Where are the density advocates?

I just purchased Daniel Pinkwater’s Big Orange Splot for my daughter (or for me, because in a sense, it’s all for me), and it got me thinking about zoning laws (watch the video if you’re not familiar with it). They’re a funny thing, zoning laws, in a way, because there’s really no logically consistent classical liberal argument against for zoning laws that doesn’t reduce to absurdity extremely quickly.

After the jump.

Which leaves me wondering why the “government regulating us to death” crowd doesn’t come out against zoning laws more often. Or ever, really. Even when that crowd claims to want to destroy the EPA, no one rages on against zoning laws. So I suppose if Pinkwater’s Mr Plumbean’s spot was a big orange splot of pollution they might defend things? I doubt it. Some how “My house is me, and I am it, my house is where I like to be. And it looks like all my dreams” sounds sort of utopian with the “dreams” bit thrown in.

I have begun to believe that the Americans, liberal, conservative or the mythical “independent”, hate utopias, especially those that don’t have loads of cars. And that’s really the only argument against density, isn’t it? If you have lived your whole transportation life in a car (or, perhaps, the odd airplane), a world without parking might seem like the apocalypse, even though there are perfectly happy people living in a society exactly like that. And if you think it’s the apocolypse, then you can’t really imagine that as a utopia, can you?

I do think it spills over to the other “side” as well, which is why you end up with situations like the Roosevelt upzone debate, perfectly chronicled by Roger Valdez. If density makes the city more affordable, it’s better for majority renter class, isn’t it? The inconsistency is why you get the Seattle Displacement Coalition, who is waging a confused war against affordability to help the disadvantaged.

I don’t have a complete solution to this, obviously, but I do think that stressing the real gains and not the utopian ones are the right way forward. When Roger writes about affordability and commerce, it’s really hard to have an argument against it, and, at least in my opinion, the Roosevelt anti-density crowd start showing their true selves rather quickly. And when Ben Schiendelman shows a map of the future, he let’s people decide their own utopia. You don’t have to explain that one to them.




Comments

  1. biliruben says

    I’m having trouble parsing the last sentence of the first paragraph. Do you mean “Classical Liberal” or classical, liberal. I might still have trouble, but that’s where I’m stuck at the moment.

  2. says

    The density advocates are everywhere. Some are renters and would like to think that everything would be better and cheaper without zoning regulation. You’ve named them for the most part. I guess their model would create a utopia, one that hasn’t proved successful anywhere else, but a utopian dream for sure. You could of course, have rented cheaply in one of Sisely’s flats.

    What has made Seattle a desirable city is its single family neighborhoods. Sure, there is a place for density, and the Roosevelt neighborhood agreed to provide more density than the DPD or Mayor asked for. We just didn’t want it on a particular block favoring a particular developer. That plan didn’t work with the design we had worked on, a design that includes quite a lot of density, really.

    But, shout it down if it makes you feel better. Someday you’ll be wishing for a different dream. Maybe free housing would make life a bit easier.

    • Matt the Engineer says

      Yes. Clearly the difference between Seattle and the suburbs is that Seattle has single family homes.

    • Brent says

      Glenn, what has made Seattle desirable *for you* is its single-family neighborhoods. What makes it attractive for me is its wide variety of things to do, places to eat, parks to visit, mountains to look at, and the ability to get around without a smogmobile.

      Pluralism is beautiful.

      • d.p. says

        Obviously the latter list means as much to Glenn as it does to you, or else he’d be living in a small single-family cluster on the side of a mountain in rural Colorado.

        Unfortunately for his disingenuous narrative, the former (sprawling s.f., everywhere, all the time) tends to put the squeeze on the interesting city stuff.

        Sometimes pluralism requires adjusting a serious imbalance.

    • Christopher Stefan says

      You know if Sisely had sold his interest in the properties in question years ago I doubt we would have seen nearly the fight over those blocks that we did. There is a real desire to “stick it” to Sisely for all of the problems his irresponsible ownership has inflicted on the neighborhood.

      In the bigger picture let us not forget that the blocks in question are across the street from, 1 block away from, and 2 blocks away from a multi-billion dollar transportation investment.

      In any case I suspect much of the effort would have been better spent convincing Sound Transit to overbuild the station and whatever re-zoning was needed to make such a thing “pencil out” as far as ST is concerned.

      • Bernie says

        I’m not intimately aware of the situation but from what I’ve read here and seen from other sources the City was negligent in not sizing these properties or at the very least issue an order to bring them up to code or face a lien on the property. The only reason not to do so is to be able to make the claim that a rezone is the only “fix” for the problem. It’s a problem the City allowed to occur. And by not enforcing codes that are on the books I’d even go so far as to say created.

  3. Brent says

    I think we’re on slippery ice with the Roosevelt narrative. According to some of the legends, there were those in Roosevelt who lobbied to move the light rail station away from the freeway and into the Roosevelt commercial district. The Roosevelt neighbors are not the enemy you are looking for. Indeed, if not for their involvement, there may have simply been no station at all between the U-District and Northgate.

    For our part, we presume to know what future residents of Roosevelt want, living in the limited density next to the big black splotch known as I-5. (I-5 was someone’s dream, too, ya know.)
    .

    But don’t get me started on the Seattle Displacement Coalition. When it comes to rental laws, their efforts are heroic, and have probably helped many forced-out renters out of a financial bind when the places they are living kick them out for conversion into something else.

    It’s when the SDC gets involved in zoning wars that the bizarre anti-growth, anti-transit agenda comes out. I am not pro-growth, in the classical, let-the-population-explode sense. I’m one of those wierdos who wish people would choose to have a lot fewer children. But the world’s population is growing, and people have to live somewhere. There are those who suggest building a big wall along the border. But all that does is allow America to hide its head in the sand (while the wall totally fails to stem internal population growth). The SDC has become the local equivalent of the Build-the-Wall movement.

    So, what happens when the SDC gets its way? More suburban sprawl and more CO2-spewing gridlock. John Fox, you have become one of the biggest anti-environmentalists this town has ever known.

    BTW, while I’m ragging on the SDC’s sprawl-inducing lack of understanding of economics, I hear them rattling the cages again to gerrymander the Seattle City Council. That way, will go the argument, instead of downtown having all the power, it will spread out to neighborhoods. What they are really saying is that sports stadia, the symphony hall, fancy public engagement parks, employment centers, the art museum, government main offices, the ferry dock, etc shouldn’t all be downtown. Instead, they should be dispersed evenly throughout the city (where bus riders will have a much harder time getting to them). The desire to not concentrate density around high-capacity transit is one of the driving reasons to make the city council look and act more like Congress. No thanks!

    Since it is usually off-topic here, I haven’t talked about electoral systems much. But Europe has a lot of intriguing ways of incorporating pluralism into their systems of representation. Britain, with its single-member-district House of Commons and first-past-the-post voting system, not so much. (Indeed, last I checked, they had never, ever managed to elect even one non-Caucasian to the House.) But Britain’s is the representational system the SDC wants to emulate. No thanks!

    With the election system the SDC is proposing for Seattle, Britain is much more likely to get its first parliament-member-of-color by someone selling their lordship to Thierry Henry than through their House of Commons election system.

    • d.p. says

      According to some of the legends, there were those in Roosevelt who lobbied to move the light rail station away from the freeway and into the Roosevelt commercial district.

      No legends. Those who lobbied to move the subway to the center of the neighborhood (closer to them) and those who lobbied to push the density back towards the freeway (away from them and away from their now-practically-private station) were one and the same!

      Entitled hypocrites are, indeed, the enemy.

    • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

      I am not pro-growth, in the classical, let-the-population-explode sense. I’m one of those wierdos who wish people would choose to have a lot fewer children.

      It’s worth noting there’s a strong negative correlation between standard of living and fertility rate. The fertility rate in the US hovers around the replacement rate, but our population continues to grow due to immigration.

      BTW, while I’m ragging on the SDC’s sprawl-inducing lack of understanding of economics, I hear them rattling the cages again to gerrymander the Seattle City Council. That way, will go the argument, instead of downtown having all the power, it will spread out to neighborhoods….The desire to not concentrate density around high-capacity transit is one of the driving reasons to make the city council look and act more like Congress. No thanks!

      Firstly, “gerrymander” refers to drawing district boundaries to give an advantage to one political party or disenfranchise a particular voting block. Your argument sounds like the totally nonsensical argument printed in the voter’s guide the last time district elections were on the ballot. Washington State actually has one of the best processes for redistricting in the country, as opposed to other places where it is used to entrench the party in power.

      Representative government is populist government. While it’s true that representative government tends to lead to bring-home-the-bacon attitudes (one need not look further than a recent StreetFilms to see that), it also gives everyone a voice in government, regardless of economic power. In the last City Council election, all of the incumbents were reelected. Nobody serious ran against Rasmussen because he had a quarter of a million dollars in his war chest. In Chicago, my friend was part of a successful grassroots effort to dislodge an incumbent Chicago Machine alderman.

      All the major US cities have a district-elected council. The King County Council is elected by district (You have greater representation on the county council as you do on the city council. Does that make sense?).

      The main problem with Congress is that the House has not been apportioned in over a century. The more voters in a district, the more money matters in the election, and the higher the rate of incumbency. There are 435 Representatives. There are 650 MPs in the British House of Commons. If you were a voter in the UK, you would have greater representation in the legislature of the entire country than you currently have in:
      1) The US Senate (~6,600,000 voters).
      2) The US House of Representatives (~660,000 voters).
      3) The Washington State Senate (~134,000 voters).
      4) The King County Council (~200,000 voters).
      5) The Seattle City Council (~600,000 voters).

      The main problem with Congress isn’t that it’s district-elected. It’s that the districts are too large.

      • Josh says

        While it’s true Congressional districts are far too large for most individuals to achieve much influence, making the House much larger would make the ability to influence any one Representative even less significant. In a House with, say, 1200 Representatives, individual Representatives would be inconsequential — committees would have even more power than they do today, leaving even less power to the full body.

        The real problem with Congress is an over-centralization of power that has stripped responsibilities away from more-representative State and local jurisdictions.

      • Andrew Smith says

        The over centralization certainly is a problem. The other problem is that the government was designed to not pass legislation quickly. You learn in school that checks and balances are great, and separation of powers is beautiful, and the constitution should be worshiped, but in reality it’s a system designed to make compromised laws and was unstable from the beginning.

      • Josh says

        “unstable from the beginning” is a funny way to describe one of the most stable basically-democratic governments yet built.

        Compromise is a source of stability, as irritating as it may be to those who know best what others should do.

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        In a House with, say, 1200 Representatives, individual Representatives would be inconsequential — committees would have even more power than they do today, leaving even less power to the full body.

        Yeah! Because those committees would be able to pass laws all by themselves without worrying about the riffraff…oh, wait.

        The other problem is that the government was designed to not pass legislation quickly. You learn in school that checks and balances are great, and separation of powers is beautiful, and the constitution should be worshiped, but in reality it’s a system designed to make compromised laws and was unstable from the beginning.

        If you’re looking for a king to get rid of all this troublesome republic bullshit, I nominate myself.

        The reason the Tea Party is causing such trouble is because after decades on non-representative government, a few anti-tax folks got in and are able to gum up the spending machine.

        Polls show that a majority of Americans want to balance the budget through a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts. In a more representative government, American popular opinion would strongly correlate with the opinion in the House. Growing up in an age where this is not the case has made you cynical that your reps in DC could ever represent your interests.

      • Andrew Smith says

        Josh, you can’t be serious. Remember that whole civil war bother? The country split in two and 600,000 people died. Democracy was completely suspended throughout the duration.

        If that counts as “stable” I guess we will have to disagree on the definition of the word.

      • Brent says

        “In the last City Council election, all of the incumbents were reelected.”

        While true, that is not the norm for city council elections, if you go back through the archives. Under districted elections for our state legislators, county council members, and members of Congress, throwing out incumbents is much more rare, percentagewise.

        “Nobody serious ran against Rasmussen because he had a quarter of a million dollars in his war chest.”

        Districts won’t stop that kind of fundraising. Leveling the campaign finance playing field can be done more effectively with campaign finance reform.

        “All the major US cities have a district-elected council.”

        Nope. Austin, TX is a major US city, and its city council is elected at large.

        “You have greater representation on the county council as you do on the city council. Does that make sense?”

        No it doesn’t make sense. You’ve drawn a conclusion based on no evidence presented. You have to first define your terms.

        “The main problem with Congress is that the House has not been apportioned in over a century.”

        Congressional seats get apportioned among the states every ten years. Did you mean to say that Congress has not increased in size in over a century?

        “The more voters in a district, the more money matters in the election, and the higher the rate of incumbency.”

        Got data?

        “There are 435 Representatives. There are 650 MPs in the British House of Commons. If you were a voter in the UK, you would have greater representation in the legislature of the entire country than you currently have in:
        1) The US Senate (~6,600,000 voters).
        2) The US House of Representatives (~660,000 voters).
        3) The Washington State Senate (~134,000 voters).
        4) The King County Council (~200,000 voters).
        5) The Seattle City Council (~600,000 voters).”

        Ah, I see your definition of “representation:)” Of course, if your one elected representative doesn’t like you, you’re screwed.

        Lots of other European countries have systems of voting that enable more proportional representation. The European Parliament is elected by a system of proportional representation. We can do much better than our 18th-century-style voting system that we inherited from our oppressors, and which hasn’t evolved since.

        Single-member districts is just one element that keeps minorities down. Rigged first-past-the-vote elections are even more insidious, keeping new parties from ever getting off the ground. Europe has left us way behind not only in transportation infrastructure, but also in representational methodologies.

        In case you were wondering, I’m not a proponent of at-large by-place elections. I’m a proponent of proportional representation, which happens to require that elections not be by single-member districts.

        I’m not going to go into a description of various voting systems here because that would be a lengthy treatise.

      • Mike Orr says

        “Washington State actually has one of the best processes for redistricting in the country”

        That’s one of the reasons I find it hard to move to another city. Elections in Washington are pretty clean, and the elections department spends its time trying to encourage eligible voters to vote rather than trying to prevent them from doing so. It’s ironic hearing about the ever more draconian voter ID laws in some other states, while Washington and Oregon just eliminated the polling places entirely and everybody votes by mail and nobody shows ID. It makes me not want to move to a state where my vote would count for less, or might not be counted at all, or where I’d have to register by party or such.

        I’m not sure whether it would be better or worse to vote by neighborhood districts. I think Seattle had that and got rid of it. Now some people want it back, so is it just the pendulum swinging back and forth? I’d rather have all councilmembers representing me and the city than one person representing West Seattle against Capitol Hill and vice-versa, because I’m afraid that would get taken over by NIMBYs.

        On a national level, we’d be better off with a proportional Congress and multi-choice ranked ballots, but I’m not expecting it to change. I have read that our one-choice winner-takes-all system leads to two parties, while a ranked system where you can put first and second choices leads to more than two parties. But changing the Constitution too much runs the risk of giving an opening for one group to seize power and rewrite it all one-sided for them.

      • Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says

        The system of government laid out by the Constitution has made America not only the oldest Republic in the world, but the oldest Republic IN WORLD HISTORY.

        I don’t see how it is possible to call that ‘unstable’ unless context truly means nothing.

      • Lack Thereof says

        I would very much like city council elections to be by district. At present, it appears to an observer like the entire council is responsible for representing North Seattle homeowners and Downtown businesses. No one has a neighborhood constituency. They can get by with courting the wealthy, run citywide ad campaigns on vague feel-good issue statements, and get reelected.

        If they were at least forced to appear to be pandering to their own neighborhood’s priorities, that would be an improvement. There should be someone campaigning right now in SE Seattle saying “I fought to speed up service on the #7, knowing your time is valuable”, and someone else saying “My opponent fought new apartment buildings, while our rents continue to climb”.

      • Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says

        Mike, I agree. For all the problems we have with Olympia as someone who has lived in other State’s the government here was a big selling point on me deciding to make it home.

      • Bernie says

        America not only the oldest Republic in the world, but the oldest Republic IN WORLD HISTORY.

        Mmmm, maybe it’s a matter of semantics but isn’t France a republic and didn’t they help us break free from England? And although Great Britian is officially a parliamentary monarchy our system is based pretty much on what the Magna Carta established in the 13th century. And according to Wikipedia, “The Commonwealth of England was the republic which ruled first England, and then Ireland and Scotland from 1649 to 1660.”

      • Brent says

        I’d love to hear all the tales of the district incumbents anyone here helped take down. I want to know how it is done.

      • Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says

        Bernie, yes France is Republic, the current system of Government is called the French Fifth Republic:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Fifth_Republic

        As to the Commonwealth of England, as you note it only lasted 11 years. The current US Republic, based on the US Constitution, has lasted 225 years. Pretty damn stable.

        And just a sidenote, the French Revolution wasn’t until 1789, good ol’ Louis was the one helping us out against the Brits.

      • Andrew Smith says

        Sure, Matt, as a country it has (hey what’s the record on that account I wonder)… but as a democracy it hasn’t.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habeas_corpus_in_the_United_States

        I think we also disagree on what ‘oldest’ means, but I’ll assume you mean ‘oldest continuously extant’, but it’s too far a leap to say the democracy persisted through that time. And you can’t possibly say the civil war was stable. OR what does ‘stable’ exactly mean to you?

        I love this country, too, but that of a jingoist isn’t a handsome suit to wear.

      • Bernie says

        OK, I figured you were right on this. But it’s still maybe a bit of a stretch since the original 13 colonies were pretty much independent “States”. I don’t remember what the differences were with Commonwealths (Massachusetts and Virginia?) and the other “States”. And since then we’ve merged with the Republics of Texas and California which were at one time under the rule of Mexico. And we bought Louisiana from the French; the only State with Parishes instead of the English Counties?). And of course we stole the whole damn thing from the native tribes.

      • Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says

        Andrew, see my post about context. The American Republic may be ‘unstable’ to you compared to some utopian Republic you have in your head, but when compared to all other Republics that have ever existed it is quite obviously the most stable.

        Notice I’m not saying it’s been perfect. I’m just asking that we stay in the real world and away from utopias.

      • Andrew Smith says

        Well, it’s been stable since the civil war,, that we can agree on. there have bben a lot of democracies that have had a civil wr since then.

      • Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says

        Habeas Corpus being suspended doesn’t mean that the government was unstable. You’re trying to drag democracy into this but your original contention was that the GOVERNMENT established by the Constitution was inherently unstable. That is patently false, when put in the real world. It’s survived presidential assassinations, depressions, rebellions and world wars. The fact that it is the longest standing Republican government in world history quite clearly demonstrates that for all it’s faults, instability is not one.

      • Andrew Smith says

        I think the civil war is proof the government was unstable. The constitution codified that instability.

      • Mike Orr says

        The Constitution was intentionally ambiguous on slavery in order to get both the northern and southern colonies to ratify it. The Founders wondered if the compromise would last for even one generation but it was the best they could do. It ended up lasting sixty years until the Civil War.

        Source: “American Creation” by Joseph Ellis. The book is mostly about Madison, Jefferson, and Hamilton.

  4. Mickymse says

    Well, Andrew, it’s a flawed argument that simply assumes density is a utopian ideal. Some folks will never like density – period – for a number of perfectly logical reasons.

    But, setting that aside, like many issues in our society, increasing support for density is going to require slowly altering perceptions. You can hardly expect everyone to support density just because you say it’s good – even when you have some facts at your side. Many people simply won’t believe you.

    Americans have had decades of being sold a dream of success that involves a single family home with a white picket fence and yard for the kids to play in. There’s a beautiful car parked in the driveway to take you wherever you want to go.

    I hate to point it out, but I often find the same political struggles working on issues like transit and density as I do fighting for marriage equality.

    • Andrew Smith says

      I don’t know whether density is anyone’s utopia, but you don’t want to sound utopian.

    • Seattle Citizen says

      And there’s something wrong with owning a house, having a yard and a garden, and a car? Maybe that’s considered bad on the Seattle Transit Nlog, but not very many other places.

      • Lack Thereof says

        And there’s something wrong with owning a house, having a yard and a garden, and a car?

        Not in particular, but there’s much more pedestrian-friendly ways to have a yard, garden, and car than the typical American suburb. See Japan for example.

      • says

        Nope. I own my house, have a (neglected, weed infested) yard, a (dead) rose garden, and two crappy cars but we take the bus more often than we drive. I wish our house and yard were smaller. It’s too much work.

      • says

        Did you see those houses near Fukushima that were washed away by the tsunami?

        Those things were gargantuan!! They make Mc Mansions look like craftsman homes.

        I think using other countries as an argument for density is erroneous, because (as someone who has visited Europe, although a while ago) many people covet the spaciousness of American living, and given the income would choose to have bigger homes, and more land per plot.

        Also, there are some dialects that seem to hamper real argumentation.

        1. Walkability. Why is it that this is only defined as walking on sidewalks? Between football games, I took a nice little walk in a secuded park in Kent, which I drove to. Got some sunshine.

        2. Transit. I live in the highest density part of a low density area. I have a bus line up the street and rail center 3 miles down the hill. I also own a car. If I go downtown, at rush hour, I take Sounder. But if I have to go there at 8:30pm…I would drive, once the traffic is down. Why is that automatically a bad thing?

        3. Home size. People forget…the big attraction of Seattle back in the day was that it was considered the “last Middle Class city”. That is, you could still by an in city home with a small yard, and not have to pay too much. Condos and apartments are a far cry from that…as are the super sized suburban homes.

        It’s like people who want a drink of water, are given a choice between an eye dropper or a firehose. Let’s get back to “right sized” not super dense, or super sparse.

        4. People advocate urbism without having ever lived in, examined, studied or trying to understand a suburb. Every engineer knows the world is about trade offs…yet urbists assume they have a utopian answer. There is none. It’s about balance, and also, different sizes for different lifestyles. But yes, we should balance costs accordingly.

      • says

        People always want the opposite of what they have. I live in Paris the most dense big city in Europe and I also live in Mukilteo which you all know. My life is very different in Paris and I never have to justify to anyone for taking the Metro, it’s just the best way. I can walk to the bakery, produce market, fish market and cheese shop faster than I can walk from the Fred Meyer parking lot to the various parts of the store and back to the parking lot. Density has it’s place for sure and I can’t imagine living any other way in Paris.

        The advantage of living in Mukilteo is that I can have a BBQ whenever I want (which I can’t do in Paris). However I can only invite 5 people over because there’s no place for them to park and hell will freeze over before they get on a bus. It irritates me to no end that it takes me an hour to walk 3/4 mile to the store, grab a few things and walk home. Owning a car is almost a necessity even when you live with in a mile of 7 different bus routes (soon to be 5) even though I struggle to not cross that line. There is a place for lower density – in the suburbs.

      • Mike Orr says

        “Walkability. Why is it that this is only defined as walking on sidewalks? … I took a nice little walk in a secuded park in Kent, which I drove to.”

        Walking to a destination is different from walking around in a park. In many languages they have different prepositional cases (laufen ins Haus vs. laufen im Park), and in Russian they even have different verbs for unidirectional vs multidirectional walking (idti v dom vs. khodit’ v parke). “Walkability” means you can walk between destinations. That makes it possible to walk if you want to, but it has no downside if you don’t want to. Conversely, if it’s not walkable, you can’t walk to it even if you want to. People like me who grew up in suburbs got tired of walking an hour or two to get places, with only a few boring houses and no destinations in between.

        “Let’s get back to “right sized” not super dense, or super sparse.”

        Yes, let’s… get back to “streetcar suburbs”. Have you ever been to N 80th St, NE 55th St, 31st Ave S, etc? Small houses on small lots, with yards. Shops around the corner, the owners living above the shops. A streetcar within a 15-minute walk. The kids always walk to school, ma walks to the store. 2-4 story apartment buildings are interspersed.

      • Bernie says

        I lived in Lake City for several years. It was a “single family” home but there was always at least one room mate. Pretty sure there was never a streetcar on Sandpoint Way or Lake City Way but that neighborhood existed and the home we were in was built before WWII. Small lot but large enough for a vegetable garden and a few fruit trees. No through traffic since the slope from Sand Point Way down to the Lake precludes being “on the grid”. When we lived there JP’s Market was less than a 5 minute walk. It’s since closed along with a bunch of the neighborhood based businesses on Lake City Way. Strange since what’s replaced many of them are apartment buildings.

      • says

        Yes, let’s… get back to “streetcar suburbs”.

        Exactly…that’s been my point all along.

        Instead of creating the typical suburban subdivision, with large house after large house, and 2 feet of air space between them, and no commercial areas for miles, why not just build small towns!

        Cut the house sizes in half, make the yards bigger, and along the edge, or in the center, zone for a grocery store, a hardware store, and so on…things that are walkable within the subdivision.

        Then, along the edge of the subdivision, run a street car that takes you down to Renton, Seattle, Tacoma, Southcenter for “big shopping” and commuting to work. Yes, you may still have a car for drives to the country, but you wouldn’t use it every waking moment.

        Balance.

      • Bernie says

        The problem with that “ideal” is that the business model doesn’t work. The small neighborhood grocery and hardware can’t compete with Walmart and Lowes. People just don’t walk (or even drive) to the local stores and buy more expensive goods. Putting up apartments doesn’t change that. I’d argue it makes it even worse since in general renters are more transient and have far less neighborhood involvement. Face it, renters aren’t the folks that tend to join neighborhood community clubs and advocate for preserving or improving neighborhood character. They are generally from somewhere else and on their way to somewhere else.

      • Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says

        Bernie, while the stats do agree that renters are less communally involved then owners, I have to wonder is selection bias is involved. Education, financial status and marital/family status also have big effects on community involvement. When we make it hard for middle class, educated, family types to rent (by limiting supply, and subsidizing SFHs) that is going to skew the scales.

      • Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says

        To put it another way, the same criteria used to show that Renters are less civically engaged than Owners, club attendance, blood donation, church attendance, volunteering, writing a letter to the editor, voting in local elections, attending a community meeting, running for office, visiting with friends, etc. etc. also show that Blacks are less civically engaged than Whites.

        Thus this mean it’s a good idea for a community to try and limit the number of Blacks?

      • Bernie says

        Well, first let’s address the race card. A poor white is no different than a poor black. A black renter is no different than a white renter. What is different is that statistically blacks are much more likely to be poor than a white. That’s sad but true. End of story.

        What’s called SF housing doesn’t mean there are no rentals. Case in point being the time I spent in Lake City. About 5-6 years that were really enjoyable before buying our first home. We even looked extensively in Lake City and came close to buying but the economics were such that our starter home ended up being out in what was then the cow pastures of Woodinville (and I mean literally we were next to cows). One reason land values were out of reach in Lake City is it was the start of the upzone craze where people just held out until they could sell to a developer that had the capital to put in duplexes or as was the case along Lake City Way apartments… There goes the neighborhood.

      • Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says

        Yes, and…?

        You’ve argued before that communities have an interest in limiting multifamily units and rentals as people that rent are less civically involved than owners.

        Do you also think that since Blacks are less civically involved than whites that communities have an interest in limiting them from moving into the neighborhood?

      • Bernie says

        Where are you going with the race card? Changes in zoning have absolutely nothing to do with discriminating based on color of ones skin.

      • Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says

        So you don’t agree it is in the communities interest to limit blacks from moving in b/c they are less civically engaged?

      • Bernie says

        Although I have no data to back it up I believe there are plenty of predominantly black communities that are deeply involved in both community and faith. I suspect their concerns aren’t that much different in principle than rich largely white communities such as where I currently live. And even being majority white our street is a reflection of Bellevue diversity… the whites are less educated than the minority population.

        I think the crux of the matter is skin color has nothing to do with it and you can’t and shouldn’t do zoning that way. SF vs MF is a completely separate argument. We can devolve into discussions about quotas and the Bakke decision. Yes minorities were screwed and yes reverse discrimination was the most expedient way to “fix” it. Does that make it right? I don’t think so but there isn’t another quick fix I know of.

      • Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says

        Do you also believe that there are plenty of predominately renter communities that are deeply involved in both community and faith. Do you also suspect that their concerns aren’t that much different in principle than predominantly owner communities such as where you currently live?

        Personally, I think the crux of the matter is owner/renter status has nothing to do with it and you can’t and shouldn’t do zoning that way.

      • Bernie says

        Do you also believe that there are plenty of predominately renter communities that are deeply involved in both community and faith.

        No, can you show me any? Is there a rich spiritual history from the renter community that’s gone unpublished? My experience is that rental properties in so called SF neighborhoods always drive down property values because they are not as well keep. Owner doesn’t recover more rent keeping the lawn mowed and renter doesn’t spend money on a lawn mower when they are planning to move.

      • Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says

        So if I go dig up an example of a highly engaged rental population your double standard will suddenly resolve itself?

        B/c when the statistics show that whites are more civically engaged than Blacks you argue that that SHOULDN’T be a reason for communities to try and limit the influx of Blacks. You then demonstrate that you are ABLE to see that the reality of the situation is more nuanced than that.

        HOWEVER when the statistics show that owners are more civically engaged than renters you argue that that SHOULD be a reason for communities to try and limit the influx of renters. You then demonstrate that you are INABLE to see that the reality of the situation is more nuanced than that.

        Why the double standards?

      • Bernie says

        Anc, when are you going to stop beating your wife? I can’t answer your question because there is no double standard. Discriminating against someone based on color of their skin is a violation of their civil rights and court will uphold that. Violating zoning infringes on your neighbors property rights and a judge will uphold that.

      • Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says

        So the reason communities shouldn’t try to exclude blacks in order to keep their civic engagement up, is that doing so would be illegal?

      • Mike Orr says

        “Yes, let’s… get back to “streetcar suburbs”.”

        “Exactly…that’s been my point all along. Instead of creating the typical suburban subdivision, with large house after large house, and 2 feet of air space between them, and no commercial areas for miles, why not just build small towns! Cut the house sizes in half, make the yards bigger, and along the edge, or in the center, zone for a grocery store, a hardware store, and so on…things that are walkable within the subdivision.”

        So why don’t you work with the urbanists to reach a compromise rather than sabotaging what they’re doing? You keep opposing urban transit because you want it redirected to the low-density areas, and you haven’t until now approved of increasing density.

        So what would be an ideal model for Kent? From my outsider’s perspective, the two most promising areas are around Kent Station and 104th. The blocks around Kent Station are heading towards a mini downtown Bellevue, so let them do that. 104th could become a medium-density neighborhood with a mixture of:
        - 2-3 story row houses/townhouses
        - 4-story apartments/condos (or to be extra ambitious, a few 6-10 stories)
        - a couple supermarket-sized buildings retained as supermarkets, adding small buildings in the parking lot corners
        - a couple other supermarket-sized buildings subdivided into small workspaces, retail, nonprofits, community spaces, etc
        - some old single-family houses retained

        Ideally you’d connect these two urban villages into an “L” shape, although it’s hard to say where.
        - 240th is smallish SFH if I remember right, part of the original streetcar suburb. So this should be retained, but allowing a few corner businesses (which were probably there before they were zoned away).
        - 244th is not viable as a through street because it has too many gaps.
        - 248th has one tiny detour but could work.
        - KK Road would probably have the least opposition to upzoning, but much of the south side is a greenbelt (limiting the walkshed).

        So which street would ppl be most willing to upzone? I assume KK Road, which is already an ugly highway. That would allow a “U” shaped route serving more of East Hill than the other routes. The south side of KK Rd is a greenbelt, limiting the walkshed. Kent-Meridian HS would ideally be rebuilt to be more pedestrian-friendly at the streets.

        If 240th and 256th accepted some smaller upzones, say some townhouses and corner stores mixed with the existing houses, there could be a secondary bus loop on 240th-132nd-256th. That’s a max 8-block walk from 248th. Punch some ped/bicycle routes through the cul-de-sac ends.

        I have little hope for 272nd and Covington. It’s definitely sprawl and big box stores, not a streetcar suburb. The most one can hope for is that one or two of the big box stores will be replaced by a multi-business or mixed-use development, or stack two big-box stores on top of each other like Northgate North.

      • Mike Orr says

        “while the stats do agree that renters are less communally involved then owners, I have to wonder is selection bias is involved.”

        It’s more fruitful to discuss, what would get renters more community involved? And to the extent that owners are actually the laggards, how to get them more involved? I’d say the separation-of-uses zoning and automobile scale has made both renters and owners less involved, because it’s more of an effort to be involved. Some renters remain in the same neighborhood for decades, even if they move to a different house occasionally. Pitting owners against renters hurts everybody; but if they address their common interests together it helps everybody.

      • Bernie says

        I don’t think there’s any zoning that precludes renting a home. There are I’m sure covenants and home owner association rules in some areas that prevent it. There are zoning laws that prohibit or restrict building secondary structures and determine if they can be rentals or “guest cottages”. There are most certainly SF zoning restrictions to prevent building multi unit apartments in SF neighborhoods because they fundamentally change the character of the neighborhood and may burden existing infrastructure. Same reason you can’t just open up a retail store out of your house and why the type of retail or MF is restricted where it is allowed.

      • Aleks says

        Folks,

        It’s not renting versus buying. It’s length of tenancy. Communities where people live for a longer time have more citizen involvement. Renting is correlated with shorter tenancy than owning (you’re more likely to move if you don’t have to buy/sell your home first).

        This is why slums are slums. Everyone who has an option leaves as soon as they can. The only people left are people who have no other options. Thus, citizen involvement is virtually nil.

        Contrast this with a neighborhood like the North End in Boston. You couldn’t ask for a stronger community, and yet most people there are renters — but many have lived in the same apartments for decades.

    • Josh says

      I have no objections to density, I’m a strong supporter of having density in cities, but I don’t choose to live that way myself. There’s nothing utopian to me about dense urban living, but that doesn’t mean I want car-dependent design, either.

      It’s entirely possible in our region to live in single-family homes without being massively car-dependent. Yes, I drive once a week for shopping, but I commute by bike and train so that I can have my quarter acre with fruit trees, garden, and stream. My kids’ school is within walking distance, there are two stores within half a mile, but I’m 30 miles from downtown, in a laid-back small town that’s quiet enough at night to hear the beavers chewing on willows.

      If you set yourself up to see all people who prefer low-density housing as evil, you’re choosing to have more enemies than you need to. If your goal is efficient transportation, recognize that societies all over the world have towns full of single-family homes that aren’t car-dependent post-war suburban sprawl.

      • says

        With social media, we will increasingly have other options, such as neighborhood rental and Zip Cars.

        So, say you live in a cul-de-sac where there is one car whose owner is willing to use one of the new car sharing programs. On that one time that you want to bring home a book case from IKEA or travel into the country, you can use a shared car.

        Also, alternative energy cars are a given in the next ten years…that eliminates the pollution argument.

        And cloud work, can move people off highways and into home offices, or to local commercial centers.

        In some sense, the pro-density advocates, who want all commercial structures to be in the one square mile (often owned by the people who pay them) force people who cannot afford or don’t want to live in density to commute in long distances.

        So, paradoxically, density breeds problems.

    • says

      Another part of the urbist argument that bears witness is community and neighbors. Are there caes in suburbia where people do not socialize with neighbors or side on volunteer government boards. Yes, but for the most part that is because people want to spend as much time with their friends and family as possible. So, people who aren’t lounging at an espresso stand are making their own in a large kitchen island while teens and toddlers run around. I grew up in a family of four. Entertainment? We were the show! Suburban homes are more than just places to sleep…with Facebook and cell phones, and advanced consumer goods, as well as 24 hour on demand personal transit (cars) they are complete entertainment and socialization complexes in and of themselves.

  5. Brock Howell says

    While the Tea Party might not attack zoning or development regulations in Seattle, they certainly do elsewhere (including Thurston County). Just google “Freedom Foundation” and “Agenda 21″.

    I would guess that the Washington Policy Center and Cascade Policy Institute would be interested in not only eliminating Washington’s Growth Management Act and Oregon’s State Land Use Act, but also all local zoning.

    • Andrew Smith says

      Yeah maybe, but they would still freak out if you tried to build large mixed-use developments in their areas.

  6. Brent says

    When a “takings” (“property rights”) initiative hit the ballot in Arizona, the coalition of environmental and other groups fighting it did a poll.

    The poll first asked, “Do you believe you should have the right to do what you want with your property.” 70% said Yes.

    The poll then asked, “Do you believe your neighbor should have the right to do whatever he wants with his property?” 70% said No.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      So I guess the real key is to run an initiative to strengthen property rights, and target people who have been stopped from doing things they want to do with their property. Communicate only that message during a campaign. Your opposition will be left trying to fight the “but we don’t want our neighbors to do whatever they want” fight, which will split neighborhoods and render their future opposition ineffective. You might have to try twice (the first try will force the opposition to split neighborhoods and it’ll neuter them from organizing a second time), but with what we know about how neighborhoods fight development, you might be able to win the first round with messages that get out in front of their concerns.

      • Brent says

        Or, you could show up at your neighborhood association meeting, and neutralize their worst tendencies from within.

        Indeed, South Park now has a group of densification advocates running the show.

    • d.p. says

      Um, no. That’s the logical conclusion of unsustainable economic practices and gross income inequality, not to mention demand for urban living vastly exceeding supply.

      Nice try cocktail of logical fallacies, though.

      • d.p. says

        The world is rapidly urbanizing, John. The urban population of the planet crossed the 50% threshold in 2008. It is expected to reach 70% by mid-century. This statistic is not in dispute, the increasingly insane protestations of a one-person minority in Kent notwithstanding.

        Now, do you really need a media source to explain to you that people willing to live in shantytowns or in freakin’ cages just to be in a certain location constitutes “demand”? Or that the unavailability of housing better than shanties and cages constitutes “inadequate supply”?

      • Mike Orr says

        “demand for urban living vastly exceeding supply.”

        Why else is real estate more expensive in Seattle than in Kent? Why is it more expensive in Kent than in Maple Valley? Why is it more expensive on Capitol Hill than on 16th Ave SW or Lake City? Why can you get a larger house in the suburbs than in the city? Why does an inner-city condo cost the same as a suburban house?

        It’s all because there’s more demand to live in the city, especially in the central parts of the city with good transit routes. Even if the buyers drive 100% of the time and don’t care a whit about transit, their real-estate dollars act as if they do care about transit, paradoxical as it is.

        Obviously, mansions with water views in places like Seward Park and Medina distort this, but overall it’s true.

      • d.p. says

        Obviously, mansions with water views in places like Seward Park and Medina distort this…

        Not really. Do you know how much more Bill Gates’s compound would have cost him to build in Queen Anne? Or next to Pike Place?

  7. Brian says

    You’ll have to also get rid of urban growth boundaries and let sprawl go crazy in East King County if you go down this path.

  8. TLjr says

    As I write this, I’m on a bus that I waited all of 10 minutes for, riding a mere 2 miles for shopping, and maybe a meal and a drink afterwards. Density is indeed my utopia.

      • Miles Bader says

        Hmm, typical bicyclists probably ride about 10mph, so 2 miles = 12 minutes (+ waiting for lights etc)… :]

        You’re right, 2 miles is in the sweet spot for local cycling, but well-implemented transit works too at that distance, and the denser things get, the more likely it is to be well-implemented…

      • Josh says

        Typical commute bicycle speed is 10mph *including* time spent waiting for lights etc.

        That’s one reason good bicycle and pedestrian facilities are so good for transit — providing a route with fewer stop lights can greatly increase the bike-shed and walk-shed of a transit facility. On a fully-segregated bike path, average commuter speed is over 15mph.

        You can turn the “last mile” into “last 3 or 4 miles” very easily if you can get people on bikes. It’s faster for me to bike from King Street Station to my office on Mercer Island than it is to take the bus.

      • Eric says

        I currently live about 5 1/2 miles from downtown and door-to-door travel times to Pike Place Market are as follows:

        - taxi => 10-15 minutes
        - bicycle => 25 minutes
        - Bus => 30-50 minutes (depending on a number of factors, such as the time of day, how crowded the bus is, whether express buses are running, which direction the I-5 express lanes are running, and whether I feel like walking or running to get to the bus stop).
        - future Link light rail (after U-link opens in 2016, not available today)
        => 20 minutes (if I bike to the station)
        => 30 minutes (if I walk to the station)

        I think the fact that it takes a high-speed, grade-separated underground subway to make transit achieve door-to-door travel times equivalent to a bicycle speaks for itself.

      • d.p. says

        The “everything and everywhere and all our transit should be designed around bikesheds” freaks would be really ticked off if everyone actually took them up on their smug advice to re-orient our lives around two wheels. The bike racks would always be full, and they’d never actually get to use them.

        Eric, your calculations are probably off. You say that walking to UW/Husky station would take only 8 minutes longer than biking. That means you’re only about 1/2 mile away, or about 2 minutes on the bike. So you think that it will still take 18 minutes from the station entrance to 1st and Pike. Even though the ride is only 6 minutes? And even though the train will come every 4-7 minutes? Just how slowly do you walk from 3rd to 1st?

    • says

      Big deal…I live in supposed sprawl, yet within 0.5 walking distance are two super markets, a target, a home depot and at least 20 small to medium sized food places.

      Plus people here are on the sidewalks walking all day long.

      • says

        I live in sprawl, too. The nearest commercial cluster with a Safeway, Bartell Drugs, bank, restaurants, library is a 20 minute walk from my house. Most housing around these clusters are multifamily apartments or townhouses which is a good thing. Too bad the street network sucks and there are stupid walls between properties, meaning people have to walk much farther than the crow flies or people in Seattle’s old street grid do.

      • Mike Orr says

        You are unusual, living almost next to a supermarket and shopping center. Most people in suburbia have only houses and/or apartment buildings within a mile or two walk.

  9. ryan says

    I don’t see the connection between utopias and transit policy, though I am suspicious of utopians, especially politicians. Utopians will go to extreme lengths to bring about perfection, to the point of thinking temporary unlimited evil is justified by the promise of unlimited permanent good.

    See communism and fascism, for starters.

    • says

      Have you considered starting a blog or something? We desperately need your voice to be a voice of sanity amongst the extremists from both sides that are dominating the discourse.

      Unless, of course, you’re just another far lefty or far righty who hides behind the “independent” label to take a holier-than-thou attitude towards everything.

  10. Transit Voter says

    We can have density and single-family neighborhoods too. Nobody has made a case that Seattle’s existing Urban Centers and Urban Villages (and areas within a quarter mile walk of a rail transit station) cannot accommodate all the likely demand for multi-family housing for a very long time. And if someone should make that case, then the solution is to upzone the Urban Centers, etc. There’s just no need to go to war with single-family neighborhoods.

  11. Beavis McGee says

    The fact that there are “perfectly happy” people living in dense, urban cores completely ignores both the reality that there are “perfectly happy” people who are NOT – and that there are people who are perfectly miserable living in dense urban environments.

    Not everyone wants to live, raise their families, grow old, and die in cities. Get used to it.

    • Mike Orr says

      There are miserable people in the suburbs and exurbs too. People who can’t afford to move, or who need to be near relatives or a job, or are under 18 so they can’t move out on their own. In the city you may hate it but you can at least get around. In the suburbs if you don’t have a car or don’t want to drive, you’re stuck.

    • Aleks says

      Beavis,

      If people want to live in the suburbs/exurbs/country, power to them.

      What I object to is when those people decide that those of us who want to live in cities can’t have that option — by enacting zoning laws that lead to suboptimal uses of land, and taxation laws that restrict us from raising revenue we need to build public services, and transportation laws that heavily subsidize space-wasting transit in cities (like freeways) while starving more space-efficient uses.

      Especially for the “property rights” crowd, I don’t get why this is such a hard concept to understand. I should be able to do what I want with my land, and developers should be able to buy land and do what they want with it. It’s not like we’re trying to raze the suburbs and rebuild them like Manhattan. I just want a neighborhood with more than 6 blocks of dense, mixed-use development.

      Ryan Avent has a fantastic article on the subject. The current zoning code is a massive transfer of wealth away from economically productive uses and towards NIMBYs. It’s not fair to everyone else to have to bear those costs, when only a few people (by definition) can reap the “benefits”.

      • Miles Bader says

        Well said.

        In any reasonably large city there’s plenty of room for both density and er, “undense” portions. We can all be happy! :]

        All anyone is asking is: (1) get rid of the idiotic rules that prevent building density for no reason, and (2) make infrastructure funding (highways etc) less crazily biased towards sprawl.

      • Mike Orr says

        Also, designate high-density corridors and put excellent transit in them. Those who want to live in single-family detached houses can accept the tradeoff of less transit. But don’t force everybody to live in low density and have infrequent/slow transit. The demand for high density living in Seattle, while it may not be enough to cover half the city, is certainly larger than the areas that have it now.

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