Where someone lives is often a deeply personal choice. Sometimes it’s not so much personal as circumstantial (drive-til-you-quality) or temporal (no traffic! [not yet, anyway]). So questioning where someone lives is destined to create contention — we all know that.
If I criticize a portion of Bellevue’s cul-de-sac development, a commenter is just as likely to deride my urban elitism as seriously analyze the serious consequences of that development. And true, Seattle itself is hardly the best example of perfect development. We can’t get density on major rail corridors without seeing “threatening” images of Hong Kong.
Read on after the jump…
But development is not done in a vacuum. The policies that favor highway expansion over transit expansion indeed favor sprawl. The lack of strong building codes in expanding suburbs leads to cul-de-sacs or strip-malls that block shared access with egregous schrubbery and ditches. We all know what it’s like to have to get in your car to go to the Baskin Robbins in the next strip mall over. Is this an example of freedom? Not socio-economically, for certain. Not if you prefer to walk than drive. And crtainly this lack of oversight is not the best choice for the planet.
But the problem isn’t the suburbs themselves. It’s not even the suburbanites that occupy those houses and drive everywhere. The problem is the government policies that historically let developers do nearly anything with cheap land. It has been a failure at the federal, state, regional, and local levels that we cannot mindlessly blame on suburbanites themselves. Indeed, suburbs are a natural part of the metropolitan framework. Auto-dependency is not: therefore it is a product of poor governmental policies which are a form of social engineering that have accelerated climate change and have led to things like suffering through congestion as a requirement to get to work.
You can have a suburban development that is the first step toward removing that car-dependency. The downtown areas of Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond are examples of that. You can suburban development that is relatively dense and walkable and near transit stops. The Bel-Red corridor in Bellevue is an example of that. The Growth Management work from the state and regional levels are good steps that we’ve seen in our lifetime. Indeed, we sense even greater change coming: McMansions are acceptable to deride on as signs of excess and ironic cheapness. SUVs are painted with a black brush while hybrids and bicycles can be status symbols. Having a bus pass is no longer a sign of thrift but one of environmental stewardship (usually).
But there is certainly more work to be done. Transit is often a second priority to highway expansion (though not always) and suburban re-development is sometimes an uphill fight with people who fear a change in their lives. And we want our suburban readers to know: You are not the enemy. Government policy is. We’re seeing the first steps of this change, but to fully tackle pollution and the inefficiencies of congestion, we need more. So there’s nothing wrong with living in Bellevue or working in Redmond. But feel free — nay, encouraged! — to criticize the local planning decisions just as we in Seattle criticize our city’s policies when they hurt the earth and our quality of life.