Steinbrueck on Density and Transit



STB’s posting last Friday morning challenged me on a couple of my comments at the recent Seattle Neighborhood Coalition breakfast meeting. I spoke and answered questions for 45 minutes– the brief quotes you picked up from PubliCola were only a small fragment of what I said.

First, let me be clear that “do density right” is not code language for keeping densities low. This is a dissing of caring, thinking people in our Seattle neighborhoods. There are many elements to “doing it right,” and one of the most important is having a thoughtful planning process that engages the affected neighborhoods, transit riders and community. For example, TOD should be planned and coordinated around the established neighborhoods, not the other way around. Well-planned TOD should and can be customized to the neighborhood it serves, using best practices proven to be successful to growing transit ridership and building walkable, livable communities.

Most citizens I speak to throughout the city support growth, but have legitimate issues that go beyond density. Density is a value-less term, and certainly not a panacea for curbing sprawl. Just look at the vast, sprawling metro regions of the densest cities in the U.S., Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles if you think that. Planning should be structured to put the community’s vision for true livability into play. Planning recommendations and decisions should be openly arrived at so ordinary citizens can have some confidence in the outcomes, and support goals for compact walkable communities.

It’s been my observation that most people in most neighborhoods accept that Seattle is going to grow. They hope it will grow sustainably, and I do too. The basic issue is where the new development is going to go, and its look, fit, and feel. I believe it should be channeled into Urban Centers and Urban Villages as called for in the city comprehensive plan. There is just no need to expand high-density development into traditional single-family neighborhoods. We have plenty of unbuilt capacity within the Urban  Villages to support growth for decades to come.

Regarding rail transit, I enthusiastically support Sound Transit’s Link light rail program. In fact, I was on the Regional Transit Advisory Committee in the 1990’s, which urged moving forward with regional light rail. The Link system is creating a needed backbone of major trunk lines in the region’s densest corridors. Link will connect almost all of our major Urban Centers in ways that buses could never accommodate. But the rest of the transit system in our region will remain almost entirely buses, one of the largest transit systems in the country, serving thousands of daily commuters.  Good, frequent bus service will always be necessary to connect the rest of our city neighborhoods and our light rail stations.

Successful urban transit around the country is always a multi-modal system, and it includes accommodation of pedestrian, cyclists and transit riders, both bus and rail. Good transit planning should identify the optimum mode in each corridor and not assume that rail (light rail or streetcar) is automatically the best choice everywhere we look. Density should then be planned sensitively to support transit ridership– light rail and buses- around established neighborhoods.

The author is a former City Councilmember and current candidate for Mayor of Seattle.


    • Sherwin Lee says

      I would be interested in seeing how Steinbrueck’s purported support for focusing density in urban villages is in any way consistent with his opposition to the upzone in SLU, which is indeed, an urban center, not an urban village.

    • FWIW says

      How many of the existing Urban Villages are already at their capacity as defined during the Neighborhood Planning efforts?
      At that time, the Village definition and density was purported to maximize the use of then existing infrastructure.

      • Bill Bradburd says

        Seattle is overall 92% of its 2024 growth target.

        Some Urban Villages have far exceeded their individual targets, some have barely scratched them.

        This is why many of us have been pressing (for years) to start planning again. At the paltry 4 plans per year offered by the mayor and council, it may be a while before we get good frameworks for additional growth.

        However, the exiting zoning envelope can hold plenty more growth without additional upzones. This can be confirmed when the county delivers the next buildable lands report…

      • Martin H. Duke says

        What ultimately separates the pro and anti-density sides is this attitude towards the growth target. One side sees we’re near the target and says, “can’t we stop now?” The other says, great, let’s double down on what’s working. The more the merrier.

      • Bernie says

        I don’t think so. The “can’t we stop yesterday” crowd is limited to certain areas. By and large not the areas that are going to see radical expansion because it’s just not profitable. The double down crowd, which BTW never works long term in Vegas, are the developers and bankers who bring us the predictable boom bust cycles. The people that live in beautiful coastal towns in Italy would be the ultimate NIMBYS as they’d fight tooth and nail against bulldozing century old neighborhoods to “improve” them with highrise towers that let more people enjoy Lucca by turning it into Miami Beach.

      • d.p. says

        Yes, this = This.

        Hard to have a reasonable discussion on where the correct height/density/streetscape balance is with that kind of false equivalency running rampant.

      • Chris Stefan says

        If Seattle looked like Lucca, or the 19th Century parts of Paris then I would likely protest bulldozing buildings for the sake of building high-rise towers too.

        But really that isn’t what we are talking about. We’re talking about people going to the ramparts over 45′ vs. 65′ vs. 85′ apartment buildings next to a light rail station that would be replacing vacant lots, run down, or condemned buildings.

  1. David L says

    Peter, thank you for responding directly to STB. It’s always good to engage in direct dialogue.

    With that in mind, there are quite a few things in your response that merit challenge. Let’s go through them.

    First, let me be clear that “do density right” is not code language for keeping densities low.

    If we parse your arguments below, it seems to mean “add density in places where the neighbors don’t object.” Those are unicorns. Existing residents in every neighborhood have plenty of perfectly valid incentives to oppose further densification near them, and sure enough they almost always do. But just giving in to that opposition is bad for the development of the city as a whole and horribly bad for the new arrivals we rely on to keep our economic base dynamic. We have to do the hard work of laying the foundation for growth throughout the city; we can’t reassure people “we’ll stick all the new arrivals somewhere else that won’t disturb you.”

    For example, TOD should be planned and coordinated around the established neighborhoods, not the other way around.

    This is exactly what I’m talking about. Every part of Seattle is “established” by now. This is an illusory promise to every part of the city that you’ll put TOD in some other part of the city.

    Planning should be structured to put the community’s vision for true livability into play.

    “The community’s vision,” most of the time, is “nothing should change.” Sweetly reassuring people that the growth can go into some other neighborhood does nothing to engage the community about why their vision is unsustainable and bad for the city as a whole.

    I believe it should be channeled into Urban Centers and Urban Villages as called for in the city comprehensive plan. There is just no need to expand high-density development into traditional single-family neighborhoods. We have plenty of unbuilt capacity within the Urban Villages to support growth for decades to come.

    In the long run, this vision gives you a binary choice. Either you live in a SFH complete with huge lot and yard, or you live in a giant apartment block. More mature cities have so many other options. We need rowhouses, townhouses (which are actually getting pretty nice with the latest code changes), duplexes and triplexes, and small multi-unit buildings. All of those things can make for amazing neighborhoods. If you look at East Coast cities, it’s not at all just about the super-dense downtown areas, although those appeal to some people. The most “livable” places in those cities have a level of density in between, which your vision just doesn’t permit. Meanwhile, if we built as you suggest, SFHs would continue to get even more exorbitantly expensive, leaving most people with a small apartment in a large building as their only option. In the end, that’s just not a formula for a diverse or livable city, and we have to break some SFH eggs to build a city that works for everyone.

    Regarding rail transit, I enthusiastically support Sound Transit’s Link light rail program.

    Please clarify. Your comments at the meeting are very hard to reconcile with this. You compared rail unfavorably to buses; there is no way around that.

    We have many existing “urban centers” beyond those currently slated to receive Link that are poorly served by buses and would benefit from rail. Do you support the expansion of grade-separated Link to places like Queen Anne, Ballard, Greenwood, Delridge, and the Alaska Junction? If not, why not?

    Density should then be planned sensitively to support transit ridership– light rail and buses- around established neighborhoods.

    Again, it won’t work to tell every neighborhood that growth can happen in some other neighborhood, and it won’t work to stuff all the growth into monolithic high-density areas with six- and eight-story apartment towers. The best message is not “we’ll grow ‘around’ established neighborhoods,” it’s “we’ll grow everywhere, but we’ll do it on a reasonable scale.” Yes, that will mean that some SFH will be replaced by row houses, small multi-unit buildings, and the like. The challenge, which you entirely duck, is to show people why 1) that’s necessary for the good of the city and 2) even at the neighborhood level, that’s a good thing rather than a threat to a way of life.

    • says

      Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

      And let me just say for myself that this whole faux argument about bus vs rail is a straw man. There is literally no one, particularly among the mayoral candidates, saying that we should be entirely focused upon light rail. It’s very clearly never going to be the case that light rail replaces every existing bus route–the cost would be astronomical and the benefit would be marginal for most routes. This is also why we’ve seen Rapid Ride expanding at the same time as light rail has continued to be built out and lobbied for. Everyone recognizes that both are vital.

      When you claim that we need to be focused on a multi-modal approach I can’t help but think that you’re referring to a specific individual or group that’s making a claim to the contrary. If that’s the case, identify them and provide a source, otherwise this just comes across as filler designed to sound pro-transit without actually saying anything that someone might disagree with.

      • James says

        But I think that we should ban all buildings above two stories because tall buildings will caste shadows across our beautiful streets…instead of increased density in the core we should expand the urban growth area to include all of the forests to the east of Seattle…and we can build new highways to serve this area…and to keep the price of gas low enough for people to make it home on their two hour commute we can invade Iran and set up a new government there that will provide us with cheap oil until that runs out and we can move onto invading Russia…I see a bright future ahead with people like Peter Steinbruck at the helm.

    • Matt the Engineer says

      David has said almost everything I came to the comments section to say. The only thing I’d add is that Peter has really taken a baseball bat to some straw men:

      There is just no need to expand high-density development into traditional single-family neighborhoods.

      Who exactly are you claiming is fighting for high-density development in SF zones? I haven’t heard anyone advocate for a high-rise tower full of aPodments in Greenwood.

      I also don’t think it can be stressed enough how large of a problem it is to encase our SF zones in amber. SF zones represent around 70% of the land area in Seattle. That means all of our universities, schools, office buildings, stadiums, industrial areas, and yes low-rise and high-rise residential areas have to fit in the scraps left over. Peter says we can just cram more units into these areas, and we can. But it becomes more and more expensive to build each unit, as we tear down 4-story buildings to build 6-story buildings.

      • Anandakos says


        I’d say that Phinney to 67th and Greenwood north of there to about 80th are great streets for “high-rise tower(s) full of aPodments”. They’re at the crest of a hill on a frequent transit street, so who is going to be harmed by them? They will block no one’s view and only marginally affect sun coverage of the houses on adjacent streets because the relatively steep hillsides already do that.

        Ditto the east side of Roosevelt north of the Maple Leaf reservoir.

        Of course it doesn’t make sense to create a “wall” of these sorts of buildings; one every other block would make sense, interspersed with mid-rises and some of the existing two and three story buildings.

        Allowing such development would also enormously increase the number of people who could have a “view”.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Way to step in for the straw man ;-)

        I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. I’m saying that nobody has seriously proposed this, especially among those he’s running against.

      • Stephen F says

        I live on one of those streets that would be “impacted”. I say, let’s do it!! That way I can afford to move out of my shared single-family house.

      • Nathanael says

        “But it becomes more and more expensive to build each unit, as we tear down 4-story buildings to build 6-story buildings.”

        IN THE OLD DAYS….

        builders would design buildings with deliberate structural overkill so that they could be made taller later.

        It is probably a good idea to require this in certain parts of Seattle.

      • Chris Stefan says

        I think we should build 5000′ towers full of either offices or micro apartments everywhere in Seattle including on current park land. To make it even better it should be illegal for developers to put in so much as a single parking space.

    • Steve McClintock says

      Um, David should run for Mayor before Steinbrueck. Peter’s response was one long dog whistle (to steal from Dan Savage) to the [ad hom] NIMBYs of Seattle. Yes to growth, but just somewhere else, where I am sure the residents will love it.

    • Jacob says

      David – great points all around. I agree 100% about the types of neighborhoods Peter’s vision would be excluding. Look at the best neighborhoods in cities like DC, San Francisco, and Boston, and you’ll find very livable areas filled with rowhouses, corners stores, and frequent transit. A vision of Seattle as either suburbia-style SFH or huge apartment blocks is one that doesn’t make sense on so many levels.

      As for transit – places like Queen Anne, Belltown, Ballard, Fremont, Alaska Junction, and several others need rail transit. Period. Bus service will never be sufficient for these areas.

    • Nathanael says

      Living in a small town in the East, I can say that we don’t have many, if any, “single-family neighborhoods”. I guess the richest neighborhood is all single-family, just because of money. Most neighborhoods are a mix of single-family houses, duplexes, and very small apartment buildings (<10 apartments); the healthiest also have little clusters of retail.

      This should be encouraged. Nice-looking rowhouses and townhouses should be encouraged.

      Isolated single-family ranch houses don't need to be in monocultures by themselves; they do quite nicely in concert with duplexes and rowhouses.

      In fact, one thing which causes problems is sharp transitions. In a city with a pre-zoning growth pattern — not constrained by zoning — you go from rural ranch houses to closely spaced single family houses to duplexes to rowhouses to tall apartment buildings in a slow transition over many blocks. In cities constrained by poorly-thought-out zoning, huge apartment buildings loom over single-family houses.

      More valuable than zoning: (1) historic preservation; (2) public architectural review. People don't like seeing their favorite old buildings torn down and replaced with ugly buildings. People do like seeing their least favorite old buildings torn down and replaced with pretty buildings.

  2. Mark Y says

    Anyone who thinks the Link Light Rail system that has been authorized by ST2 is sufficient for the City of Seattle is unqualified to be Mayor of Seattle. Period. And I’ve not seen anything that makes me thing he thinks otherwise, including this statement.

    This guy can spin it any way he wants, but in the end he’s for limiting growth in the city. As someone who’s in his mid 30’s and trying (and failing) to find a home to buy, I resent that. He’s limiting the choices of the next generation because he has some historical notion of what Seattle should look like.

    I don’t know if he thought this post would change people’s minds. Maybe it will for others, but it’s just made me realize that I cannot afford to wait to contribute to one the other candidates, because I cannot risk him getting through the primary.

    And who the heck is advocating building high density in existing SF neighborhoods? Which other candidate? Strawman much?

  3. Bellinghammer says

    Mr Steinbrueck,

    Thank you for responding to STB; it is very much appreciated.

    I think you’re a pretty well-meaning and engaging guy, but I would challenge you on one major point: the ‘Is-Ought’ problem, or ‘Hume’s Guillotine’. It’s fallacious to derive an ‘ought’ — what our neighborhoods should be — on the basis of what currently is; doing so only serves to artificially privilege existing conditions, both in form and function, in perpetuity. It elevates current residents’ concerns to the baseline from which all proposals are judged, and diminishes or eliminates the needs of future residents from consideration. As a matter of basic decency their needs matter equally, and they are not to be snuck in the back door with the least offense to those already here.

  4. Evergreen Rails says

    Thanks for commenting.

    The Link system is creating a needed backbone of major trunk lines in the region’s densest corridors. Link will connect almost all of our major Urban Centers in ways that buses could never accommodate.

    Did you really intend to be so vague? LINK creates jobs, increases commercial property values, brings money to the region via bond sales, replaces bus lines, and makes for a greener world. It also provides scalable capacity among nodes.

    If you’re going to tout benefits, kindly be precise!

  5. Wes says

    This doesn’t change my opinion of steinbruek at all. I’ll still seriously consider leaving if he’s elected.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      Perhaps you can seriously consider a donation to the one mayoral candidate who unabashedly supports density and rail? :)

  6. Ryan on Summit says

    I agree with Peter, but it seems like we’re having trouble explaining our argument. One side says density is a meaningless term, the other side says livability is. When in fact I don’t think we’re very far apart.

    • says

      The “other side” doesn’t say livability is a meaningless term. It says livability is enhanced by the ability to walk short distances to your daily needs.

      Steinbrueck’s conflation of density and sprawl is ridiculous. Chicago, NY, and LA have large urban areas because they have Tons Of People. More specifically, Chicago sprawls out over a large area because of its sparse suburbs, built in a sprawl-and-abandon pattern whose legacy has left many of its inner suburbs in desperate conditions. Emphatically not because the city is dense. LA sprawls out over a large area because it grew during its own oil boom around mass auto transportation to the maximum possible intensity given auto-dependence.

      • Bill Bradburd says

        NYC, Chicago etc metro regions continue to sprawl.

        We have growth boundaries in the region that should we should be vigilant about.

        But our metro area runs from north of Everett to South of Tacoma and east past Issaquah. We are already sprawled.

        Building in Seattle will not stop this. Keeping firm urban growth boundaries will.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        “Building in Seattle will not stop this.”

        Every additional unit in Seattle allows one more household to live in Seattle. It’s pretty simple math that tells us the more space we build in the cities = fewer people living in sprawl.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Bill – NYC, Chicago, etc all have height limits throughout neighborhoods that would rather grow up than out. Same problem, same actors. You’re actually causing sprawl, which DRAMATICALLY decreases livability, far worse than the difference between one urban building design and another.

      • d.p. says

        Most of the Chicago and New York neighborhoods you’re describing already have a density that would be nearly impossible to replicate with a footprint-devouring tower and its space-consuming ancillary infrastructure (lobbies, elevators, loading docks). That’s why most any part of Brooklyn or North Side Chicago or San Francisco you can name (plus every 4-6 story European capital) is a hell of a lot denser than Belltown.

        There are many reasons those cities have trouble keeping up with the demand, but failure to “grow up”, as if taller inherently implied denser or more successful, is not one of them.

    • David L says

      No, we’re not saying livability is meaningless at all. We’re saying that refusal to densify badly compromises livability for everyone except existing SFH property owners. If we develop as Peter wants, then the result is that almost all new arrivals have exactly one choice of type of housing: six-to-eight story apartment blocks. A few wealthy ones will be able to afford SFH. If they want anything in between, they’re just screwed.

      Instead, densify everywhere and by reasonable amounts. Replace SFH closer to neighborhood centers with rowhouses and triple-deckers. Replace two-story ’50s apartment buildings with modern four-story ones. And so on.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Another point here is that limiting upward growth causes outward growth, which is so unlivable as to make the difference between urban buildings laughable in comparison.

      • d.p. says

        And your “towers über alles” obsession in this reply is particularly undermining to the reasonable point David makes.

  7. Mike says

    Mostly empty words. Total lack of specifics.

    My issue is that he is totally against the South Lake Union upzone, which DID go through a major community outreach process and IS well designed. If he can not support this well thought out and heavily reviewed up-zone what will he support.

    Plus, i know that he is in the pockets of the Mirabella retirement home, so I am deeply suspicions of his true intentions.

    • Al S. says

      I’d agree it does lack specifics. Liking urban centers and urban villages is rather obvious if one is a Seattle resident. How about encouraging some ways to make these urban centers/villages more thriving? New participatory village action plans? Siting new government facilities at or near stations? Incentives for better paths to transit? As other candidates establish policy positions, this is what I’m looking to hear.

    • Andrew Smith says

      Mostly empty words. Total lack of specifics.

      I completely agree with you. It’s a bunch of empty platitudes and bromides.

      • Breadbaker says

        The phrase that came to mind was “word salad.” Anyone could read it and put their own spin on it, but he was also protected from any criticism because no one could disagree with the specific words.

    • RossB says

      I agree as well. The best part of this is that he spent the time to respond. This is a very good sign for fans of this blog. We are important.

      I would love it if we could ask specific questions and ask for specific answers. For example, I would love it if every candidate was asked how they felt about parking requirements. My answer would be the following:

      Zoning involves trade-offs. If you restrict what can be built, then you push up the cost of building. This inevitably leads to a higher cost of housing (for those renting or buying the unit as well as — and this is important — anyone else renting or in the market to buy a place). With that restriction, though, you can make the existing residents happier. That is the trade-off. All that being said, the parking restriction is out of date and unnecessary. I’m all for smart growth, but I really don’t think we should ask our renters or new owners to pay more for housing just because we want more parking spaces.

      If I were the folks in charge of this blog, I would ask the same question about restrictions on the number of units for a building. For example, Apodments. Should we put any restrictions on the number of units in a building, or should we put restrictions only on the size, shape and location of the building (distance from the edge of a lot, etc.)? My answer would be to allow unlimited units as long as it follows the other zoning restrictions, and I could make a case very similar to the one being made for the elimination of parking restrictions.

      Then there is upzoning, which of course are a lot trickier (and my answers would be a lot more nuanced) but I would still like to hear what the candidates have to say.

      I have a feeling that a lot of the candidates don’t understand (or don’t believe) that these zoning restrictions have a real impact on the cost of living for many of our residents. That is sad, and suggests a lack of logical thinking or a lack of focus (or perhaps the same sort of magical thinking that leads some to believe that global warming doesn’t exist or won’t continue).

      • Nathanael says

        I would restrict the internal size of the units (requiring them to be a minimum size, for “livability”), restrict the walls between them (requiring a decent level of soundproofing), but then allow as many units as the developer can fit within the building footproint.

      • RossB says

        I’m not sure if living in your car (as many of our fellow citizens do) is any more livable than living in a very small apartment, but I think you suggestion would be a huge, huge improvement over the status quo.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Really no excuses here considering he’s trained as an architect, worked as one professionally, and spent 12 years on the City Council. How the heck can he not seem to have the slightest clue about land use or transportation policy?

      • Martin H. Duke says

        I don’t see any evidence that he doesn’t understand this stuff, just that he has different priorities. In particular, he places a higher value on certain aesthetic “livability”considerations than the environmental, fiscal, public health, economic, and state-political benefits of density.

      • David L says

        Martin, I see it a bit differently: he is courting the votes of property owners who don’t want change in their neighborhoods, and thus valuing their interests over those of anyone else. It’s a pander to a voting bloc.

      • Martin H. Duke says

        I wouldn’t try to guess if his motives are sincere or politically motivated. I’m not sure that it matters.

        I do know that his anti-urban instincts go back a long time, all the way back to limiting heights downtown decades ago. Luckily, he’s disavowed that mistake.

      • Chris Stefan says

        But the funny thing is you ask people their vision of the idea “livable” neighborhood and it is far denser than anything in the suburbs or even most Seattle SF neighborhoods.

  8. adam says

    Mr. Steinbrueck,

    Thank you for taking the time to engage STB and its readership directly. A few questions:

    1. You talk of “density done right”. Could you be more specific? What neighborhoods could do better? Where can density “done right” be achieved without pushing existing inhabitants out of neighborhoods? Where do you think density doesn’t belong, and why not?

    2. Support for regional rail is one thing, but mobility issues within city limits are very different from those at the outer edges of a regional transit system. What parts of the transportation master plan to you support or disagree with? Do you have a preference between expanding the diesel bus fleet, hanging new trolley wires, or laying new streetcar rails? Can you point to cases where you’d prefer one solution over another?

    3. There’s been quite a flap in South Lake Union about so-called “view protection”; do you support height limits on new development in SLU? Where? Why or why not?

    4. You speak of preserving single-family neighborhoods. While I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, I do think that this necessitates some trade-offs as single-family neighborhoods aren’t good uses of transit hours and dollars. Do you agree or disagree? Is this a good model for a city?

  9. Daniel says

    Mr. Steinbrueck, have you ever been involved in a zoning change where you advocated for more units to be allowed than were originally proposed?

    If you have, please explain when and where.

    Your recent record, (especially SLU and Roosevelt) consists largely of you advocating to make fewer new housing units available, seemingly advocating on behalf of rent-seeking NIMBY homeowners, and referring to various upzone proposals as “Gestapo-like tactics.”

    Rents will not become more affordable unless many more units are constructed across the city. Since the land area of the city is fixed, this means an increase in density by definition.

    You have not shown yourself willing to advocate for more units to be constructed, but you are not willing to accept responsibility for the consequences of anti-growth policies, which is why people who do not currently own property in Seattle are frustrated with you.

  10. Leif Espelund says

    Peter, thanks for “clarifying” your opinions. I now know that I can strike you off my list of candidates to choose from.

  11. Brock Howell says

    1. I’d like to know how Peter will be an advocate for density, not just how he’d put limitations on the place and manner of density.

    2. If Peter is supportive of density in urban centers and villages, why did he fight it in South Lake Union and the University District?

    3. The city has little jurisdiction over bus service. The city can make capital improvements for buses, which is great, but the city has a distinct role to fill when it comes to streetcar and bikeways. So, taking a “multi-modal” approach makes no sense from a capital investment approach by the city, at least in terms of bus service. To the extent that the city should be thinking multi-modal with bus service featured heavily, the city transit master plan serves quite nicely.

    4. And for the record, I appreciate that Peter’s dad saved Pike Place Market. I really enjoy it. But I in no way want all of Seattle to be Pike Place Market.

    • Sherwin Lee says

      I believe Victor Steinbrueck would not share the same vision as his son today. This vision, of perpetually preserving SFH areas, of limiting zoned capacity (even in urban centers!), of being mode-biased, is all contrary to the kind of idealism that Steinbrueck senior fought for!

      • Scott Stidell says

        Probably true, although I wonder how many here would have been supporters of the urban renewal scheme to eradicate the Market with housing towers–the successful fight against being where Victor Steinbrueck made his biggest impact on the city?

        I am, however, politically opposed to Peter’s positions as stated above (and elsewhere), and I am a property owner in the city whose family has been here since well before statehood (it’s not only newer arrivals who want to see these things!). We most definitely need to provide reasonable accommodation choices for all those who want to move here, and our leaders need to be mindful of those future citizens even if they can’t vote here yet. Great transportation goes along with that, and neighborhoods who are getting multi-million dollar stations and rapid transit service need to realize that the tradeoff for that amazing benefit is sharing it with all those others who might want to live in a neighborhood where they can avail themselves of it. (Some of us even live here already!)

    • Chris Stefan says

      2. If Peter is supportive of density in urban centers and villages, why did he fight it in South Lake Union and the University District?

      If Peter won’t support density in SLU or the UD, just where will he support it?

  12. Al S. says

    A healthy urban center has to be focused on non-residential “activity density”. That means more effort than ground floor retail with low-volume businesses. A mid-rise or high-rise residential tower is nice, but if there isn’t a concerted effort to make it a complete “village”, residents will have to go elsewhere. Way too much emphasis is put on residential and not enough on linking activity centers well to transit.

    Also, we must realize that a thriving urban center is going to be attractive to people from outside the neighborhood. With transit frequencies after 7 PM really poor for many routes, driving and parking is going to be part of the equation for a successful neighborhood business district. Ironically, much of the neighborhood “push back” on density is because of on-street parking complications.

  13. John Bailo says

    He sounds like the ideal candidate…to run as Deputy Mayor for Norm Rice circa 1990. Urban Villages? Hey, it’s not like Nirvana ever went out of style.

    The future is coming and it’s dispersed, sparse and rural.

    • David L says

      We need to settle this once and for all. We need to hire a pollster to get us a random sample of 20- and 30somethings from throughout the Northwest. Then we need to ask them whether they think Capitol Hill or Kent East Hill is the hill of the future.

      • Orv says

        What you’re describing, John, is essentially a return to subsistance farming. I think that’s probably what the post-fossil-fuel era will look like, but I don’t see many people in first-world countries wanting to opt for that lifestyle now.

      • Butch says

        I think what John is describing is whar Seattle wants. Urban chickens, curb gardens, local, sustainable and green

  14. djw says

    Peter Steinbrueck is a smart, decent, capable politician whom I agree with on many important issues, and who would probably offer a substantial improvement over the current mayor as an administrator. But he’s so wrong, and on such an important issue, that I’d vote for every commenter here (not named John Bailo) over him without a second thought.

  15. Peter on Fauntleroy says

    Two things:

    “… Using best practices proven to be successful.” In my experience, ‘best practices’ is usually a cover for not being able to articulate a specific policy or vision. Notice he still doesn’t provide any specifics at all on what those ‘best practices’ at all, he just goes on to basically describe the current process of community involvement. It’s as meaningless in this context as it is in any corporate meeting room. Next he’ll tell us how to leverage synergies.

    “There is just no need to expand high-density development into traditional single-family neighborhoods.” That’s a strawman. He sets up a position that nobody is taking and argues against it, presenting it as the position of those who oppose him. Again, this is a sign of an inability to articulate any specifics. It’s a lame political tactic: being unable to articulate any vision, he sets himself up as fighting some imaginary threat. Lame.

    Sorry, Steinbrueck, you have a long to go to sway me. Your lack of any specifics, your meaningless jargon, and your division political gamesmanship have only further convinced me that you are the wrong person to lead Seattle.

  16. PhillipG says

    There is just no need to expand high-density development into traditional single-family neighborhoods. We have plenty of unbuilt capacity within the Urban Villages to support growth for decades to come.

    I’m genuinely curious how true this is. Right now, Seattle’s population seems to be growing at a 1-2% annual rate- roughly an additional 6,000-12,000 people per year. Given those rates of growth and the present zoning rules, if all population growth occurs in urban villages, how long is it until we max out capacity in the urban villages under existing zoning rules?

    Has anyone done a back-of-the-envelope calculation of this?

    • Matt the Engineer says

      I don’t think this is a useful way to get at that number, since growth isn’t linear. If you start with an empty field, it’s easy and cheap to grow. If you have an 85 foot zone and 65 foot tall buildings, it takes a very, very strong demand to make tearing down those 65′ buildings a good business choice. Those that say we “have plenty of capacity” within our existing zoning either don’t understand this or don’t mind home values shooting through the ceiling while affordability drops through the floor.

      • PhillipG says

        I agree- imagining replacing all existing buildings with maximally built out new construction isn’t a realistic model.

        If someone’s created a model with more realistic assumptions, estimating how long we could funnel population growth exclusively into Urban Villages without rezoning, I’d be even more interested in those numbers.

        I’m not sure it would make a difference politically- as you say, it’s unlikely it would change too many people’s mind’s, but I’m a quantitative person so I always like to have some numbers to point to during discussions.

    • Bill Bradburd says

      at one point the folks at had calculated that the UVs had 3 times capacity of our 2040 growth targets.

      we are awaiting the county’s buildable lands report so that analysis can be done again.

      it should be noted that the 3X number excluded ADU/DADU infill, something that we really should be pressing for because of the low impact development it allows AND the direct financial benefit to the property owner.

      • PhillipG says

        That site is incomprehensible. It’s impossible to take the authors seriously if they can’t be bothered to write grammatically and coherently.

  17. Bill Bradburd says

    I am not responding for Steinbrueck, but as one who perhaps is considered by this blog’s readers a “NIMBY” anti-growth activist (both of which by my track record are untrue, but that’s a separate post) that would also receive your slings and arrows. For background, I have lived in many cities over the years, car free and transit riding, so i know from experience as well as blogs and the classroom (as it seems so many here qualify) about cities, urban growth (and decline), what works and what doesn’t, etc.

    It’s pretty clear to me from reading this thread that 1) rhetoric and ideology reign over ideas (making you look like crazy tea partiers), and 2) the nuance of urban design and experience of urban living may be lost on a lot of you. Plus, the sheer number of misrepresentations (“seems to mean”), inanities (“all of Seattle to be Pike Place market”), and pure ignorance of what Seattle’s existing built environment and natural geography is like (understandable and forgivable for those only with a fixie living on Cap Hill), make it clear that having a sophisticated conversation about growth may be difficult (and why cheerleading for an administration that is diverting hundreds of millions to a basketball arena rather than transit infrastructure or resiliency and energy efficiency is heard rather than calls for booting them out of office).

    Look at Belltown – our densest neighborhood. Can anyone claim that this is what we want to be producing? From the pure measure of dense urban core, it is a winner. Or look at apodments – show of hand – how many of you have moved into the 150 sqft dormitories for the long term? These are examples of density done wrong. (don’t get me wrong on micros – they have their place and use – just not everywhere. another perfect example of density done right and wrong).

    The questions we ask need to be re-jiggered. And i think (hope) that is what Steinbrueck is saying. All the talk of “TOD” (used so often incorrectly to mean “put as many people as possible near a transit stop”) and density (as PS points out, a meaningless number out of context) clearly shows that what we need is a more informed and precise way to talk about and plan for the future of Seattle.

    Its clear that adding more people to a low density area has benefit for supporting transit, local economy, a school, community center, safer streets streets (eyes on), etc. find me someone who is arguing against that (or “growth” for that matter). Its also clear that these are things that make a place desirable. (I am excluding the locational/proximity question – an important aspect, but it complicates the discussion slightly in that without efficient mass-transit access we are reliant on autos again). Its also important that these things lead, or at least be provided concurrently – becasue without them, we have a failed community – one where people have to regularly leave to get what they need.

    But i hope you all can agree that some areas are already well situated for additional density BECAUSE it has good bones. And other areas are not because they are not “ready” – and unless we have shit tons of money to spend, they may not be for a while.

    I live in an urban village that is FAR from developed to even its CURRENT zoning capacity. Yet we are well above the density per acre that much TOD literature would say is necessary to support transit, as well as local business, schools, etc. Yet MORE density here would be good. Much more. We are close to the urban core, have good existing open spaces, reasonable public transit, some (not enough) job centers (largely institutions, not blue collar unfortunately), and PLENTY of infill potential.

    Unfortunately however the type of development proposed for our UV’s commercial hub includes a Wal-mart. This is BAD. A mega store has a catchment that REQUIRES customers arrive by car. So our land use code needs to be changed to enforce small businesses. I.e. we need good density, not bad density. But the push back will be from developers who say “it will not pencil” (sadly this is because their needs are short term, the city’s long term). So while the project proposes housing (good density) it also fails in long term viability (but near term profit) it really isn’t density done right.

    What many of you may not know is that the urban village growth model was devised and supported by the generation of activists before you. Through long (and sometimes difficult as this is) dialog amongst citizens this long term growth plan for the city addresses all of the elements that you support (transit, walking and biking as primary modes of transportation), dense vibrant urban cores, etc.

    What the city (and regional transit) has failed to do is fully deliver on that plan. That plan – expressed in distinct neighborhood plans – are nearly 20 years old, and need updating – and at a far quicker pace than what this administration and council have chosen to do. But is something that Steinbrueck is demanding. Because, as you can appreciate, people who live in an area know best what needs to be done: where limited capital investment dollars should be applied, where higher density zoning should be placed, where are best routes for bikes, where a corner store or coffee shop should be, where urban ag could work, where we need trees, and what sidewalks and roads need attention.

    This isn’t rocket science. But is also isn’t one-size fits all rhetoric.

    You can slam Steinbrueck all you want with b.s. like “against density in SLU” but it’s not true and really makes you all sound, well, childish and ill-informed at best, and an inane echo-chamber at worst.

    (btw, if any of you would like to attend our Seattle Neighborhood Coalition meetings where you can hear AND PARTICIPATE first hand in a 2+ hour long discussion rather than read twice distilled blog synopses and bounce around half-baked misrepresentations of what was really said, LMK…)

    • Wes says

      Yes belltown is what we want to produce! The only thing it lacks is the cohesiveness and a few neighborhood amenities like Capitol Hill has. People always say belltown is so dangerous. It’s only dangerous on Friday and Saturday nights and around night clubs. Stop basing your opinions of urbanity off of seattle times articles. Take it from the people that walk through these neighborhoods dozens of times a month.

    • Schuyler says

      Look at Belltown – our densest neighborhood. Can anyone claim that this is what we want to be producing? From the pure measure of dense urban core, it is a winner.

      This is objectively wrong. Capitol Hill is denser, and yes, it is what we want to be producing (IMO).

      In terms of the rest of your post, I am extremely skeptical of the government/”neighborhood coalitions” trying to dictate exactly what kind of business goes where. This is an area where I think the market is actually really good at what it does. If people didn’t want a walmart, it wouldn’t go there in the first place. If they are able to out complete other stores in the area because they are more efficient, so be it. I don’t see why the gov should put artificial barriers up.

      • Bill Bradburd says

        and i was not suggesting what kind of businesses go where other than to say

        1) big box is NOT an urban form we should allow. it’s catchment is too large. the downtown Target is acceptable purely because transit access from outside of the downtown core is so good AND cars are really not welcome downtown. but personally i do not favor ANY big box, and places like San Francisco do not allow them and chain stores in their neighborhoods – a model we should follow. i suggest you look up “Big Box Swindle” to address your misunderstandings of this toxic business model

        2) identification of where there should be business will help address where we are defeating walkability and compactness. i was suggesting that corner stores, small commercial zones could be created in many places in the city, and the residents and property owners can help identify those. many former corner shops are now residences – those could be revived, as well as adaptive reuse of existing buildings (e.g. single family homes) could create commercial spaces in lower density zones where none now exist, and serve as seeds for future rounds of growth.

        No doubt Cap Hill is a great model, but we should carefully consider how future growth goes into already dense areas (somethink i think Steinbrueck would agree with). This should be done by partnership of the community and government, in a neighborhood planning process — and not left to the whims of developers who largely build and flip and do not have deep concern for long term consequences. We should have a 20-50 year perspective. Taking some time to establish that is prudent.

        The “gov” does all sorts of things – from defining land use code to laying rail tracks. And that is usually done in an informed way with citizen input. Its generally a good process and outcome.

      • Bill Bradburd says

        Not inconsistent, sorry. My position was and still is, that should be a neighborhood decision, not a citywide zoning decision.

        I would love to see commercial uses in lowrise zones in my neighborhood. If my neighbors agree to that as part of a planning process, we should have zoning to allow that.

      • Bill Bradburd says

        how what works in the real world? neighborhood planning? or allowing uses in zones? both are real world achievable. 1) reach consensus with property owners, residents and the city for where and what uses are allowed through neighborhood planning. 2) modify land use code to create an overlay identifying uses allowed.

      • Seattleite says

        I talked to both my neighbors and they are cool with it, so that means it’s all good? I can start the conversion? Nice! I thought in the real world it would be much more complicated, take years and cost tens of thousands of dollars, with NIMBYs like you doing everything you can to gum up the process, which is why we need the streamlining you oppose.

      • Nathanael says

        “My position was and still is, that should be a neighborhood decision, not a citywide zoning decision.”

        Bill: so you’re calling for the dissolution of the City of Seattle, and replacing it with a set of separate, smaller “boroughs”, each with their own government, such as they have in London, UK?

        This is actually not an entirely crazy idea. You’d still need a larger government to build things like mass transportation, sewers, and water supplies (they have such a government in London).

        But it is pretty radical.

      • Nathanael says

        Bill writes: “…reach consensus with …”

        Never gonna happen. Forget it. Consensus is usually impossible without coercion and mind control, as even the Quakers have discovered. Forget consensus.

        If you want “neighborhood” decision making, the neighborhood is going to have to have MAJORITY-RULE government.

      • Mike Orr says

        “San Francisco do not allow them”

        San Francisco has lots of big-box stores south of Market. But they’re enclosed in proper midrise buildings with garages, like Northgate North but not so ultra-cheap. These large stores could never fit into the city until heavy industry left SOMA and large retailers and loft apartments were allowed to replace them.

        Not that I support abandoning Seattle’s industrial districts in SODO and southern Ballard. We need to keep a manufacturing-and-warehouse base as insurance for the future. San Francisco and Vancouver have become more dependent on paper-pushing jobs since they allowed their industrial districts to disappear, and that makes them more dependent on a narrow sector of jobs and thus more vulnerable in recessions, market changes, climate change, or cutoff of overseas transportation.

    • Matt the Engineer says

      I’ve looked carefully through this comment for what you are “for” rather than “against”. “Density done right” for you is not Belltown (no reason given), and it’s not aPodments (at least not everywhere, though you don’t say where you want them). You say you want community centers, transit, and schools in order to build density, and that you don’t think we can afford new so you want development where these exist. Can I hold you to that? Are you proposing new towers on top of Queen Anne, in Magnolia (ok, no transit, but community center and schools), at Phinney and Wallingford and Greenlake and Montlake? We have community centers and schools, as well as reasonable transit, all over our city.

      You also say you’re in favor of further implementing our neighborhood plans. That’s great. But are you claiming that will actually bring us density? Or are the all filled with “where are best routes for bikes, where a corner store or coffee shop should be, where urban ag could work, where we need trees, and what sidewalks and roads need attention”?

      • Bill Bradburd says

        Matt, I strongly urge you to carry your message for density on Q-A to your neighbors and make that so. I think Q-A is a perfect place for far greater density for all the reasons I state.

        I thought it was clear for Belltown. School, open space, library, community center? Safe, walkable, bikeable streets? I would be curious to see auto use stats for them. And i would love to be proved wrong. Belltown is less than 80% of its growth target. Maybe it is time to look at how complete and successful that community is. This may require a bit more than “walking through it dozens of per month”.

        Magnolia, no. They are ‘land-locked’, so without better transit, general residential towers are no good. However with additional uses – eg jobs centers – so that localization is enabled, along with the zoning to support it, there is that possibility. For certain when the subway line runs there, let’s talk again.

        Wallingford (120%) and Green Lake (260%) have already met growth targets for 2024. Phinney and Montlake are not urban villages. Not to say that more growth couldn’t go there. The question Steinbrueck raises, and many support, is that growth management (as opposed to ‘ah hell, build anywhere’) had a rational neighborhood planning process to ensure that as density increased,the quality of life was kept high and we avoided unintended consequences. We should be doing that again for areas that have met or exceeded their plan.

        In the last planning cycle neighborhoods took household growth targets as part of this planning process. Where should the density go (zoning changes), and what infrastructure is necessary to support it such as schools, library, community center, open space (capital improvements).

        Certainly some areas have not met growth targets and these should be reviewed so we can learn why growth did not happen as planned. For example, in the International District they are only 40% of growth target. With the recent South Downtown upzone, its proximity to downtown, and the excellent transit there, we would expect more growth. Yet the only project in Little Saigon is a stripmall where we are zoned for 85′.

        Where I may differ from Steinbrueck (I do not know) is this: the Urban Villages were our designated “areas of change” (in urban planning parlance), and the single family zones were “areas of stability”. I do not believe that these should be permanent designations. At some point, Cap Hill should become an area of stability – let it absorb its new residents, let the new businesses and localized patterns establish. It is at 150% of its 2024 growth target. Pike Pine is at 270%. Other areas, like Montlake, with light rail nearby, should be considered as an area of change. This would entail a planning process to identify growth targets and just how and and where that growth would occur.

        Overall, however, the city is already at 92% of its growth projections through 2024. We should be and will be looking at all of this as part of the Comp Plan update.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        “I strongly urge you to carry your message for density on Q-A to your neighbors and make that so.” I do. Consistantly. But it will never happen under your model of if the neighbors want density, they can have it. Neighbors just fought a small footprint 4-story retirement home tooth and nail.

      • Bill Bradburd says

        ha. perhaps your vision of indiscriminate high density everywhere isn’t achievable.

        or at least what you proscribe is the real NIMBY position – not in my backyard, someone elses…

      • Steve McClintock says

        Green Lake density is a joke. There is a gulag of building by Starbucks and a smattering by Dukes, but then you have single family homes across the street from the lake! All the millions we pay in taxes to keep that gem shiny and it goes to SFHs? Upzone around the lake to allow more citizens to enjoy the special place we all care about.

      • David L says

        Steve, that’s exactly what I’m complaining about throughout the city.

        Imagine if NE/N 65th between Ravenna and the lake were rowhouses all the way from one end to the other. It would be a beautiful and fantastic street.

    • David L says

      Bill, the message I get from your comment is the same as the message I get from Peter Steinbrueck’s response: you favor the short-term interests of existing property owners over either the long-term interest of the whole city or the ability of newcomers to add to the city’s economic base.

      Look at Belltown – our densest neighborhood. Can anyone claim that this is what we want to be producing?

      Inner Capitol Hill, not Belltown, is our densest neighborhood. (Belltown was forever compromised when it was regraded.) And inner Capitol Hill is one thing we should be producing, but not the only one. If you read my comment above, you’ll see that I want incremental density everywhere. That means turning Crown Hill into northern Ballard, and northern Ballard into Petworth (DC), just as much as it means turning Broadway into more of inner Capitol Hill. Saying that people want to turn the whole city into Manhattan is the classic anti-density straw man.

      Or look at apodments – show of hand – how many of you have moved into the 150 sqft dormitories for the long term?

      One thing that anti-density (or, as they would say, “density done right”) folks all share is a deep dislike and distrust of students. No one is moving into an apodment for the long term. It’s housing for students and transient workers, and no one thinks otherwise. Right now the situation for students is, for the most part, that they have to (often illegally) share apartments or shack up 10 to a boarding house. Isn’t it better to have a form of development that actually fits their needs? That is what apodments are.

      don’t get me wrong on micros – they have their place and use – just not everywhere.

      OK, I’ll bite. In your opinion, what is “the place” for apodments? If not on Capitol Hill, very close to two huge schools, then where on earth would they fit? “Not here” is not a specific enough answer.

      A mega store has a catchment that REQUIRES customers arrive by car.

      The solution to this is to seek zoning changes so that a Walmart doesn’t require a huge parking lot. They’ve already done that for the downtown Target (and similar stores in lots of other cities). I’m sure that, in a dense area, Walmart would be thrilled to build fewer expensive parking spots.

      I know you don’t like the idea of Walmart, but the truth is that a Walmart built in an urban style would be a positive in terms of foot traffic and street life for pretty much any neighborhood. It’s the traditional form of a Walmart, not Walmart itself, that is the problem.

      Because, as you can appreciate, people who live in an area know best what needs to be done: where limited capital investment dollars should be applied, where higher density zoning should be placed, where are best routes for bikes, where a corner store or coffee shop should be, where urban ag could work, where we need trees, and what sidewalks and roads need attention.

      Existing residents have a very mixed (at best) track record when it comes to answering that kind of question, because the answer is so often “whatever it takes to keep my parking spot in front of my house and keep new construction away.” In the end, those questions should properly be questions for the whole city, not just a few neighbors–because they implicate the whole city’s interests, as well as those of newcomers who aren’t here yet. All neighborhoods need to absorb their share of the growth, and all neighborhoods have an interest in making each one stronger.

      You can slam Steinbrueck all you want with b.s. like “against density in SLU” but it’s not true

      How is that not true? The SLU rezone has been planned to death. Yet he still opposes it, and he has not offered an alternative that allows for even close to the same amount of growth.

      The message I get from your comment is the same as that I get from Peter’s response: we must cater first to the interests of current property owners, and all else comes a distant second, no matter the cost to the city’s future.

      • Bill Bradburd says

        simple facts:

        parking or no parking, a huge store requires a huge amount of customers. the reason the downtown target works is because the density and customer base via transit is there. walmart will not build without a parking lot unless it has the extant conditions to get by without it. possibly cap hill could support one. you should also get educated in the larger economics of those stores before championing them.

        you clearly recognize that micros are not long term housing. they therefore should not go into zones where long term housing is prevalent. it is disruptive to the community. perhaps you yourself have never had a permanent home, but there are characteristics of a community that short term residences do not work with. on arterials where there is more variety or adjacent to the schools makes more sense.

        your call for incremental density everywhere indicates that you have little understanding of the real world and how zoning and development works, and will be a non-starter.

        as far as SLU, Steinbrueck has a more nuanced position that seems to be lost on many here. and as to “cater first to the interest of current property owners”, many would say that is what is occurring for Vulcan.

        finally, your anecdotal presumptions “keeping my parking place”, “dislike and distrust of students”, impacting the “city’s future”, are pure drivel.

        in fact, the people calling for this renewed planning effort were largely the same folks that enabled the latest 100K new residents to arrive since 1990, through neighborhood planning and rezoning. sounds like you are of those folks and just not aware of this recent history…

      • djw says

        you clearly recognize that micros are not long term housing. they therefore should not go into zones where long term housing is prevalent. it is disruptive to the community.

        This is patent nonsense. What you’re saying is that short term residents and longer term residents should be segregated from each other, not allowed to live near each other. What you don’t say, or even remotely suggest. This is slightly less impolitic than saying, say, “poor people shouldn’t live in the same neighborhoods as rich people” (rich people tend to find this “disturbing” too) but I can’t see why it’s any less silly, or offensive.

      • Breadbaker says

        I suggest you read the public comments on the proposed development on the Avtech site in Wallingford (down the street from my house) before you that comments about “‘keeping my parking place’, ‘dislike and distrust of students’, impacting the ‘city’s future’, are pure drivel.” They are real comments that NIMBYs are really using as of today. A number of the comments were all agog because there are eight month old children living across the street from the proposed development. There’s a great way to decide zoning: how old are the neighboring kids, right now?

        Where I live there are a number of houses that have traditionally been shared by UW students and recent grads, and a number of small apartments on small lots with similar residents. In 32 years, I’ve never had a problem with anyone in them, other than on the Fourth of July when they shoot off fireworks. I can life with that.

      • David L says

        You can dismiss me as ignorant if you like, but here are some basic facts about me, so that you have context for what I’m saying.

        I’m a native Seattleite who lived here from ages 0 to 28, moved to the East Coast (first Boston, then DC), and then returned to Seattle last year as a result of a professional opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I currently live with my wife in a single-family house near Lake City, but have previously lived in a rebuilt DC rowhouse; several small East Coast apartments at varying price ranges; a Seattle 4-pack townhouse; and a few Seattle apartments in widely differing neighborhoods. If there were rowhouses here, I’d probably live in one.

        I’m an active participant on this blog because of a lifelong interest in transit. I’m not involved in it professionally today, but in a previous life I spent five excellent years driving for King County Metro, mostly in city service.

        Now, on to the substance of your comment…

        the reason the downtown target works is because the density and customer base via transit is there. walmart will not build without a parking lot unless it has the extant conditions to get by without it. possibly cap hill could support one. you should also get educated in the larger economics of those stores before championing them.

        I want to pick my battles. I’m not interested in driving out large corporations (although I also don’t want to give them special advantages). I think they can be major contributors to urban development, and I’d rather include them than fight them if it will help the city develop economically. A Walmart with a parking garage would work in quite a number of city neighborhoods, provided that it could generate the margins to support the initial capital expense of building the garage. That is the big question and is probably the reason we have 2 garagey Targets and no Walmarts. In any case, there is no question whatsoever that a street-facing Walmart would generate a ton of pedestrian activity in almost any urban village in the city.

        they therefore should not go into zones where long term housing is prevalent. it is disruptive to the community. perhaps you yourself have never had a permanent home, but there are characteristics of a community that short term residences do not work with. on arterials where there is more variety or adjacent to the schools makes more sense.

        I find it astonishing that you can write the above and then turn around and tell me two sentences later that my accusation of “dislike and distrust of students” is “drivel.” Your above text couldn’t confirm it more perfectly. Instead of being engaged with actual students — most of whom are valuable members of the community — you write them all off as “disruptive” and as an element that will disturb the current homeowners. Frankly, it sounds like someone shouting “Get off my lawn!”

        I experienced the same thing in DC where neighbors of Georgetown University attempted at every turn to ban students from living in the neighborhood and to make their lives as difficult as possible. That is not how you build a community; it’s how you divide people into factions and cause neighborhood infighting and distrust. And, in any case, if you separate students into a ghetto, they are much more likely to misbehave.

        your call for incremental density everywhere indicates that you have little understanding of the real world and how zoning and development works, and will be a non-starter.

        So you are happy with the way densification has happened here so far? Where a few six-story towers are slapped into a tiny area, and the SFH are left completely alone? That does not give people options. It creates a two-class housing system, where either you are rich or your only option is a small apartment. But it’s the way things have happened in almost all of the neighborhoods you cite in other posts as beating growth targets.

        I know incremental densification can work because it is the way that the renaissance of DC has happened. Detached SFH get replaced by rowhouses. Small old rowhouses get torn down and replaced with somewhat taller structures that contain 2-4 units. (My condo in DC was a beautiful, three-level top unit in just such a 3-unit structure.) Apartment buildings get expanded, or rebuilt with more square footage; sometimes, blocks of derelict commercial structures get torn down and replaced by a tower.

        That’s exactly what I want to see happen here, particularly in the areas closest to major transit corridors. In my own neighborhood, rowhouse zoning on some of the SFH blocks closest to Lake City Way would be absolutely perfect. Instead, we get the same old SFH, which decay until they are torn down and rebuilt as enormous and unaffordable new edifices, blowing any chance at incremental growth.

        in fact, the people calling for this renewed planning effort were largely the same folks that enabled the latest 100K new residents to arrive since 1990, through neighborhood planning and rezoning. sounds like you are of those folks and just not aware of this recent history…

        I see that process in a very different light. I see it as an effort to shoehorn as much of the growth as possible into a few very small areas that were mostly commercial before the growth happened, and thus to avoid growing existing residential neighborhoods at all. That is bound to lead to the kind of two-tier housing stock I’m arguing against, and it’s a horrible way to develop.

        Let’s use upper Queen Anne, which you cited in another post as a neighborhood ready for lots of growth (a conclusion with which I agree wholeheartedly) as an example. The existing process and zoning is geared toward building lots of 6-story towers along Queen Anne Avenue; building townhouses in a very few blocks along the edges; and leaving everything else completely unchanged. The vast bulk of the area is still zoned SF5000. Can’t you see that this approach is going to stratify the housing market like crazy? The new apartments, condos, and few townhomes will be somewhat reasonably priced. Everything else, as demand for land up there increases, will just continue to increase sharply.

        A better approach would be to zone the entire neighborhood (except for perhaps the area with the grandest historic mansions along and near Highland Drive) for townhouses and rowhouses. Growth would occur organically, as some SFH were replaced by these slightly denser forms, without changing the character of the neighborhood significantly. All of the new arrivals would not be choked into the three or four stretches the current zoning identifies as acceptable for change.

      • Mike Orr says

        “A Walmart with a parking garage would work in quite a number of city neighborhoods, provided that it could generate the margins to support the initial capital expense of building the garage. That is the big question and is probably the reason we have 2 garagey Targets and no Walmarts”

        I’ve heard Walmart is experimenting with urban-form stores in New York City. I.e., a small store with a parking garage. This is a market segment the retailers can’t afford to pass up forever, which is why City Target exists. As Walmart gets more comfortable with the urban form and thus opposition to it lessens, it will start to appear more widely in cities.

      • Bernie says

        Large chains like Tesco being omnipresent in urban markets are nothing new in other countries.

    • Orv says

      I think the tricky bit there is that people who already live in a neighborhood will always advocate for the status quo. After all, they moved there because they liked it the way it was. If you assume that people who live in an area are best qualified to determine what kind of development will go there, you’re essentially advocating for every neighborhood to remain exactly as it is today.

    • Steve McClintock says

      Like Steinbrueck, this is a littany of unique qualifiers, that when mixed with the rest of the people in the neighborhood, produces zero agreement, so under Bill’s model, zero development ever.

      I really wish anti-growth advocates would just say, “I dont like change. It scares me enough that I would rather just let everything remain the same forever.” At least we could start the discussion instead of chasing the thousands of threads these folks throw out to allow change.

      • Bill Bradburd says

        that is just so wildly untrue.

        since planning for growth with the urban villages and neighborhood planning, the city has added 100K residents.

        other than vague arm waving you have nothing to demonstrate that the process doesn’t work. growth management is state law, and our growth plans are defined at the city level. engagement with the citizenry is part of the process. it has worked well, and will continue to.

        i would have expected that commentators on this blog would know the difference between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, and know which side to get on…

      • says

        Knowingly or unknowingly, many on this blog are on the side of Baron Haussmann, who used Robert Moses-y top-down power to refashion central Paris into one of the finest urban settings the world has seen.

        Jacob’s legacy is about determining what characteristics make urban neighborhoods tick, and then protect those existing neighborhood characteristics from erosion. Moses’ legacy is about using top-down power to create a suburban-friendly metropolis out of an existing city.

        The push for density by many on this blog is due a dissatisfaction that Seattle’s neighborhoods by-and-large aren’t functioning as Jacobean urban neighborhoods, but instead as car-dominated semi-suburbs. The desire is to densify more neighborhoods, by any means available, so that they have mixed primary uses, urban pedestrian streets and the ability to support high capacity transit. Jacob’s method of rallying community support to oppose changes works to prevent suburbanization of already urban neighborhoods, but doesn’t apply to the process of urbanization.

      • Eric H says

        The argument that densifiers are pushing a Haussmann-Moses plan is a bit on the hyperbolic side, maybe? Or are there some parallels between Seattle in 2013 and Paris in 1850 that I’m missing?

        Not to mention that highways like 99, 5, 90, 520 and 405 gave Seattle a rather sustained and thorough beating with the Moses club.

    • Mark Y says

      Belltown is failing as an urban community not because of the density, but because there’s a preponderance of social services in the area. And they’re located there because no other urban village or center would take them.
      Density = Crime is a false correlation.

      • djw says

        On what criteria is it accurate to say Belltown is “failing”? Please be specific, and provide data.

      • Bernie says

        There is some correlation between density and crime. For some reason Seattle chooses to provide statistics in crimes per square mile. I’m not sure why they do that rather than the more common crimes/1000 people. Looking at the stats for violent crime Seattle at 6.0 on whole is far worse than most of it’s suburbs.The exception being Tukwilla (10.1) which is awful. Some perhaps surprises in the 10 Safest Seattle Neighborhoods; Lake City and White Center. Fife (6.7), Lakewood (8.6) and Tacoma (7.6) are all worse than Seattle which I thing shows a stronger correlation between poverty and crime than density. You can find these numbers by searching for the 2011 Crime in Washington report published by law enforcement state wide.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        [Bernie] Crime statistics are most useful for pedestrians as a number of street crimes per pedestrian, and for residents as the number of residential break-ins per resident. I’d love to see police departments break crime down this way.

        Here’s a reasonable approximation of the former for Seattle.

      • Bernie says

        Looking back at your previous post and map for violent crime I’d hardly say “Other than the International District and perhaps Pioneer Square, downtown doesn’t look that much different than the rest of the city.” Most of the City is green. Just being in that close proximity to the “red zone” is damming as crime doesn’t follow straight lines. The closer to the fire the more likely to get burned. And the current SpotCrime map doesn’t paint a pretty picture for 3rd and Pike. “for residents as the number of residential break-ins per resident” which would pretty much be crime/1000 people. If you can’t feel that your home is safe then why live there. For pedestrian density you’d have to have time of day data. In the daylight work hours with lots of people around sure it’s safe. But if you’re not safe after 6PM when much of the CBD is a ghost town and you have to avoid Fri. and Sat. nights how great is that?

    • Wes says

      If belltown is such a failure why are there so many units under construction, and why are people paying so much to live in them?

      • Bernie says

        Because they like their ivory tower with security guard and residents only access. My bet is the people paying the big bucks to live there aren’t by and large the ones showing up to the clubs where most of the problems seem to arise.

    • alexjonlin says

      I think the most important thing to take from your comment here is what you say about how density-advocates’ ideological entrenchment can make us look like “crazy tea partiers.” Although I don’t agree with a lot of your positions, you’re definitely right on that. Like it or not, most people don’t agree with us, so we need to learn to compromise and at least understand the other side’s arguments – in fact, then we’d have a better chance at convincing people to be in favor of the kind of vision we have for the city.

      • Brent says

        We’re not going to win over the general populace to our positions just by having this blog and engaging each other in electronic conversation. Hearts and minds are changed face to face. If you want to change the rightward drift of neighborhood associations, show up at yours, have your say, and watch minds open.

        If, for example, you live on Capitol Hill, and dislike the positions of the Capitol Hill Neighborhood Council that are way out of line with the views of the general populace of Capitol Hill, go to the neighborhood council meetings. Stacking the deck with like-minded neighbors may not be necessary. Showing up and showing there is another side to the debate is half the battle.

        I got most of the bus route restructure I wanted for my neighborhood because I showed up, I presented my arguments, people agreed, and the neighborhood told Metro what we wanted. The neighborhood process can work, if you engage in it. If you don’t, it doesn’t.

      • Matthew Johnson says

        Brent, that is often easier said then done. Many of these ‘community groups’ are fly by night operations formed to oppose change that intentionally keep a low profile. They don’t want just anyone to show up to the meetings.

        For instance when I moved to Columbia City I tried to find my community group. Most of the hits for the Columbia City Community Council were from 2007/2008 and after the rezone fight (guess which side they were on?) not a peep.


      • Brent says

        The Capitol Hill Community Council is no fly-by-night operation. They’ve been active and involved all the time I’ve lived in Seattle. It appears they have had a change of personnel at the top.

    • Brent says

      Bill, I’m troubled by your claim that hundreds of millions are being diverted to the basketball arena. If you really want to stop the arena, stick to facts, not extreme hyperbole.

      Ironically, it’s Peter who is on the shakiest ground with his paid lobbying for interests opposed to the arena. I wish he would stop parroting the claims about traffic problems created by the arena (which are bizarre since, for the most part, the arena will merely smoothe out traffic patterns by offering more winter entertainment events).

      I’m no fan of the arena, but the claim about the hundreds of millions being diverted to the arena strikes me as character assassination. Can you document these hundreds of millions?

      • Bill Bradburd says

        $200M bonds and the $120M financing are being paid back by diverting tax revenues from the arena that would normally go to the general fund. very simple.

      • Matthew Johnson says

        $320m? I thought it was $200m total, $120 from the city $80 from the county. Money that would not exist without the arena being built so money that in no way could be used for other projects if the arena weren’t built.

  18. PhillipG says

    As several commenters have noted, this post is exceedingly vague. Here’s what I infer from it:

    Steinbrueck is a conservative, in that his bias is that the city should change only slowly and minimally, if at all.

    Steinbrueck is the process candidate. Whenever there are complaints, zoning and transportation changes would be put on hold pending more meetings and community engagement.

    He’s only OK with the city growing and changing if the growth and change is confined to areas far away from single-family homes and there is near unanimous support for the changes.

    He doesn’t see grade-separated rail as necessary or desirable for getting people around the city, and would oppose, or at least not push for grade-separated rail in the Ballard Downtown, West Seattle Downtown, or Ballard U-District corridors.

    • Keith Kyle says

      I think you nailed it on all counts Phillip. I’m actually shocked at the transit attitudes of every Mayoral candidate (except McGinn.) Considering how people who live in Seattle feel about the state of transportation, it’s amazing that anyone thinks they can win with a “buses will do” approach on this issue.

      He’s definitely running to the right (for Seattle) — Anti-change, anti-transit expansion, anti-arena, anti-density. He’ll pick up the old/cranky vote for sure.

    • Brent says

      Whoa. Peter may not be as pro-densification as most commenters on this blog, but he is no conservative. There is a candidate running well to the right of the rest of the field, advocating tough love for the homeless, full backing of whatever the Police Guild wants, timing traffic lights to SOV rather than bus traffic, and also now says amorphous things on his website that belie his record.

      He, too, calls for concentrating density in the urban centers, but has been on the opposing side in upzoning SLU.

      • PhillipG says

        I was using “conservative” in the temperamental sense- skeptical of change and wanting to keep things as they are. I think it’s clear from Mr. Steinbrueck’s post that, at least on land use/zoning and transit, he wants any changes on these fronts to be minimal and slow.

        I don’t think it’s always bad to be a temperamental conservative- it’s certainly possible for things to change for the worse. I do think that Seattle would be ill-served by conservatism on housing and transit now, given that the city is a couple decades behind meeting its needs for rapid transit, and the demand for housing in the Seattle is increasing, if not accelerating,

  19. Alex Broner says

    “There is just no need to expand high-density development into traditional single-family neighborhoods. We have plenty of unbuilt capacity within the Urban Villages to support growth for decades to come.”

    1. What does “traditional” mean? Current single family neighborhoods are that way because that’s the only thing they legally can be. This isn’t a tradition, it’s a choice made by our government. Other neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill used to be single family but then we allowed a bunch more people to move in by allowing larger buildings. Now it’s a wonderful urban neighborhood.

    2. “Capacity” is a theoretical concept that does not describe anything useful in terms of whether development will occur. What is the level of demand for the places where “capacity” exists? Are owners willing to sell or redevelop their properties themselves? Is the unused “capacity” on a given lot useable given the cost of demolishing the existing structure and building a new one? (For example: demolishing a 3 story structure in order to build a 4 story one may not in fact be economical at all but the most exorbitant price point.)

    3. Urban villages as they stand now tend to be inconsistent in their size and organization in ways that make one suspect past political decisions not in keeping with transit oriented communities best practices. Planners typically consider areas within a quarter mile walk of transit as having the strongest association with transit ridership. Obviously such factors as the street grid and terrain impact the shape of this, as well as the usefulness (frequency, speed, connectivity) of transit itself. Up to half a mile walk is still considered “transit influenced” however. Looking at the Seattle urban villages however (and urban centers, etc) and one sees skinny shapes which extend not even a block off of transit avenues despite the presence of a fine grained street grid and relatively flat terrain. One can’t help but think that such contortions were politically motivated and not in keeping with the best practices of transit oriented communities. “Doing density right” may mean expanding existing urban villages and even creating new ones where it makes sense. Following these best practices for transit oriented communities could be considered “doing density right” but it is NOT in keeping with prioritizing preserving existing single family homes above all else.

    (To look at the current “urban villages” and compare them to zoning, you can go here: and select “urban villages” and “detailed zoning” check marks on the left hand options pane.)

  20. Wes says

    Orv I live in Chinatown and I want it to develop, just hoping they use the immigration visa program to develop it so it can keep the asian vibe. I want to buy a town house in Capitol Hill to raise my children. One of the reasons I want to raise my children there is because it’s growing. I want them to live in a dense environment under the impression that growth is normal and healthy.

  21. Bill says

    Steinbrueck, my biggest concern is that you have worked as a lobbyist for some very powerful groups in Seattle including the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Port of Seattle, and the Mirabella Retirement Community, a wealthy elderly living facility in South Lake Union that ardently opposes increased density in the surrounding neighborhood because it wants to continue being the tallest building in the area to permanently protect its views for its wealthy residents. Although you are in favor of increased density in some parts of the city, you are vehemently against increased density if it would negatively impact your clients in any way. This is why your weird pro/anti-density position is so confusing and why you would likely have many conflicts of interest if you were ever elected mayor.

    Publicola has an interesting article about the inconsistencies that you have shown on density because of your professional conflicts of interest. Personally, I have serious ethical concerns about the fact that you have decided to run for mayor for that reason.

  22. Single Family Home Fascist Piggy Who Loves Density and Rail to West Seattle says

    I have a hunch, just a hunch, now, that Mr. Steinbrueck has a great chance to win the mayoral position in Seattle. A great chance. Smart, good-looking, and articulate. [ot]

    This will be a fun election. I am very much looking forward to it.

    STB. Start your engines….

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      He won’t make it through the primary. He opposes housing affordability. Nobody’s pointed it out yet, but when they do, he’ll bluster and fluster and be toast.

      • West Seattleite. Not Hipster. But Love Rail. And, PBR. says


        The city of Seattle likes progressives. Capitol Hill hipsters and STB transit wonks have their work cut out for them if they think this guy is toast.

      • Chris Stefan says

        The problem is Burgess is stealing most of Steinbrueck’s oxygen in the race. The primary ballot is very crowded and there is only room for two candidates to make it through. Something tells me Peter isn’t going to be one of the finalists.

  23. Brent says

    Guys (and any gals who might be reading this),

    We should count ourselves lucky that nobody is running for mayor on a pledge to open up the West Seattle Bridge HOV lanes to general-purpose traffic.

    Charlie Chong, p.b.u.y.

  24. Brent says

    One other point sticks out like a sore thumb: Including Los Angeles as one of the cities that has sprawled despite density.

    The sprawl in LA has long pre-dated the recent age of central city densification and subway construction. LA doesn’t belong in the same list as New York and Chicago when it comes to urban planning and livability. Indeed, LA’s infamous sprawl is so iconic that we once put up campaign signs in my old home town of Austin: “Austin or LA: You decide.”

    Seattle has something going for it that Chicago and New York never had: an urban growth boundary.

    • Eric H says

      Well, they’re certainly not looking anything like LA. A quick look at the 2010 Urbanized Areas suggests they’re looking much more like Houston:

      Urban Area Name 2010 Pop. PopDen (ppl/sq mi)
      Austin, TX 1,362,416 2,605
      Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 12,150,996 6,999
      Seattle, WA 3,059,393 3,028
      Houston, TX 4,944,332 2,979
      Chicago, IL–IN 8,608,208 3,524

      • Matthew Johnson says

        Or our counties are larger with huge swaths of uninhabited land and water so our MSA is huge with only a fraction occupied.

      • d.p. says

        That is inaccurate, Matthew. Eric is pulling from the Census Bureau-defined chart of “urban areas” — — which in our case is 1/2 million smaller in population than our MSA and a tiny fraction of the geographic area.

        The census designation still includes all of our contiguously built suburban areas and is misleading in its use of the word “urban” at all. But it roughly corresponds to our “urban growth boundary”, so there you go.

        (An attempt to draw a defining boundary between urban and suburban form here, by contrast, would probably find less than half the city proper meets the loosest definitions of “urban”.)

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