This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

You go to battle climate change with the built environment you have, not the built environment you might want or wish to have. Choices made decades or even centuries ago with respect to street layout and such are still with us today. Which is why an abandoned military base becomes the perfect car-free suburb, or why transit works much better in San Francisco than in nearby San Jose.

Changing land usage patterns is a long-haul effort, as Clark Williams-Derry at Sightline argued last week, but one that’s worth making if we’re going to blunt the impact of climate change.

I feel like one thing that gets lost in the debate over density here in Seattle is that the city isn’t uniform. The built environment is going to affect our options regarding density, as it should. What works in some neighborhoods won’t work in others. It’s more important, I’d argue, to pick and choose your neighborhoods, and then figure out how to make them densify gracefully, rather than haphazardly sprinkle 4-pack townhomes in predominantly single-family neighborhoods.

One of my favorite streets in the city is 17th Avenue, South of Union St. It starts with gorgeous, 3-story apartments and co-ops:

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Then, a block South, it’s turned to basically a full block of townhomes that all make sense together, and all open right out onto the street, and finally, a block South of that, it’s single-family homes. The overall effect is that the neighborhood seems cohesive.

One reason it seems to work is that there’s an alley behind the townhomes that provides parking access, so that the homes don’t have to have the typical 4-pack design. Let’s work with Seattle’s built environment to build the kind of density that works with the street (and alley) grid that we already have.

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