There is a strong center-left consensus that more dense construction, in the abstract, is good for society. Most obviously, dense construction is more energy-efficient, discourages the many negative environmental effects of driving, and a new housing unit in Belltown is more or less one fewer unit cut out of forest or farmland.
Furthermore, there are huge non-environmental benefits. The associated transportation choices are good for public health. Although individual projects may result in short-term displacement, provision of affordable housing in the long-term aggregate requires increasing supply. More residents place the city in a better fiscal position and new businesses create jobs. And finally, self-identified progressives must realize that increasing the electoral power of cities is good for the liberal project at all levels of government.
Against the enormous weight of these benefits lie a small series of objective concerns: more competition for parking in City-owned right of way, more neighborhood traffic congestion, more low-income housing, and in some cases reduced property values. Residents aren’t crazy to fear and oppose these changes to the status quo, but density advocates are right to dismiss these concerns as either wrongheaded, or inevitable given that we will follow the imperative to put density somewhere. And if climate change, affordable housing, runoff, health care costs, and/or defeating Republicans* are top-level issues for you then that imperative is clear.
Parallel to this cost-benefit analysis is the issue of aesthetics. Some people like leafy neighborhoods with big lawns, and good for them! I certainly have my own tastes in planning and architecture that don’t have any more intrinsic merit than anyone else’s. But that aesthetic preference has to be weighed against the many emergencies that density helps to solve.
Lest you think the prejudice of aesthetics is a solely a creature of the suburban mindset, the archetypical Capitol Hill hipster is equally capable of letting aesthetic considerations overwhelm much less subjective goals. Opposing development because one hates chain stores or doesn’t like the architecture, while understandable, is placing the same personal taste above our continued broadest-sense prosperity. It’s true that de facto taxing development through various requirements for open space, affordable housing, and whatnot might earn revenue for those goals, cutting into developer profits without actually stopping the project in question. But it also raises the threshold for what kind of projects pencil out, and economics tells us taxing the thing we need most is terrible policy.
All this doesn’t mean there can be absolutely no development regulations. But the Council should carefully consider whether any given one will deter the delivery of this city’s future.
* With apologies to the pro-transit Republicans around here! It would be good for America if you won the battle to make your party responsive to the needs of urban centers.