People love Seattle. So what do we do about our popularity? Here are our choices.
1. Allow additional housing capacity throughout Seattle (how and where to do this is open for debate), allowing people that want to move here to move here without kicking those with less money out.
2. Keep our restrictive zoning that only allows a small rate of growth, and allow affordability to plummet as rents go up to match demand.
The housing crisis won’t last forever. We can ride the next building boom, or watch as the suburbs do it for us.
99 Replies to “A Problem Many Cities Would Like to Have”
I think there’s a third option:
3) Upzone a little bit here or there to pretend we’re doing 1) but not enough so what ends up happening is more like 2).
How about (4):
Build a subway system to allow people to travel 30 to 60 miles so quickly that the entire King County region becomes “Seattle”, essentially increasing the number possible housing units and land that can take advantage of common services and features like Benaroya,
That’s impractical from a land use, demographic, $$, and ridership aspect. No.
Even for a city with 10 times the population of Seattle, “30-60 mile” radius is well past “subway,” range (where their high capital cost can be justified by density and high frequencies); it’s more on the border between “extreme suburban” and “intercity”…
That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be subways in Seattle, even Bellevue, etc, but the system should reflect the actual population patterns, putting subways in the denser cores, and offering good rail links between the different core systems (ideally, seamlessly interlined with the subways).
As I think I’ve discussed with you before on this blog: think nodes.
It seems like you want to change every dimension except one.
With high speed transit, we can spread the “city” out much, much further.
Really, it’s already spread to somewhat optimal distance.
What we have here are people wanting to “re-densify” areas but for reasons that are rather obscure.
My own plan is to spread out the central features of a city so that traffic would be able to optimally flow using two dimensions of travel.
I would never, for example, put a sports arena down town. I would spread them around the entire Puget Sound region and use a combination of fast highways, rail and ring parking to move people quickly.
Density is to planning what “brute force programming” is to computers…an inefficient and costly way to solve problems.
Details matter. Why not give some?
The capital cost goes up according to the area covered (where “coverage area” only includes places close enough to the lines to be useful).
A capital-intensive mode like subways costs a lot of money, so can only be justified when there’s enough people using them.
If cost is an issue (and of course it always is), there’s some threshold density of population, below which a subway is much more costly than the benefit justifies.
The Seattle metro area’s population is about 3 million people. That many people in a circle of 72km radius (the average of your “30 – 60 mile” radius) yields 184 people / km^2. That’s less than 1/10 of the population density of current-day Seattle, and less than 1/100 the population density of Manhattan. Subways are hard enough to build in Manhattan, so in your theoretical “super non-dense Seattle”, that would be a … very hard sell.
If you consider it not as a large sparse area, but as a collection of dense areas, you can only pay for the areas covered, and the cost will be vastly less, with almost the same benefit per person served.
The desire for density isn’t “obscure,” it’s because density is efficient. For many people it’s also desirable in terms of lifestyle, but even if you disagree on the latter point, it’s hard to ignore the former.
John, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Sorry. That’s not optimal, that’s the opposite of optimal for the above reasons I stated. It’s not sustainable in the economic sense or the people using it sense. Again. No. Can we connect centres with fast transit? Yes, but in much cheaper ways–but only key centres. Places like East Hill and Renton Highlands are not in my lifetime going to adequately densify to support high-frequency, high-capacity service.
Ok, just to break out the endless loop of this debate for a few seconds, let’s imagine this.
Imagine that for the next 40 years and beyond, Seattle does not add significantly to its population (King County, Washington State, the whole thing).
And what happens if density (again, suppose a fixed population shifting to density)?
We have a ferry system that allows people to travel that far from Kitsap County, don’t we?
I was going to mention the ferry’s.. thanks. Seems we’re already doing something like that.
I think there is a forth possiblity:
4) Upzone a little bit only when people don’t complain so we can pretend to do 1) but not in areas where it actually needs to go thus getting 2) around Link stations for example.
Exactly. 65 feet is nothing. Let the people who want to live there figure out how high of buildings they want to live in.
C’mon, Matt, let’s at least try to be a little thoughtful here. Put up two gross extremes in an either/or format and ask us to choose one pretty much guarantees a bullshit conversation.
Why not share with us your evidence that “our restrictive zoning” is inhibiting our rate of growth? Where on the map; describe for us please.
Sure! Pick any point on the map. There are none that are unrestricted. Even those with tall height allowances are restricted by setbacks and floor area ratios. You’ll notice we’re zoned for about 70% single family homes – those aren’t just severely restricted in height, they have large setbacks, yard requirements, parking requirements, as well as limits on the number of families that can live there (hint: “single”).
I’m presenting two options because that’s what density arguments often boil down to. One side says they don’t want Seattle to change. I’m just reminding the reader that the no-build option has concequences.
You’re advocating for unrestricted development? Anybody can develop anything anywhere? Anywhere he can assemble a site?
Sorry, but I’ll reserve my thoughts, comments, and ideas for someone who’s interested in a serious discussion, not just a rant.
Maybe we’re misunderstanding each other here. I’m presenting a general argument, not a specific recommendation. If your point is that you want me to offer detailed criticism of a specific area, you’ll have to wait for another post.
Just because a discussion is general, doesn’t make it less serious. If we don’t agree on the basics, we’ll never agree on the details.
And nobody is advocating for “the no-build option” Matt. Every neighborhood has developable land. Go to the top of Beacon Hill and look around the light rail station! Nobody is advocating it remain undeveloped. Go to any light rail station outside downtown, and you will find similar.
Straw-man arguments like yours are so tiresome; I’m sorry I even bothered to react.
I’m simply advocating that we allow more development.
Beacon Hill will certainly develop, but will quickly slow as it comes near the limits we’ve imposed. And allowing more housing capacity stimulates development faster – replacing a 2-story building with a 4 story building doesn’t often pencil out nearly as well as replacing a 2-story building with an 8 story building. It also makes adding capacity in the future difficult, as replacing a 4 story building with an 8 story building doesn’t often pencil out.
Maybe the current zoning is one of the things that makes Seattle desirable?
Yes there are people advocating for the “no build option”. The more sane among them understand that isn’t going to happen but their ideal trajectory is on the low end of the scale than the high end.
Seattle has hardly hung up a closed for development sign. In just the last week plans for a new 36 story offce tower were dusted off and Amazon is pushing forward with the largest single development project in the history of the city. And there doesn’t seem to be any problem finding sites for new apartments:
Development isn’t stalled because of restrictive zoning; it’s stalled because developers over built like crazy. Now there’s a reaction to build more apartments and to convert condo projects to rentals. FWIW single family didn’t take as big of a hit as condos because the ability to build new SF is very limited in Seattle. Which is of course why new units are built out in the suburbs.
Here’s a different view of the world. I lived in Houston for about 10 years, learning first hand how a city can evolve without comp plans, zoning, and building codes.
First, look at how their street grids, and thoroughfares connect. They don’t or jog like something out of a bad warthquake movie.
Then look at land use within areas with vast acres of unused pavement, or cars parked in ditches where there should be some.
Look at some of the nicer housing areas with a pig sty smack in the middle, or a topless bar next to a school, or …..
It makes you sick, especially if you are one of the single family housing units next to some vacant lots, shuddering at what may become your new worst neighbor.
This was back in the ’70’s, and I think they have some zoning laws now, but the damage has been done. All the urban blight has been grandfathered in.
earthquake (need edit feature)
mic: It’s a myth that Houston has no zoning. It’s true that they don’t enforce the single-use restrictions of most cities, but in terms of parking requirements, lot sizes, and the like, they have some of the worst restrictions of any city in North America.
If you want to see a city that was built before zoning, forget Houston and look at the North End in Boston.
The devil is in the detail. Have you ever read a zoning code? Even as a planner, I find most frightening and Seattle’s is no different. The more potential you have for density, the more complicated it becomes. That’s not all bad. But, what is problematic is that between fire, public works (civil construction), and building regulations it can make it very difficult for projects to pencil out. Then, just add in the parking requirements and almost no project will be able to get the maximum density permitted within the zone. It’s near impossible. That’s not to say that these regulations don’t serve important purposes, but sometimes it’s like planners never thought to try and model all the regulations together and see if they actually permit enough flexibility in them.
And don’t forget, not all neighbourhoods are created equal (my beef with one-size-fits-all zoning). Just because you put MR in Greenwood, Wedgewood, and Capitol Hill does not mean you’ll get MR development in all three. Or, that it will be maximised, or that they will even be of relative affordability/market value to the type of residents who desire to be in these places. In fact, the MR designation may be so restrictive that it’s super costly for land and the unit price is astronomical, thus if built no one would buy it. Hence, why bother with the project? It’s not necessarily tailored to the unique situations of ‘hoods.
I think there should be an entirely different procedure. The only “codes” should be safety codes, period — fire code, rules against use of toxins, stuff like that.
For every other issue, zoning is inappropriate, and pretty much *every* project should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to see if it matches the goals the city has. Abolish “by right” construction on a large scale, leaving it only for limited changes which have very little cumulative negative impact (putting solar panels on an existing roof, repainting the inside of a building, etc.), and you actually force the process for approvals of new developments to become more generous, because people aren’t asking for “special exceptions” — *everyone* has to ask. Something vaguely like the “planning permission” of the UK.
When everyone has to ask, it also makes it easier to force coordination between different developers.
I think this works better even for things like stormwater planning, where cumulative effects can be considered more easily without the problem of “by right” construction.
That’s absurd Nathaneal. Large portions of zoning codes are spent just on that, safety. Then tons of it responds to civil engineering considerations or health aspects–however you define health. And then there are the hundreds of pages on environmental regulations. Take a look at a zoning code and then get back to me.
As to your issue on “planning permission”, I previously lived in Ireland and am quite familiar with that process. I can say on the whole, it is a disaster in the opposite way as we have through strong regulation. There’s too much bargaining power and poor prescedents that get set. That’s why Form-Based Coding achieves the best of both worlds. But I would hate for us to go the planning permission route that is solely based on policy and not regulation. Ick.
I completely disagree with Nathanael (giving everyone a veto over every project would be ludicrous), but what I keep coming back to is this. The best neighborhoods in the world — places like the North End in Boston, and the “old cities” all over Europe and Japan — were built hundreds of years ago, long before the idea of height restrictions, or setbacks, were a gleam in any planner’s eye. They were not planned; they evolved. Under every real zoning code that I have ever seen (i.e. actual law in a major city), building anything like the North End would be illegal in about ten different ways.
Leave aside the ridiculous requirement about needing streets wide enough for two fire trucks; you and I both know that if that were the limiting factor, we’d figure out a way to make smaller fire trucks (like they have in Europe). But the whole spirit of every modern zoning code is in complete contradiction with the world’s best neighborhoods, you have to wonder if maybe it’s the codes that could use some work.
Aleks, were you responding to me in the second half?
I wasn’t directly responding to you, insomuch as I don’t think you’re advocating for maintaining the current code exactly as it is. I was mostly just expressing my frustration with the way things currently are.
Aleks–Got it. And you’re right, I actually want it changed significantly/rethink the planning approach altogether.
In Reply To Aleks,
The reason that the “old cities of Europe” became so beautiful and charming is almost entirely the result of mobility, time and materials. They had little of the first, lots of the second and a limited selection of the third. There was no structural steel; the first “skyscrapers” (e.g. buildings over just six stories) are from the 1870’s and 1880’s when the steel framework was invented.
European cities are dense because people had to travel by muscle power, either their own or an animal’s. They couldn’t go very quickly so to avoid two hour slogs on muddy roads, they built tall narrow houses hard by each other. But only as tall as stone, brick and wood can support.
It’s not that 18th century Amsterdammers weren’t that much more aesthetic than we are. They just had to build within much tighter constraints than any building code regime: economic reality.
In reply to myself,
Not “weren’t that much more aesthetic than we are”. “Were that much more aesthetic than we are”.
Agreed; need edit feature.
Really ooops! No closing . Lo siento.
@Anandakos: I’m not saying that everyone was so much better and smarter than. That would be silly and unproductive. What I’m saying is that, in many objective ways, the cities produced under the constraints you described were better places to live than the cities produced under modern constraints. Therefore, we should work to change the modern constraints such that we can build better cities again.
My last comment on this item. The fact remains that nobody has made a persuasive argument (or even a feeble one), using defensible numbers, why all the projected growth of this city for the next 20 years or more cannot be accommodated in existing urban centers and urban villages, and on either side of major bus lines analogous to the apartment buildings that used to (and still do!) line the old city streetcar routes.
And even if they did succeed in making that case, the solution is modest and well-planned upzones in urban centers and urban villages, enough to accommodate the increase, and maybe expand the UV boundaries a block or three in some areas.
Or put another way, there’s no need to lament that 70 percent of Seattle is zoned SF and that’s a terrible thing that must be subjected to wholesale change. Those neighborhoods are here to stay. The word “slum” is no longer a part of our vocabulary.
Drive around most any SF neighborhood and you will see solid houses that in many cases have been improved or are being improved, and they are just not candidates for tear-down and replacement by high-density whatevers.
I get the feeling that some folks here really want to go to war against single-family neighborhoods, and that kind of confrontation is just not necessary to achieve a high-growth future for the city of Seattle. Or other cities nearby which will also be growing similarly.
I see your point. I believe the issue is that most don’t view the existing UC/UV zoning as enough to accommodate real urban growth in housing, services, and employment. And, I think that is true. The problem is that most of the concern is around the UVs making the accommodation by neighbours in the surrounding SF neighbourhoods. It isn’t an attack on the SF areas, but rather that SF neighbours feel that the increasing of density in these adjacent UVs is too great and that the zoning changes or existing zoning is sufficient despite many suggesting–rightfully in most instances–otherwise.
+1. Not only is it not needed to expand density it’s an oxymoron. All expanding the zoning does is cut land prices so developers can make more profit. In the end you have hodgepodge development that doesn’t really attract people wanting an urban environment and certainly isn’t what SF neighborhoods are about. To make matters worse you make transit and other infrastructure required for high density more expensive and dilute.
“All expanding the zoning does is cut land prices so developers can make more profit.” This is not something we should be working against. Dropping costs for developers in an open market simply encourages development and increases supply which decreases cost. Remember, the alternative is to build less, which pushes the poor out of our city as more people move in.
Everytime someone says “it ought to be a park”, they’re advocating for a no-build option.
That’s not only more than “no one”, it’s the prevailing opinion about the waterfront.
Well considering most of the ROW is going to be taken up by a massive surface street, a “park” is the only realistic option for most of it anyway. Sure some of the piers could be developed, but the public would throw a major fit if condo towers were proposed for pier 48, Waterfront Park, Pier 62/63, etc.
I do think we need parks and should be adding to our park land. However we need to make sure it is being done for the right reasons and programmed appropriately and that we aren’t just throwing down poorly programmed park space willy-nilly. If done correctly we can have more Cal Anderson Parks and fewer parks that end up being liabilities to their neighborhoods.
I wish people on STB would stop using the word “upzone” which is misleading and stupid. What we should be doing is just planning and specifically planning for growth in a comprehensive manner. Sorry, I just hate the word because that’s not real land use planning. It’s far more complicated (or should be) than “40′ to 85′” magic of zone L3 to MR. The city’s one-size-fits-all approach entirely lacks nuance or special context. If we masterplanned, people actually might be like “wow, this plan is going to create a place!” rather than “but they’re saying 85′, no way!”
I actually agree, and hesitated using “upzone”. But it’s the best shorthand I know of for a very complicated discussion about heights, setbacks, parking requirements, yard and greenspace requirements, etc. I considered using the ugly word “densify”, but government doesn’t build (typically), just tell you how you can build – it’s developers that do the densification (ugh).
Do you have a word or short description I could start using?
Allow additional capacity, promote density in centres, enchance/revitalise district and urban centres through increased developablility…Sorry, I don’t mean to nitpick. It’s just as a land use planner, I have to work with the public on a regular basis and conveying things as upzones oversimplifies the situation and perhaps puts fear into residents. Conversely, when presented with a better picutre of what could/should be achieved makes it more acceptable/desireable. And, as I said before, straight rezones are almost always bad. There may be something said about not reinventing the wheel, but not any wheel will make for a desireable ride.
Done. A bit softer than upzone, but I can live with it.
I’ve wondered that. Does ‘upzone’ mean ‘taller buildings’? It sounds that way, but I wouldn’t swear to it.
Agree with Transit Voter…
Additionally its more than just a political battle, you can upzone all you want but getting developers to actually develop there is another point all together. Bellevue has been built up with tons of new apts and condos in the past decade, which are now only slowly beginning to reach satisfactory occupancy levels. A glut of new housing in a neighborhood takes a while to establish sufficient demand.
Yep, even with all the restrictive zoning we still end up with projects like this:
Gerding Edlen gives up on Bellevue Towers condo project
I’m not sure what satisfactory is, but I’m looking out at the Bravern right now, and over at Bellevue Towers, and walk by Ashton, etc. most days…it is pretty obvious how overbuilt DT Bellevue is right now. The vacancies are clearly visible in all these buildings, in large numbers. That doesn’t mean they won’t fill up someday–they will–but there isn’t a crane or MUP board to be seen anywhere in DT. The huge parking lot directly across from the Bravern is never more than a third full, even including the cabs that stage there. Link will likely do wonders for the vacancy rate; DT Bellevue has a decent analogy in Buckhead outside of Atlanta, which really took off once MARTA reached the area. Similar vibe, too–not the soul of the city, but pleasant enough and easy to reach.
As for me, I like living in Seattle. ;)
Recalling Chicago and Detroit suburbs like Royal Oak in the ‘fifties and early ‘sixties, it seemed normal, natural, and healthy to have a certain amount of small industry close to residential neighborhoods. Not talking about huge plants like Dodge Main or Ford Rouge, but machine shops and printers.
I’m wondering how much advances in computerized drafting and associated computer-assisted design and manufacture could create an advanced industrial base that people could both work for and live with- enjoyably.
More or less the same presence as the apps and video games we’ve already got- but no longer virtual. What’s everybody think?
I’ve stated my thoughts up above; I think that a “planning permission” system like the one I describe would be far better for that goal than the rigid code-based “zoning” system currently used.
There are plenty of the small industry you mention in Georgetown, South Park, Ballard and Interbay in close proximity to residential.
According to the book Superbia (Dan Chiras and Dave Wann):
In part the case brief reads:
I thought Roger Valdez already solved this problem. Just build really condo buildings downtown, put schools in them, then urban-loving families won’t move to the suburbs. Do I have that right?
PS, are developers still building condos?
No, because people aren’t willing to pay the overpriced prices condo developers think their units are worth, and those who are willing can’t get a mortgage.
>> Let the suburbs do it for us.
The suburbs are already ‘doing it for us’… strike that, *doing it together with the region*. Many suburbs, along with Seattle, are striving to support the same type of dense, mixed use development that supports transit and alternative transportation.
If you look at the majority of the region’s multi-family housing growth, even in the Suburbs, the’type’ of development happening is in urbanizing, mixed use areas. Look at Juanita (yeah, it has issues, but it is a big improvement from what used to be), downtown kirkland, downtown Redmond, or the plans for Overlake and Bel-Red. The suburbs aren’t your white picket fence monoculture of Single Family Homes anymore – and they will continue to change.
I understand this is the “Seattle Transit Blog”, but it has traditionally focused on region-wide transportation and land use issues. The imagined competition with the suburbs is counter productive. Between a world where all growth occurs in Seattle and the suburbs languish in single family oblivion, or a poly-centric region with many productive transit anchors that provide region wide ridership supporting region wide service, I would choose the latter.
I don’t think most of us at STB have a problem with the desification of suburbs that are already completely/mostly urbanized, especially when it’s in their downtowns. Growth in Kirkland if very different than growth in Sammaish, but both are “suburbs”.
Would be interesting to see where most people define the “suburban boundary”. I live in the Issaquah Highlands where a grocery store (eventually), stores, restaurants, offices, and services are combined with parks, a variety housing density options, schools, a hospital and frequent community events, is that considered a suburb? Is it a suburb because there’s a park and ride? Is it a suburb because Seattle is bigger? I could work for a company based in the highlands and get practically everything i need in my neighborhood and isnt that all the benefits of a dense environment?
Suburb: a smaller community adjacent to or within commuting distance of a city.
The issue with “I could work for a company based in the highlands” is that it rarely works out that way. Placing jobs in sprawl* and houses in sprawl almost always means you end up with a huge amount of travel, as people criss-cross across the region for their jobs. The same goes for work-related travel, as engineers drive to architect offices for meetings, interior designers drive to paint stores, etc. It’s far more efficient to put jobs in a central location, and homes as close as paletable to these jobs, and clustered around transit.
Anyway, we’re pretty far off topic and I could post an entire series on this.
* I’m using “sprawl” loosely. I’m unfamiliar with the highlands – for all I know it’s dense, walkable TOD. But as long as there are jobs and parking for jobs, it will act as sprawl in this respect.
I was kind of playing devils advocate with that one, but I have to wonder, by your definition of sprawl (jobs and parking for jobs) much of Seattle is “sprawl” or is Seattle exempt. Up until about a decade ago, 75% of issaquahs tax base was commercial/industrial with big wigs such as Costco, Siemens NW, and a variety of light and mineral industrial business. Now after development of the highlands and Talus (another planned community) the tax base is much more equal and theres a good mix. There are plenty of regional transit connections. And saying that “if folks leave the city to work elsewhere, its a burb” is misleading because peak hour volumes heading out of seattle proper in the AM and into seattle proper in the PM are roughly equal to the more traditional commute.
So this leads me to believe that if a town has parking lots, its considered part of sprawl…i can think of many parking lots in seattle.
Sure, but if our goal is minimize commuting distance then you need a central point for most jobs. If we want that to be Issaquah, that’s fine, but we need to choose one. Take a look at our bus network – bringing all buses downtown is much more efficient than having 10 hubs with buses criss-crossing the region. The same goes for cars.
If Issaquah came first, then perhaps Seattle could be considered sprawl. But it didn’t. Development sprawled outward until it now encompasses Issaquah.
I guess you could make the case that Issaquah is just an independent town that happened to get bigger (and sprawl on its own). I don’t buy it. Issaquah could disappear tomorrow and it would hurt Seattle (economically) a bit but not that much. If Seattle went away, though, it would devastate Issaquah. Much of the economic as well as housing growth is the direct or indirect result of Seattle. There are a lot of jobs in Bellevue and Redmond, but those benefit tremendously by being close to Seattle (which, of course, contains the UW). So much so, that I doubt they would be here if not for Seattle.
Of course, it is always tricky to draw the line. Is Tacoma a suburb of Seattle? I vote no. My reasoning is simple. If Seattle didn’t exist, Tacoma would be much bigger. It really would be the city of destiny. But Seattle exists, the railroad went through here, and now Tacoma has to play second fiddle. On the other hand, if Seattle didn’t exist, then Issaquah would be similar to say, Darrington (which is very pretty, by the way).
@RossB, talking about historical destiny, believe it or not, Port Townsend was at one point to be the railroad terminus. If that had happened, our demographics might have been very different. The metro area would most probably have been on the west side of Puget Sound.
For what it’s worth, I would consider most of Seattle city to actually be suburban in character. The only neighborhoods I’d really consider to be urban, aside from the CBD, are First/Capitol Hills, Belltown/Uptown/LQA, the U-District, and Ballard.
I’m not really that interested in classification, though. To me, the key points are:
1. Do people walk? Is there street life?
2. Can you perform your routine activities (including work/school, shopping, etc.) without needing a car?
3. Can you live there for your whole life — i.e. is it suitable for people of all age brackets / life stages?
4. Does “everybody know your name”, or do you have the freedom to build your own social circle?
The classic bedroom suburbs generally fail the first three tests (and may past the fourth only by default, i.e. because there is no community at all).
Classic small towns, and modern suburban/exurban “center cities”, often pass the first three tests, but rarely the fourth. It’s like Twin Peaks; there are so few people that you can’t all help but know each other. The net effect is that it’s very hard to be different. There are obvious “differences”, like being gay or a racial minority, but small towns can even be hostile towards people who don’t like sports. (This is the key reason why I like cities: I *am* different, and I like living somewhere where I can find people who will celebrate that.)
If Issaquah Highlands has evolved from a bedroom suburb to a real community, that’s awesome! But when it has restaurants with 100 different ethnic cuisines, and a twice-weekly drag show, and three tango schools, then I’ll call it a city.
Sprawl and suburbs are two different things. A suburb is a small city that’s a satellite to a larger city. Even in the 1980s the suburban ring was around fifteen miles: Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, Bothell, Redmond, Bellevue, Renton, Kent. People didn’t commute much from Auburn or Puyallup or Marysville; those were far away. Issaquah was kind of borderline, and it’s only because of I-90 that it could even be considered a suburb.
Now the commuter belt has extended to Stanwood and Puyallup but I have trouble thinking of them as “suburbs” of Seattle. They’re really exurbs, or extraordinarily far away.
Sprawl essentially means single-family tract housing marching out between cities to the next city and the next, looking like an endless see of undifferentiated suburbia. Bailo’s vision and my nightmare. It can also march inward into a large city, as a large part of Seattle is. Sprawl is not intrinsic to suburbs, because there are compact walkable streetcar suburbs. The key indicator of sprawl is low-density single-family neighborhoods and strip malls that just keep going on seemingly forever without end.
Which railroad planned to build to Port Townsend? The Milwaukee went there by car ferry, but the long winding north/south slog up the west side of Hood Canal to avoid an additional 30 miles of water passage would be deranged.
So “No, I don’t believe it”. I think you have been misled.
Anandakos, According to this article: http://www.ptguide.com/history-a-attractions , it was the Northern Pacific Railroad that was considering a connection to Tacoma.
In general, I support proposal #1. As to “how”, I would start by allowing more houses. The Single Family 9600 designation is ridiculous. Who does it help? Assuming that people prefer houses, it just pushes the cost of housing up. It means that folks who want to live in a house have fewer to choose from. What is the benefit to the neighborhood? That it doesn’t look like San Fransisco (horrors!). Seriously — I can understand the apartment versus house (zoning) argument, but I have little sympathy with zoning geared towards the development of big houses on big lots.
It helps maintain that lot size and to a degree, that housing size, for single-family residential neighbourhoods. I’m not a planner for Seattle, but I would nearly classify most single-family residential neighbourhoods as historic because the vast majority of the buildings are historic structures. Does that mean that there isn’t capacity for more ADUs or denser infill? I don’t think so. It’s a rigid way oh enforcing the “character” of the neighbourhood even though some change would/is appropriate beyond just standard single-family. Why not allow rowhouses or some low-density apartments/condos as well? Short answer is opposition. However, there should be some serious rethinking to achieve growth while maintaining preservation.
A square bungalow hastily thrown up in an era of mass-expansion square bungalows does not a “historic structure” make.
“Historic” does not just mean old(-ish). It has to offer some sort of architectural or cultural significance significance beyond “roof over a couple of consecutive generations’ heads.”
And please don’t consider that an attack on you, personally. I’ve just been really frustrated at the Roosevelters pointing at the Bauhaus redevelopment debate and screaming “SEE WHAT IT’S LIKE TO HAVE YOUR HISTORY ATTACKED!!!?”
Totally false equivalence. One example involves mixed-use structures that have evolved to serve many uses of the years, and which are presently thriving. The other involves… bungalows.
One involves the desire for targeted protection of a defining strip while acknowledging the need for overall growth and evolution. The other involves protecting views of a totally run-of-the-mill school building. (Not protecting the building… protecting friggin’ views of it!)
And one affects the other. Capitol Hill is forced to endure the replacement of the good with the mediocre because it’s the only place that major expansions are permitted. Roosevelt gets a $500,000,000 subway station whose north entrance opens directly to… bungalows.
I realise that d.p., but the fact remains that the vast majority do/should qualify as historic structures because they are high-quality craftsmans. I’m not saying 100% are, but that housing stock should not be significantly altered for the primary structures. However, I did say that additional development would not be in contravention of an to preserve the historic neighbours–because again, most are historic–and that such development should be accommodated and properties should be identified where they are not historic in nature and are potentially developable/redevelopable beyond just SF.
*an effort to preserve historic neighbourhoods
Well the Bauhaus just opens up another DPD problem which is historic preseration itself. The Landmarks Commission and neighbourhoods are a disaster on that front. Ugh…and you’re right. Roosiehood and the Bauhaus are not equivalent.
Speaking of the views issue, it looks like that’s been solved in the supplementary guideliness for that block. If only they’d done a masterplan before this trainwreck, this whole Roosevelt crisis could have been avoided. I hope the planners and STB folks have learnt from that debacle to do the work upfront rather than just pushing the details at the end. We could have had an even better product. :(
The root problem is bad station location. Even with a rezone it’s still a really really bad location for an uber expensive subway station.
The reason to “preserve” Bauhaus has nothing to do with the fact that it’s “historic”, and everything to do with the fact that modern buildings simply can’t match the *commercial* density of the old ones.
We all intuitively know this, but the only density numbers that ever get published are residential numbers. So when developers say “but we’re increasing density!”, we’re left to fall back on soft responses like historical preservation.
The right solution is to put incentives into place (which largely means reversing the current disincentives) for higher commercial density, as measured by number of unrelated tenants. If all of these new buildings doubled the number of commercial tenants, rather than halving (or reducing to 1), there would not be nearly as much opposition to development.
I think it’s especially ridiculous when grocery stores take up the entire ground floor. If we need to ban something, let’s ban that. Put grocery stores on the second floor or in the basement, and reserve the ground floor for shops that rely on window displays to attract customers. No one decides whether or not to go into a grocery store based on the windows. (Hell, the Trader Joe’s on Madison actually covered up several of the windows!)
The number of historic buildings in Pike/Pine is small and dwindling. The number of craftsman bungalows, even if you limit yourself to “high-quality” ones, is mind-boggling.
To take d.p.’s point one further, historical preservation is not just about preserving things that are good and old; it’s about preserving things *that we are running out of*, so that we don’t run out of them completely.
To do otherwise is to encase a city in amber.
While I disagree with your Bauhaus rationale, Aleks, I do agree with your assessment–largely–on ground-floor grocery. It was very typical to have city centre grocery stores, but they would be coupled with department stores and placed the food store department downstairs while cafés, side units, and department retail would exist on the visible floors Dunnes Stores and Marks and Spencers were very good about this.
*typical in Ireland
To preserve the character of a neighborhood, especially the historic character of the neighborhood, is a laudable goal. It should be balanced with the other goals. The thing is, with so many of the neighborhoods I’m talking about, the zoning laws don’t do that. Historically, the area I’m talking about used to be farming. I can see some remnants of that close to where I live. I have a neighbor who lives in a nice little cottage, surrounded by a small grape vineyard. When that house sells, the new owner might just buy it as is. Or, like so many houses in the neighborhood, they might knock it down and put up a much bigger house. I’ve seen plenty of cute little houses replaced by really big houses. This is all fine and legal. But split up a lot into smaller lots with smaller houses? No!
Here is an example: http://g.co/maps/43ujr
I’m not sure if that link works very well, but that should show a picture of NE 125th, looking south, around 19th Ave NE. It is about a block away from a big Safeway, and across the street from the very popular 41. In other words, it is quite convenient. These houses are much bigger than most of the houses in the neighborhood. I have no doubt that putting in a row (or two) of much smaller houses would have made more money for the developer and been more in line with the rest of the neighborhood. There are numerous, much smaller examples throughout that neighborhood.
Meanwhile, check this out: http://g.co/maps/5pv5a
These are really cute little houses (OK, maybe not that little) all in a very colorful row. These sit in a residential area, along Meridian on the west side of the street, in between North 34th and 35th. From a purely numeric “walkable” standpoint, this neighborhood is way less walkable than the first one. The nearest store is quite a ways away. There is a restaurant or two not very far, but it is not nearly as many in as short a distance as the first example. In other words, with the exception of biking, it is not nearly as convenient as the first example.
So, it is obvious which set of houses serves more people. The question is, which one would you rather walk by? Which one would fit in better with the character of your neighborhood? To me, the answer is just as obvious and is the same answer.
The real third possibility (apologies to Andrew and Adam :D) is that we solve the problem on the demand side. Whether because of poor public services (including transportation), fewer jobs (as companies curtail hiring because of the cost of housing), or other reasons, if Seattle becomes less desirable, then our problem goes away.
Obviously, this isn’t a “solution” anyone would like to see. But it bears mentioning.
That’s a great addition to the possible outcome scenarios, Aleks.
Most of us reading here prefer progressive growth accommodating as much density-tolerant population as is available and reducing cost pressures regionally. But our oligarchs have no particular incentive to that end, as long as the staff they need can afford to live here. “Affordability” isn’t a concern for the creative-class immigrants Amazon and Microsoft need.
But you’ve brought attention to the risk that matters to these important influencers: if we don’t invest in the infrastructure that makes Seattle attractive, including ensuring accessible housing stock for service workers (and the low business rents that support those precious indie businesses like Bauhaus), then they will have trouble recruiting and retaining the talent they need to their HQ locations.
I hasten to add, to Chaz’s point, that desirability is regional. Suburban Microsoft needs Capitol Hill for talent-attractive housing, and Capitol Hill in turn needs the more affordable neighborhoods that so many small business employees commute from. And they all need transit options.
Not so much. They can just hire more talented engineers from India and Russia who don’t have any desire to be pretend hipsters. Almost all of the managers which are the most competitive hires choose to live on the eastside. Microsoft is not a young inovative start-up. It’s a crush you with corporate wealth behemoth.
@Bernie: There are several dimensions on which you’re wrong.
– If Microsoft didn’t want to attract people from Seattle, then why do they maintain an entire fleet of buses with the express purpose of making easier to commute from Seattle to Redmond/Bellevue?
– Almost without exception, the most talented people at Microsoft live in the Puget Sound area, or at other major American or Western European sites. That includes a ton of people of Indian or East Asian descent. Many of them live in Capitol Hill. Whatever you have heard about outsourcing, it’s probably a myth.
– Most Microsoft employees live on the Eastside because most Microsoft employees are old enough and wealthy enough that they want (and can afford) the 2.1-kids-and-a-dog lifestyle. If you look at Microsoft employees under 30, a far higher percentage lives in Capitol Hill. Just ride the 545 some day — the ridership is remarkably young.
– Whether or not Microsoft is innovative is off-topic. Suffice it to say, they have no problem attracting young people.
Most Microsoft employees live on the Eastside because that’s where Microsoft is. Microsoft’s location over thirty years has affected the kind of people who work there. People who love or can tolerate the low-density lifestyle choose Microsoft, while those who hate it are working elsewhere. This has changed somewhat now that downtown Bellevue and Kirkland have urbanized enough that you can close your eyes and pretend you’re in a city while still being reasonably close to Microsoft. But Microsoft has reached the point where it needs the skills of people who refuse to live outside Seattle, so it either runs shuttles to Capitol Hill and Fremont and Ballard, or it starts to have problems with recruitment/retention. Of course MS could just open a Seattle office like they have in downtown Bellevue.
The benefit of upzoning, even on a moderate scale, would be to reduce land costs. For example, a 30,000 sf property (half of some blocks) could be valued at $120/sf or $80/sf (hypothetically). Assuming 100 units are planned, the difference of $40/sf is $12,000 per unit. Maybe 5% less total development cost…not huge but still significant.
Developers compete against each other. Even while their goal is profit (or at least a living), any new opportunity will bring enough competition to keep rents fairly close to development costs, or sometimes lower if there’s a bubble. The same would apply to existing units. The land savings would probably go more to lower rents than to profits.
Of course the people who already have high-zoned land would howl…a lot of people could lose $100/sf or $10/sf off their values with one signature.
I don’t get your point, Matt; how does upzoning would “reduce land costs”?
If a block in an urban village or urban center is upzoned, it’s value goes up, because it’s more attractive to developers. In a growing market, developers will bid up the price of that more desirable parcel. How does that turn into reduced land cost?
“Buildable” land is expensive in Seattle because there’s not much of it.
In cities with a lot more buildable land, it tends to be a lot cheaper. Some cities overdo it…I’d prefer something in the middle.
I fixed 2) for you:
That didn’t make the slightest bit of sense.
Demand has already risen faster than supply, thus the skyrocketing. You can’t keep rents down with Voodoo.
What color is the sky in your world? How does limiting the supply of dwellings keeps rents low?
I was confused at first, but I think what he’s saying is that our restrictive zoning actually makes Seattle so much less desirable that it effectively curtails demand as well as supply.
FWIW, I disagree with him — the evidence suggests that demand will always, always rise — but I think it’s true that part of the attraction of super-big, super-dense cities is precisely that they have so much to offer. By limiting its supply of interesting people and places, Seattle does make itself less desirable than it would otherwise be.
>>bringing all buses downtown is much more efficient than having 10 hubs with buses criss-crossing the region
Not to revive a dead thread, but I wanted to address the concept that a monocentric job center is more ‘efficient’ than a polycentric one. From an operations standpoint, the biggest problem with a monocentric network is buses running empty (deadheading) back to the residential areas to pick up another run of workers in the morning. If you have multiple regional hubs, with strong attractants at each one, you have strong anchors you can run routes between, keeping them more full in both directions.
10 hubs is better than 1. IF you want evidence, look at the 70’s running between the CBD or UW, or many of the cross lake sound transit routes. Often high ridership in both directions.
In any event, today there are far more jobs outside of the ‘central city’ or even CBD than in it. Cross lake traffic, as noted earlier, is about equal in both directions. Our region is already developing in a polycentric manner, and this is supported by our regional plans.
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