Single Family Onslought

Does the way we organize our politics and government in Seattle and in our region have any effect on transit and land use? Does the structure of our political institutions result in bad outcomes for transit-oriented development, for example? Would changing that system result in better or worse outcomes? That’s the question we should talk about more actively at urbanist and transit advocacy events, like tomorrow night’s City Builders. Does getting better transit and land use require fundamentally changing the way we organize government and elections?

Since my post at Publicola last week a number of different perspectives and thoughts have appeared in my in-box and in the comments. Here’s a cross section of those perspectives.

Change would make things worse.

This view is best articulated by Frank at Orphan Road, who suggests that tinkering with the way we elect the Seattle City Council could make land use and transit worse. He drills into district elections, suggesting that doing things that way would ensure NIMBY dominance, by giving neighborhood ne’er do wells elected office.

Change would make things better.

There is an odd assortment of bedfellows here. Councilmember Mike O’Brien has been exploring the idea of publicly financed elections, and John Fox has been suggesting district elections. Some commenters in other posts have offered ideas about ways to rig the voting system using proportional voting systems to get better outcomes. The problem is that the outcome of these changes is uncertain.

More after the jump.

Increase the conflict, and the accountability.

I suggested in the Publicola post that one thing that would help would be more clearly defined parties, especially a pro-growth and pro-development party that could do the things that political parties typically do: elect candidates who will support an urbanist, transit focused agenda, and defeat candidates who don’t. The point here is to be right on the facts and figures, but also win elections.

Make better arguments and tell better stories.

Some people think it’s about messaging. If we can find a way to explain why something like density around transit is better, then people will support it; especially if we can avoid the “d” word. This is the brainy, liberal, progressive approach: win with facts and appeal to people’s reason.

We’re already winning!

This group tends to think we’re actually doing ok. Sure, we spend a lot of time in meetings, task forces, gabbing about Urban Design Frameworks, and fending off NIMBY attacks, but, after all, things are getting better. Sticking with the process, staying involved, and doing things like amending the City’s Comprehensive Plan will get us to where we want to go—eventually. No need to blow up the system now.

My view: Us, them, right, and wrong

We are right, they are wrong. We have to win, and they have to lose. There is a difference between those of us who acknowledge that growth is going to happen and that we can and must do it sustainably, and the entrenched group of single-family owners who are intent on keeping housing supply low to keep their property values high. We who support a sustainable vision of the future must never compromise with those who favor a no-growth fantasy; we who know the facts shouldn’t broker deals with those who base their views on a fiction.

The single-family party has our process in a headlock, extorting it by using delaying tactics, rhetorical devices, and simply stoking fear of change. Instead of planning, we are negotiating. Instead of building for the future, we are arguing over height. Instead of creating the financial tools to capture value and create jobs, we allowing the current lull in the real estate market to pass without implementing any new ideas.

Something has to change, and we are the ones to change it. I can’t promise that district elections, campaign finance, or even creating a strong pro-growth party will work. But I do know that while we are debating design, and best practice at a high level, 100-year decisions are being made all over the city and around transit in particular. As new buildings go into the ground, we are seeing opportunity to shape the future slip away.

Whether we change the City Charter or start raising money to run our own candidates or both, we have to recognize that the political system is a reflection of who we are. We are either going to be two gentleman in a doorway, perpetually saying “no, after you,” or we are going to actually do something big.

We know that we are right, and that smart, well-organized, compact, transit oriented communities are better for the environment, for our health, and for our economy; better, in the end, for people. We can either sit around being right while others set the regional agenda, or we can endeavor to bend the political process to our will, whether that’s changing it fundamentally or simply winning more elections. In the end, we only have ourselves to blame if we miss this opportunity.

What do you think? Are you with me?

131 Replies to “Us, Them, Right, and Wrong: How Do We Win?”

      1. Yeah Glenn, take that. and this from the script:
        “Dean Wormer: There is a little-known codicil in the Faber College constitution which gives the dean unlimited power to preserve order in time of campus emergency. Find me a way to revoke Delta’s charter. You live next door. Put Neidermeyer on it. He’s a sneaky little shit, just like you, right? [Greg nods] The time has come for someone to put their foot down. And that foot is me.”
        … you sneaky little shit!

  1. Perhaps the solution is to devolve the details of neighborhood government to neighborhood councils, but have the at-large city council set policy. So, for example, the city would set density targets but each neighborhood would decide how to meet those targets. This empowers local control without caving to NIMBYism.

    1. Those on the City Neighborhood Council (CNC) are pretty similar, if not even more established, in their anti-growth beliefs.

      1. That’s just a silly statement to make, Adam… Have you actually attended a meeting of the CNC or one of the District Councils? Some of these leaders are the first people to be supporting transit/bike/ped improvements in our city.

      2. Mickymse, yes of course I have been to CNC meetings and I have heard CNC members say exactly that. I would say that if I didn’t now it to be true. The CNC sees growth as something to be “taken” and “mitigated” not something that is good.

        Just because someone support transit/bike/ped project doesn’t mean that they support density. I find that cognitive dissidence, density is what makes transit/ped/bike work, but some people don’t share that belief.

      3. Adam, “density is what makes transit/ped/bike work,” isn’t always true. Transit/ped/bike works great in Holland and but it’s low-rise. It’s horizontally compact but vertically low-rise. So much of the increased density in Seattle is being filled by motorists. Just today there’ s news that the Wallingford greenway is being scaled back because of a 90 unit development. This is what I’m getting at about quality development. The wrong kind of development is going to make things worse. I think everybody except Roger understands this so I shouldn’t complain too much.

      4. What do you mean by low-rise?

        Consistent three-story buildings with minimal gaps between them are *more* than dense enough for transit/pedestrian/bike.

        Two story — maybe, depending.

        One story — no.

      5. Low rise is typically considered to be 3 stores or less. In Seattle, it’s defined as 30 feet before bonuses, but you can min-max it to 45′ with a perfect plan (steeply sloped roof, lot located in a designated growth area).

  2. Past proposed changes to the way Seattle elects city council-members have struck me as solutions in search of problems. The whole “single-family homeowners are the enemy” thing is really lame – you’d need the support of folks in that constituency to make any changes to the way the City elects leaders and the district elections or other “reforms” could potentially make it easier for folks from that constituency to be elected.

    One thing I like about the current system is that all nine council-members have a stake in the health of Downtown.

    1. “Past proposed changes to the way Seattle elects city council-members have struck me as solutions in search of problems.”

      +1. I have yet to see how elections-by-district are guaranteed to make things better, and not degenerate into neighborhood-vs-neighborhood non-cooperation. If the solution has a 50/50 chance of making things better or worse, I’ll stick with the status quo. At least that means I can write to all councilmembers and they won’t dismiss me for being “outside their district”.

      1. Finally, I agree many of you. “A solution in search of problems,” is a good description.

      2. at least you would be guaranteed one councilmember who wouldn’t dismiss you for not being a downtown business interest.

      3. I think the only guarantee would be the 8 folks who could tell you “you’re not in my district.”

    2. @chrismealy: “horizontally compact but vertically low rise” is density.

      Density is “people per horizontal distance (square miles square kilometers, etc)”. So if we look at Holland (The western region of the Netherlands which contains Amsterdam, The Hague, etc.) We see an overall density of 2863 people per sq. mile. Consider a comparison between Holland and King County. Both have around 2100 sq. miles of land but In Holland 6 million people live in this area as compared to only 1.9 million in King County. In other words, King County would have to triple in population in order to reach Holland’s current level of density.

      1. I really wish that we standardized on measuring population-weighted density. Standard density numbers have the problem that, if you add an arbitrary amount of rural land, you can make the numbers arbitrarily low. With weighted density, you get a much better picture of the density of the average person’s living environment.

      2. That’s the one, population-weighted density. Tricky measurement to measure but it works for showing “transit/bike/ped” friendliness.

  3. This whole line of thought that somehow single family homeowners are “the enemy” is pretty simplistic and rather pointless, and counterproductive too. You’ll get exactly nowhere by demonizing them. And you certainly won’t get my support with such a flawed approach.

    Additionally, anything John Fox is for I’m against, so if he is for district elections then I am against them.

    And district elections would certainly reduce support for downtown, and since downtown is key in just about any transportation/jobs/growth scenario that has any reality to it, then supporting district elections would hurt the very thing you aim to promote.

    1. I agree about not demonizing single-family homeowners. I am one. I value the fact that I don’t have to share any walls, floors, ceilings, or homeowners associations with my neighbors, and I enjoy having a small plot of my own land where I can grow my own vegetables. When I have kids, it will be great to have a back yard to let them run around in and get some fresh air without having to make a trip to the nearest park. If you tell me I am somehow selfish or “anti-growth” because I want to have these things on my own property, I’m not going to support your cause.

      However, I live a block from a semi-major arterial street. Most of the land along that street is zoned for single-family housing, though there are several duplexes and even a few small apartment buildings that must predate the current zoning. I wouldn’t mind upzoning that entire street to allow multi-family housing, especially if that would mean that the bus running along that street could eventually get upgraded from its current 30 minute frequency to a 20 or 15 minute route.

      Roger, It sounds like we might be on the same side, more or less. You support more density for better transit, and I do too. But at the same time, I really do enjoy living in a neighborhood of single-family homes. Here’s the thing, though: even if you got rid of all zoning rules and let people build whatever size buildings they wanted, there wouldn’t be any significant number of multi-family dwellings erected on my street in the foreseeable future anyway. So why demonize single-family homeowners? A lot of us may very well support your cause if you don’t automatically lump us in with your opposition.

      1. There’s small-lot houses and large-lot houses. If people could be content with a small-lot house that’s basically the size of a modern apartment but detached — like the highly-desired 1920s houses on N 80th Street, NE 55th Street, 31st Ave S, and other places — including their one-car garages — then we could fit more single-family houses in a neighborhood and their negative impacts would be less.

      2. Seriously … single-family housing and small/medium/large apartment buildings are not mutually exclusive, and it’s very possible to support all types of housing even in the same neighborhood—and any reasonable city will do so, with higher density near transport nodes gradually lessening the farther away you get.

        This is a great pattern, as it provides enough density to justify expensive infrastructure (like subways!) which benefits the single-family-home dwellers as well, and the sort of dense walkable commercial districts people like. Not only that, but it provides a nice variation in styles that makes the city more interesting—variety is good! Maybe the more distant home owners have to ride their bike or take a local bus to get the station quickly, but it’s a vastly preferable situation to having a (boring!) sea of only single family homes with a poor transportation network (this being the current Seattle ideal, it seems :( ).

        I’ll bet all this would develop pretty naturally if they’d just throw out the idiot zoning rules….

      3. “If people could be content with a small-lot house that’s basically the size of a modern apartment but detached — like the highly-desired 1920s houses on N 80th Street, NE 55th Street, 31st Ave S, and other places — including their one-car garages — then we could fit more single-family houses in a neighborhood and their negative impacts would be less.”

        Lot size is a big deal, yes. I understand very much wanting to have total control over interior modifications to your living space, which is a good reason to have an owned-outright building with no HOA. (HOAs give you all the pain of a condo association… with none of the urban-dense-living benefits! Yay! Not.) Anyway, this is a good reason for single-family homes.

        But only a minority of people really want large yards. Those people should GET to have large yards, but *there aren’t that many of them*, relatively speaking.

        “Seriously … single-family housing and small/medium/large apartment buildings are not mutually exclusive, and it’s very possible to support all types of housing even in the same neighborhood—and any reasonable city will do so, with higher density near transport nodes gradually lessening the farther away you get.”
        Absolutely true as well. I’m currently living in a dense little corner surrounded by a mix of duplexes, quad-plexes, and single-family homes… and this is a *low-density* part of town, relatively speaking.

        Regulations should require enough bedroom space per person, but after that, why prohibit more families per building? Seriously, why?

        “I’ll bet all this would develop pretty naturally if they’d just throw out the idiot zoning rules….”

        It *did* develop naturally in the “old 19th century towns” in the East, which predated the modern (“Euclidean”) zoning codes.

        The oldest zoning codes were pretty much focused on one thing, which was keeping dirty industry away from “preferred” parts of town. That sort of zoning is definitely still needed. And similar things like regulations on where loud all-night activities like bars can be operated make some sense.

        But zoning has extended itself to a massive degree beyond that. If it could be pruned back a little, “mixed use” neighborhoods could naturally develop again. Small towns with thoughtful zoning variance boards allow this natural development as a matter of course, but large cities can’t really handle everything on a case-by-case basis, not without throwing a lot more money and staff at it (as far as I can tell, the UK *did* throw a lot more money and staff at it and *does* handle everything on a case-by-case basis). Anyway, corruption becomes a likely possibility when everything is done case-by-case. Further, even small towns can end up with thoughtless zoning variance boards.

    2. I wouldn’t say that single family homeowners are “the enemy” but there certainly is a contingent of neighborhood activist that want to block grown in Seattle and their rallying cry is to protect single family homeowners from the perceived assault on their lifestyle.

      1. When someone selects a neighborhood to live in and then dumps several 100K into a SFH they get sort of protective of it and their neighborhood. This is only natural and is actually a good thing as it leads to neighborhood involvement.

        However, the problem here is not a problem with SFH or their owners. No, the problem here is that nobody in the pro-density, pro-growth community has been able to articulate and sell an argument as to why density/growth is actually good for the surrounding SFH’s.

        Demonizing SFH owners as the “enemy” and using phony war rhetoric is a poor substitute for a valid argument in favor of density. Develop a valid argument for density that doesn’t demonize SFH owners and you might actually accomplish something, but the path you laid out is a guaranteed failure.

        And I’m in favor of density…..

      2. I didn’t lay out any path you speak of.

        I see where you’re coming and the issues that it raises, but I think you’re missing the point. We aren’t pushing density to make life better for people that own a single family home, we’re pushing density to make life better for everyone else. I find the idea that only people that own land are important as perverse and unsettling.

        However, I would say that I think the regional and Seattle poorly links density with public investment and vice-versa. Increased public amenities like parks, quality transit, schools, etc. should be part and parcel with increased density. Similarly increase public amenities like higher quality transit service should be tried to additional density. Roosevelt is a perfect example of where this absolutely did not happen.

      3. I would associate myself with Adam’s response here.

        I’d add that I completely agree with Lazarus here, too:

        When someone selects a neighborhood to live in and then dumps several 100K into a SFH they get sort of protective of it and their neighborhood. This is only natural and is actually a good thing as it leads to neighborhood involvement.

        That’s exactly the kind of “involvement” we need to be fighting against.

        I have no problem with a single family homeowner in Roosevelt or anywhere else saying, “I am afraid of change. I worry that the changes you’re proposing are going to change my way of life and cost me money.I worked hard for my house, my yard, and what I have. Why are you trying to take that away from me. I’m going to oppose your ideas because I am afraid. That’s why I am here today, opposing this rezone: I’m scared!”

        But that isn’t what people say. They say that they are for “good density,” and that “we’ve taken enough density” or “we’ve taken more density than the mayor proposed.”

        Lazarus and Eric, I know you are both sophisticated enough to recognize the rhetorical difference between calling a group a “single family party” and all people who happen to live in single family homes. To point that out and say that you don’t support what I am saying because we’re trying to “demonize” single family homeowners is a canard.

        Change is scary, and it is especially scary when it affects your space and your hard earned dollars. I don’t dispute that. But we need elected leadership that is willing to say “I feel your pain and I know your fear, but we are going to go ahead with this proposal anyway, because I am willing to stake my career that I am right. Density will make your neighborhood better and it will improve your investment. If I am right, you can vote to re-elect me. If I am wrong, you can run me out of town on a rail.”

        That’s what we’re talking about here. How do we find and elect people who will stare that fear in the face and not flinch?

  4. C’mon Roger, “We know that we are right, and that smart, well-organized, compact, transit oriented communities are better for the environment, for our health, and for our economy; better, in the end, for people”
    How did the end game work out for East Germany after the war, with all the compact development?
    I like my single family dwelling. Most of us do. I like cutting the grass on Saturday, or working in my backyard veggie garden.
    Somehow, mowing the community grass area in front of the Admin building, or weeding the common plot isn’t the same for me.
    If ‘one size must fit all’ in this scenario of a brave new world, then I choose to oppose you. My advice is to get a larger tent.

    1. In NYC and other big cities, it is not uncommon for people to have a personal dedicated garden plot within a community garden, with a form of property rights in it.

  5. Not with ya.

    Let’s look at the controversy over Metro’s system restructure proposal. Overall it’s a good proposal, but it’s not a perfect proposal. And I’m not wanting to politicize the restructuring process–or any other local process–by turning it into a me-vs-them, who will blink first, winner take all game with local political parties taking opposing stances. Can’t we build a process that involves the community from the start and let consensus decide whether or not a certain bus route turns left or right at a certain corner? Ya, I’m one of those guys: let’s build a better process that involves more people in the problem definition, solution design and decision processes.

    Also, I think your arguments against single family homeowners are straw man attacks. Many homeowners are heavily invested in building a sustainable city; and, they too, recognize that many decisions being made today are 100 year decisions. To say that they are simply trying to keep their property values high is off base.

    1. “Can’t we build a process that involves the community from the start and let consensus decide whether or not a certain bus route turns left or right at a certain corner?”

      If Metro does give up on the 2/3/4 and 5/26/28 changes, I hope it makes it clear that there will be changes coming to these areas next year, and the current routing is not acceptable long-term (because there are too many half-hourly routes and not enough frequent routes). Tell them if there’s a budget cut, the #4 will be gone, and if there’s no budget cut, the #4 must be restructured with 1-2 years. Then give a list of two or three alternative proposals, and ask the community to pick the best one or come together on a better one. Essentially, it’s the same kind of process that was done for the Roosevelt upzone, but applied to transit routes. In the upzone, the city said increased density is required, how should we do it? In the transit reorg, Metro can say, frequent-route corridors are required, how can we do this with the existing resources? Then the community will feel “included” and may rise to the occasion.

      1. The advantage of this is it can force people to confront their neighbors and own up to their selfishness. It’s one thing to tell Metro “don’t change the #2 and #4”. It’s another thing to tell your neighbors there should be less service on Madison, or less service to the 34th/Cherry area, because certain people want to preserve a half-hourly route to their doorstep and don’t want to transfer. Because more people will realize, “That doesn’t make sense. We can’t tell Metro that or we’ll look silly and selfish.”, and hopefully those who would benefit from the frequent corridors will realize it and speak up, and businesses who would benefit from more customers will speak up.

        Also, with a year’s lead time and just illustration proposals on the table, rather than the pressure to accept THESE changes in the NEXT service revision, it could allow a more relaxed discussion and a better solution that everyone can accept to emerge. Especially since people would be “losing” routes in a year or two rather than immanently, and would both have a say in what the compromise would be and would have more time to make personal adjustments for it.

        If people insist on living in single-family neighborhoods several blocks away from the main street, they should realize they’re going to get less bus service than the main street.

  6. Go ahead and start a “party of the future” if you want. If there’s any place that sort of party would work it’s in city government. Even if at first all you do is publish stuff and endorse candidates.

    If you want to start a party of the future, remember the following things.

    1. For many people progress has been experienced as a violent, wrenching separation from their way of life. The notion of voting for someone based on changing even more stuff just won’t appeal. I would, for example, likely support much of your party platform at the local level, but I don’t really identify with its image of progress and redevelopment… and I’ve never even had my job taken away by progress.

    2. Lots of people have very different claims on the future. You want density and transit. Some people want flying, driverless cars, and every intersection turned into a centrally-controlled roundabout. Some people (there’s one that posts often on this blog) seem to prefer radical reinventions of the urban form that fly in the face of reason.

    3. Not all redevelopment is good. Currently in Seattle we’re turning lots of parking lots into more useful structures, which is usually great. But many urban redevelopment projects in the mid-20th century left us with ugly, inefficient, poorly-designed buildings with less density than what was there before! As we saw on this blog, Jane Jacobs carried a sign with the preservationists when they buried Penn Station, and (detailed in her books) did much the same for many projects in her own neighborhood.

    4. Take some populist stands sometimes! There are parcels of land in Seattle sitting totally abandoned, owned by absentee scumbags holding the city and neighborhood hostage for a favorable rezone. You may have heard of one of them in Roosevelt? This is actually illegal, and the guy has just refused to pay the fines he’s been assessed by the city (I can only imagine the same is true for some of these other lots — who would pay an annual fine to hold an abandoned lot when they could sell it for actual money?). A stand that’s principled and populist would be fair but firm with these people. Fines for this sort of thing should be stiff and enforced with teeth — speculative land owners can hardly cry poverty — and if they fail to keep up the land long enough, confiscate it and auction it off. Couldn’t the party of the future get behind that?

    On the other hand, you’ve criticized Edith Macefield here, and I don’t think that’s warranted. She wasn’t a NIMBY, but just didn’t want to move for any amount of money. She didn’t complain about new development or construction noise, and actually left her land to a developer in her will. You come off like you love Hugh Sisley and hate Edith Macefield — a party with that platform ain’t getting elected to shit. Not in Seattle, not anywhere. The status quo says that their property rights entitle them to do whatever they want, and the government is too weak to even enforce its own laws. You would probably prefer the government have fairly broad power to take land via eminent domain for redevelopment. People are really suspicious of this notion, and cases around the country have given them good reason. If you want to make a case for taking people’s private land, make a case for taking the land of a one-percenter jackhole that’s actively making Seattle worse right now, not an old lady whose impact is basically miniscule.

    1. Got to love it — the “I Love Hugh Sisley” party. That would really be effective — NOT!

      Give me a break. This is not a path to success.

    2. The destruction of Penn Station was related to the economic abuse being heaped on the railroads at the time, which were
      – privately owned, not publicly supported,
      – paying massively above-normal property taxes,
      – paying a special “World War II ticket tax” which was by then going to fund airlines
      – paying the full capital and operating costs of their entire railroads
      – under a regulated rate regime where they had to ask ICC permission to raise rates
      – under a regulated service regime where they had to ask ICC permission to end ANY service
      – while competing with massively-government-funded roads and airports

      In this context both the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central Railroad were selling off everything they owned as fast as they legally could; they were also actively trying to drive passengers away from their trains so that they had better arguments to take to the ICC for discontinuing their unprofitable passenger routes. A tremendous number of beautiful, important stations were demolished and most of the rest were allowed to rot.

      The attitudes which caused this were not due to an out-of-touch government — they were endemic throughout the country, and really widely popular at the time. Jane Jacobs was in a minority at the time, and the highway builders were actually popular — people forget this. We can hope that that’s not the case any more.

  7. Most of the Seattle’s new construction in the last 20 years has been terrible. Every new dense neighborhood is ugly, dirty, and usually loud (the old parts of Capitol Hill and First Hill are nice). People are right to be suspicious. I love STB, but you guys have to realize you sound like crazies who only care about choo-choo trains. It’s like all you see is beautiful gleaming trains underground and don’t care if what’s on the surface is dark, ugly, and unlivable.

    1. Chris,

      What new dense neighborhoods? Like most American cities, dense construction has been illegal in Seattle nearly since World War II. No one builds new Capitol Hills or First Hills because they’re not allowed to. The one exception is SLU, which I actually think is turning out quite well.

      It may be that what you describe as “ugly, dirty, and loud” is what I would call urban vitality. You don’t have to like it, any more than I have to like Upper Queen Anne or much of North Seattle (which I find insufferably dull and quiet). But even if you don’t want to live in a dense neighborhood, many other people do. If a developer wants to build a dense building, and I (and other people) want to live in it, why should you (who doesn’t want to live there anyway) have the right to tell me no?

      Finally, I should point out that STB has many authors, and aside from posts specifically designated as staff editorials, each post only reflects the views of its author. Roger obviously has very strong views on land use, and his posts are primarily on that topic. Other people have other interests and views. Bruce, for example, writes extensively about bus productivity. Don’t infer from Roger’s posts that STB’s only mission is to turn Seattle into Manhattan.

    2. I want new, dense construction.

      The lack of it is pushing me out of the city, in the form of ever higher rents on the existing apartment stock.

      You might think it’s ugly and loud. I say screw you, I need a place to live. I’m being priced out of the neighborhood I work in, because the city bowed to the “density is bad” crowd for 50 years, so now there are no old apartments available, and all the new ones are high-end ones that cost more than my yearly income.

  8. As others have noted, this “single family homeowners are the enemy” approach is absurd, pointless, and ultimately self-defeating. The enemy are NIMBYs. Some apartment dwellers are NIMBYs and many single-family homeowners are supporters of greater density.

    As to district elections, John Fox may well regret getting what he wants. If only one councilmember represented Roosevelt, the other 8 would have no reason at all to vote against the rezone. What would they care about a few NIMBYs trying to preserve slums on 65th? In most cities where district elections exist – places like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles – they haven’t led to a NIMBY-controlled council, nor have they stopped development in its tracks. In fact, the opposite is usually the case.

    It’s no guaranteed winner for transit in Seattle, but district elections would not be a disaster by any means, and it could well help advance our agenda. It’s not like the current City Council is all that pro-transit.

    1. The person I know who was the most angry about the Roosevelt re-zone actually lives in an apartment. He just didn’t want change, or to see Sisley rewarded.

      1. I don’t want to see Sisley rewarded either, but since we do live in a country with private property rights, there’s nothing we can really do about it.

      2. I don’t want to see Sisley rewarded either, but since we do live in a country with private property rights, there’s nothing we can really do about it.

        Do we? A private landowner pretty much can’t build anything unless the city council says it’s okay. That’s certainly not what I think of when I think of property rights. :)

      3. If we want something appropriate built, we have to *at least* buy the land for it, and that does “reward” the person listed on the county books as the owner of the land, because compensation for eminent domain is required by the US Constitution.

        I suppose that’s a minimal definition of “reward”.

    2. Will,

      It’s not just about Roosevelt. As Ryan Avent argues, density has both costs and benefits, but the costs are highly localized while the benefits are diffuse.

      With district elections, every representative has a strong incentive to keep development out of their district, and only a weak incentive to allow it elsewhere. Thus, you will see less density than you should.

      This does not mean that density is wholly incompatible with district elections. As with most political theories, it’s awfully hard to design a controlled experiment. :) But it does mean that there’s a real risk that district elections will make density even harder to achieve.

      In contrast, proportional representation is an almost guaranteed way to achieve better representation of minority interests. It’s trivial to prove this, and to find examples of why this is needed. Look at Massachusetts — Obama got 61% of the vote, but all ten representatives are Democrats. Or Texas — McCain got 55% of the vote, but 72% of representatives are Republicans.

      Even here in Seattle, just look at the 2009 election. McGinn won with 51% of the vote. It’s safe to say that the “McGinn” party would represent, at the very least, a solid third of Seattle voters (if not a half). And yet only one councilmember, Mike O’Brien, shares McGinn’s platform.

      In a multi-member election, there’s nothing to stop a candidate from running for “Councilmember from West Seattle” — if they get 11.11% of the votes (assuming a 9-member council), they’ll win a seat. But with single-member districts, geography is the only thing that matters, and that’s not how it should be.

      1. The problem is that there are neighborhoods in Seattle where no one campaigns. Who’s going to as the councilmember from the Rainier Valley? or the CD? Or Delridge?

        There’s no money in those neighborhoods. No money = no campaign contributions. And campaign contributions are what wins elections.

        That’s why every councilmember always falls all over themselves to ingratiate themselves to the downtown businesses & landowners, and the residents of the rich neighborhoods north of the ship canal.

      2. @lack, That’s a bit of an over generalization because the likes of Sally Clark hail from this part of town. That’s not to say she isn’t in tight with the downtown crowd. I am simply aware she makes her presence known around these parts.

      3. But I feel that when they show up, it’s more of a token gesture. Usually as part of some broader policy initiative.

        Honestly, the only one who’s really put effort in to courting that side of the city is McGinn, and he didn’t do a very good job of it. I love him for trying, though.

    3. NIMBYs’ are the real ‘enemy’ and even there I would avoid using such loaded language.

      In Vancouver’s West End, a neighbourhood that has been heavily intensifying for 40 years, people come out to protest and obstruct every new project. Owners of condos do it to preserve their sliver of ocean views and their already exorbitant property values. Sympathetic left wing renters often join said protests, encouraged by a variety of arguments (historic preservation, community damage, being priced out) but mostly driven by a distrust of developers.

      Anyone, anywhere, can find a reason to oppose change and gather others to their cause. Today its single family residents, tomorrow it could be apartment dwellers.

    4. Will Douglas —

      I can’t speak to the other cities, but types of NIMBYs absolutely control the council in San Franscisco. Development in SF isn’t even close to the demand for housing in SF, and almost all new construction is in former industrial areas, not existing residential neighborhoods.

  9. The problem is that Seattle is too big and diverse as a political entity. The majority of surrounding exurbs like Kent and Renton have right-sized populations in the 100,000 to 200,000 range. Seattle is the Elephant in the Room at over half a million.

    Seattle is really at least four (4) right sized exurbs. It should be split up into West Seattle, South Seattle, North Seattle and Central Seattle. Of those, only Central Seattle has the needed density to create the kind of Urban Utopia that STB Social Engineers would desire.

    As for the rest of it — North, South, and West Seattle have far more in common with Renton, Kent and Bellevue than the over-the-top centrist planners of the the City Council, and their interests are not well represented. They and their tax monies are often hamstrung into various projects that they receive little or not benefit from.

    1. As the Professor Brothers might put it, Do you even know what an exurb is, little dog?

      I do think that outlying areas’ interests can get lost when they’re tied up with Seattle as a single city. The same was true, maybe to an even greater degree, in Daley’s Chicago (I haven’t lived in Chicago since Rahm took office, so I don’t know if things have changed at all). When you cross from Seattle into Shoreline you see the cosmetic difference that comes from having a sense of being in the middle of a place, rather than on its outskirts. If the people of Shoreline want sidewalks, they don’t have to get the entire rest of Seattle to care about it in order to get funding.

      On the flip side… back to Chicago. Chicago’s near suburbs certainly get a lot more local attention than its outlying neighborhoods, and that has worked out well for some of them. But some of its suburbs have so little economic and tax base that they’d probably be better off being annexed — locally, there just aren’t resources to go around.

      1. Chicago as a “city” is gone missing like Detroit. Vast stretches of formerly dense areas are heading towards desertion as many traditionally urbist groups, such as African-Americans, have also made the move to the suburbs.

        It’s so bad that they are even planning an enormous “park” that is something like a sixth the size of the city, mainly because population is down, revenues are down and it’s basically just devolving back into meadows and grassland.

      2. Sorry John, but as a recent (former) Chicago resident I’d say your view of Chicago is pretty clouded. Chicago’s population is growing and there is intense development in many neighborhoods. It is true however that some parts of the city are severely blighted and in my opinion for the same socio-economic reasons. Also, no new major parks are being planned that I’m aware of. They are however planning some new bike pathways to augment their already impressive system.

        That some African Americans are in the suburbs is because they’ve always been there. It is not a new thing.

      3. Yeah, that’s completely bullshit about Chicago John (have you ever even been there?). It’s not perfect, but it’s a vibrant city and a great place to live (a lot of my family live in Chicago—having moved there from the Seattle area, incidentally…).

      4. John, you’re still wrong. The City of Chicago is actually enormous (look at the boundaries). There are some sections with massive decline, but there’s been a significant increase in the population in the actual dense center.

        There’s a severely hollowing ring of “outer City of Chicago” — including a massive population crash in most of the enormous South Side — while a smaller core area is actually increasing in population. You’re seeing the increase in the “good” neighborhoods masked by the crash in the “poor” neighborhoods.

  10. Is a pro-TOD individual who chooses to live in a single family suburban neighborhood that isn’t, and never will be, zoned for TOD, and he frequently lectures others about the value of TOD and density, an us or a them?

  11. It does feel like there is an important distinction here. There is a difference between demonizing owners of detached single-unit dwellings and demonizing those who advocate for the superiority of such a lifestyle and the rejection of density.

    However, I for one am for demonizing both. This is a dialog on the state of public matters. I debate on the points of what is best for the public – all of us: our community, our city, our planet. I have a million personal preferences on how things should be and whether they personally benefit me or not, I’d argue they don’t really have a place in a planning debate. Planning is, or should be, a technocratic, and occasionally advocacy-based field. It can’t be about what the individual wants – it should be grounded in facts, history, and inspiration and used to the greatest benefit for the greatest number.

    Under compassionate and professional assessments, time and time again, it has been proven that a particular use of space will best aid the environment, our health, and the creation of culture and economy. Hypocrisy aside, whether you carry the flag for NIMBYism or just march in the army, you are fighting for the wrong side.

    (Great post, Roger. Return to Wards!? – Localism at last)

    1. Planning should be a community articulating how it wants to move forwards with ongoing grassroots involvement. While you might oppose new freeway construction your approach is similar to the one that nearly covered this city with freeways 40 years ago. Having planning elites focused on the “best data” hasn’t always worked out that well.

      1. Central planning hasn’t really worked out well, period.

        If you owned a business, and I told you that you could only run your business using a maximum of 30 employees with 15 computers, you’d tell me I was crazy. So if I own a property, how come you have the right to tell me that I can only build up to 65 feet (or what have you)?

        If history has shown us anything, it is that we generally achieve better results when decisions are made by lots of individual actors. Some decisions need to be made at the community level, but definitely not nearly as many as we make today.

      2. If you owned a business, and I told you that you could only run your business using a maximum of 30 employees with 15 computers, you’d tell me I was crazy. So if I own a property, how come you have the right to tell me that I can only build up to 65 feet (or what have you)?

        Because building a 500-foot condo tower would have large implications for transportation, sanitation, the power grid, policing, etc.

        For better or worse, we have socialized a lot of the costs associated with new development.

      3. How exactly have we socialized the costs of development? That’s precisely why we have property tax (and SCL/SPU fees).

        If anything, it’s exurban sprawl — the kind that completely bypasses zoning by building on formerly-rural land — that has real external costs. A new building just adds some new residents, but a new subdivision can require laying new pipes and wires, paving (and policing) new roads, extending mail routes, and all sorts of things.

        The more we restrict density, the more of that we get.

  12. I think this fight will be counterproductive, and energy is better spent elsewhere, but knock yourself out if that’s what you want.

  13. The comments thread is proving my point.

    Most of these comments are from the other side. I don’t care what you think. Of course you’re against demoninzing single family, blah, blah, blah.

    My audience for this is not you, as I pointed out to Glen. You have a right to your opinion and to do whatever you can to put your vision of the future forward. Do your best to keep blocks like Sisley’s at 40 feet!

    And of course I am not saying that if a person lives in a single family house that they can’t be an urbanist. I don’t think single family houses are bad by themselves.

    What’s missing here is people who ARE in support of the urbanist agenda. What do they think? What should we be doing to make sure our vision is the one that wins out.

    For God’s sake, if you agree with the urbanist point of view and you’ve read this far, say something. Should we just amend the comp plan? Are Urban Design Frameworks enough? Should we try pushing an urbanist slate for Council? How do we reliably win the arguments over how we grow?

    1. I agree with the urbanist point of view. And “we” can’t “just amend the comp plan”, or change how the council is elected, or anything else until we have people with that point of view in office. Starting a local political party, endorsing candidates, publishing materials on candidates’ records, and eventually running candidates with our specific goals is a way to do that, right?

      If you can’t even get the STB comment section behind your platform, that might be a sign that you’re not much of a politician. We don’t need to win arguments over how we grow — we need to win support. Arguments only matter to philosophers. Support gets things done.

      Here’s an example. People in Seattle, nominally, care about the environment. They care because they fear the loss of our natural wonders, and of the environmental features that sustain us. Any environmentalist would tell you urbanism is better than sprawl, but you strike the wrong emotional tenor to attract them. Environmentalists will be captivated by the appeals of preservationists over developers, and even in a time when no preservationists are involved because developers are building over parking lots, environments feel no natural affinity to developers. If you want to gain support from environmentalists you have to really prove your urbanism is principled: based on what’s best for the city and for the environment; and independent: free from developer influence, though you may often want the same things.

      1. (I say things like this because I’ve read enough of your stuff to believe your urbanism really is principled and independent. Most people won’t spend most of a day reading all your Land Use Blog posts in a row. Seattle is lucky to have people that dig deep and report on this stuff. But all this is for naught if you don’t prove your principle and independence, and if you don’t resonate with people’s attitudes and values.)

      2. Al Diamond,

        I am trying to rouse debate and discussion about the enemy of change, which is fear.

        I am a recovering politician. I confess that part of my stridancy here is to put more nails in that coffin. I don’t want to go back to a way of talking and writing that is always hedging and dodging, worrying about what people might think.

        No, this post and other things I have written is for our side of the debate. We can’t compromise with fear. At some point we have to stand up to it and say, “no, the bad things you’re worried about will not happen.”

        And when are Seattle enviro types going to hold the elected officials we claim as our own to the principles that we put them in office to uphold?

        Do we want to? If we don’t, then we can’t complain when they abandon those principles in favor of compromise.

        Obviously politicians have to be appealing to voters. But there is a difference between appealing and pandering, between saying anything to get elected and being honest.

        It’s time for honesty.

        Lastly, I am probably one of the few people who have stood up in front of a frightened (expressing that fear as anger) group of NIMBYs to say, as a fellow neighborhood resident, “you’re going to like this. I promise, when this project is done, you’ll love it!”

        Everyone chuckled. It broke the tension. It was not patronizing, but it was honest.

        If we behave as if what we believe in is a bad thing, that density is a dirty word, people will smell that in an instant. But if we express what we think confidently people will respect us–and yes, they’ll even give us a chance to fully implement our agenda.

    2. Roger, am I an urbanist, and I do support higher density. Just not the low quality garbage that Seattle has been getting. You’re alienating the people who ought to be your allies.

      1. chrismealy,

        Comments like that baffle me. Why are you alienated?

        Is it because you think I want low quality garbage? Where have I ever said that?

        Is it because you assume that I do?

        Is it because your definition of urbanist is at odds with mine? Do you even know what that term urbanist means to me versus what it might mean to you.

        I am always suspicious of people who say “you’re alienating me.” Maybe because that’s because I am being honest. Or maybe we don’t agree.

        Disagreeing with each other isn’t a bad thing.

      2. No but you appear to want to remove the zoning laws. And welcome to Aurora, where you can build any dang thing you want. It’s ugly, it’s commercial, it’s designed for cars. Everything a new Urbanist is against.

        Then you demonize Single Family homeowners, as if they could only see things your way, they would want to change. Got news for you, I don’t want to live in SFH, next to a 6 story apartment unit. And apparently neither does most of the city dwellers.

      3. Gary,

        The parts of Aurora that I presume you detest are zoned C1-40 (for Commercial, 40 feet). The Seattle zoning documents describe this zone as:

        An auto-oriented, primarily retail/service commercial area that serves surrounding neighborhoods as well as a citywide or regional clientele, such as large supermarkets, building supplies and household goods, and auto sales and repairs.

        Among other things, this designation includes:

        – Buckets and buckets of mandatory parking (for those parts of Aurora that aren’t in an urban center — i.e. most of it)
        – Maximum height of 40′, and maximum FAR of 3.25 for mixed-use, 3 for single-use

        I would not describe that as “you can build any dang thing you want”.

        In contrast, the most flexible zoning in the city is probably Seattle Mixed. It’s described as the following:

        A zone that provides for a wide range of uses, to encourage development of the area into a mixed-use neighborhood.

        In all probability, if zoning were completely eliminated, the result would look much less like Aurora and much more like South Lake Union. (That’s in neighborhood centers; no one’s building any condo towers in Laurelhurst.) Maybe you think that’s hell, but I just can’t agree.

      4. Well I work down in South Lake Union in one of those new buildings and yes it is a version of hell. Why? Because as usual they built the buildings before they built the infrastructure. There is that awful SLUT, which in general it’s faster to walk than ride. The tracks on Westlake killed bicycling down it. Although I see fools on it all the time, including a spectacular crash last Friday. Dropped his front wheel into the track and upended into the SLUT station! Bicycling down here is terrible as well, fortunately it’s only the last mile on my way to work.

        The zoning on Aurora, is a statement of what was built, not a plan for what anyone wanted. It used to be “outside of town.”

        If SLU had no zoning the buildings would not have been limited to 5 or 12 stories depending on how close to the lake they were.

      5. Gary,

        The “awful SLUT” is so popular that the private businesses in the area have agreed to pay for a third streetcar, to improve frequencies from 15 minutes to 10 minutes during peak periods.

        I’m not sure what infrastructure you’re referring to. Is there a lack of plumbing or electricity? Is there a mobility problem? Huge swaths of North Seattle don’t even have sidewalks.

        South of 85th Street, North Seattle (where Aurora would be) has been part of the City of Seattle since 1891. Between 85th and 145th has been part of the City of Seattle since 1954. Seattle adopted its first zoning regulations in 1923. Aurora was built in 1930. Before its construction, the area where it would be was zoned “secondary residential, 40 feet”. After its construction, the 1947 zoning maps reveal that it was zoned as “business, area C, 40 feet”.

        So your claim about Aurora’s zoning is simply incorrect.


        Seattle annexation list

        Old Seattle zoning maps

        It’s definitely possible that looser zoning in SLU would not have created the height “step-down”. My point is not that SLU is a zoning-free paradise, but that it has a much more liberal zoning environment than most anywhere else in the city. Personally, I would rather have the extra dwelling units, even at the cost of some people’s views.

      6. The private contribution doesn’t cover the cost of the increased frequency. I believe it works out to about 30%.

      7. The $65,000 contribution covers the entire cost of the peak-hour frequency increase.

        Section 2 of Ordinance 123612;

        “The Director of Transportation is authorized to revise the Streetcar service plan to provide increased service frequency, Within the limits of funding received through donations,”

      8. $65,000 covers about one hour of service per weekday. What are they going to do, make one run AM and another in the evening and call it good?

      9. Metro couldn’t even add 2-1/2 revenue hours per weekday of bus service for the money they’re getting.

        Frequent service would help commuters reach their express buses at Westlake Center more reliably, or hop a Link light-rail train sooner.

        “If you have to wait 15 minutes, it takes just a little too long,” said Shelly DaRonche, transportation manager for the Hutch.

        Yeah, because you can walk it in that amount of time. $60k per underground parking stall… ouch.

      10. “Is there a mobility problem?” Yep. There is.

        The company I work for has had to hire off duty police to direct traffic so that people can get out of the parking garages at night.

        As a bicyclist, I have a huge dodge and weave route to get around all these non moving cars.

        The transit options are the 70, with riders from the great unwashed, or the SLUT, which is slower than mud.

        I’m just saying that since the city wanted to limit driving to work, they limited the available parking. That’s fine, but the alternative is walking to Westlake for most people.

        In my universe, the best option would have been to take the existing monorail, turn right at the Seattle Center loop around to Fred Hutch, swing back to pick up Group Health and Amazon, and head back to Westlake, with stops along the way. Given that wasn’t going to happen, a smaller POV system like was built at Heathrow would have been better than the SLUT. Think horizontal elevator.

        So yes, it’s missing either adequate transit, bike lanes, and they should have cut back the parking even more.

      11. Bernie, you’ve forgotten the difference between marginal (incremental) cost and total cost. The added cost of *extra* service on the streetcar could easily be as low as $65,000, because *most of the needed money has already been spent*. High capital costs to set up a new streetcar route, low incremental costs to operate it a bit more. If you happen to have the right staff sitting idle, it could end up really cheap.

        But the total cost, including the overhead shared by all runs, of a service hour will be much larger.

    3. I agree with the urbanist view, I just don’t know what to say regarding all these structural issues.

    4. Someone has to be the outlier pushing the debate along. While many here might support you in your sisyphean task, few are willing to join in at the present time.

      Keep it up though. :D

  14. Even if you had clearly defined political parties, why do you believe they would be split on pro-density v pro-stasis? I bet the top issues local voters consider are these (in my imagined order):
    1) Crime/police
    2) Schools
    3) Transportaiton
    4) Affordability

    We already have trouble explaning density as the solution to 4) (see john Fox). For the voters who think that development is an important issue, I bet the majority of them are nimbys.

    Raising money isn’t a bad idea. I imagine any attemtp to change the structure or format of our council will be at best fruitless. You should focus on the composition.

    1. I think you’ll find affordability much higher on that list.

      The city recently did a study and found that 10% of the city population is spending over half their income on housing. A majority of city residents are spending more than the supposedly ideal 30%.

      1. Crime isn’t a big issue in Seattle, is it?

        (1) Affordability
        (2) Schools (everyone with kids cares, some people without care)

  15. I like the at large elections. All council members are responsible to each voter. The transportation chair, for instance, does not represent one district. All members one way or the other can be challenged or supported from any area of the city. If we went to Districts then we could all argue about how they should be drawn. Redistricting is not an easy process.

    The us versus them mentality is very disturbing. Single family housing mixed with multifamily housing with good planning and design will work for now By the way tearing old buildings down is not green. Cutting trees down and less open space is not green. As has been pointed out here many homeowners are heavily invested in sustainability. I think some of the sharing of wall and structures works only for a few. I don’t understand why this is even an issue now. There are parts of Seattle that do have zoning for multi-family that are still basically being used as single family dwellings. Let us see what really works in those areas eventually. Where do families with children want to live? What works for them? Those who are agitating for more up-zoning (even before there is a proven need) could be accused of being the ones who want their property to become more valuable (a parcel of up scale condos is more valuable than a small parcel with a modest home) to flip it for perhaps a suburban mcmansion with acreage. Therefore, let us not use that argument or bother to make it. Sometimes people actually need a little space. Even the nicest neighbors can be difficult if the space is cramped and the number of people involved in every decision and chore is increased. People can be difficult.

    1. By the way tearing old buildings down is not green. Cutting trees down and less open space is not green

      In a region with zero population growth, that is correct; in modern Seattle, forgoing the opportunity to build more units in Seattle means more units built on the periphery, destroying habitat and chaining people to car-dependent lifestyles.

      You can’t honestly suggest that an acre of city park has as much environmental value as an acre in the Cascade foothills.

      1. Actually, yes and in a different way. Have you ever met a child who is afraid of grass. She had never seen it? Canopy is canopy, and older structures should be integrated into new structures. And certainly the lots in suburbs could be smaller. Actually icreasing density in the suburban developments (habitat has already been destroyed) would make transit more viable in those areas. Designing each area so that, (Seattle and the various suburban areas) each provides both single family and multifamily homes will accomplish both a more spacious, less cramped, feeling for each area and increase the viability of mass transit for all. Canopy is canopy. Yes, good parks are an essential ingredient for all neighborhoods.

      2. Tearing down old buildings can be green if it’s a mid-century, one-story, automobile-scaled building with a sea of parking around it. Yes, you generate carbon emissions by tearing down the building and replacing it. But you gain by having two or four households/businesses in the space where one stood, and in people having to walk less far to get to then. The real mistake was made when the building was built. We can’t just say that automobile-scaled strip malls exist, therefore they can never be changed and we’re stuck in this 1950s vision of utopia.

      3. It’s not acre for acre, though. One acre of city land costs the same as 1000 or more acres of land in the cascade foothills. However, if one acre of open space in an area starved for it could help support an additional several thousand units of housing that might otherwise go to a less dense area…. Cuts both ways depending on circumstances

      4. There is environmental preservation written into the new zoning code. A developer now is absolutely required to provide green open space, or green walls, or rooftop gardens, or some combination thereof to meet a mandatory “Green factor” requirement.

        Tell me how that’s worse than acres and acres of treeless lawns.

        There are parts of Seattle that do have zoning for multi-family that are still basically being used as single family dwellings

        For every one of those, I can find you a pirate duplex in a single family zone. Hell, I live in one (actually a triplex on land only zoned for a duplex).

        Your restrictive zoning is pricing me out of the damn city. Our shortage of affordable rental units is EXTREME. I make 22,000/yr. last year 10,200 of that went to rent, in what is (from what I can tell) the absolute cheapest 2 bedroom apartment in the city. And my rent went up on January 1st.

        I don’t care if I have to share a wall, or a roof, or whatever. I want a garden, but I’ll give it up because I NEED HOUSING. With our shortage, any new units that get built in city limits are renting for 2-3x what I pay in my old triplex.

        I LIVE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD, JOANNA. I am a real person, and I am suffering at the hands of people with your mindset.

      5. The neighborhood isn’t a single united front, no matter how much the bus2 group liked to paint it as one. More people live here with different needs. Sorry for shouting.

      6. Is there a 16 story building anywhere that somebody making $22,000/year can afford to live in? Even if land was free construction that tall is going to be expensive.

  16. It sounds like you folks are looking for a ‘Vision Seattle’ party.

    Municipal political parties isn’t quite the panacea though that you’re hoping for. In our system, it gives the mayors of BC’s cities an authority level over council closer to that of first minister. I don’t know how well that would in your system of government.

    Having had a chance to observe municipal politics in an officially non-partisan (my home province, Alberta) and now in BC where partisan municipal politics is the norm, I have come to prefer the partisan system versus the non-partisan one. The officially non-partisan system in Alberta still makes considerable use of the party infrastructure that parties in senior levels of government make use of. An officially partisan municipal political environment at least brings that out in the open, even if it tends to turn the local parties into farm teams for parties in senior governments.

    1. I really prefer to have local parties which are different in name and organization from national parties, but it seems to be hard to maintain.

  17. I love the Seattle Transit Blog. I love choo-choo transportation. I love good bus service. I always vote for the aforementioned.

    But, GASP. I love my smallish 1949 rambler on a 5000 square foot lot. I love my annual vegetable garden. I hate kids running around a condo/townhouse, shaking the floor. I am an old mo-fo. What’s a mother to do?

    1. Rod,

      You misunderstand Roger’s argument, or rather buy into the caricature of his argument.

      Please go on living in the house you love, and do so with a clear conscience. Just don’t get in a hissyfit when someone tries to build something denser in your neighborhood, or feel oppressed because your transit isn’t as good as other parts of the city.

    2. If you’re filling your 5000 sq.ft. lot with vegetable gardening, you’re actually doing something productive with it — don’t feel bad. :-) Most people end up with essentially dead lawns.

  18. When people say they fear density, they imagine Eastern European cinder block apartment buildings, the worst of “urban renewal”. But what about the opposite? Suppose all existing multifamily housing were replaced with single-family houses? You’d have have to extend the urban area from Marysville to Anacortes, and from Tumwater to Kelso, to provide houses for all the people who were displaced. Is that good environmental-wise or would it make it a better region? Some say yes but I say no. If the population were declining, then gradually everybody who currently lives in an apartment could live in a house without expanding the urban area. But the population is growing, and those additional people need to live someplace. Either we densify the centers or we watch all of western Washington become continuous sprawl.

    1. “If the population were declining, then gradually everybody who currently lives in an apartment could live in a house without expanding the urban area.”

      This is happening in Detroit, except it turns out it’s completely non-viable to have sewer systems and schools if people are distributed this diffusely and evenly.

      And it gets worse if the people are poor, which they usually are in an area of declining population, because they can’t afford to buy houses *period* (they can only afford to rent or squat).

      It turns out if population is declining, you *have* to concentrate people at nodes (we used to call them “villages” or “towns” or “cities”) if you want to have city services. That doesn’t necessarily mean high-rise or even mid-rise buildings.

      The problem in Detroit is that there’s something like one owner-occupied house per block even in the most burnt-out neighborhoods. Which makes it politically impossible to clear out any of the neighborhoods.

  19. Okay, Roger. Now I get it. You want a city council that is more divisive. Well, districting will probably give you that.

    You’ve also pined for stability and creating a layer between the government and the reprented. Districts will probably give you that, too. The term “rig” is not a particularly precise phrase to describe proportional elections. In those types of systems, the candidates have to work for and earn their seats. But “rig” is a good way to describe elections where districts have to be drawn by a small group of human beings. I hope you’ve noticed how difficult it is to un-entrench a ward boss. Under districting, the incumbents are pretty much entitled to continue in their seats, barring a major scandal, and sometimes even with a major scandal.

    What it still won’t give you is a Party of the Future. Where has districting been shown to allow the growth of new parties?

    1. Districting sucks. I live in New York State, “home of the extreme gerrymander”. Sigh.

      Proportional representation works fairly well where it’s been tried.

  20. Here’s one political reform that is going places, and would result in large urban areas finally being relevant in the election of the President: direct popular election.

    Each state gets to decide how its presidential electors are allocated (and all but two states give all their electors to the statewide winner). So, a compact among the states is being created, in which each state participating in the compact agrees to give all its electors to the winner of the national popular vote, once enough states enter into the compact to control a majority of the Electoral College. Washington State entered into the compact back in 2009.

    One-adult-citizen-one-vote. Can’t beat that with a stick.

    1. Sure you can if you happen to live in Wyoming.. Welcome to the rules based on those who live in California, NY, Ohio. Want to split the nation? Go ahead and try to run the “West” as if it were the coastal states.

      1. The opposite is happening now. Why is that OK? Senators representing 11% of the population in the least populous states can filibuster bills and prevent anything from being done. They are trying to impose their vision on the rest of the country. The moves to gut transit funding and renewable energy grants, and force us to be more dependent on highways and oil, are generally coming from the least populated areas.

      2. To hell with Wyoming’s demand for “special privileges”. Frankly, on national issues, they *should* do what California and New York (which, together, have infinity times the population) want them to, and if Wyomingites refuse, we have *more* than enough people and industrial base to invade and conquer them. To put it *very* bluntly.

        If a minority wants to dominate over the vast, vast majority, they’d better have the military power to back up their undemocratic demands. And Wyoming sure as hell doesn’t.

  21. I am in favor of grooming an “urbanist” slate for City Council. District elections will make it more difficult for council members to place the good of the city over the good of their district.

    I love the municipal party system found in many Canadian cities, such as Vancouver. However, officially forming parties or changing the City charter would be a distraction; painful, difficult, contentious, and most of all, uneccesary. Under the current system, a group of canditates can form an informal “slate” around a platform. Find some donors, get some media, attract people to the platform. A true eco-urbanist platform might attract 20 to 40 % of the vote currently, but with enough campaigns that percentage will grow, and eventually some candidates will get elected.

    Bring on the Party of the Future, as a slate!

  22. As long as you urbanists keep pushing this “density uber alles” idea where life elbow-to-elbow; no cars; no kids etc. is the morally superior way to live – you’re going to get blowback. And deservedly so.

  23. I am an urbanist. And, based on your squaling screed, you are an impetuous dweeb. How’s that for divisiveness?

    With us or against us! You don’t sound like an Urbanist. You sound like a Scientologist!

    You will only lose allies with this attitude and isolate yourself. I don’t get it, was readership down and you were looking to make a splash? Was this manifesto meant to galvanize the faithful?

    Chalk me up as an Urbanist who is now against you. The ranks have been cleansed.

    1. I believe “squalling” has two “l’s”, but hey, density dictates eliminating that troublesome extra consonant.

  24. “Us, them, right, and wrong: We are right, they are wrong. We have to win, and they have to lose.”

    I don’t care how confident you are in your viewpoints or how much you think the facts back you up, the instant you say something like this you fall into a trap. I sentence you to a month of reading nothing but pro-SFH literature and other literature opposing your views. Yes, there is some that isn’t just “waah, I don’t like change!” (though whether it addresses some of your specific points is another matter).

    1. Morgan,

      You don’t seem to get it. I’m aware of the pro-single family housing line. I’m opposed to it. I want to defeat it.

      What you’re suggesting is like asking someone who is pro-choice to read pro-life literature. There comes a point when people make up their minds about an issue, and then it’s time to organize to be sure their point of view prevails.

      You’d understand that with many things, why is it so hard to get that when it comes to urbanism and issues related to growth?

  25. Lack there of, I do not know your situation. When I was single student I lived in studio apartments and I certainly don’t have enough information to access your situation and where you fall in the types of housing you for which you can qualify. $10,000/year is, no doubt, a very reasonable rent for a market rate TWO BEDROOM apartment anywhere in Seattle. I am not saying that is fair. However, I do not believe that denser would make this cheaper. Developers still need the developments to pencil out. Property tax on an average to smaller home in Seattle runs around $4,000.00/year, and much of these are taxes we impose on ourselves. Landlords no doubt pass them along to renters.

    1. You are wrong. Supply and demand *does* apply to apartments. Developers lose gobs of money if apartments are vacant, so they LOWER THE PRICES until the apartments rent.

      Theoretically, apartment rents can drop until they hit the landlord’s cost, which is equal to property tax plus interest on any borrowing. (Landlords will drop maintenance if that’s what it takes to lower the rent to a level which rents.)

      Look at your own numbers. Rents in Seattle are massively high compared to property taxes. More apartments would definitely mean lower rents.

  26. Does denser mean more apartments, condos or town houses/sq. mi.? I don’t think we know that answer unless it is detailed in the develoment.

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