I love this  Slate article so much I wish I’d written it myself, but the fact that it was written by Matthew Yglesias makes it even better. Even better than that, I have written posts just like it here, here, and, especially here in my “Density is People” series. The article makes a point I’ve made over and over again, we need a party of growth and development:

If U.S. cities had regularized party systems each city would probably have something like a “growth and development party” that pushed systematically for greater density. Its members and elected officials would, of course, have idiosyncratic interests and concerns that would sometimes cut across the main ideology. But the party leaders would be able to exercise discipline, the party activists and donors would push for consistency and ideological rigor, and it’d be off to the races. Instead, most big cities feature what really amounts to no-party government in which each elected official stands on his or her own and overwhelmingly caters to idiosyncratic local concerns rather than any kind of over-arching agenda. But different institutional processes could change this, and create a dynamic where growth, development, and density are more viable.

That sums up Seattle, a city with “no-party government,” catering to “idiosyncratic local concerns rather than any kind of over-arching agenda.” Some of tried to buck this at the end of 2009 by organizing something called “The Party of the Future,” even raising funds for a poll that grabbed headlines for a while.

I threw together a sort of an open memo to the development community called “Toward an Ideology of Growth.”  I used it as the basis for Density is People. Organizing a sustained pro-growth and pro-density political movement is what we need.

If successful the outcome of this effort wouldn’t simply be a few taller buildings here and there, but a true transformation of local culture. Remember, this is a part of the world that still hasn’t gotten over being screwed by the railroads in the 19th century; memories are long, necks are stiff, and the politics are passive.

But it’s worth the effort. Otherwise we will truly become the Mossback City, locked post World War II land use patterns favoring an entitled single-family class of land owners with no financial interest in change.

Occasionally as a writer I feel like I am one of those people we see from time to time on our busy streets talking to themselves. “Are they using a blue tooth headset,” we wonder, “or are they crazy?” The same, I guess, applies to bloggers. We can often measure ourselves by whether anyone is listening—or in our case reading—to what we spew into the interwebs. I am not crazy. We need a Party of the Future and we need it yesterday.

87 Replies to “Wanted: A Party of the Future”

  1. Interesting ideas here. However, a caution: so far the votes among urbanist-friendly Seattleites do not appear to comprise a majority of the electorate. Some of this is an organizing and turnout issue. But some of it also reflects the fact that Capitol Hill and other similar neighborhoods are not yet dense enough or populated enough to overcome the 20th century-defending ideologues in the North End or West Seattle.

    I worry that urbanists get locked into a false binary – that it’s density vs sprawl. I’m not at all here to defend sprawl, and am very glad that the NIMBYs lost the Roosevelt rezone fight. On the other hand, urbanists sometimes lock themselves into a self-limiting political agenda that excludes potential allies outside the dense urban centers. A politics of urbanism cannot simply be defined as ramming density and neoliberal transit policy down everyone’s throat. That approach is a guaranteed loser. There aren’t the votes for it in Seattle.

    An urbanist politics has to play divide-and-conquer. We can’t simply go up against a unified suburbanist Seattle. We have to start picking them off. And sometimes that means putting common sense politics above urbanists’ own ideologies.

    My own pet issue – opposition to basing transit routing decisions solely on data and on a desire to maximize ridership – is a good example. There are communities up in arms over Metro route revisions, upset that they are losing their transit service. Many of them use transit differently than a dense urban core would use transit. That doesn’t mean their use of transit is illegitimate – “milk runs” should not be a pejorative. There is nothing inherently wrong with little old ladies in Leschi depending on the #2 to get to and from the grocery store during the day. In fact, that is actually helpful to an urbanist agenda. Local transit coverage is not a threat to improving service elsewhere in the city.

    But by defining those defenders of existing routes as hostile enemies, urbanists are alienating potential political allies. If those voters want to keep their transit, then a reasonable compromise is to insist they help fund rail and better bus service on the dense corridors.

    Development politics can function the same way. A lot of single-family neighborhoods want and deserve sidewalks. Perhaps that should be linked to their support for making it easier to build density in Seattle.

    Many readers here would object to this approach. But if you’re going to have an effective urbanist politics, those are the kind of deals you will have to cut in order to divide the opposition and advance your agenda. If the goal really is a political movement, then you’re going to have to think like one, and find ways to grow the coalition. Otherwise we’ll just see the same fights as before, and as of right now urbanists lack the raw numbers to win on their own.

    1. Will,

      I think a lot of your thoughts are interesting, but I’m not sure how one negotiates with an electorate. There’s no enforcement mechanism that would induce voters to vote for a measure they don’t support, in the hope that someone else will vote for something they do support.

      In a system where elected leaders make the decisions, this kind of dealmaking and coalition building is possible. But we don’t have that.

    2. Will,

      Thanks for the comments. I would associate myself with most of them.

      In terms of a coalition and the electorate I think you’re right, there is no “Density Majority” out there. But that could be said of many powerful and successful political movements.

      I support same sex marriage even though I am very unlikely to need it for myself. I doubt that a majority of people would. That effort has been successful not by knocking on doors, but by knocking on the conscience of elected officials–and backing it with political money and candidates.

      We don’t need lots of grass roots here. What we need is a small agenda, lots of money, and a relentless effort to hold elected officials accountable. If you work and vote against the Roosevelt rezone you will no longer be a Councilmember, period.

      The effort to topple those people may have nothing to do with density, but may be an independent expenditure campaign that hits hard on other issues.

      1. This makes a lot of sense to me – we’ve learned pretty clearly at the national level that a movement will not be effective unless it can punish electeds who go against that movement’s values. A targeted IE with a focused message can have a big impact.

      2. Roger, what you are describing has less to do with the form of government or method of voting, and more to do with the strategy of campaigning.

        I assume you are familiar with the Industrial Areas Foundation. They have a local offshoot in Austin (where I used to live) called Austin Interfaith. That group holds “accountability sessions” before each election in which they want to throw their weight. They invite the “electable” candidates to come answer a serious of yes/no questions, and keep a large chart of who gives the answers they want to hear, who waffles, and who gives the answers they don’t want to hear. They turn out a thousand or so people to be in the audience. They then organize a door-to-door effort (kind of like Labor Neighbor) to tell their targetted neighborhoods who is for and against their agenda. It’s right out of the Organizing for Social Change: A Manual for Activists in the (whatever the latest edition is) playbook. When AIF turns out voters in East Austin (who tend to be poorer, less frequent voters), they swing Austin city elections.

      3. The lesson of same sex marriage’s success is that of knocking on the conscience of the voters. Americans have proven again and again that they can look beyond their own parochial interests. So far, it has only been proven with regard to equality for all – racism, sexism, and the other isms. I’d like to see more emphasis on principle over individualism in other areas as well.

    3. Great comments Will,

      My issue of concern is that we have overlapping systems that are not accountable to or for each other and thus planning is disjointed and potential synergies are lost. For example, the failure to couple transit planning with Land Use decisions on a region wide basis results in the Roosyhood disaster, the lost opportunity for density in the North HCT alignment etc. How this relates to the individual voter is complex given our political system here. But, overall, I appreciate that Washington State has an electoral system that de-emphasizes party politics because I’ve seen first hand what party machines do in corrupting governments and whole swaths of the electorate.

      After living for 15 years in the ChicagoLand area with an entrenched mayor sitting on top of a very corrupt machine that could certainly deliver votes and discipline people into courses of action, I find Washington’s system very refreshing because it becomes about ideas rather than ideology and it becomes about the quality of the person being elected rather than a ticket put forward by a nameless faceless machine.

      But, that does not mean that we don’t have issues of corruption here because it became patently clear during the Deep Bore Tunnel fight what depths of depravity the moneyed interest sunk to get what they wanted. It would be useful if progressive organizations collaborated on de-cloaking those interest that harm progress in our region.

      1. People have been wondering who benefited from the DBT since the backroom deal was made. It *is* mystifying. Tunnel drilling companies perhaps, as you say.

      2. Deep Bore Tunnel winners:

        (not necessarily in order of value)
        #1 Property owners just to the East of the Tunnel now own view property.
        #2 The city, taxes on that property just climbed with that increased value
        #3 Auto salesmen/dealers/repair shops: The tunnel is another fix for the auto centric transportation system.
        #4 Engineering firms, Tunnel diggers, construction workers: All high paying jobs for years out of this project.

        #1 Those who would have spent that money to build a fixed rail system from Ballard to West Seattle with that same money.
        #2 Pedestrians and Bicyclists, the tunnel is still going to dump 40K cars onto already crowded streets but has no money to mitigate this.
        #3 Bus riders, more reasons to ride the bus, but no more service.
        #4 Drivers who used to get on/off at Seneca St now are on the surface streets (see #2)
        #5 Seattle Taxpayers. There is rarely a project of this size which doesn’t exceed it’s budget by significant amounts. The state is broke, it will look to the rich city which benefits from this tunnel and take the money from them one way or another. There is no other source of money.
        #6 Property owners in West Seattle & Ballard, who instead of having fast direct access to the city via fixed rail, will have years of construction, followed by a tolled tunnel and congestion. (After all more roads lead to more congestion, and this one being only a 1.5 mile doesn’t really increase the capacity.)
        #7 Fixed rail advocates, we are digging another tunnel, which in fact Seattle does need, but we need it for fixed rail through the city. As soon as LINK is built out to the East, we really will want a tunnel to move the people who come in from Ballard and West Seattle.

        Did I miss anyone?

      3. Winners
        #5 City residents who are afraid that the 24 stoplights on the boulevard would increase their travel time. Northwest Seattle drivers, and really all North Seattle drivers, like having a second freeway to the airport and south end for when I-5 gets clogged up. Southeast Seattle drivers got on board because they were afraid that if the Viaduct traffic moved to I-5, it would make I-5 even slower.

        That’s why the public supported it beyond the narrow interests of the financial beneficiaries. As they see it, not having the tunnel threatened their driving way of life.

      4. I would venture a guess that the people in the shadows are none other than “the Road Builders” e.g. all industry inputs (engineering, cement, construction, infrastructure, finance, insurance, real estate, legal) that build roads, freeways, and supporting infrastructure. They control a vast amount of State resources annually. More resources than the state pays for education which is supposed to be the State’s paramount interest. (ya, ya, constitutional revenue constraints not withstanding)

        Indeed, they are so much in control that the State spent $1 billion in planning and engineering on the DBT before it was even legally or formally approved.

        If one wanted to run a political thought experiment, try proposing a moratorium on all new road building projects as a means for the State to balance its budget and see how fast one is made a pariah by this machine.

  2. Lot to talk about here, but one thing for you to think about: whatever ails our manufacturing sector, there is an extremely dynamic and creative part of it which is very much alive, much like new undergrowth in an old and decaying forest.

    Completely unrepresented by current political system. When the people owning and manning the small machine shops- including, lately, distilleries- finally get their political expression, many things will change.

    Including, I think, the things that bug both of us about the land use of the last sixty years.

    Tactically, right now I’d rather go after the two major parties at the grass roots level- the exact way the worst of the Southern Democrats got the Republican party. Thing I like best about this approach is how hard I think early success would shake the system.

    And please be careful about making an idol out of the concept of “Density”. It’s like we’re going to soon see a statue of a goddess of it. Where you think intelligence, economy, and solidarity, other people think “Feedlot!” Including food full of antibiotics.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Mr. Dublin,

      You are obviously a smart man, probably a believer in science and the facts. Many of us are But that’s exactly why we need an idol, a symbol, and a slogan.

      The NIMBYs have their “every Edith Macefield has her castle” routine for opposing what we’re trying to do. They insinuate little children playing in the front yard, picket fences, and the Beaver.

      While the word “density” sounds awful, I think we need to stick with it. It’s what we’re for. Obviously, however, we need more than the facts. If facts won social change campaigns slavery would have ended a hundred years before it did, woman would have had the vote in 1889 rather than the 1920s, and marijuana would be sold legally and taxed.

      Let’s turn that image of the “feedlot” into “street food lot.”

  3. If you want idiosyncratic local concerns to rule the day, try single-member districts.

    If we had a party system, the city council would be full of Democrats, and nobody else.

    Cambridge, MA, is a good model of how we can have proportional representation, and it still results in the formation of two municipal quasi-party tendencies competing for the balance of power, but both tendencies are well represented on the city council, and new tendencies can get represented if they can align over 10% of the voters behind their slate. There is a link to the explanatory brochure on the lower right of the Cambridge elections page.

    This is the more modern voting system I’d like to see implemented in Seattle. Unfortunately, it takes election department heads with basic computer science comprehension to be willing to consider it. For voters, it is really straightforward. All the candidates run in one pool, and you just rank them.

    It brings the benefits of districting, in that candidates can concentrate their campaign in certain neighborhoods or target certain audiences, while not bringing in the use of gerrymandering, whereby the political clique in charge designs the outcomes of elections and the balance of power on the governing body before the general public casts a single vote.

    1. I think it’s a really a shame that it’s not possible to create different parties in localities, like Seattle, where the Democrat/Republican divide isn’t interesting or decisive. It would help get coherent policy outcomes if voters could rely on informative party tags instead of having to do a ton of legwork to find out where candidates stand.

      1. Brent,

        I think a conversation about methods of electing people is a good one. But, with respect, I think what you’re talking about is a gimmick.

        Let’s face it, we can’t keep trying to trick ourselves into doing the right thing by using wild electoral systems. We already have them; consider the electoral college.

        What we need is a different form of government. As I have pointed out before, we have too many elections, too much voter input, and too much meddling by politicians worried about re-election.

        Let’s have 49 boroughs in the city of Seattle with single representation. Let that body run the City through appointed department heads. Let the leader of that body form a government with the blessing of a Mayor elected to a single 10 year term.

        In other words, we need a unicameral parliamentary system with governments that can get at least 5 years to execute an agenda. We need a government that can do its thing without constant interruption by having a third of the legislative branch up for election every two years.

      2. There is nothing “new” in what you just described. It is the system of most other US cities that can’t get it together in controlling sprawl or doing decent transit, except for that part about electing a mayor for ten years, which will never fly.

        And it is a gimmick. It’s Tammany-Hall-style ward healing brought to a smaller scale.

        Increasing the number of districts, BTW, only further distorts the balance of power and further makes the populace feel disenfranchised.

        Let’s not reinvent the flat tire.

      3. Martin? Want to make that possible, you have to switch to an election system which isn’t affected by Duverger’s Law. The standard first-past-the-post is badly affected by Duverger’s Law; so is “instant runoff voting”, so it doesn’t work either.

        Approval voting works to avoid Duverger’s Law when electing a single candidate, and is arguably both the simplest and the best. Range (Olympic style) voting works too.

        Single Transferrable Vote works when electing a council. Party proportional party list voting also works for electing a council. There are others (reweighted range voting has some technical merit) but they’re computationally even messier and less tested.

      4. Range voting is the most difficult system for voters to figure out how to cast an effective vote. Approval voting isn’t much better in that regard.

        I’ll see your single-criterion Duverger’s Law, and raise you the five-criteria Arrow’s Theorem (in which no voting system can comply with all five simultaneously).

        But we can’t expect the masses to have to learn game theory in order to vote. (Of course, they already do this, in the simplest of ways, by bypassing “unelectable” candidates to go straight to a candidate they think has a chance of winning.)

        What Nathaniel is proposing, under range voting, is that the voter has to assign a number, say between 1 and 100, to each candidate on the ballot. You can easily see why that is a whole lot more complicated, from the voter’s perspective, than simply ranking candidates in order of your preference.

        But our system, in which we have to choose just one candidate out of a list, is a horrible waste of taxpayer money, given the minimal amount of information the voter gets to offer. It belongs back in that age Citizen harkens back to, when trains ran on coal power, wooden tracks, almost entirely at- or above-grade, and certainly not above 200 km/h.

      5. Duverger’s Law is irrelevant to Seattle politics, which has non-partisan elections and in any case would be dominated by the Democratic Party if it were partisan.

    2. “Cambridge, MA, is a good model of how we can have proportional representation, and it still results in the formation of two municipal quasi-party tendencies competing for the balance of power, but both tendencies are well represented on the city council, and new tendencies can get represented if they can align over 10% of the voters behind their slate. There is a link to the explanatory brochure on the lower right of the Cambridge elections page.”

      Cambridge managed to get proportional representation in the 19th century reform wave, and is very lucky and wise to have tenaciously retained it.

      Most democratic countries in the world have proportional representation; the US is a backwards outlier in using single-member districts and first-past-the-post.

  4. There is little doubt looking backward that what we have is a system based on “post World War II land use patterns favoring an entitled single-family class of land owners with no financial interest in change.” The telling thing is that last phrase- how would a change to district representations affect the financial interest of the class of land owners? I suspect that there could be one or two districts that had a majority of residents outside of that class, but the other districts would inevitably have a majority made of SF landowners, who are themselves more likely voters to boot.

    I would suggest that keeping the open system as the overall popoulation natuarlly shifts to non-SF residents holds more hope for advancing an agenda focused on improving transit communities. Right now we are at the tipping point demographically, and mobilizing voters is key. Owners tend literally have a vested interest in aplace, whereas renters have to adopt that view to have the same level of covisction. Maybe some sort of ad hoc party could create that mindset among the the multifamily community. I suspect that as people who have spent their lives in the SF world and are used to having power move into retiment communities, there will be a natural shift in what they want to see as City priorities. Maybe they will become the nurse logs of the new urbanism in Seattle.

    1. Consider the math of re-gerrymandering and densification. The first time districts are drawn, there would be a small revolution at city hall. The next time would be in 2021, when districts would be drawn to last the next ten years. People who live in SFH neighborhoods would tend to have a fairly stabile number of people represesented per representative. Upwardly-growing neighborhoods would tend to increase dramatically in population, and end up with a lot more people being represented per reprentative.

      I’m afraid districting, even with the most well-intended lines, skews city hall against the Party of the Future over time.

      1. . Upwardly-growing neighborhoods would tend to increase dramatically in population, and end up with a lot more people being represented per reprentative.

        Um, no. Such districts would be unconstitutional. Proportional representation demands that each district contain the same number of people within a small tolerance.

        “Gerrymandering” refers to drawing districts to break up voting blocs, usually along party lines. In this case, it could be that the densest parts of Capitol Hill are broken up into several districts with surrounding single-family neighborhoods so that the pro-density advocates would be a minority in each district.

      2. Matt L,

        Do you have case law to cite that a district that is constitutional at the time of a census can become unconstitutional later on due to excessive population growth compared to other districts within a city, county, or state?

      3. Okay, I missed that you were talking about the period between redistrictings. Sorry.

        But what you’re saying doesn’t make sense. So folks in rapidly densifying areas end up with diluted representation in the short-term. But in the long-term, the fact that a greater share of the population lives in dense areas only bodes well for the “Party of the Future.” The fact that their power doesn’t grow as fast as population doesn’t mean it isn’t still growing.

        And with 4-year terms and the fact that the denser an area gets, the slower its percentage change in population, I don’t think it’s nearly as big a problem as you suggest.

      4. You’re talking about two different things. The districts must be drawn every ten years to each include an equal number of voters according to the last census. Gerrymandering means manipulating the district boundaries to dilute opposition voters. The federal government disallows gerrymanders that harm minorities, but is powerless against other gerrymanders. If the population in one district increases more than in another district during the ten years, members in the growing district lose individual influence, but the district will have to be split at the next ten-year mark. This restores the individual’s influence, and if the former district overwhelmingly favored certain interests, that influence would increase.

  5. Some people have already touched on it in their comments but I think the fact that as a nation we have a two party system really doesn’t help. In Seattle all council elected are Democrats, in Bellevue all are Republicans sans one. As you point out, after those affiliations are gone, its hard to know who believes what unless you look at endorsements.

    If someone has the backing of the DSA they have the business/money interests behind them. If someone has the Port/Unions behind them they have labor. If someone has CNC/Neighbohood Councils backing they have the “old guard” behind them. Great City/Sierra club is more of the “new guard”. Etc. etc.

    Its funny because in a lot of ways this reminds me of ASUW elections. Every year there would be two or three slates of candidates for all of the positions. You would typically have the frat/sorority slate, then a young democrats slate, and then an alternative slate. You still had to do some work to figure out who was who, at least for the two big ones (frat and YD) but it wasn’t that hard.

    1. The city’s de facto tendencies are more insidious than the Greeks. We have the party of candidates who hire Christian Sinderman (which now dominates City Hall), the party of candidates who hire Cathy Allen (which, thankfully, is now down to just Jean Godden), and the GDIs like Nick Licata, for whom I have the highest respect even when I think he has lost his way on densification/growth issues.

    2. In Bellevue, Councilmembers Stokes Balducci are Democrats. and I would argue Councilmember Chelminiak is nominally a Democrat as well.

    3. Better to have the party affiliations upfront, isn’t it? (“Port/Union Party”, “CNC/Neighborhood Council Party”, etc.)

      Well, that doesn’t happen in a system afflicted with Duverger’s Law. So you have to change the electoral system one way or another.

  6. We already have that. The Party of those People Endorsed by STB, and the the Other People. And I always vote on party lines :)

  7. Seattle was a success because it was a city that wasn’t a city.

    This is something the densists of the world never understood.

    Seattle was a “middle class city”, meaning it had good neighborhoods, not big skyscrapers and anonymous condos.

    The imperial powers that want to take your park, chew it up and sell it back to you at five times cost have been grinding away at Seattle, eating it up, digesting it, and, well…you know what comes next, and what it leaves.

    Transit-Density advocates in my book are about the level of banksters and Bernie Madoff. Con men and fraudsters.

    I would love to see Seattle growing down and out rather than up and in…spreading to Inland Washington. I would rather see more two bedroom homes in the suburbs, with wider plots and little backyards and rock walls than 5-bedroom air condos with draining $500 a month HMO fees and 2 feet of space between neighbors.

    They say every pendulum swings…but this one has been stuck. Maybe the old guard is clinging to it with all their might…so it doesn’t snap back into their heads.

      1. Glenn, for one, understands it. He’s one of the people holding the pendulum in the Roosevelt neighborhood so that the free market doesn’t bring it back the other way and unleash a torrent of new housing around his private train station.

    1. That version of Seattle may have worked in the temporary and short-lived conditions of the 1980s and 1990s. But those conditions are gone now, gone forever. The 21st century middle class requires density to exist. There’s no more room to build single-family homes, so they will increase in value and price out those who weren’t lucky enough to be alive when prices were affordable. With rising oil prices, the suburban model that so many people identify as being essential to a middle-class lifestyle is no longer affordable either. Most defenders of lesser Seattle are unwilling to admit these truths.

      Without density, Seattle will simply become a city for the rich and the old. Everyone else will be forced out to somewhere else, with the Emerald City being under lock and key, unattainable to what we once called the “middle class.”

      1. Um, the new “dense” buildings are hideously expensive. A developer’s dream, but not anyone else’s.

      2. It’s always somewhat more expensive to build solid multistory buildings than to build stick-built junk houses.

        But that’s not what you mean by “hideously expensive”, is it, Seattle Citizen? Because more expensive construction costs are certainly not a developer’s dream.

        No, you mean the *rents* in them are expensive. Well, buddy, that’s because *there aren’t enough of them*. They’re really popular and there aren’t enough of them, so supply and demand == high prices.

      3. Many young people, and others, opt for the cheapest apartment they can get as a matter of need and convenience until they can afford what they want, i.e., a single family home. To say that the SF class is nothing but the rich and the old is completely wrong. Get out of your apartments and look into the neighborhoods. There are plenty of 25-50 year old owners there. Every generation has whiners who say “I’m priced out,” but others make the sacrifices to own what they want.
        Renting is okay too. Landlords need good renters to pay for the properties they own and secure their retirements for them.
        I agree with alex below. I enjoyed the articles here about transit.

      4. Yes, Brent. I know that. I also know that not everybody wants to live in a cheap apartment for the rest of their life. Seattle is where people want to live and will continue to want to live until it becomes a warren of rabbit dens around an aging rail system.

        Tell me where, in a city, new construction has lead to a plethora of “affordable” housing that the majority of people want to live in, and maybe I’ll start to see how you’ve been enlightened.

      5. Glenn,

        How about Capitol Hill? Fremont? Ballard? The U-District? Pioneer Square? Harbor Dr? The Junction? Othello? Columbia City? Lake City? and even SeaTac?

        Remember, today’s affordable housing was once new construction, and it isn’t just the idea of a white picket fence and astroturf lawn that draws people to a neighborhood.

      6. Brent,
        Yes, homes in all of those areas were affordable when they were built. People bought them. Single family homes are built today and people buy them too. Most people are drawn to a neighborhood by what they are, not what they might become. And wise buyers do some research to make sure things won’t change much in the near future. Renters on the other hand often move if they don’t like what a neighborhood becomes. Search affordability index Seattle and it’s currently easier to buy a house now than at any time in the past 17 years (when they started keeping track). Do you think people who bought a house in the 1980’s when interest rates were between 14 and 18% felt a pinch in making the choice to buy?

        I will readily admit that there are many people who choose not to buy and would rather rent and right now it seems to be a 50/50 proposition. But I don’t buy into the premise that the only way to live is in a small apartment, because it’s “greener” and the world will be saved.

        So I’ll allow you to choose how you want to live. Don’t deny those who want a single family home somewhere the right to make that choice.

      7. Glenn,

        Let’s say you and I own adjacent parcels of land. If you want to build a single-family house on yours, there’s nothing I can do to stop you — and that’s how it should be. So if I want to build a four-story apartment building on mine, why is it your right to stop me?

        So long as zoning laws stop me from doing what I want with land I own, you’re *not* allowing me to choose how I want to live.

      8. Aleks,
        When you buy your land, you know what the zoning is. You choose between a single family type zoning, a residential type, or other. IMO, that’s how it should be. Owning is a commitment as well as an investment. When you want to change the zoning on your property from 30 and 40 foot elevations to 160, you are going to get an argument from someone who has bought the land they bought for a different reason. If you want higher development potential, then look for it, and buy there.

        People who own single family zoned land should have the same rights as those who own multi and hi-rise zoned land.

        I didn’t make this zining thing up. It has developed over hundreds of years for good reasons. Throwing it out the window because “someone has an idea that “no zoning” will be better because “builders won’t over-build, they’re not stupid” doesn’t make any sense to me at all. There are cities around the country in the past few years that have bulldozed plats of homes because builders are often a few bricks short of a full load.

      9. Glenn,

        You have some right to expect the developer across the street to stay within the zoning. You don’t have the right to tell the developer across the street what he has to build, then require him to build it, and then require him to fill it with tenants.

        The guy across the street has a right to not do anything with his land, and that seems to have the Roosevelt neighbors in a tizzy. Those of us in other neighborhoods accept that vacant lots are a part of the growth cycle.

        So, you seem to have a Mexican standoff with a developer who wants to do right by Seattle and build a lot more housing next to a train station you’ve supported all along. You can’t make him fill those lots with homeowners, and I support him in not doing that, as it is the lowest and worst use of that land. I think he is doing the right thing in waiting and not moving anyone in.

      10. Brent, We’re at an impasse with the history and current events here. If you lived in an apartment and had rats and cockroaches infesting every corner of it you might say something to the landlord, or you might move. For 30 years the neighborhood has tried to deal legally with Sisely and the city has failed on every turn. So the city opeted for the easy way out this time. Over that same period zoning regulations have been altered in Seattle by due process, not only in Roosevelt but in other neighborhoods as well.
        Have you ever had a parking ticket? And have you paid it? Well Sisley has violated laws here to the tune of $600,000-800,000. I sure hope the city gets it.
        But Sisley has never been my argument. Design is what it’s all about whether you’re talking about a room, house, block or neighborhood. In our case, the neighborhood wanted one thing but an owner/developer wanted another. Most people thought the neighborhood lost, but I think we won big time.
        Either the developer came in with a pack of lies (which I believe he did and I choose not to have anything to do with him as far as compromise now or in the future), or he lost out big time. If you were paying attention 3 years ago you would know that.
        He could have come in with reasonable requests and perhaps been better off now. That’s all water over the dam. The city made their decision and I can live with that. Your interpretation that the developer wants to “do right by Seattle” is an opinion of yours and a few others but not many who actually live in the neighborhood, unless they have a parcel to sell that fits with the plan.
        A few units in Roosevelt will never make or break the light rail system. Plenty of other units will be built here and would have been otherwise.
        I’m glad we did what we did. Left to the developer and a moronic government who knows what might have happened without some form of resistance?

      11. People who own single family zoned land should have the same rights as those who own multi and hi-rise zoned land.

        It’s amusing to hear you say that, since in today’s world, they *don’t* have the same rights. You can build a single-family house on a multi-family lot, but not vice versa.

        I didn’t make this zoning thing up. It has developed over hundreds of years for good reasons.

        That’s simply not true. Cities have been around for over ten thousand years, and city planning has been around for centuries, but Euclidean zoning has only existed since the 20th century. In fact, it was only in 1926, in Euclid v. Ambler, that zoning was declared constitutional.

        Almost without exception, America’s “great cities” grew up before such zoning restrictions were widespread. All of our very best neighborhoods — the North End and the Back Bay in Boston, Greenwich Village in New York, North Beach in San Francisco — would be illegal to build today.

        I really think you’ve got it backwards. For the past hundred years, we’ve been blatantly disregarding centuries, if not millenniums, of historical precedent. All I want to do is go back to the way things used to be.

        Throwing it out the window because “someone has an idea that “no zoning” will be better because “builders won’t over-build, they’re not stupid” doesn’t make any sense to me at all. There are cities around the country in the past few years that have bulldozed plats of homes because builders are often a few bricks short of a full load.

        Of course builders will overbuild. It’s called competition. Why is that so bad? There are four national companies with redundant cellphone networks. There are blocks where a Tully’s is right next to a Starbucks, or a Safeway is right next to a QFC, or a Rite-Aid is right next to a Bartell’s, or a Honda dealer is right next to a Toyota lot.

        Central planning doesn’t work. That’s why the US is a hyperpower and the Soviet Union is gone. Why do we accept it so readily when it comes to cities?

      12. By the way — if government is so “moronic”, as you put it, then why are you so eager to have those morons tell people what they’re allowed to do with their property?

      1. “I wish municipalities would say, ‘We won’t give you more permits,’ ” she said. “Slow down the new construction. It’s all supply and demand.”

        That’s quite a dichotomy. It’s not zoning that’s bad; bad zoning is bad. The shut ins would believe it was better a century or two ago are too young to understand that “the good old days” had serious problems that resulted in our currently less than perfect zoning. Pitching sewage out of second story windows as London used to do isn’t a recipe for Seattle becoming a great city.

      2. Bernie,

        It’s one thing to say that heavy industry shouldn’t be situated next to major commercial and residential zones. It’s another to say that people can’t work where they live.

        Mixed-use neighborhoods have been around for thousands of years. Disgusting factories have only been around for less than 200. Zoning was very effective at keeping those disgusting factories away from where people congregate, and that’s good. But most employment today isn’t in heavy industry — it’s in services, and in other types of production (like software) that are much less toxic to the environment. With respect to residential neighborhoods, our current rules treat a corner store as if it were a sewage treatment plant. That’s crazy.

      3. It’s all shades of gray. You can rent out rooms in your house and it’s then MF. You can practice law or accounting or be a real estate agent and deduct the expense of a home office. Retail, such as a convenience store is a nuisance on an otherwise quiet residential street. Zoning groups this development in clusters so that the dry cleaner, video store and grocer are within walking distance of each other. Prior to the widespread use of the automobile shops gathered together by necesity. Things have changed. like sanitary sewers which require planning and requisit zoning.

        Interesting piece in the Times today, “Clash in Redmond over plan to fell trees at Group Health site”. Why should home owners be restricted by the “tree rules” and developers exempt; or should everyone just be allowed to log and tree on their property? Why shouldn’t a land owner be able to subdivide as they please or put in a motor sports park? Nobody gets a free pass but all to often it seems developers are able to buy theirs at a huge discount. For instance the 24 Hour Fitness and Walmart development in Crossroads that was allowed to skate on the promised daylighting of Kelsey Creek.

  8. I suggest a 19th Century Nostalgia Party that would push for fixed rail transit because it recalls Victorian England and the cities of the East Coast. Wait, that’s the wrong name. Call it the Steampunk Party. Same platform, better name, much cooler.

  9. I think the Seattle Transit Blog has become too much of a platform for pontifications on political philosophy that are only very loosely tied to *Seattle Transit* recently . I don’t necessarily disagree with the author or dislike the writing, I just wonder if this type of piece, which has been appearing more and more frequently, really should have a place on the blog.

    I think there are plenty of issues to be discussed, or advocacy pieces to be written, that are more directly related to transit, land use, bike/ped issues, etc. happening on the ground now. This blog has been such a valuable tool for the large – but often not influential enough – community of transit-supporters in this city and metro region. We shouldn’t water it down by letting it become a platform for broader political/philosophical meanderings, even if they are well-written and thought-provoking.

    1. Great point. I’ve had the same feeling. It seems like there are a number of blogs where folks can talk about more general growth management issues – I’d like to see this blog continue to focus on transit issues.

      Also – I have to say the “Density is People” slogan always makes me think of Soylent Green.

    2. You can’t separate transit from land use. Yes, STB should focus more on the Metro reorganization and the 2 and waterfront transit than other sites do, and it does. But whenever somebody suggests increasing frequency to 15 minutes or 10 minutes across the board, the pushback is “Seattle isn’t dense enough” and “single-family houses can’t support that level of ridership”. So transit riders are stuck with half-hourly buses, and drivers won’t switch to transit because it’s not frequent enough and it takes too long to get somewhere.
      So transit is intrinsically tied to land use. Better land use would make things which are extremely difficult to do with transit today, easier.

      1. I totally agree – i think you missed my point. My point was there should be more posts directly related to transit, land use, bike/ped, etc. and less of these broader political/philosophical meanderings that would be better suited for an opinion piece on Publicola (for example). I think it waters down the Seattle *Transit* Blog when these kinds of posts begin to become the norm, which they have been lately.

      2. Again, to clarify, I think talking about land use is good – clearly it’s connected to transit. That had nothing to do with my original point.

        Soul-searching political/philosophical meanderings are not what this blog should be about. For the most part these types of posts are taking advantage of the platform to pontificate, instead of speaking directly, or even tangentially, to transit/land use policy issues.

        Again, I agree with the authors point, but this abstract “party of the future” post – and others like it – shouldn’t belong here. Again, it waters down more relevant information, arguments and debates related to transit planning, policies, outcomes, strategies – there’s so much to cover here. Why do we need this type of post on this blog? Seattle is certainly not short of good political and urban-planning oriented blogs.

      3. I think there is value in understanding the core issues to the impediments to greater transit use. The nuances of the entrenched political system here are important to understand. If we want to actually affect the adoption and direction of transit in our region, we need to participate in the politics.

        On a tangential note, it was theorized some time ago what the consequences to transit funding, planning and land use might be as a result of a McKenna Governorship. In light of that, it would be wise for us to encourage our local governments and entities to engage in some defensive planning because I can just see a bold face attempt ala Wisconsin or Michigan to wrest control of financial assets from local control. I think there should be charter amendments to forestall this kind of financial raiding.

        Don’t say it can’t happen here.

    3. There is something to be said for the broader posts: They reveal the true agenda here, which has less to do with “transit” than with telling people how to live, in ways that make the world safe for apartment developers. Oddly enough, the broader the commentary, the more the narrowness of the actual agenda comes through.

      I don’t like it at all, but at least it’s honest, or maybe less disguised.

  10. Here is one more reason there really isn’t a correlation between districting and the empowerment of a Party of the Future. Austin remains one of the last holdouts against districting for its city council. There is a de facto two-tendency system on the council: environmentalists (who fight sprawl) and free marketeers (who see sprawl as natural and proper). At-large elections have served the environmentalists well.

    (Again, I’m not a fan of at-large. I just prefer it to districting given the lack of ability of Americans to grasp the concept of ranking candidates, and the more advanced election systems that could result therefrom.)

    1. Honestly, I’m not fond of ranked-choice systems. For single-winner systems, approval voting is the way to go. Proportional party list systems for legislatures (with a low bar to party entry) seem to be simple enough for Americans to understand, and I’m not sure any other proportional method is.

  11. Pay attention to the phrase “different institutional processes”.

    First-past-the-post single-member-district elections lock you into a two-party system thanks to Duverger’s Law. If you don’t change that, the only way to get an alternative party is to completely euthanize one of the two existing parties, so that nobody is voting for it at the local level. And if you can’t get an alternative party, expect the same sort of weird political scene with each individual within the dominant party attempting to distinguish him/herself.

  12. Somehow I don’t think many people will vote for the “Dense People’s Candidate!”

    My favorite of course is the group representing bicyclists, “The Cyclist Candidate!” We were here before the “Steam Punks!”..

    Of course there would be the one’s who favor only wood frame houses, “Woody’s for Mayor!” Get your wood up! Vote for Mayor Birch.

    But seriously, the problems of densification will be solved by the increased cost of fuel. It won’t make economic sense to live a sprawl life, so it will decay and shift to dense cities. No need to wring one’s hands about it, it’s coming anyway.

    1. But seriously, the problems of densification will be solved by the increased cost of fuel.

      Not if it’s illegal to densify!

      1. If you were injected with truth serum, you’d admit what anyone who looks at a zoning map already knows: There are vast areas of Seattle available for the density you seek. There’s no need to open new tracts until the ones currently available have been developed.

      2. So you shouldn’t have any problem with up-zoning, since it obviously won’t lead to immediate and dramatic changes.

      3. So you shouldn’t have any problem with up-zoning, since it obviously won’t lead to immediate and dramatic changes.

        Once the areas currently zoned for higher density are built out, then we could discuss other zoning changes. Not before.

      4. Give me one good reason why one land owner’s development capacity should be limited based on what another land owner is doing. Should we extend that same type of thinking to single-family lots?

        If the proposed zoning fits the city’s long-range plan why should changing it be delayed? Who gains from that?

      5. Give me one good reason why one land owner’s development capacity should be limited based on what another land owner is doing.

        Nice try at dodging the issue. Zoning is here to stay. If you want to rezone more areas, you’ll first need to explain why the density you seek isn’t being pursued by building out in the places now zoned for density. Once those buildouts occur, you’ll begin to have a case for rezoning other areas. But not before.

        If you don’t like the idea of zoning, there’s always Houston. Enjoy!

      6. Nice try at dodging my question.

        “If you want to rezone more areas, you’ll first need to explain why the density you seek isn’t being pursued by building out in the places now zoned for density.”

        Because the city can’t force landowners to develop their land, under your scenario development could be stalled for decades if the city had to wait for every lot to be fully built-out before updating zoning.

        “Zoning is here to stay.”

        I don’t have a problem with zoning, I just don’t like the idea of overly-restrictive zoning and single-family zoning being the de facto standard. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but this is a city.

      7. For the most part, I try to avoid responding to trolls. However, I have to point out that it’s a myth that Houston has no zoning. In fact, Houston’s minimum parking requirements and minimum lot sizes are among some of the largest of any city in the United States.

        Here is some more information about Houston’s highly restrictive land use rules:

        The myth of “no zoning” in Houston
        Zoning without zoning
        Houston proposes allowing higher-density housing outside Loop (how would that make any sense if Houston had no land use rules)?

        So if you truly thought that Houston is what would happen without land-use regulations, rest assured that the facts do not support that claim.

  13. “Toward an Ideology of Growth”

    This kind of slogan scares people. It connotes five million new residents, “World Class City” projects, 40-story skyscrapers from Yesler Way to N 50th Street, and $2500 apartments and million-dollar houses. Plus we’re living in an era where one of the two political parties has become trapped in ideology and can’t see beyond it. More growth is good, but there’s such a thing as too much growth, and we need to articulate the ceiling as well as the floor, and show that we’re pragmatists with a vision, not blind ideologues. Seattle would do well to add some more growth and density and become a better medium-sized city. It’s not clear that we should go beyond that.

    1. Look, there are plenty of opportunities for developers right now. Once those tracts have been developed, then we can talk about new ones.

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