. Will says "we don't want to move to Auburn," but that's my point. Maybe Will has a choice, but poor and working class families don't. They're flooding into "uncool" south King County because they can't afford to live in "cool" Seattle anymore. Can we please question the price of coolness? Will continues: Truth is, Skip's no-growth heros (Brian Derdowski being one of them) were never for zero-growth. They just believed growth should pay for itself. And, growth should be funneled away from undeveloped areas and into cities. You know, like Seattle. So Skip's anti-growth beliefs are really just a part of the problem. After all, if a young couple can't buy a townhome in Seattle, they'll buy a house in Sammamish. Okay, this begs for correction and background. Will is right, I have long admired Brian Derdowski, the onetime Republican King County Council member who valiantly fought sprawl in east King County until he was defeated by the Eastside's pro-development crowd, guys like Dave Irons and Dino Rossi, two of Horse's Ass's favorite punching bags. Derdowksi, now a Democrat, did believe in concurrency – that developers should be required to fund infrastructure improvements instead of foisting these costs onto future taxpayers. That, of course, went out the window during the '90s boom, in part sabotaged by King County government itself when the county rigged computer programs to downplay traffic impacts and allow more development than concurrency would permit. I don't think I ever said Brian supported "zero growth," or that I support "zero growth." That is unrealistic. But like Brian, I am a slow-growther – I believe in trying to control the market when it's going to overwhelm us. I believe in sustainable growth – slower and smaller-scale when possible. I can also tell you that Derdowksi is a longtime neighborhood advocate; unlimited growth in Seattle would not be his dream outcome. I must also point out that the politics of growth – Derdowski's politics – were complicated and populist. He believed rural property owners should be able to develop in small, low-impact ways on their land, which gained him support among the property rights crowd; and he believed that the big developers ought to be subject to restrictions. I agree. He did support development in "urban" zones, but he also fought some development in those zones because, in some cases, the boundaries were drawn in the wrong places. The Sammamish Plateau is a case in point: It was designated as an "urban" area when it was largely rural and suburban. What's happened in that "urban" area has been appalling. One last point: People tend to follow jobs. Suburban sprawl in this country accelerated when employers moved out of cities and into the suburbs. As much as I don't like what happened to Sammamish, it makes a certain sense for people to live there now because many of those folks will be closer to their workplaces, like Microsoft, than they might be in Seattle. In other words, as long as big employers have suburban campuses, it just might be greener to live in places like Sammamish. That might make much better policy than spending billions of dollars building a bigger, badder, six-lane Highway 520 floating bridge that is essentially just a fat, publicly funded driveway for Bill Gates' worker bees. But I digress. On to Sightline, where Clark Williams-Derry writes that we are helpless against "the market": You see, like it or not, the demand for housing in Seattle is rising, because of demographic trends (rising regional population) and macro-economic forces (increasing wealth and income, particularly at upper rungs of the socio-economic ladder) that Seattle policymakers have essentially no control over. And over at Metroblogging, Ryan weighs in: Unfortunately, [Mossback's] chosen to rail against a red herring. Seattle's economic situation hasn't developed in a vacuum no matter how isolated we think we are up here. The middle class is shrinking across the country and the poor are being driven out of, well, everywhere. The rising tide is not lifting all boats and it's myopic, to say the least, to claim that localized urban density is to blame. Ryan makes a good point: Seattle is not living in isolation. I know that and have written about how the middle class is under duress nationally. (See "Just Right People.") I know we don't exist in a vacuum. Nor would I want to turn Seattle into the Bottle-City of Kandor. But neither do we have to assume the position when it comes to "the market." I mean, can't we put up a fight if it's in our self-interest? If it advances some sense of economic justice? Environmental responsibility? I am not a free-marketer or a free-trader. I believe in tariffs, in local control, I believe in the right of people to shape their communities by setting priorities that aren't solely determined by market forces. I believe that corporations shouldn't have all the rights of individuals and all the rights of human beings. I believe we sometimes have to push the market back with laws, incentives, and penalties. Let me cite a quote, which I did once before in a Seattle Weekly column about how growth is the new "meth." It comes from The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy by Christopher Lasch: ... Individuals cannot learn to speak for themselves at all, much less come to an intelligent understanding of their happiness and wellbeing, in a world in which there are no values except those of the market. ... The market tends to universalize itself. It does not easily coexist with institutions that operate according to principles that are antithetical to itself: schools and universities, newspapers and magazines, charities, families. Sooner or later the market tends to absorb them all. It puts an almost irresistible pressure on every activity to justify itself in the only terms it recognizes: to become a business proposition, to pay its own way, to show black ink on the bottom line. It turns news into entertainment, scholarship into professional careerism, social work into the scientific management of poverty. Inexorably it remodels every institution in its own image. When I hear people surrendering to "the market," I wonder, is this the town that rioted during WTO in 1999? Is this the town that stood up to globalization? I expect it of the business lobby, but when did Seattle enviros go all Thomas Friedman? I do question whether our consumerist economy's obsession with more and more and more will make us either happy or bring about the civic utopia that the dense people envision. Of course, taking on the market isn't easy. And I don't have all the answers, maybe not any of them. I have put forward a few suggestions for how it could be done. I've said I like the idea of the New Homestead Act which would create incentives for people to locate in depopulated rural areas – this is no weirder than the homestead laws and New Deal policies that steered growth and adjusted the market to benefit the country. I've also suggested that there are alternative ways to increasing density, as has been done in Europe. Providing free daycare in cities that have lost families is one idea. I'd love to hear other ideas. And no, Clark Williams-Derry, I am not yearning for another Boeing bust, an earthquake, or a "miserable" quality of life. Nor, as Erica C. Barnett speculates over on Slog, do I dream of "an environment so ravaged by cars and an economy so pre-modern that people will just stop moving here ... an ugly, polluted, underpopulated small town where only Mossbacks want to live." Uffda. I just don't have the energy to refute that. I mean, reading Erica on Slog is like being waterboarded. Okay, Erica, you caught me. I do want to destroy Seattle with pollution, crime, and the pox. Curses, Mossback the supervillian is foiled again.