What Trumps Density?

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Cleverly slipping it in before I was fully caught up from vacation, the City Council voted unanimously yesterday to restrict heights in Pioneer Square to 120 feet, rather than 150. Councilmembers Burgess and Bagshaw initially voted for higher limits, but PubliCola speculates they switched out of some sense of Council solidarity.

Previously, Councilmember Nick Licata and waterfront activist Cary Moon wrote separate pieces in opposition to the loosest possible height limits in Pioneer Square. On the other side, rebuttals from near and far; in particular I’d recommend Roger Valdez’s well-informed arguments.

I’m glad the debate is about how much to increase, rather than whether to increase. Furthermore, the provisions in question are part of a much larger package of upzones (map here) that is, thankfully, uncontroversial. However, Pioneer Square sits on the largest transportation hub in the Northwest. As such, there’s a strong case that as many people and jobs should be sited there as the market can bear.

The centrality of density to a whole series of issues is well documented. More human activity in a given patch of urban space reduces sprawl, energy consumption per capita, car dependence, and housing prices. It puts more bicycles and pedestrians on the ground, increasing their safety, and reduces the economic distortions caused by regulation. Against all that we have an essentially subjective argument about towers “looming” over historic buildings, an aesthetic that works fine in other cities, and the usual Seattle emphasis on public process and broad consensus.

Maximizing density is either a priority or it isn’t. I’m disappointed that vague aesthetic considerations won out over absolutely critical imperatives.

About Martin H. Duke

Martin joined the blog in Fall 2007 and became Editor-in-Chief in 2009. He is originally from suburban DC, but has lived in the Greater Seattle area since 1997. He resides with his family in Columbia City and works as a software engineer in Lower Queen Anne.




Comments

  1. So are you saying that humans are simply automatons whose built environment makes no difference in their lives? Simply putting them where they are most “efficient” is the highest ethic?

    • Are we reading the same article, Charles? Or are you assuming everyone in favor of much taller buildings around the state’s transit hub are all in favor of turning human beings into worker drones?

      Some of us want to improve our quality of life by moving downtown, and would love to live in Pioneer Square. But the Cary Moons of the world seem to consider us an unsightly and unwelcome blotch. Or am I making assumptions about her motivations, too?

      • Pioneer Square has a historic significance to this city and its character should be preserved. It has always been the hub of transportation since the early 20th century and except for its heyday, people didn’t really live in the hood. You can’t introduce high rise structures and preserve the character of Pioneer Square. For all intents and purposes, you might as well bulldoze it all and give the developers a field day.

        But what can be done is to encourage re-purposing the existing buildings for residential use and to allow the building of new structures with moderate heights that match the character of the existing area. But if you want to live in a high rise zone, you have lots of options including Belltown and Denny Regrade, lower Queen Anne, South Lake Union and still be within walking or short commute distances to your precious downtown jobs.

        And what is also ironic is complaining about adjacent industrial zones. While they’re not sexy or aesthetic, they employ people and make goods and services for us. They’re the “real” jobs versus desk jockeys. Pity, we keep trying to get rid of them. Where did all of those warehouses and light industrial firms go when they got pushed out of SLU? Tukwila? Auburn?

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        “You can’t introduce high rise structures and preserve the character of Pioneer Square.” True. We’ll end up with actual people in Occidental park. The businesses in the area will start thriving, instead of all moving to Cap Hill. The homeless will still exist (those that don’t get housing from the less constrained housing market), but you might barely notice them with all of the new occupants. Yeah, that would be terrible.

        I know change always seems bad. But we absolutely can keep the soul of Pioneer Square. Just choose a healthy ratio of buildings to protect from development. Yes, you’ll get highrises in between them, and maybe on top of them, but these will just add to the energy of the area.

        You can’t keep history alive by sealing it in glass. Near the beginning of “I, Claudius” Claudius contemplates how to make sure people thousands of years in the future can read his autobiography. He considers treating the pages with a preservative fluid and burying it. But then he realizes that the ancient texts he’s read were kept alive just from being valued enough to be re-read and copied. The best way to keep Pioneer Square alive is by keeping it relevant.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        Charles, using zoning restrictions to preserve historic buildings is pretty redundant.

      • I can’t let the argument that people haven’t lived in Pioneer Square much pass.

        It’s like the argument that we shouldn’t build bike lanes because bikers don’t use those dangerous arterials.

        Thankfully, I do see a handful of residential vacancies in several buildings around Pioneer Square, advertised on building signs. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of them, so the cost is sky-high.

      • Ben, how so? As for Pioneer Square, it is not the historical significance of “a” building, its the collection of buildings and the collective aesthetic they create in toto.

        To allow high rise glass and steel buildings to be interspersed in the neighborhood destroys it. We can make that choice but you might as well bulldoze the whole thing. It would certainly make the developers deliriously happy.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        Charles, you’re so interested in protecting buildings that are already protected that you’re arguing to create the problems you purport to despise – pushing people to the suburbs.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        Oh my god, mixing old and new destroys neighborhoods? Someone tell Paris! They’ll want to know!

      • This debate remains Eurocentric. Why not tear down everything and rebuild the original historic longhouses and beautiful totem poles?

        The longhouses were pretty good with density.

      • zefwagner says:

        I love all the old buildings in Pioneer Square and the ID, but look at google maps satellite view and you’ll see a lot of surface parking lots. This suggests there is plenty of space where we could build highrises without endangering the historic buildings. It might take a lot of incentives, transfer of development rights, etc, but it can be done. As others have pointed out, old and new can coexist in really interesting ways as we see in cities like Paris or Vienna. I would actually argue that highrises are usually ugly and dehumanizing because they are often built in isolated conglomerations with no variety. Look at Portland’s South Waterfront development. It’s very dead at the street level and doesn’t seem like it would be a good place to live, but that’s because it is just a bunch of highrises all on their own. In Pioneer Square, the combination of highrises and smaller historic buildings would result in a really interesting neighborhood with a mix of affordable and market-rate housing and retail. As Jane Jacobs always emphasized, diversity and variety are the most essential elements to a successful neighborhood.

      • Ben, I did’t say don’t build new buildings in Pioneer Square, I simply suggested if you do, they should be of similar height and character to what already exists. The 120-150 foot height restriction I think is a key to preserving the character of this neighborhood. Converting existing structures to residential can be accomplished through land use policies. Chicago was successful with this in their “Printer’s Row” neighborhood which has some direct comparisons to Pioneer Square.

        And as for the rest of downtown, gee, there’s a huge hole in the ground at 3rd and Cherry just begging for a high rise with residential. (But then shock! it might block the Mayor and City Council office views of the waterfront) There’s a low rise building at 3rd and Marion that could be redeveloped into a high rise. The Federal Reserve Building at 2nd and Madison appears to be abandoned and vacant and could be renovated or demolished to make way for a high rise. There’s a vintage high rise @ 2nd and Marion that if it doesn’t crumble from Deeply Bored Tunnel digging would make a great residential conversion. You could build a high rise on top of Beneroya Hall, you could redevelop the block across 3rd ave from it (Ross retail). The block of buildings across from Westlake park where Borders (was) could be redeveloped.

        To me, there is simply no shortage of places in downtown to develop residential.

      • Maybe we should protect sightlines to the Smith Tower from certain vantage points in Pioneer Square? I’m being serious here. Cap building height so that the Smith Tower can be seen from a few specific places, and require new buildings to fit in with the style of the protected historical architecture in the area.

      • “The longhouses were pretty good with density.”

        Not particularly tall, though!

        I think a lot of people are misinterpreting Charles’ point. He’s not so focused on trying to preserve the historic character of the individual buildings, for which the other, surrounding buildings are irrelevant, but preserving the historic character of Pioneer Square as a whole, which is more than the sum of its parts.

  2. This sort of ordinance can (and should) be easily updated. If the council hears from average citizens, and not just downtown business lobbiests, I think they will reconsider this poor decision.

    But it isn’t just about aesthetics. John Fox and the Seattle Displacement Coalition are still on a tear against tearing down existing affordable housing. They have a point. If mid-rise apartment buildings are torn down in favor of high-rise office buildings, that only decreases the number of people who can live downtown.

    Some of the goals of the Displacement Coalition are worthy of support, including one-for-one replacement of affordable living units, not necessarily on-site, but at least within the walkshed of the current units.

    Moreover, we can be smart about this by not rezoning residential properties downtown into commercial properties. Frankly, as long as mid-rise apartments get replaced by the same amount or more living units, I don’t care who lives in them. If millionaires want to live stacked on top of each other downtown, I say “Welcome!”

    Other than that, John Fox is starting to sound tone-deaf, with his calls for a slate of city council challengers running on a no-growth-inside-the-city platform. He still has yet to figure out why his candidate last time (Rev. David Bloom) flopped so badly in the general election. Here’s a clue, John: Most Seattleites want the city to absorb the region’s population growth, rather than have the growth be in the form of sprawl.

    • Actually, you should care who lives in them because one of the typical consequences of free market development is that middle and lower income classes get pushed to the fringe. Do you want downtown to simply be a yuppieville? Or are you happy with the prospect that those people who get pushed out have to now commute from Renton so they can cook your lunch or clean your office?

      • But Charles, by limiting heights, aren’t you pushing people out to Renton?

        Won’t keeping the supply of housing ahead of the demand help keep rent affordable?

        No, I’m not calling for downtown development to be deregulated. Rezoning residential properties to all-commercial would be a tragic, and possibly irreversible, mistake. But we need to allow commercial property on first floors of residential buildings, in order to give the poorer people living in Pioneer Square places to have jobs serving the yuppies lunch.

        I want people of all income levels living downtown. But there isn’t enough housing to meet the demand for any level, including the millionaires who still choose to live in secluded spread ranchettes on the foothills because they can’t find housing up to their standards downtown. (And they make the maids, gardeners, and babysitters drive to their spread ranchettes, without subsidizing their gas bills, even if those worker bees live in Pioneer Square.)

        Do you want more people living downtown, or not?

        And if not in Pioneer Square, next to the biggest transit hub in the northwest quadrant of the United States, then where should people be able to live?

      • We’re talking about 1 area of downtown not the entire downtown core for these kind of height limits. I can think of no city in North America where there is significant housing directly adjacent (or on top of) to major transportation hubs except NYC. Not Chicago, not SFO, not ATL not DC and where there are buildings, they’re certainly aren’t many high rises with residential. I sure as hell don’t want Seattle to even think of emulating NYC. blech!

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        WHOA. Charles, free market development resulted in people living downtown – how do you think all those residences got into Pioneer Square? We have restrictive zoning that’s been pushing people to the suburbs because there’s no space to develop downtown.

        You really, really, really need to read some Jane Jacobs.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        Charles, if the only time you come out of the woodwork is to fight height increases, you can’t say “oh, they can build somewhere else” the way you are. You have to put the effort you’re putting in blocking things to help elsewhere – otherwise the overall effect is chilling.

      • zefwagner says:

        Charles, the examples you cite are examples of terrible urban sprawl. Atlanta and Chicago in particular are monsters of sprawl partly due to the lack of transit-oriented development compared to a place like NYC. Don’t worry, Seattle will never be NYC, but we can certainly learn a lot from them.

      • Umm… zefwagner, I just finished living in Chicago for the past 15 years. Yes, it has huge sprawl but then again there are 9.7 million people living in its metro area. 2.8 million in its city limits. The city has huge swaths of densely populated areas with a rather efficient public transit system and plenty of Transit Oriented Development. The density of the neighborhood I was living in was 36,000 people per square mile. (that’s not a typo) Before leaving Chicago, I got to shop at a newly opened urban Target in the uptown neighborhood where the majority of people shopping arrive on foot and from public transit. Walmart is opening a similar concept in the Lake View East neighborhood. Mid-rise buildings adjacent to CTA train stops are going up all the time. Many people in the city are getting rid of their own cars and Zipcar can’t keep enough cars available for the demand for them.

        But some of those millions of people who commute to Chicago arrive by commuter rail into several Metra rail stations aren’t looking to live next to one in town, they are quite happy to get back to their suburban existence and have that choice thanks to frequent all day/evening long train service.

      • Long Island, Westchester County, New Jersey, and the Connecticut Panhandle.

        That is all.

    • joshuadf says:

      In the Yesler Terrace EIS comments, Seattle Displacement Coalition actually calls for on-site one-for-one replacement and isn’t happy about it being “nearby” (also in that case it’s not even mid-rise, it’s 2 story).

      They also complained about this mid-rise apartment building in the U-District which replaced a parking lot: “the Seattle Displacement Coalition opposed Russell Hall because high-density developments such as Russell Hall tend to be more expensive residential options”
      http://dailyuw.com/2009/10/2/cafe-allegro-forges-bond-obstructing-russell-hall-/

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        The Seattle Displacement Coalition is very good at causing the problems they claim to want to fight.

      • zefwagner says:

        This is why they are a joke. Opposing replacing a parking lot just because the housing is market-rate? Don’t they understand that as wealthier people move into the new housing, they free up space in the cheaper housing nearby, thus lowering rents overall?

        I would generally oppose tearing down an older mid-rise to build a new high-rise, but building new housing on a vacant lot is a net benefit to low-income people.

    • Matt the Engineer says:

      Being worried about replacing housing with offices is an interesting point, but I’d say a misguided one. The reason our city has such a high portion of transit users (despite our lack of transit infrastructure) is because so many of our jobs are in one area – our hub-and-spoke model beats a network model hands-down. Each job we bring downtown means we aren’t building that job in the suburbs. It’s the exact same argument as housing.

      That said, I think what we’ll see a lot of in the next decade is housing downtown. WaMu’s collapse and our jobless “recovery” has left quite a bit of office space available downtown. We’ll fill it back up over time, but it would be a risky investment to build more capacity until then.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        Thank you for having good, smart comments. :)

      • I think the housing we’re likely to see downtown will be rental housing, as the rental market is doing much better than the condo market right now. I attended a Commercial Real Estate seminar a few weeks ago and developers seem to think we could start seeing quite a few new rentals in the downtown area as soon as 2013. (Although they are not of unanimous agreement on that.)

      • zefwagner says:

        I hope they finally build out the lots at 2nd & Pike and 2nd & Pine. Ridiculous to have surface parking in the heart of downtown like that.

      • “The reason our city has such a high portion of transit users (despite our lack of transit infrastructure) is because so many of our jobs are in one area – our hub-and-spoke model beats a network model hands-down.”

        This is why a lot of urbanists and transit supporters, including me, have trouble with grids (or at least did before Jarrett came along).

        How easy is it to convert jobs into housing within the same building or vice versa?

      • (posted before reading below comment thread)

    • The key word is ‘diversity’, not ‘density’.
      Density without diversity backfires.
      High-density development leaves no room for a diversity of uses that can thrive amidst ‘predicted’ horrible traffic that will come with developing Pioneer District.
      Pioneer District DOES NOT have a working transportation plan.
      Don’t develop until mass transit functions and sidewalks are upgraded.

      The parking lot facing Occidental Park should be developed.
      Should it be taller than adjacent buildings or a streetcar barn? No & No.
      Any development along Alaskan Way should be at historic height and architecture.
      The football parking lot could have taller buildings in keeping with the stadium schlock and the overlook from International District.

      SDOT is subservient to Seattle’s moneybag developers.
      The character failings in that agency are incompetence and corruption.

      • Mike Orr says:

        Pioneer Square doesn’t have a working transportation plan or sidewalks? What??? That’s like the guy who said Belltown has inadequate transit (an out-of-proportion view), combined with the guy who says Seattle is depopulating because everybody’s moving to the exurbs (an utter fantasy view).

        Pioneer Square/Intl Dist has pretty ideal transit: it’s what other neighborhoods should have. The speed on Jackson is slow but that can be fixed with transit lanes. It’s hard to drive a car around Pioneer Square but that’s typical for historic districts with narrow streets. As for sidewalks, I can’t think of any missing sidewalks in Pioneer Square, while a vast portion of north Seattle has been complaining about missing sidewalks for decades.

  3. joshuadf says:

    As in South Lake Union, I honestly don’t have any strong opinion about mid-rise vs high-rise. I see your point about maximizing increased density but it’s really not a huge difference between 120 and 150, and there really are cost advantages to building a lower building. Despite what the DSA says, I would imagine it would be easier to get together financing for a small workforce housing project than a high-rise, and if it brings more residents in that seems like a plus to me.

    • If it is easier to arrange the financing for a 120-foot building than a 150-foot building, wouldn’t it be more likely that the 120-foot building gets built, regardless of the zoning?

      If we want to push more residential, can’t we incentivize that by allowing higher height limits for residential than commercial? Perhaps we could allow additional height if the developer guarantees that a certain portion of units will be rented at a certain level well below the market rate.

      As for protecting “historic character”, I’d hate to see anything ruin the neighborhood of historic Qwest Field. But really, don’t we have other laws protecting historic buildings from being demolished? I realize Paul Allen broke those laws in SLU while the city looked the other way, but how would zoning stop it from happening again?

    • Patrick Nelson says:

      No offense meant, but this is what makes me want to tear my hair out about zoning debates. If building at 120 vs 150 really does have a cost advantage and make financing possible then someone in an area zoned 150 can build to the shorter height. No one is stopping them! But the reverse is not true, and if it’s illegal to build the height that’s needed to make a project worth doing it just won’t get done.

      • I’ve read that sometimes zoning higher than the market can support can actually suppress development, as developers tend to sit on properties in the hopes that projects at the larger scale will eventually become feasible.

    • Seconded. 120 vs. 150 is barely different. I’m not 100% sure about this, but I think I remember reading that something changes in construction technology or code after about 120 feet (Maybe you can’t do reinforced concrete and have to go to steel? Or maybe something about needing more elevators), so 120 feet is a sweet spot the way 60 feet is a sweet spot.

      Bringing workforce housing to Pioneer Square should be a priority for the city. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the Qwest Field North Lot project.

      • What about when technological advances change the “sweet spot” from 120 feet to 127 feet?

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      So you’re interested in, as a layman, restricting developers because you “don’t have any strong opinion”? Let them make their own judgment about the cost advantages.

      • Ben, out of curiosity, do you think it’s possible to overzone? That is, do you believe that setting height limits too high can cause developers to bank land hoping a taller building will pencil out, thus leaving a dense neighborhood with an underused parking lot for a long time?

        This is not a leading question; I’m just not sure what I think about the idea and would like to hear what other people who’ve thought about the issues think.

      • zefwagner says:

        That’s an interesting point. We’ve certainly seen some lots sit vacant for a long time as developers wait for the right time to build. Maybe the city could levy an extra tax on unproductive land. Seems like a good idea to me.

      • I mean that while I might personally prefer a higher and more dense zoning, I’m not going to vote against Burgess or Bagshaw just because they compromised on 120′. If they do something really stupid, such as put a deep bore tunnel portal in Pioneer Square, that’s reason to get someone else in office.

  4. Matt the Engineer says:

    I think the strongest argument against raising the height limit is historic buildings. But we need to seperate our love of historic buildings from zoning. Set good historic building laws (which I think we have), build a good process to choose which buildings to protect, and a path to building on top of even these buildings. Then, seperately, set a height that makes sense (in most cases, all the way up).

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      If you raise the height limit and make the area continue to be competitive, the owners of the historic buildings will be able to afford to maintain them well.

      • This is, in part, because spreading property taxation among more property value reduces the effective rate for the properties that don’t build up.

        Building up on other downtown properties helps reduce the threat that the DBT cost overruns will bankrupt the historic buildings.

  5. Mark Dublin says:

    Question for an architect and a builder: what’s involved in converting a modern office building into an apartment building? Seems like a natural solution for empty office space where homes are needed.

    Mark Dublin

    • I don’t meet either of these professional credentials, but I know a little Seattle history. (And I’m glad the builders and architects aren’t the only ones involved in this process.)

      Here’s how to do it: a sit-in! And make sure the leaders of the sit-in know a thing or two about how to manage a property once the current owners decide to give it away. For best results, target buildings in the hands of a government entity.

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      Don’t solve it that way – you’ll want to grow into that office space, and letting the cost of office space decrease when there’s oversupply is how that happens.

      If you allow residential, the market will build it. See that zoning map? DOC in downtown means Downtown Office Core – we’re zoned to stop residential.

      • Mark Dublin says:

        Problem is, Ben, what do you do with the unused and unsaleable office space,especially the ugly buildings that house it? One hopeful thing: the condo complex being torn down in Belltown because of massive construction defects.

        If the industry has now gotten good at taking down buildings quickly and efficiently, I’ve got a list of at least half a dozen on Third south of Benarroya Hall which can be replaced with attractive- and dense- residences.

        Judging by pictures from the old days, Third Avenue used to have a street life. It needs to have one again.

        Mark Dublin

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        I feel like I just answered that. If they can’t lease it, they lower the price. That’s how recoveries happen.

      • So land use policies do matter eh Ben?

    • Matt the Engineer says:

      I’m also neither, but as a mechanical engineer I work with both. In many cases it shouldn’t be all that difficult. We design office buildings to be as flexible as possible, because we don’t know what the tenant will want. It would cost quite a bit – you’d need not just walls between units but kitchens, bathrooms, electrial work, and some HVAC work (though you could keep the central systems just as they are).

      There may be some energy code issues if your project is large enough to be considered a major rennovation (which is probably the case if you’re converting the whole building). This might mean something as costly as new windows, or other envelope modifications.

    • Jason Rogers says:

      It depends on what kind of market you’re building to. As a construction project, it’s easy. However, modern office buildings have two features which make them not well-suited to an apartment conversion. 1) They are designed with largely open floors, and 2) the floor-to-floor distances (height of each floor) are much greater. The best local example is the comparison of the 1918 Eighth office building (8th and Virginia) and the Cosmopolitan condo building (9th and Virginia) because they’re literally right next to each other. 1918 Eighth is 36 stories and Cosmo is 34 stories, yet the office building is almost 200 feet taller! (500 feet versus 300 feet, both approx.)

      What this all means is that converting offices to apartments isn’t really economically feasible because you can’t get enough units in and the floors aren’t set up properly (plumbing and wiring aren’t where you need them, and proper sound insulation is tough).

      • I remember playing the old SimTower game that involved throwing residential, offices, retail, and even a hotel into the same building. I guess they do things differently in Tokyo… (Now that’s a subject for a Human Transit post!)

      • Chris Stefan says:

        Morgan, sounds like The Bravern or Lincoln Square.

    • Actually, quite a lot. In most cases (vancouver bc has a few case studies), it requires a complete gut of the building. Modern office building floorplates, being very deep, may not meet residential zoning codes. Older, historic office buildings typically rely upon natural light and ventilation, so have shallower floor plates, and are more conducive to convert. Smith tower is a perfect example.

      When i mean a complete gut, we’re talking about tearing out all the walls, electrical, plumbing… Drilling holes in the floor plates for new water & sewage lines, etc. Fire escapes may also be inadequate…

      • If this is the case, which is cheaper, the gut, or demolition and reconstruction?

      • Usually it’s much cheaper to demo and rebuild. You’re not trying to work around existing structure that’s in your way. You’re also not faced with custom fitting things like new windows into existing frames or engineering and retrofitting the basic structure to meet code compliance. However, if like in the case of the Carpenters Hall you have to demolish from the inside out it might be just about a wash to rebuild. It’s going to depend a lot on what’s left of value. Certianly in the case of the Smith Tower and the PacMed building there is a lot of architectural detail that is almost priceless in terms of what it would cost to duplicate.

  6. Mark Dublin says:

    Also, Martin, you might want to be careful about finishing a posting with a line that your opponents could quote alongside a picture of a Soviet housing project in Bulgaria, or worse, the Jeffries complex in Detroit.

    A hundred years ago and more, it was common for architects and engineers to have a considerable fine arts education. Isambard Brunel personally designed and rendered the light fixtures for the stations on one of his railroads in England.

    For most of history, beauty and grace were considered “absolutely critical imperatives” for human life. An existence without them was, in Thomas Hobbes words, “solitary, nasty, brutish and short.”

    I think it was General Sheridan who said it better: “If I owned Hell and Texas, I’d rent out Texas and live in Hell.” To be fair, the river walk in San Antonio hadn’t been built yet.

    Mark Dublin

    • Martin H. Duke says:

      Mark,

      I think it’s interesting that you cite government buildings as examples of hideous architecture. Because actual developers who have to sell things will strive to make their projects at least somewhat attractive.

      I like beauty and grace as much as the next guy, but if you’re not willing to subordinate that to the need for less profligate use of land and energy, I’m not sure how we can ask Exxon/Mobil to subordinate their profits to the same.

      • Mark Dublin says:

        Touche on more than one point, Martin- shouldn’t blog before at least second espresso.

        Housing projects I mentioned were bad examples. Not only were they worse indictments of bureaucracy than of profit, but projects like the Jeffries in Detroit also resulted from a misguided approach to rescuing poor city dwellers from squalid overcrowding.

        And to be fair, based on recent public testimony over EastLINK, anti-transit propaganda would most likely feature scenes from Calcutta, or the New York’s Lower East Side in 1900. Exactly what Robert Moses probably had in mind when he leveled so much of New York.

        The proverbial paving surface of the road to Hell results from a badly-thought-out response to an admittedly bad situation.

        It’s perfectly possible for something to be beautiful, graceful, efficient, and commercially profitable at the same time. The DC-3 airliner, the Winchester carbine, the PCC streetcar, the Burlington Zephyr, and the North Shore Electoliner prove it. Also the new bullet trains in the posting.

        It should be perfectly possible for many more people to live comfortably in beautiful and graceful quarters in Pioneer Square and the rest of Downtown without the blocked sunlight and howling winds that often result from high rise construction designed for profit only.

        I also owe Texas an apology. General Sheridan was talking about the weather, quoted in a book about the Galveston Hurricane. Best I can do here is come up with a transit-oriented region that Texans can take home as an example.

        Mark Dublin

  7. As someone who grew up in a town which celebrated its 1,200th year in existence while I was there, I find the fight over Pioneer Square to be a bit of a farce. The problem with how we approach historical preservation in this town is to treat Pioneer Square as a museum set piece. If we want a vibrant neighborhood that promotes density then we should encourage managed integration of the historical pieces with newer structures. Some of those buildings probably need to come down because they were poor quality to begin with. Amsterdam is a good example of how newer structures are interspersed with the original row houses.

    Let’s not treat Pioneer Square as an amusement park for architects but rather a neighborhood that is an integral part of this town…

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      Hell yes.

    • Adam B. Parast says:

      Very well put.

    • I’d like to see a post with photos showing how mixing old and new works in other cities.

    • And Amsterdams height limit is what, 40 feet in the historic city center?

      Much of European central cities are dense and squat, totally the opposite of American downtowns. Paris has La Defense, which has huge high rises-modern ones-but is far from the historic city center. Something to think about.

      Speaking of which, you guys should check out Portland’s Pearl District. Midrise residential, and dense.

      • Andrew Smith says:

        And Amsterdams height limit is what, 40 feet in the historic city center?

        I dunno, but how wide are the streets and what’s the parking requirement?

      • Chris Stefan says:

        By contrast London has modern skyscrapers right next to historic structures on the narrow streets of the City.

      • We need a Gherkin in Pioneer Square. It would blend in beautifully with the Pergola :=

  8. This post is fairly data-point free for you guys, isn’t it? Height doesn’t in itself equal density, so I wouldn’t immediately conflate the two. (I’m thinking of dense Capitol Hill’s heights of 60-65 feet.) What’s the size of the commercial/residential demand that Pioneer Square hopes to meet? What percentage of its commercial/residential stock is available? I like Roger’s push for TDR.

  9. As for radical changes in height limits, what I want to see along MLK in the RV are mid-rises to 15 storys with lots of commercial space for retail. It’s what Rainier Vista should have been built as.

    • MLK has received quite a bit of high-density development. The stations too are receiving new and remodel commercial development. And there is potential for more of that level density development. High density towers along MLK are inappropriate and probably unwelcome mostly.

      • Why?

        Notice I said Mid-Rise. I think MLK is a perfect area for this type of development.

  10. Mike Orr says:

    How much space does a high-speed rail station really need, and how can we somehow reserve the space so that it’s close to King Street Station? I’m afraid that if SODO gets all built up with highrises, when it comes time to site a HSR station there won’t be any space and it’ll end up in Tukwila or something.

  11. Mike Orr says:

    The argument against upzoning was that industrial users can’t afford the land prices a residential unit would fetch, and that would push industry out of the city. So far Seattle has kept its industrial zones alive and productive, unlike some other cities which have transformed them to highrise housing. This creates a huge reverse commute, and a livelihood monoculture that’s hit hard by recessions. (You can’t eat insurance or law services, and you can’t have everybody selling it either, especially when nobody’s buying.) Plus if you believe in peak oil, local manufacturing will become vital again, and where will the firms locate if the industrial district is gone? Will a blue-collar person be able to both live and work in Seattle? Or will he have to do one or both in the suburbs where transit is so bad he’ll have to drive? If the industrial district is lost, the companies will either have to join the stampede to Kent/Issaquah/Bothell, or out of the metropolis, or close up shop.

    It may be too late already at some level, because most of my friends who have warehouse/industrial jobs have to drive to Kent. I tell them to get a job in Seattle and then they can ride transit to it, but if there’s no comparable job opening in Seattle, it ain’t gonna happen.

    So, how much will this rezoning convert viable industrial lots to housing?

  12. Office vacancy rate creeps up

    Despite a number of big leases recently, the office vacancy rate in downtown Seattle increased about half a point to nearly 14 percent.

    http://www.djc.com/news/re/12027907.html?cgi=yes

    • Why didn’t you quote the next line of the story?

      “The reason is that Amazon.com’s mega deal for most of 1918 Eighth, a new high-rise, and other large transactions have not taken effect. When they do, the rate will drop a full percentage point”

Trackbacks

  1. [...] morning, Martin opined about the council’s recent decision to restrict the upzone in Pioneer Square from 150 feet to [...]

  2. [...] = 468; google_ad_height = 60; First Avenue, circa 1910, via Rob KetchersideThis morning, Martin opinedabout the council’s recent decision to restrict the upzone in Pioneer Square from 150 feet to 120 [...]

  3. [...] out the other day (with a bit ofhyperbole thrown in) when writing about the upzone in the South Downtownarea, nobody will take transit to work unless you build tall buildings nearstations. The residential [...]

  4. [...] What Trumps Density? (Seattle Transit Blog) Maximizing density is either a priority or it isn’t. I’m disappointed that vague aesthetic considerations won out over absolutely critical imperatives. [...]

  5. [...] What Trumps Density? (Seattle Transit Blog) Maximizing density is either a priority or it isn’t. I’m disappointed that vague aesthetic considerations won out over absolutely critical imperatives. [...]

  6. [...] neighborhoods I love quite apart from whatever broader impacts they have. But if the imperative for density is to trump anything it ought to be [...]

  7. [...] neighborhoods I love quite apart fromwhatever broader impacts they have. But if the imperative for density is totrump anything it ought to be this. A commonly expressed fear was oflow-income housing and what it would do to the [...]

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