Still basking in the glow of the Roosevelt land use feud

There are three things missing from efforts to grow sustainably in the Puget Sound region, a story about why supporting more growth is a good thing, a punch list of policy changes to help get there, and political accountability. I’m going to focus on the getting our story straight first.

We have reams of data and studies that support why density is better than sprawl. But how do advocates of new development that supports smart, sustainable density counter the simple story NIMBYs tell: this is our neighborhood and we were here first!

During the long and often contentious debate over rezoning Roosevelt I divided my frustration, sometimes equally, between opponents of the rezone and the developers asking for additional height. For the former my irritation should be no surprise.

But what annoyed me about the developers, and developers in general, is that they lack of a coherent story and vision to explain why their project is important. For understandable reasons, developers are project-focused, worried mainly about getting their building up and running. Often the big thinking about how their project might fit into a regional agenda is left in the dust of getting it done. More after the jump.

Sure, high-flying groups like the Urban Land Institute, the Quality Growth Alliance, and efforts like the Great City Initiative discuss why density is important. There are groups like the Master Builders that take their hardball political tactics to Olympia, but rarely employ them in the service of a single development at the local level. And there are several effective public relations firms and land use attorneys that can be deployed to fight for those extra 25 feet.

What’s missing from the lexicon of developers and density advocates is a slogan, a phrase, an image that sums it all up that’s as easy as Not In My Back Yard! The NIMBY story is a classic one, best summed up by the lone hold out against development in Ballard, Edith Macefield. Her house, embedded in a large development, is emblematic for growth resistors. There is the sacred symbol, the single-family home, surrounded by new development and anchored in the principle that every family’s detached house home is their castle.

Church of the Holy NIMBY: the Edith Macefield House

What story or slogan could provide a strong enough theme to counter the NIMBY theme of a lone person defending their castle against greedy developers? That slogan, I think, just might be something like, “Density is People.”

I’ve stolen this from the Charlton Heston film, Soylent Green. Like Logan’s Run and Planet of the Apes, two other apocalyptic science fiction films from the 70s, Soylent Green is premised on the idea that runaway growth, pollution, environmental degradation, and nuclear war will eventually result in a dystopia in the future. In Soylent Green food supplies have disappeared, and well, I won’t ruin it for you.

My suggestion of this phrase is ironic since Soylent Green is perhaps one of the most iconic anti-growth movies ever made. Just watch the opening credits. But when NIMBYs oppose growth and stand in the way of creating more housing, they are really saying “we don’t want more people, those people, here.”

What’s true is that the apocalyptic, dystopia foretold in old 70s sci-fi films like Solyent Green is more likely without density not because of it. When a NIMBY in Maple Leaf squashes 25 units of housing those people who might have lived in those units have fewer and more expensive options, including living further and driving longer to make their lives work. That means more pollution, more resource consumption, and environmental degradation.

Right now we all argue about buildings: height, bulk, and scale. One of the strangest things about the Roosevelt debate was that if revolved, in the end, around 25 feet, the height of a building rather than the principle that land use patterns around transit should accommodate people that aren’t here yet to advocate for themselves.

Making the density argument about people rather than buildings must be the strategy we use, even if the way to get there is increasing the height, bulk, and scale of buildings around light rail. But when we make our arguments they should always be about the new people coming to the neighborhood. It’s easy to fold one’s arms and stand firm against a big, imposing building—even if that isn’t what’s proposed; It’s a lot harder to say, “We don’t care about all those people.”

Next up: What’s on the land use punch list?

Photo credit: Edith Macefields’s house, Wikipedia Commons, Ben Tesch

132 Replies to “Density is People: A New Story for Up Zone Activists”

  1. I wouldn’t be so sure that proper framing will silence the NIMBYs. The Roosevelt Land Use Blog guy (Glenn Robertson?) has been shameless in stating the housing in Seattle SHOULD be expensive to keep certain people out. Then you’be got that guy in S. Bellevue who argued at the routing public meeting that they didn’t want LR to go through their neighborhood b/c of the kind of people it would bring into the neighborhood. Even on this blog there are those who argue against increasing rental stock because of the undesireables it brings to a neighborhood.

    That said sunshine is the best disinfectant, so getting these people to state their real opposition IS a good thing, and necessary. I’m just saying the framing itself won’t be a silver bullet.

    1. “housing in Seattle SHOULD be expensive to keep certain people out”
      Really? I’d like a link to that. Maybe that’s just what you read because that’s what you want to fight. Just like Roger is always fighting NIMBYs who are against density…but where are they? Roosevelt’s SLRP provided for more density than any other proposal on the table.

      1. Unfortunately today I am traveling away from our fair city today so being on my cell can’t go pull the quote for a bit. However if my memory serves it was a post on Roger’s blog made sometime between mid July and mid August where you stated that living in Seattle should be a privilege for those who had worked hard and saved their entire lives, ie the Rich.

      2. Look for it if you want. You probably live “someplace.” If you had an extra $1000 per month that you could only spend on housing (or lose it), would you live someplace else?

        So if someone works hard and saves money and just happens to want to live in a “better” (in their eyes) place, are you the one to pull the plug on them?

        I don’t decide what city that will be, or what neighborhood either. The market does. And I support people who have pride in and responsibly take care of their neighborhoods.

        If you want to live in a government owned and developed housing unit, then move to China. They have several.

      3. I don’t decide what city that will be, or what neighborhood either. The market does.

        Except that the market is severely constrained by zoning regulations that make many buildings illegal. A true free market approach wouldn’t be quibbling over 40 or 65 feet; there wouldn’t be any height or floor area ratio limit at all.

      4. Zoning is socialism. It’s you that’s keeping the market from functioning. You are using the government to force others to not build up on their properties, for your benefit.

      5. “Just like Roger is always fighting NIMBYs who are against density…but where are they?”

        Beacon Hill comes to mind. I particularly remember Broadway: they resisted upzoning from four to six stories saying it would degrade the neighborhood. The QFC and Safeway sites at Bwy & Mercer stood vacant for years because of this — even though there were several six-story buildings on nearby Bellevue & Pine that weren’t bothering anybody. The city finally overrode the NIMBYs and upzoned, and immediately two six-story mixed-use buildings went up. They were certainly an improvement over the big-box lots before them, and I’d say better than the four-story buildings that might have been there. The trick is to get a mix of building sizes on the same street, which naturally happens as some are replaced and others not.

        In Magnolia, Broadmoor, and Laurelhurst, the opposition is so strong and the neighborhoods so affluent that people don’t even try to upzone around there any more, they just go around those neighborhoods.

      6. It’s funny to see the libertarian slant on zoning being rammed down neighborhoods simply because an expensive public works project is being pushed through. The truth is that successful commercial and large scale multifamily is at least as dependent on zoning for it’s success. Without it virtually all development would be low cost strip malls, two story wooden apartments and suburban style office complexes. The reason DT Bellevue developed as it did is because zoning forced the building of tall buildings into a compact footprint where each has a synergistic effect on the rest.

      7. Glenn I live in a subdivision called the Village at Lakewood in Fayetteville NC. My wife lives with her brother in Burien. In the next few months I’ll be joining her. We’d like to live in the city but thanks to people like you there aren’t many places affordable in the city city for a transitioning Vet.

      8. Anc, I not only look at it I live there (in the house my wife was born in) only 3 miles from City Hall. DT Bellevue would look like Redmond if it weren’t for the zoning to create a block of 400′ buildings in a DT core.

      9. On what remaining buildable land within Bellevue city limits could the sprawl have continued to grow, Bernie?

      10. I’m not talking about sprawl. I’m talking about the DT core. That wouldn’t exist as a one 40 story office tower downtown, a matching 400′ tall hotel with high rent shops in the middle of Bell-Red and a convention center parked out at Crossroads. Bellevue has contained the density to a great degree. And where they’ve gone astray is in places like the new Walmart where the Council caved and reneged on the promise to daylight Kelsey Creek (with luck it will follow in K-Marts footsteps).

      11. Which new Walmart? They’re getting two (didn’t Kemper once say he was against light rail because it would let the riff-raff in?).

        I think the strategy of limiting density most places to concentrate it in certain areas is a terrible idea. You end up pushing development to the suburbs/exurbs.

      12. Roosevelt’s SLRP provided for more density than any other proposal on the table.


        All of the density that Roosevelt “provides” under the RNA’s plan is pushed back towards the freeway, the least desirable place for anyone to live, and also closer to the cheaper original station they rejected and further from the expensive one they demanded.

      13. The one- and two-story buildings with large parking lots that started appearing in the 1940s reflected both people’s changing desires and zoning restrictions. It’s hard to say how much was one and how much was the other because they grew simultaneously. Certainly there would be some big-box stores and strip malls and Googie buildings without zoning, but not nearly as much as we have because the market for higher density is greater than that. Developers are forced to build below a maximum height, above a minimum parking level, and with a minimum setback. Whoever heard of a developer wanting to do the opposite? Whoever heard of a developer wanting to build a shorter building than allowed, with more parking than required, and a larger setback than required/ It happens sometimes but not that often. So the market wants more density and the zoning is preventing it.

      14. Bernie, Bellevue’s residential population would have increased, as would it’s commercial activity.

        You argued that it would have just continued to be “like Redmond” — i.e. continued to sprawl — had it not been for zoning.

        But the sprawl has few places remaining to go in Bellevue. So densification was inevitable, even in the absence of zonie.

      15. “didn’t Kemper once say he was against light rail because it would let the riff-raff in?”

        Kemper says he was quoted out of context. That he wasn’t talking about the kind of people who go to Bellevue Square vs Southcenter, but that they tend to “dress up” when going to Bellevue Square like they do when going to a better restaurant. That statement may or may not be credible, but Kemper is certainly smart enough to realize that the 550 already goes directly from Rainier Valley to his doorstep, so any “riff-raff” who might come are already coming.

      16. Anc – I too am a Vet. It gave me a chance to buy a home with zero down and I took advantage of that. That was in the early 70’s. Nobody owed me anything then, nor do they now. Nor you either. Recently I’ve sold a home to a single woman who works retail and a young couple with a 2 year old and twins on the way. They made a choice to buy a home and live in the city, not a choice to whine about how hard it is. So get over yourself and just do the best you can. Buy something in Burien and make it better. If you decide you want to live in the city, the time will come when you can. Choose to rent the rest of your life and you will be at the mercy of developers like RDG whose “affordable” housing will always be out of your reach.

      17. I too am a Vet. It gave me a chance to buy a home with zero down and I took advantage of that. That was in the early 70′s. Nobody owed me anything then, nor do they now. Nor you either.

        I disagree. At the very least we owe those who serve in the military what they were promised. That’s coming up short in medical for dependents of career military retirees. Vets are owed tuition, housing and all other benefits as promised when they enlisted. That said I have never heard Anc express the view he’s entitled to anything without sacrifice and hard work. I’d agree with Glenn that there are opportunities in and around Seattle to buy now at a once in a lifetime bargain. But, I’d also recommend first renting in a neighborhood you think you’d like to live in before making a minimum seven year commitment. We still own our first home out in the sticks in Woodinville. It’s paid for and the rent more than covers costs. Could we have lived “better” for less by renting? Yes. Would it have paid off? HELL NO! Give a little, gain a lot. Live it up now; pay later. Of course you’ll have the “progessives” on your back for being one of the rich capitalist pigs.

      18. I’m not sure what anyone’s talking about here anymore. But…

        First, owning is not all it’s cracked up to be, and renting isn’t so bad. There are lots of laws protecting tenants against unscrupulous or negligent landlords. And there are lots of things you never have to worry about as a renter. Roof leaking? Pipes burst? Not your problem. Want to move? Piece of cake. Even if renting were more expensive than owning, I’d be willing to pay the premium so that I can spend my life doing things I enjoy, rather than maintaining real estate.

        Second, owning is not nearly as cheap as people make it out to be, especially if you have a very small down payment. If you buy a condo in Seattle with an FHA 3.5% loan, the interest, taxes, and condo fees alone can cost as much as renting an equivalent apartment — and that’s not counting one penny of the principal! Condos in Seattle, especially new ones, are massively overpriced (as observed by their exceptionally high vacancy rates and the frequency with which condo buildings get converted to apartments), and rents are comparatively low.

        And then there’s the fact that many homeowners have over 50% of their net worth tied up in a single asset (their home). So much for diversification.

        So please, don’t judge renters. We are not all transients (in any sense of the word).

      19. Bernie,

        Skyscrapers are expensive. Like, really expensive. The cost of a 40-story building is much more than double the cost of a 20-story one.

        People build buildings that tall because there’s no other buildable land. That’s the only reason.

        If Bellevue’s zoning hadn’t been so strict, then there probably wouldn’t have been as many towers. But there still would have been density — maybe with denser ground coverage of 6-8 story buildings. And what, exactly, is wrong with that?

        The situation we have now arises solely because government places so, so, so many restrictions on what people are allowed to do with their own private property. We do not want to ram zoning down anyone’s throats. We want to remove obstacles. You are proposing that we keep them.

        Oh, and by the way, all of the world’s best walkable cities grew up way before zoning was even a glimmer in someone’s eye. Unplanned development gave us Greenwich Village, the North End in Boston, and most of Europe. Planned development gave us Toledo, Ohio. It’s planning that gave us the Eastside’s interminable sprawl; it’s the “invisible hand” that gave us Pike Place Market and Old Ballard. Strip malls and suburban office parks were unheard of before zoning restrictions outlawed cities.

      20. People don’t build skyscrappers only when there’s no other land. That doesn’t explain Dubai, or Las Vegas…

      21. I can explain Dubai and it has zero relevance to Seattle. Like wise the Stratosphere Tower has nothing to do with affordable housing.

      22. there are lots of things you never have to worry about as a renter. Roof leaking? Pipes burst? Not your problem.
        Ah, ignorance is bliss. You’re not paying for it. Right. 30 years down the road your still paying rent and the property owner has a paid off property. Think your rent is going to go down when their mortgage is paid off? Some people own where they live. Some people rent where they live. Somebody owns everywhere everybody lives. The idea that long term you’re going to come out ahead paying someone for what you could own; well, car salesmen love the lease option.

      23. There are financial tradeoffs to owning. (1) Your down payment is sunk for the lifetime of the mortgage and can’t be saved for emergency expenses (unemployment, medical bills, supporting elderly relatives). That instantly changes you from somebody with plenty of money for your needs to somebody living paycheck to paycheck. (2) If you lose your job and can’t pay your mortgage and lose your house, you lose all the money you put into it. (3) It’s harder to move to where your new job is, or to take a job in another city, or to move to another house that strikes your fancy or to get more/less room when your family grows/shrinks. (4) Houses and condos around here still cost more than they’re worth. (5) Condos in transit-friendly neighborhoods often have homeowners’ dues and taxes approaching half your rent or more, so where exactly is the bargain? (6) House prices go down as well as up, which makes it a risky investment if you plan to get a nest egg from it when you’re ready to move into a nursing home.

        If you can pay cash for the house, or know that you’ll want to stay in the same house until you’re old, or you plan to give the house to your kids for generations, then buying makes great sense. If not, you have to weigh the benefits of lower housing costs in the future vs tying up the down payment right now.

      24. [Mike] Mostly true, and renting certainly has advantages, but don’t overstate the case.

        (2) is false – you certainly lose the interest you’ve spent so far (true even if you don’t lose your house), and likely some other fees, and the value of your house probably drops at auction, but the money left over from the sale of your house after the bank is repaid is yours (though this could certainly be zero in the current housing market). (4) is false – houses cost exactly as much as they’re worth, by definition. (6) is somewhat false – a risky investment compared to what? Stocks go up and down, as do bonds, as does gold, as does the value of your money if you just stick it under your matress. Though there’s never a sure thing, real estate has traditionally been a reasonably good bet.

      25. [Andrew] Yes, some people like building giant phallic monuments. But average American cities are simultaneously much less dense and yet much taller than average European cities. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

        [Bernie] I didn’t say I’m not paying for it, I said it’s not my problem. If the roof leaks, it’s my landlord’s responsiblity to fix it. I pay for that privilege, but I can afford to do so, and I’m much happier spending my money on that than spending my time on maintaining a house.

        Again, it’s not for everyone, but for me, it works very well.

        [Matt] You’re wrong about #4. In a perfectly competitive market, say for widgets, there is a well-established price for a widget. But for housing, where units are relatively distinct, it’s harder to say what a fair price is. Anyway, the high vacancy rate of many new condo buildings, and the length of time that many houses have been on the market, suggests that an equilibrium price has definitely not been reached.

        Also, re #6, the risk is the lack of diversification. If you have over half of your net worth in a single asset, you’re much more vulnerable if that asset loses value.

        Mike is exactly right — whether to buy or own is a complex issue, and the correct answer is different for everyone.

      26. The value of every home sold is exactly the price paid. At least two people think so – the buyer and the seller, and those two people are far more qualified to decide the value than Mike is.

        Yes, some homes are listed for sale above their value. But there are thousands more listed close enough to their real value to end up in a sale (and they sell for their actual value).

      27. Matt: If you’re considering buying a home, and everything on the market is more than you’re willing to pay, then for you, those homes are overpriced.

        Again, just look around at all the condo “resets”, and massive vacancies, and conversion to apartments. New condos aren’t selling, because it’s not possible to find a price low enough for the buyer but high enough for the seller.

      28. You bring up two issues.

        1. Sure, and if I want to buy a container ship they’d all be overpriced for me. But that doesn’t mean they cost more than they’re worth. I appologize for being a bit pedantic on this point, but words have meaning. I consider homes in this city to be a good value, whether or not a given individual can afford one.

        2. Vacancies. This comes from the hope of the market “correcting” at some point. This is an expensive risk taken by the seller, since every month they have to pay the mortgage and upkeep on a property that nobody is living in. Over time these will all be filled. That said, just because vacancies exist doesn’t mean that there aren’t homes out there being sold, at their actual value, every day.

      29. When I say “overpriced”, I mean that I don’t think today’s prices are sustainable and people are in denial about that. It takes $20,000-40,000 to build a house, so what’s the rest of the $100,000 , $200,000 , or $300,000? People say it shows the high value of the land. I think people are going to realize sooner or later that they’re paying ridiculous prices for a spot of land, and are going to refuse to pay that anymore. The entire land + house cost $50,000 in the 1970s, $100,000 in the 1980s, $200,000 in the 1990s, and $300,000 now. Inflation hasn’t risen that much during that time. The house does not have 600% better walls and heating than it had then. Maybe it has gold-plated faucets. The number of buyers per house isn’t that much greater. So a big chunk of the price difference seems to be hot air.

      30. Here’s a pretty decent calculator for building costs. For a rough estimate a friend that is a contractor has told me $100-200 per square foot. My insurance agent recommended $200/sq-ft as a minimum for replacement value which incidentally is way more than the market value of the home but is pretty close to what it would cost to rebuild the same home to current code. Keep in mind that none of this includes the land which increases pretty much in relation to how close in you are.

      31. This discussion probably belongs on the SeattleBubble blog, but check out this chart.

        Seattle has become a productive, fairly wealthy city since the 70’s. It’s certainly possible for housing prices to plummet again, but only after incomes do. And if they fall back to the level of the 70’s we’re in a lot of trouble.

        Oh, and Bernie’s right about the cost of building a house – I don’t want to tell you how much my garage cost to build (hey, it has a green roof that extends the usable area of my yard), mostly because the memory brings me pain.

      32. Matt, that’s pretty cool that you have a green roof. I’ve been looking into doing that with our carport (which is ready for a reroof anyway. As for building, if we sell our first home which we are now renting but keeping use of a 600sqft shop/garage separated from the living space I’ll net about half what it will cost to build a nice shop out building here in Bellevue. And I’m really into recycled materials!

      33. We’re way, way off topic here, but here are some details of my green roof – it’s a veggie garden that, thanks to a steeply sloping yard and a new retaining wall, is only about 3′ over the level of my yard.

    2. When people agree with the urbanists, they are smart, progressive, brave, and forward thinking lovers of their neighborhoods. When people disagree with the urbanists, they are old, white, rich, NIMBY racists.

      Thus, it’s really not about what the people want, or about the neighborhoods. It’s about people following orders, and nothing else.

      1. Seattle Citizen, people will walk end-to-end down Ballard Ave (more than 1/2 mile) without thinking twice about it, or even noticing the distance.

        Those same people wouldn’t walk 200 feet to access something that feels like Fred Meyer.

        “Too far to walk” isn’t a distance, it’s a state of urban design.

    3. Well, first off; Pike Place exists because zoning protected it. DT Bellevue excelled because smart zoning created it. You’re simultaneously trying to blame sprawl on a lack of zoning and claim zoning is the antidote to sprawl. What you really want is everything zoned to your benefit. Sorry, no free lunch.

      1. You’re simultaneously trying to blame sprawl on a lack of zoning and claim zoning is the antidote to sprawl.

        That is the *opposite* of what I’m saying, and you know it.

        What d.p., and Anc, and Andrew, and I, and lots of other people are arguing for is removing restrictions. Right now, the government tells people what they’re not allowed to do with their land, and we want to change that.

        Bernie, this is my last post on the subject until you respond to this question. If I want to remove restrictions on land that you do not own, how is that infringing on your rights? And if you want to place restrictions on land that I own, how is that not infringing on my rights?

      2. When you change the zoning there are winners and losers. Developers are winners. People that want to sell see a bump in price and are winners. People next to the rezone can’t sell and are stuck with the change in what they had bought into. Add to that their assessed value will probably go up because speculators (aka Sisley types) will want to start buying adjacent property and there goes the neighborhood. In the case of Roosevelt, are there any SF homes affected other than the Sisley properties?

  2. Your comment that Edith Macefield’s home is “embedded in a condo development” will come as a surprise to Trader Joe’s, LA Fitness, the UPS Store, and the other commercial tenants of what is, in fact, a shopping mall. You might consider a correction so as to not undermine your otherwise strong argument.

    1. And as a Ballardite, who might be called a “NIMBY” based on criteria defined in this article, you are absolutely right. A lot of us were opposed to what is now called the Ballard Blocks, because it is a giant, box structure, with a huge parking garage, filled with run of the mill, Southern California chains. It is now the first thing you look at when driving across the Ballard bridge, and I for one think it’s an embarrassment. Nonetheless, a few of us do consider Edith a hero for sticking up to this cookie cutter development eye-sore.

      And on the Ballard NIMBY issue, let me clarify that there’s two types of “NIMBYs” in Ballard. There’s the standard “I’ve been here for XX-odd years and I’ll be damned if they build condos here” people And there’s the pro-density, anti-current-situation people.

      The second group is where I tend to align. For Ballard, what I see is a wonderful, unique neighborhood, that has the capacity, and willingness, to allow density. However, what we constantly see happen, is buildings get demolished, which have wonderful stores and restaurants (Dennys and Sunset Lanes will not be considered in this statement), only to be replaced by retail spaces, whose rent is too high to allow these unique businesses to survive, so we get stuck with chain phone stores, tanning salons and dry cleaners. In addition, these places are allowed less than one parking spot per unit, since the city is trying to advocate carless households, but transit has not increased in Ballard since I’ve started living there six years ago, so the buses are way overcrowded during rush hour, so people prefer to drive, which means overcrowded and dangerous arterials and side streets during rush hour (disclaimer: I bike and bus commute, but I do own a car, but never drive it).

      Now Roosevelt is definitely a situation of the former, as the article states, and should not be lumped in with pro-density Ballard “NIMBYs”.

      1. I wonder why you are so quick to label Roosevelt as the form of NIMBY you aren’t. I applaud your stance for sensible development and growth in Ballard and I too am disappointed in what you’ve ended up with. Our hope in Roosevelt is for growth which allows for the current and future small businesses to succeed without the need for national franchises and mega-footprints. Transit is still 10 years away from Roosevelt. Buses are already crowded. That the neighborhood plan for greater over-all density isn’t the same as one developer’s plan for his controlled lots should turn a light on for more than the people who live around here.

      2. @Anon

        Soooo you’re saying you want to keep Ballard poor and cheap, with lots and lots of parking, so that “unique businesses” can thrive…?

        In other words, you want Ballard to be a strip-mall?!

      3. Hi Anon,

        I’m also from Ballard and am confused by your post. Ballard has seen a monumental bloom in small business retail/restaurants over the past ten years. Ballard Blocks is not in any way representative of the development that has occured in the retail space — its a (lone?) chain driven space that unfortunately greets us with “LA Fitness” on the ride across the bridge. Almost everything else has been driven by small business development.

      4. …only to be replaced by retail spaces, whose rent is too high to allow these unique businesses to survive, so we get stuck with chain phone stores, tanning salons and dry cleaners.

        Anon is actually correct about this, although he’s only partially correct about developers desiring wide-fronted commercial spaces that can only attract certain types of tenants.

        Those tenant-limiting spaces mostly exist because of that mandated garage parking behind them, which limits the depth of the storefronts, thus limiting the ability to have extensive storage, or, say, full kitchens. Add to that the massive garage ramps and you have a recipe for broken street frontage, uninteresting businesses, and a failure to contribute to the pedestrian environment of the neighborhood.

        …but transit has not increased in Ballard since I’ve started living there six years ago, so the buses are way overcrowded during rush hour, so people prefer to drive, which means overcrowded and dangerous arterials and side streets during rush hour.

        Anon is correct here too. Though while he’s right to lambaste Metro, ST, and the city for their failure to keep the transit end of the density bargain, he’s wrong to blame lowered parking minimums. With L.A.-style off-street requirements, Ballard would have even more traffic and buses fighting an even more losing battle.

      5. That the neighborhood plan for greater over-all density…

        In the worst location, further from the expensive station.

        Keep spinning, and I’ll keep proving your resource-sucking selfishness.

      6. They say that doctors with a good bedside manner are sued far less often than brusque ones. I wonder how the subject was broached with Edith, or if it was just considered a done deal and therefore a hollow attempt to shove money at her without any real regard for the intangibles?

    2. Edith Macefield was not exactly a NIMBY as I understand the term. NIMBYs oppose upzoning an entire street or neighborhood, or the lot next to theirs, or they demand a (to others unwarranted) amount of open space. Macefield may or may not have done these things but it’s not what she’s known for. She’s known for refusing to sell her own house to a developer.

      NIMBYism is something different from this. It’s people trying to limit zoning to four stories or single-family to preserve a neighborhood’s “character”, or to preserve their view of neighboring SF houses, or to prevent a certain slumlord from profiting.

      I like the Ballard Blocks and its walkability. I’m glad there’s a Trader Joe’s and a gym in the area, and the Paradox all-ages music venue. The Ballard Blocks is much better than the nearby Fred Meyer — a horrible suburban standalone monstrosity with a sea of parking around all entrances. Between Fred Meyer and the Ballard Blocks are several smaller standalone monstrosities with a moat of parking around them. The Ballard Blocks is much better than those, and it gives me hope for a dense walkable neighborhood to form in that part of Ballard. (But the industrial land must be protected to ensure Seattle’s economic future.) The presence of Trader Joe’s and such allows people to walk/bike/bus within Ballard rather than having to go out of the neighborhood for those things.

      I lived at 65th west of 15th for a year, and worked in Ballard for four years before that. I left shortly before the Ballard Blocks went up, when the Hjarta & Co were being built. I left because I’d been laid off from my Ballard job, and I realized I was going outside the neighborhood for most things. I did shop at the Ballard Market and Fred Meyer and attended some shows in Ballard, but mostly I went elsewhere for entertainment, exercise and shopping. I love Ballard’s quiet atmosphere and the unpretentiousness of its older buildings. I might move back there when I’m older and can tolerate the slower pace better. Better transit on 15th and Market Street would certainly help.

      1. The Ballard Blocks is much better than the nearby Fred Meyer — a horrible suburban standalone monstrosity with a sea of parking around all entrances.

        I’m glad that monstrosity was there in December, when I needed Christmas lights. Glad for the parking too, because it was too far to walk. I guess that makes me a NIMBY. Guess what we NIMBYs do? Answer: We vote.

      2. The Paradox is no longer booking general-interest shows and has been fully integrated into the cult.

        You’re correct about the distortion and abuse of Edith Macefield’s intentions.

        She was old. She didn’t want or need any amount of money. She just wanted to finish living and then die in the home she had inhabited for decades.

        Which, by the way, was already essentially isolated from the world, the other houses having long been abandoned. She didn’t give a hoot about “neighborhood character,” since there was no neighborhood at all. She just didn’t want to be disturbed (although, in the end, she got along well with the people who were literally building “in her backyard”).

      3. Seattle Citizen, people will walk end-to-end down Ballard Ave (more than 1/2 mile) without thinking twice about it, or even noticing the distance.

        Those same people wouldn’t walk 200 feet to access something that feels like Fred Meyer.

        “Too far to walk” isn’t a distance, it’s a state of urban design.

      4. The Fred Meyer parking could be in a garage, with the store moved to the sidewalk so that there was a pedestrian entrance right near the sidewalk and the Burke-Gilman trail. That could have been done without losing any store space or parking spaces, and it would have left half the lot free for housing and another development.

      5. Apologies for my hastily worded speech. What I was getting at with the whole parking bit was: with lower parking requirements (less than 1:1 ratio), the streets are becoming a nightmare. The solution is zoned parking, to where these alleged “dense developments with incentives to not own a car” would get no allotments to the zoned parking. Because what happens now is that people circle and circle for spots, especially around the condo developments and townhomes. So I advocate lower parking requirements, but to really get people to ditch their cars, you need to take away any free parking they may try to wrangle and give some kind of worth-while transit that makes driving obsolete. The RapidRide D is a start, but we need more than that.

        As for Ballard Blocks, I couldn’t tell you a single person that walks there. Are you kidding? It has a GIGANTIC parking structure and mediocre bus availability; and where would you walk from, to go to Trader Joes and hope to bring your groceries home? There’s a few apartments and single family homes within a long walk, but it’s not in anyway within reasonable walking distance of a significant residential area.

        And yes, while there are still places for small businesses and restaurants to go into in downtown Ballard, please look at Hjarta and Leva, both on Market, and then tell me that the other giant condos are going to produce independent, small businesses and restaurants. This city really needs to approve these dense developments with stipulations that deter chain stores and encourage the businesses that give Ballard its soul. It just scares me that Ballard will just be a canyon of boring chains, much like what is becoming of Capital Hill. Businesses are what make or break a neighborhood.

        Again, I am for development and density, just not the kind that will turn Seattle into a bland and boring North Los Angeles.

      6. …give some kind of worth-while transit that makes driving obsolete. The RapidRide D is a start, but we need more than that.

        Obviously this is the crux of your point, and obviously I agree completely.

        That transit has lagged so far behind development, that RapidRide is turning out to be such a joke, and that there’s still a high risk we’ll wind up with some silly streetcar for ever and ever, is a near-criminal breach of the implicit contract of Ballard’s densification.

        This city really needs to approve these dense developments with stipulations that deter chain stores…

        This too. The way to do this (sorry, total-free-market STBers) is to carefully legislate street frontage specs, including the measurements of tenant spaces, rather than arguing incessantly over height caps, parking spaces, and “open space.”

        See: Vancouver, BC. They’ve become highly skilled at maintaining vibrant and human-scaled commercial street frontage in even the most vertical parts of their downtown.

        You need to take away any free parking they may try to wrangle…

        But here’s where you start to cause trouble. Firstly, a resident is a resident is a resident. You can’t start handing out zoned street-parking permits and start distinguishing “old” residents from “new.”

        On-street parking is public space; parking there for an extended period of time is not a right. That said, the closer you are to a busy part of Ballard, the more car ownership starts to seem like a burden, so the less likely you’ll want to be to keep a car around, especially one that you would have to find street parking for.

        I live in a building in Old Ballard with no parking of its own, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of my neighbors who own cars, and even they only own them because they’re needed for work). For the rest, the p.i.t.a. cars represent outweighs any desire for the easier movement they provide (an advantage that would be completely obliterated in Old Ballard if the city/transit agencies ever started to keep their promises on substantive transit improvement).

        As for Ballard Blocks, I couldn’t tell you a single person that walks there.

        I do. And everyone I know where I live does. It’s 2/3 of a mile, and all but the last 2 blocks are decent for a pedestrian.

        On the way back, laden with groceries, I always check OneBusAway and hope a 17 or 18 is coming, but about half the time I still walk home with my purchases. It’s really only 12 minutes.

        (None of which suggests that Ballard Blocks is a fantastically appealing development, or that Leary Way underpass is a fun and attractive place to go, just that walking to it is not only possible but commonplace.)

      7. …and mediocre bus availability

        BTW, what did you mean by this? As unappealing as 15th/Leary is, it does happen to be where most of Ballard’s transit (15/17/18) intersects. And the 28 is just a couple of blocks to the east.

        None of these routes is exactly reliable at all hours of the day, but the fact remains that you can get get from anywhere in Ballard to that particular location with a minimum of though and effort.

  3. Not sure I love the catch phrase (though the perfect post title), but a reasonable strategy. The trick is to get people to care about future people that don’t live there yet.

    I’ve always used the other benefits of density to try to bring NIMBYs over the fence. “Yes, we’ll lose some street parking, but if we ever want better bus service (or even streetcars, or light rail!) and more retail within a walkable distance, we’ll need more people living close to us.” (then go into the details of the project, and the reasons why this project is an appropriate place for more people)

    1. People, for the most part, move to neighborhoods they would like to live in, not to neighborhoods they hope to change. I never understand why the few try so hard to change the many for their own purposes.

      1. There’s an easy answer to that: “the many” are using too much. Oh, yes, “the few” are using too much as well, but they are using relatively less “too much” than the many.

        “The few” are not only advocating for people who have not yet moved to the city. They are advocating for people not yet born.

        Here’s a little though experiment for you, sir. Imagine all the people from the future who have no natural gas left to make fertilizer lined up in front of the NYMEX with buckos in their hands to buy in situ gas for extraction during the time they will live.

        How much do you think the gas to heat your stand-alone home with five sides facing the latest Arctic blast would cost? Does the figure $2000 a month scare you? $10000?

        Well that’s what it will be worth to them to eat some of the gas you’re burning.

        Yes, yes, I know, you may not have a gas heated home. Many or even most of our houses here in the Northwest are electrically heated at least partially from hydro either directly or through heat pumps. But if it weren’t heating our houses it could be used for other purposes or the gas we import from Canada to run turbine generators would not be consumed.

      2. Well, Anandakos, I’m not sure why you say that I use up too much energy. You don’t know me. Your position seems to be that you have a world view and can save the world. I work on a much smaller scale, am aware of my limitations and realize that I will never be president. So I work on consuming less (goods and energy) and have always advocated to my children and anyone that would listen to live close to where they work.
        The cost of getting from point A to point B will always be “whatever the market will bear.” It has little to do with the energy source or the vehicle one uses for transport.

      3. “have always advocated to my children and anyone that would listen to live close to where they work” Heh. Yet fight to keep anyone new from living in the city, where the jobs are. And fight to keep prices high. Assuming your children are just starting out on their own, can they afford their own single family home in Roosevelt?

      4. Mr. Roberts,

        Good for you for advocating and practicing sustainability. You propped up the standard Faux News straw man about “the few”, so you got lumped with the standard Faux News viewer.

        And now you’ve propped up another straw man: I have no desire, ambition, fantasy, illusion, hallucination, or goal to be President. I will, however, plead guilty to wanting to do a little bit to save the world. No matter how many Earth-like planets astronomers may infer — and maybe even “see” — none of us will ever go there.

        Humanity might someday mine the asteroids and maybe even scoop up hydrocarbons from Jupiter’s atmosphere, but it’s a long shot and a mighty thin reed on which to build a future.

        So whatever we might be able to do here and now on this planet to use less resources more wisely is a good thing.

  4. The whole arguement would make sense if there wasn’t vast areas zoned multi-story/mixxed use and multifamily left largely undeveloped. By pushing “dense” zoning out into single family neighborhoods it’s sucking potential development out of the areas already zoned and built to support density. It also removes the option for single family homes in city and pushes that market farther out into the ‘burbs. Nice try about the transit but the Link Station is being put where none is needed just because they needed a ventilation shaft on the way to Northgate. We know that ~80% of the new arrivals to the neighborhood are going to be using SOVs because, well, the city is too spread too thin already. Nothing wrong with keeping the options open in the future when it’s needed but when we’ve built up on all the surface parking lots in the CBD get back to me.

    1. Bernie,

      It can’t simultaneously force single family homes out of the city and reduce incentives to build denser housing. Upzoning can either “work” in that it enables dense development, or have no effect. It can’t do both.

      1. You’re wrong. Building tall multi family addresses a completely different market. You can build all the mopeds you want and it won’t appreciably alter the demand for SUVs even though both are primarily used to move a single person. The difference with real estate is that property is fixed in location. The demand balloon for SF will simply bulge out somewhere else. Conversely, under developed areas of multi-family and mixed use will be in direct competition with newly created zoning even if it’s in islands of SF and disjointed from jobs and current commercial zoning.

      2. “Conversely, under developed areas of multi-family and mixed use will be in direct competition with newly created zoning even if it’s in islands of SF and disjointed from jobs and current commercial zoning.”

        That’s why the city has a comprehensive plan.

      1. There is a shortage of single family in Seattle. That’s why it is perceived as “too expensive” by so many. And there are those that had foresight and bought years ago, and there are those with foresight and are buying now, and there are those that whine about it being too expensive and think that those who own single family homes are destroying the world and those poor unfortunates who know how to solve all problems.

        Hard to argue against the “pity me” ploy.

      2. Where are the new single family houses in Seattle going to be built? The only ways I can think of is subdividing larger lots into smaller ones to fit more houses in the same space or selling off park/public property to developers. What if they sold off the Roosevelt High School football field and Cowen Park to build more single family housing? I don’t think that’s an acceptable alternative either.

      3. Multifamily housing is “too expensive” too, and therefore in short supply. The official vacancy rate doesn’t count people who don’t even bother to look at the openings because they can’t afford them. So Seattle has a shortage of BOTH multifamily and single-family housing compared to the number of people who want to live in the city. But it’s easier and less expensive and less polluting to create more multifamily housing than single-family housing. That’s why Germany and other European countries have entire square miles where there’s no such thing as a single-family house, because it’s just not a realistic expectation for everyone to have a house in a city or inner suburb. If all of Seattle’s multifamily units were replaced by single-family neighborhoods, the geographical extension into the woods would be astronomical.

      4. Living in the city has always had a price premium attached to it. The denser the area the more expensive it is. The only way to create “affordable” housing is with public assistance. And tearing down existing housing to put up new housing no matter what form it takes will always up the cost of living for everyone in the area.

      5. [Bernie] Completely wrong. It seems like dense areas are more expensive, but that’s only because people build where the demand is. Limit building there, and home prices go up even faster.

        Overall, every extra home built in the city means one more family can afford to live here.

      6. “Affordable” is a slippery word in housing. Often it means subsidized income-restricted housing as you appear to mean, but it can simple mean that it fits one of many niches of people looking to trade off between size of housing, length of commute, and neighborhood amenities.

        In the last decade or so in the north U-District/Roosevelt area, several older single-family houses have been torn down to build car-court townhouses. So so you get roughly -1 1500 sq ft house and +4 2000 sq ft townhouses. Some people consider these “affordable” because each townhouse is half the cost that the old house was, mainly because of land cost.

        Alternatively that land could be used for say, 12 condos in a range of sizes (for example the Park Modern). Because of the higher quality construction in the condo building, the larger units are as expensive as townhouses but there are also smaller units that cost less, which adds “affordable” units to the neighborhood.

        And then there’s the large apartment developers, who require several lots and often build massive, 100+ unit buildings. Units in these buildings–even brand new ones–rent for much less than what a townhouse or condo payment would be, to say nothing of payments if you bought a single family house today. Feel free to check my work via craigslist, I’m intimately familiar with the facts. Seattle is extremely high on the Rent vs Buy Ratio index (second only to NYC in 2011, though only because SF wages are high). Since few individuals can create these huge projects, current and future renters need to be the advocates. Of course many people choose to buy for perfectly good but non-financial reasons, but I don’t think that should matter much in the affordable housing debate since that’s about money.

      7. I think this argument mainly misses the point. Seattle’s city government is trying very, very hard to discourage anyone from living here. The full impact of the current policies will be seen in 20 or 25 years, when Bellevue is much larger, wealthier, and more vibrant than Seattle, which will then be known as “Tacoma North.”

        You know those $7 tolls on 520 and soon on I-90? If I were Kemper Freeman, I’d be laughing all the way to the bank, because they will do more to spur growth on his side of the lake than anything else I can think of.

      8. Completely wrong. It seems like dense areas are more expensive, but that’s only because people build where the demand is.

        That doesn’t even make sense. It only seems like they’re more expensive because they are? People want to live where the zoning has create a neighborhood that people like. The row homes in San Francisco might support prices such that you can’t afford it but the idea of destroying them so that less desireable housing can be had cheaper is pretty silly. You’re ignoring the reality that there are still plenty of places zoned MF in Seattle that have hardly been touched. Like around the RV Link stations for instance.

      9. [Bernie] I’ll slow down for you until it does make sense. As a property becomes more desirable, and the value goes up, at some point it becomes profitable to tear the structure on that property down and build more units on that property. It’s not the new units that drive up the price. The price has been driven up, so it’s time to build units.

        Spend your money building condos where there’s little demand, and you get little return on your investment. Build condos where there’s high demand and you can make money.

        If there’s MF zones in the RV that haven’t been built up, it means the cost to buy, tear down, and rebuild is higher than the profit a developer would make by selling the new units.

        Let me know if this isn’t making sense to you. I’m happy to keep typing.

      10. If there’s MF zones in the RV that haven’t been built up, it means the cost to buy, tear down, and rebuild is higher than the profit a developer would make by selling the new units.

        Keep typing, you’re starting to see the light. It’s not if it’s there are. There’s is also a huge back log of projects that were started or permited that are sitting on hold. Current SF zoning isn’t holding back any of this development. If anything it’s a incentive to restart.

      11. By affordable I don’t mean the official “affordable” category. A lot of people don’t qualify for that but still find Seattle housing expensive. By affordable I mean a larger number of apartments under $1000. Most units built since 2000 have been going for $1200-1450. Adding a lot more units would keep the price from rising as rapidly and would start to pull the average down, because the average ultimately depends on the number of other vacancies available. (Not just the vacancy rate, but the number of units one person has to choose from, which would go up if the total number of units increases but the vacancy rate stayed the same.)

      12. Now you’re making no sense. You’re saying that because there’s a bit of unused zoning potential in places where it’s not economical to tear down and rebuild we shouldn’t upzone in desirable areas next to light rail where it is profitable to rebuild? Even you must realize that’s crazy.

      13. “A bit of unused zoning potential”, more like a plethora with stalled projects galore still in the pipe. You hit at the heart of the issue. The only reason the upzone in Roosevelt is being considered is because it’s an attempt to “make something” out of a hole in the ground. There’s nothing masterful about the plan rather it just creates a pocket of out of character density. It’s not going to save the rain forest. It’s just going to put more cars in a neighborhood that’s not and won’t become a jobs center or regional destination. What I don’t understand is why Roosevelt residents pushed for moving the station. Condemnation of the Sisley properties would have been a much smarter agenda.

      14. [Bernie] I certainly won’t claim that any result in Roosevelt would change the world. But we’re not talking about quantity of impact, we’re talking about quaility. You’re trying to force any new housing into areas were people don’t want to live (at least not so much that they’ll pay to tear down homes and build slightly more homes).

        People want to live in Roosevelt. Other people want to build on their own land in Roosevelt and sell homes to those people. Why do you insist on forcing these people to not do what they want – is it all really about blocking views at the high school?

      15. Nobody has to buy and tear down SF homes to build more MF in Seattle. The upzone isn’t about tearing down homes; it’s about changing the character of the neighborhood. If you want to live next to Link and be minutes from DT the fine folks at Othello Partners would love to talk to you today. Want to open a shop next to the station; even better. Right now the people who want to live in a SF home close in have very few affordable options. Pull up King County Parcel Viewer and look. The majority of Roosevelt homes are at or under the median value for all of King County. The only excuse for upzoning is because there’s going to be a light rail station.

      16. Sure, nobody has to do anything. You can keep forcing landowners in Roosevelt to keep their density low.

        “it’s about changing the character of the neighborhood.” Yes. It’s about rich landowners putting up a big “Keep Out” sign, and forcing other land owners to do what they want – and what they want is for nothing to change, ever. And Seattle stagnates as North Bend grows.

      17. It’s about rich landowners

        Well, I was wrong. It’s not all about trying to make the decision to put a Link Station here not quite as stupid. There’s a great deal of envy and class warfare too and Link is simply the tool to “bring down the man”. Then the surfs can live in apartments controlled by even richer land barons.

      18. Have you actually been to the Roosevelt area, Bernie? It’s not at all how you characterize it. The upzone affects very few parcels that are currently zoned for single family. The majority of the affected parcels are already zoned for multifamily and commercial, it’s not as if a new urban neighborhood is being plopped down in the middle of a quaint, isolated single-family neighborhood. Roosevelt is only 4 miles from downtown and a mile from one of the largest universities in the country after all, one could hardly expect a neighborhood like that to not become more urban.

      19. Are you implying that there is a shortage of single family housing in Seattle?

        This is my point exactly. What people want is the classic “small home” in the city. This was the original reason that people in the 80s moved to Seattle — because it was the last middle class city in America.

        What is a “middle class city”? Affordable homes. Real Neighborhoods. Low crime. Good schools. Nearby jobs. Public spaces like nearby parks with facilities that aren’t covered in graffiti. They want cars and garages and drive ways but they also want the option of nearby buses.

        The insanity of it is that even as the public shows a high demand for “Seattle style” living, all the builders do is give us polar extremes.

        They either want to force us to live vertically in skyrises that are “Seattle-esque” but not Seattle, OR they want to send us to remote suburbs into 5 bedroom air condos with no backyard and that are 100% car dependent.

        It seems like somewhere along the line they made a conscious decision that Seattle Must Be Destroyed, in the same way they have been trying to destroy the middle class, neighborhoods, public spaces of any kind, reasonable prices, reasonable taxes.

        The end result is combination of a gigantic land grab combined with overselling people things that they cannot afford and which are really not what they want.

        What should they build?

        They should build “More Seattle”.

        What do I mean by that? Just build the Seattle style in places other than Seattle in the state of Washington…Inland for example. Then hook it all up with HSR.

      20. Bernie,

        If I told you that you weren’t allowed to have a bicycle in your garage or a TV in your house because it would damage the character of my neighborhood, you would rightly tell me to get bent. It’s your property, and you have the right to do what you want with it.

        That basic principle of property rights is, in large part, the reason why Western democracies have been so successful, especially compared to centrally-planned Soviet economies.

        So why do you think that central planning is the right way to build a city?

        Over at Atlantic Cities, Ryan Avent has a great article on urban property rights. I think it’s really hard to argue with his basic premise. By seeking to “preserving their neighborhood character”, the residents of Roosevelt are in effect asking for a massive transfer of wealth from the rest of Seattle to them. If they want their small-town neighborhood in the middle of the big city, that’s fine… but they need to pay for it.

      21. Aleks, Aleks, Aleks, what I do in my garage has nothing to do with zoning. Renting out six 14′ travel trailers in the yard and running hoses to them for drinking water, that’s when the government needs to get involved.

        If they want their small-town neighborhood in the middle of the big city, that’s fine… but they need to pay for it.

        They did; that’s how they became the dreaded land barons. Why do you think those who haven’t have the right to take it away?

    2. The multifamily zones are undeveloped because of the mortgage meltdown and real estate slump. But it takes years for zoning to take effect, so you have to zone not only for what’s needed now but what will be needed in 10-20 years. Pugetopolis is still expecting a million more people by 2040, with several hundred thousand of them in Seattle. The zoning needs to be in place 10-20 years before it will actually be built out. Expanding multifamily zones by a few blocks around Link stations and transit-priority corridors is absolutely worth doing. We don’t need to upzone entire SF neighborhoods at this point, but SF blocks next to transit corridors really need to be upzoned.

      1. There are areas that have been zoned MF for decades and weren’t touched during the greatest boom cycle of a generation. You’re going to have to come up with something a little better than we’re “planning” 20 years out. It’s like “a rail system built for a 100 years from now”. That just illustrates a lack of planning when there’s no foreseeable need.

    3. Nice try about the transit but the Link Station is being put where none is needed just because they needed a ventilation shaft on the way to Northgate.

      Oh, so that’s why we’re spending hundreds of millions of extra dollars to put the station in the middle of Roosevelt rather than in the cheaper original location under the freeway!

      Sorry, but that cute little bait-and-switch on the part of RNA has proven them to be nothing but YIMBYBWIMISLBMPSANOESGTLNIOUIEs (“Yes In My Back Yard By Which I Mean It Should Literally Be My Private Station And No One Else Should Get To Live Near It Or Use It Ever”s).

      And, lest we forget, all of the density that Roosevelt “accepts” under the RNA’s plan is pushed back towards the freeway, the least desirable place for anyone to live, and also closer to the cheaper original station they rejected and further from the expensive one they demanded.

      …when we’ve built up on all the surface parking lots in the CBD get back to me.

      The core is not full of surface parking. There is a great deal on the peripheries. Despite them being zoned to allow large structures.

      So why is the surface parking there? Because it’s profitable.

      And why is it profitable? Because lot’s of people still choose to drive, most of the time.

      And why do people choose to drive? Because they can’t live and function on transit.

      And why can’t they live and function on transit? Because even our most ambitious transit investments are surrounded by oceans of single-family housing, limiting their worth to a lucky few.

      QED, mate.

    4. “but when we’ve built up on all the surface parking lots in the CBD get back to me.”

      The majority of those lots are owned by two families. All of the undeveloped parcels in the Denny Triangle (the most underdeveloped area of the city) are owned by one family, and were recently put up for sale.

      And it’s funny that someone who neither lives or works in Seattle says “we.”

  5. “Making the density argument about people rather than buildings must be the strategy we use…”

    That’s a very good point. Our disposition of buildings is (or ought to be) about what makes people comfortable and happy, which is partly determined by somewhat flexible cultural preferences and partly by our less mutable biological heritage.

    At least in the romantic confines of our minds our homes are a place where our stress is reduced, where we can recoup ourselves in peace. We think of our homes as that place where we can temporarily avoid many of the compromises we daily make in pursuit of “getting along.” The threat of our homes and hence our peace and sense of selves being impinged on by neighbors is arguably a fairly visceral matter, not necessarily susceptible to rational discussion. These feelings and instincts ought to be taken into account when talking of living with neighbors in relatively close proximity.

    Most of us understand that when we’re in a public space we can’t expect serene quietude; it’s not reasonable to demand that others sharing common space should adapt too closely to our personal wishes. On the other hand, when we’re in our “home” our expectation is that we should have affairs adhering more to our own personal preferences. Of course, the reality of what we actually experience in our domiciles lies along a continuum of probability. Living in close proximity to others means that maintaining our objective of domestic autonomy becomes to a greater or lesser extent more difficult than if we live more distantly space apart.

    Taking my own case, our single-family home is embedded in a tightly (by suburban standards) clustered group of five homes here in NE Seattle. Three of the neighboring homes are owner-occupied, the fifth being a rental and particularly close to our own home.

    Our homeowner neighbors are a predictable factor in our lives; we’re all pretty committed to making a long term relationship work across our property lines and none of us have any standout quirks that might lead to feuding or the like. However, the rental property for us is a bit of a stress point; rental tenants change on a fairly infrequent but irregular basis, bringing some uncontrollable spillover into our house. These rental tenants then become part of our lives to a greater or lesser extent depending on their proclivities and tendency to civility. Sometimes, at night, we might hear our neighboring tenant’s music while trying to sleep in our bedroom, or we might hear vehicles coming and going at “odd” hours.

    Our itinerant neighbors are nothing existentially threatening, but their overlap into our house degrades the utility of our home as the place where we can better control our environment, reduces our autonomy, increases our stress. Autonomy and stress reduction is the central objective of domestic living styles not intimately communal, so to the extent that our rental neighbors share their lives inside our home, the proper functioning of our home is reduced.

    How is all this relevant to Roger’s post? Truly dense urban living is much more intense than closely packed single-family homes; sharing walls and floors with others increases the risk to the serenity we want in our homes in a way that is quite challenging, both to those who live in failed attempts at multi-family construction as well as those builders who want to do properly functioning implementations of multi-family dwellings.

    Put crudely, emotionally successful densification should not include that you must listen to your neighbors copulating, hear the sound transmitted through a concrete slab of your neighbor with a healthy urinary tract getting rid of metabolic nitrogen compounds, share your neighbor’s entertainment choices, always know when margaritas are being made next door. Few of us are in the habit of inviting random strangers into our homes but to the extent that builders of multi-family dwellings fail to provide roughly equivalent privacy performance to that of single-family homes, we must either accommodate ourselves to random things happening inside our homes or choose something other than a multi-family building for our domiciles.

    Even as we hear pushback against densification of neighborhoods we often fail to really understand this loss of autonomy, as well as how excellent is popular understanding of how generally poor the response of architects has been to overseeing the construction of reasonable substitutes for single-family homes.

    1. There are some great points in this comment. Sound is a huge reason why people don’t want to live more densely. So what do we do about it? I’ve worked on high-end spaces that were so well insulated you couldn’t hear someone screaming in the next room – inside the same office using the same air conditioning system. We could certainly require a certain level of sound insulation in new construction. Or simply come up with a sound rating system, so that people know how well insulated their walls and ceilings are before moving in.

      Of course, this is a bit beside the point. Our city has no lack of people that want to move into dense housing, even given the current sound issues. Reducing sound transmission may increase demand for dense housing, but until we find a way to get past NIMBYs and build more housing demand isn’t the issue.

      1. Matt, there is a sound rating system; it’s called STC (Sound Transmission Coefficient), and it’s used in building codes as minimums for certain uses/occupancies. It’s a numerical value that is easily used for comparative purposes and can be reached prescriptively through various methods of constructing walls and floor/ceiling assemblies.

        Because it’s already referenced in the codes (IBC, etc.), it would not be difficult for local jurisdictions to amend their building codes to attain the sound levels you’re talking about. In most cases it would just be a matter of raising already existing mandates.

        Your point is exactly why I have no wish to live in a wood-framed multi-family structure, but would love to live in a steel and concrete one despite the price difference…and will hopefully do so when obtaining a new residence in Seattle. I currently split time between Seattle and South Carolina, where we just finished a nice screen porch…so yes, we still use them down here!…and yes, my SF home in Seattle is currently being rented out, in the same area of town Doug is talking about (and where Bernie once lived!). It was a way for me to keep my investment whilst providing a place to live for good people that could not have afforded to purchase that same house. (end my contribution to the veer off-topic!)

      2. Thanks Scott! Looks like Seattle requires (PDF here) an airborne STC of 45 between residences in the floor and ceiling and party walls. According to Wikipedia that’s “Loud speech not audible; 90% of statistical population not annoyed”. And for impacts we’re up to an STC of 50: “Very loud sounds such as musical instruments or a stereo can be faintly heard; 99% of population not annoyed.”

        That’s great – better than I thought. Wouldn’t mind that STC of 50 in party walls as well, but it’s good that the code exists.

      3. My apartment has a concrete floor above a parking garage, and only two walls adjacent to other apartments. One of these walls doesn’t matter — the kitchen wall. So the only way undesirable noise can be transmitted through the ceiling and the bedroom wall. It hardly ever does. My stereo is on an interior wall away from the adjacent walls, so I don’t think I’m bothering anybody. Where sound does come from is the alley, when drunk people are shouting on Friday or Saturday or the neighbors have a big party. But I only hear it once every couple months, even though there are lots of bars and clubs on the next block.

      4. @Scott Stidell

        Hmm, the point about construction totally resonates (haha!) with me.

        I’ve lived in various places in dense shared-structure housing. The absolute worst for “enjoying your neighbor’s daily activities” were smallish wood-frame buildings (surrounded by other smallish wood-frame buildings, all containing 3-4 units). The absolute best have been buildings made of stone or concrete, where for the most part, one couldn’t hear one’s neighbors at all, despite being much denser and larger than the aforementioned wood-frame buildings.

        I currently live in a 4-story apartment building with about 20 units, and it’s pretty much complete silence; I’m not sure I even have neighbors…

    2. Kinda OT but ironic as it is I wonder if growing up Deep South has predisposed me to being able to deal with some of the negatives of urban living. I spent YEARS sharing a bed with my little brother and for a couple weeks each summer all 9 cousins would share a King and Queen bed at our Mommy and Pawpaw’s (I think you Yankees call them grandparents). Between family and friends visiting it was honest to god not uncommon be sharing my bed a night or two a week even after my brother moved into his own room.

      Basically, I grew up with very little concept of ‘personal space’ and to be quite honest I really have a problem when I am socially isolated in my living space. My wife and I while coming from very different backgrounds (she’s from Seattle) both agree that our three year experiment with suburban living has been a failure. Now if only we can find a place in the city city we can afford.

      1. Swerving even farther off-topic along Anc’s vector, the urban residential Deep South underwent a rather sad cultural change w/the advent of central air conditioning. Prior to A/C, it was the norm during the warm months to spend time outdoors– particularly in the early evening hours, a great time for relaxation– on a well-furnished front porch, balcony, or just plain stoop if that was all that was afforded. Waiting for the house to cool down afforded folks the opportunity for all sorts of social connections that no longer happen.

        We lived in Midtown Atlanta for some time, a neighborhood where front porches had almost uniformly been closed in for extra living space once air conditioning became ubiquitous. Many of our neighbors we only met when a spectacular house fire across the street from our home resulted in a sort of spontaneous garden party in our front yard, in the wee hours of a summer morning. Bizarre, really.

        That said, in recent years there’s been a trend to reopen porches. Hooray!

      2. Ummm… We didn’t just hang out there during the early evening we SLEPT out there during the summer.

        To keep moving OT my best friend lived in my great grandparent’s old place. I’ve slept on the same porch my grandmother and mother slept on.

    3. I live in a SF neighborhood, and the best thing that ever happened was when the whackjob who owned that rental house died, and his estate sold the place to some people who fixed it up and now occupy it. Gone is the revolving door of 20-something tenants whose principal contribution around here was noise.

      Just try calling the cops for a noise complaint. It’s usually better to have an owner occupant as a neighbor. Not always, of course. Some owners are horrible neighbors. But, on average, if they own it they care more.

      As for density, as soon as the places zoned for multifamily have been built out, then we can talk about converting SF zoned neighborhoods. I can think of a few of them near where I live that I wouldn’t object to rezoning. But with the urbanist group, it goes much farther: They have a real resentment of SF dwellers. We are too old, too white, too rich, too resistant to having a 50-story building next door and a 24-hour tavern down the street.

      And the streets in front of our houses? If we or our houseguests should happen to park there, then the city is somehow “losing revenue” because the highly popular Mayor McGinn hasn’t yet convinced the city council to charge $4 an hour. Folks, if you’re trying to win friends and influence people, you’re failing badly.

  6. For the “transit advocates,” it’s really not about moving people. It’s about telling them how to live. You’ve turned all of this upside down: Rather than crafting a city and its amenities to serve the people’s needs and desires, you want to force the people to fit a city of your design.

    Transit is just a means to a larger end, which is basically the exercise of power over the lives of others. Schemes of this kind never get too far in America. You’ll fail, Roger. To the extent that you succeed in making Seattle undriveable and unliveable, people will simply vote with their feet, wheels, and dollars and locate elsewhere in the Puget Sound.

    You need look no farther than Portland as the example. The urbanists love Portland, but net job growth in the city has been zero for more than a decade. All of the area’s growth has been in the suburbs, mostly beyond the reach of the vaunted TriMet and trolleys.

    Those suburbs are now starting to opt out of rail expansion altogether, and the system itself is showing the first signs of what will soon become a financial death spiral. The same fate awaits Seattle and light rail. Naturally, you will blame anyone (else) you can. The mistakes are never our own.

    1. Seattle Citizen

      While Transit advocates tend want things like smart growth and walkable urban environments (call it social engineering if you to) it really is about moving people from place to place efficiently… preferably without crapping on the environment.

      Light rail and subways are used all over the world, I don’t know why people in this town pretend we are inventing the wheel. Given time (usually about 20 years) they both justify their capital costs and operate for less money per ride than ANY other mode.

      Suburbanists are losing – new growth is solidly trending towards cities. We need systems to deal with the new density. If you don’t see that in Seattle… I have no idea where you are looking.

      1. Actually the last census was pretty clear. New growth is trending toward small cities that have been born from suburbs. The trend is present right here in Puget Sound where Snohomish County recorded the highest rate of growth. As for the investment in subways paying off in 20 years what systems are you referring to? Because it’s cheaper to move the people than by bus doesn’t mean it’s paid off the huge cost of construction. And if all a rail system does is move development away from central areas better suited to public transit then it’s a loss in both money and land use.

      2. New growth is trending toward small cities that have been born from suburbs.

        Absolutely right…the numbers don’t lie.

        The only area of significant growth right now is south of King County…way south…Oly area…Tumwater and so on.

      3. 2000-2010 includes both a massive suburban sprawl trend and the trend I’m talking about. How much suburban development is happening right now? Vancouver, for one. Including capital costs. Less than busses, way less than cars.

    2. People like you are the ones that are “forcing” people to live in a certain way, not us.

      If someone doesn’t want to pay X amount to live in an apartment they won’t. But if you and other NIMBYs stop up zones from occurring you’re physically limiting the housing supply within the city. The first is called giving people choices, the second is call “social engineering” as you like to put it.

  7. In some dense, the suburbs have more retail density than the “city” — we just manage it differently.

    For example, look at the closeness of the stores within the enclosed walkways of Southcenter. Very dense. And people use personal transit (cars) to come from a wide region to shop in the density.


        Abusive ad hominem (also called personal abuse or personal attacks) usually involves insulting or belittling one’s opponent in order to attack his claim or invalidate his argument, but can also involve pointing out true character flaws or actions that are irrelevant to the opponent’s argument. This tactic is logically fallacious because insults and negative facts about the opponent’s personal character have nothing to do with the logical merits of the opponent’s arguments or assertions. However, verbal abuse in the absence of an argument is neither ad hominem nor a fallacy.[5]


        “You can’t believe John when he says the proposed policy would help the economy. He doesn’t even have a job.”

      2. I know what you were referring to. You were referring to the equivalent of 4 square blocks of single-usage space, surrounded by 10 square blocks of nothing but asphalt, and which not a single person can reach without traversing miles of roads.

        When you remove a single complex from its surrounding context for the sake of a specious argument, it’s a crime against math.

        When you redefine something to mean the opposite of it’s actual meaning, it’s a crime against language.

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