Recently, councilmember Sally Clark bravely broached the subject of reexamining the Urban Village Model. It should be pretty uncontroversial that after 20 years we would step back and assess a policy, but in the eyes of NIMBYs even talking about looking at the possibility of change in Single Family Zones is considered a capital offense.

The Urban Village Strategy was developed during the Norm Rice era to ‘protect’ Seattle from change by concentrating all growth in existing urban areas. On the surface the idea is pretty sound. Put people and resources where there are already people and resources, the opposite of sprawl.

A lot has changed in the last 20 years. Both in Seattle itself and with the country as a whole. More people want to live in Seattle and more people want to live in walkable urban neighborhoods. PSRC predicts 1,712,000 additional people to be living in our region by 2040; for political, economic, social, and ecological reasons we need the majority of those people to live in Seattle or nearby dense, urban, walkable communities. Currently only 8% of Seattle’s land is multifamily with an additional 6% being commercial and mixed use. This artificial scarcity raises the value (and thus costs) of developable land in these areas resulting in higher prices. When you permanently remove three quarters of the city’s land (49% of the land is Single Family – another 30% is Industrial, Public Facilities and Parks/Open Space) from the developable pool this means almost all growth and change is concentrated in small slivers of the city. Not only do these neighborhoods experience artificially high prices, but they also experience rapid change as growth is artificially concentrated there.

Density most definitely has its benefits, but spikes of incredible density in a sea of single family might not be the best solution. This is especially true if you are worried about the lack of 3 bedroom ‘family housing’ which is best supplied through town and row houses and not towers. If we want more family housing we need to open up more of the city to family housing, allowing these homes to be spread around and not artificially concentrated on a few blocks.

Or at least we should talk about it. We are a growing, vibrant, intellectual city, not a religious cult. No past policy should have the status of unquestionable dogma. Hopefully other leaders and officials won’t leave Sally Clark out in the cold, but will join her in saying that no policy is beyond discussion, even Urban Villages.

117 Replies to “Re-examining the Urban Village Strategy”

  1. There’s a lot of land that’s zoned multi-family. but is used for single-family housing.

    1. Andrew: relative to the amount of single family zoned area’s, there isn’t much multi-family zoned land – regardless of current use.

      1. No there’s heaps, really. All the mixed-used and multifamily are multi family, and much of the single-family zoned land is also.

        Probably some of the vacant is as well. The issue is mostly about shitty zoning rules, not as much restrictive zoning maps.

        Those are also a problem, but the bigger problem is that the zoning rules are too strict, which is why there’s 5 percent vacant land, and tons of houses sitting in multi-family zones.

      2. “Tons of houses sitting in multi-family zones” is not necessarily a bad thing! Zoning is just an expression of what you’re allowed to build on a plot of land if you want to redevelop it. It’s not a requirement to redevelop a property. If you own a house, the city council cannot force you to tear it down and build a high rise. It’s your property to demolish (or not) as you wish.

        I’m curious about where these places with “too many” single-family homes in multi-family zones are. I’m most familiar with areas of Ballard and Fremont where a large fraction of the single-family homes in multi-family zones have indeed been demolished and replaced with more dwellings. This is happening despite the fact that existing homeowners are under no requirement to sell to developers. To me, this is a sign that the market has a huge amount of untapped demand for more housing in that area, and the current zoning is insufficient to meet the demand.

        I would prefer to see a more widespread rezoning, to get the supply of legally developable land much farther ahead of the demand for additional buildings. If the rezoned area is large enough, you might see a handful of single-family homes on a block replaced with townhomes, but you wouldn’t see as many full blocks transformed like what you’re seeing in Ballard.

        Right now we’re seeing large areas basically developed up to the maximum that the zoning code allows. People are afraid that this will happen in their neighborhood if rezoning happens there. And if there is only a little bit of rezoning here and there, they’re probably right! The demand is high. But if you allow that demand to be absorbed across more of the city’s land, the effect on any particular neighborhood will be much smaller.

  2. One item I do not see on the existing land use pie chart is parking lots. Seattle is no exception to the North American standard of using a lot of otherwise valuable land as ground level parking lots.

    1. Surface parking should be heavily discouraged in both the land use code and by the tax code.

      It should be extremely painful financially to sit on a large lot that is mostly surface parking.

  3. I certainly sympathize, and advocate for a balanced approach – we clearly need more multifamily development in the city, and I don’t want so much pressure on the urban villages that they lose all of their character and great architecture because the buildings aren’t tall enough.

    That said, I think the urban village model is a good one. Concentrating growth is the whole idea of urbanism. It is quite strange to argue that we should concentrate growth on the regional scale (into cities) but not on the city scale (into urban villages and downtowns). I think the ideal density pattern is scale-independent (that is, fractal), so that from nation to neighborhood scale, you see a similar distribution of density.

    Why? Our goals are to create places, with the kind of vibrancy that can only be supported by density, while leaving more places low-density, so that there is respite (that people in dense places can reach, hopefully). New York has this kind of pattern, whereas LA isn’t spikey at all – it’s just endless medium density. So there is both no focus, and no respite. Also, LA is really hard to build good transit for, both because it’s too low density, and so you can’t get enough riders on any given route, AND because it’s too high density, with too many people in the in between places that aren’t well served by transit, who get in their cars and clog everything up.

    I used to live in Montana, a state with comically low density. Nonetheless you felt the same difference between the old, dense downtowns and the lower density stuff around them – the old downtowns had a sense of place, with street life and shops and walkability, even in towns of 10,000. The old neighborhoods adjacent to downtown were often quite nice, too, but the recent sprawl, that housed many people but had no center, just sucked.

    Anyway, back to Seattle – if we want to build walkable neighborhoods, if we want to support grade-separated transit, if we want to have a variety of neighborhoods for a variety of folks, and most of all, if we want voters to support greater density, we need to concentrate growth within the city. The height limits ought to be increased, the size of the urban villages can certainly increase, the number of urban villages can increase, but the model, fundamentally, is a good one. Urban villages are just urbanism on a smaller spatial scale.

    1. I certainly agree EHS that the urban village strategy is inherently a good one. Concentration of density is a good thing. I would, however, dispute the idea that ideal density patterns are scale-independent. Seattle, while not overly small in total area (84 sq mi.) is still a fairly small city and therefore I think of it as the smallest “building block” of density. Meaning – density is a good thing everywhere within city limits. The smaller the city, the more you want to argue for ubiquitous density to maximize benefits. And it’s for the reason that you allude to: the smaller area a transit system has to serve, the less it’s strained.

      Seattle will best realize its potential when its lowest density neighborhoods are substantially denser. Now, I’m still ok with the idea of urban villages as it relates to concentrating commercial districts (though I think we need more, and we need to allow residential corner stores). I don’t have a problem with residential-only areas per se, but they should be filled with rowhouses, dublexes, etc. In other words, Seattle should be a combination of commercial/mixed use density AND residential density. Right now we only have the former. That’s why I think the best thing we could do for affordability/livability/vibrancy is take at least half of the 50% SF zoning and change it to LR-1, 2 or 3. It’s the epitome of Brent Toderian’s “gentle density” because it’s lowrise, fits neighborhood scale and happens slowly. NIMBY’s would love the rowhouses like the rest of us.

      1. This totally nails it. For which I’m thankful because I hadn’t the time today to write something along these very lines.

        (And Matthew’s post does a good job of “gently” broaching the subject, of raising concerns about the less-than-stellar effect the current strategy is having on the physical plane, without being too prescriptive in a way that could turn the discussion pedantic.)

      2. I really like your idea for a cutoff minimum area for fractal scaling (very Benoit Mandelbrot of you). I think, though that it should be defined by the distance one is willing to walk to transit, as that defines our transit network.

    2. +1

      No matter what we do with zoning, some neighborhoods are better-suited than others for transit and housing development. Capitol Hill is popular precisely because other people live there who create the demand for restaurants and nightlife. That network effect would be difficult to replicate on Magnolia. Major institutions (UW, Amazon) create nodes of development that attract workers to live nearby.

      The 5% that is “vacant” obviously isn’t zoned “vacant” – I’m curious what it is zoned, where it is, and why it isn’t used. I assume a lot of it is undesirable, but if even 20% of the vacant could become MF, that is a 12.5% increase in the MF stock which is worth many thousands of units.

  4. One of the problems with saying we have an “urban village” strategy is that we still zone highest and plan for most growth along highways instead of in walkable areas. Look at zoning maps for Ballard, Upper Fremont, Northgate, even Lake City and Columbia City (though LCW and Rainier are a bit more humane in the very centers of these neighborhoods). The high points are centered around the biggest highway interchanges instead of the greatest people interchanges.

    It’s the result of 20th-century highway capacity planning combined with 20th-century NIMBYism, with a cynical nod toward urbanism.

    1. +1

      I agree that we are not utilizing the already available MF zoned areas of our city and where there is some development happening, it is far below potential. I observe MLK and see low rise development when there should be significant mid-rise (my definition of mid-rise is 6-15 storeys) along the Link alignment.

      1. Link, and the idea that each of its stations are transit nodes, is quite new, and development there will take time! So, too, will a step back from auto orientation in housing in SE Seattle when many of people’s jobs and daily needs still are a car trip away. I really don’t think what’s happening along Central Link exemplifies the problem.

        I think a lot of people would agree that zoning in Seattle is broadly too obsessed with height and too restrictive. But I think the other broad flaw is that it’s designed to focus growth in so many places where highways and parking access stunt walkability, local transit, and attractiveness to families. In Ballard, for example, it’s right up against 15th and Market instead of in the walkable core to the west, or (if we’re focusing on family housing) the slow-speed side streets where it’s safe for kids to play in the front yard.

      2. I almost want non-grade separated rail along these corridors, to slow down the streets and increase walkability. If 15th, lake city way, aurora, and greenwood had a street car and some bike lanes, maybe they would be more worthy centers of density.

      3. Greenwood is distinctly different from the other three, at least south of 85th. North of there it’s more obviously an arterial. If we rule out streetcars, would it not at least make sense to wire it and build Dexter-like bus platforms between the driving and bike lanes? Third and Eighth NW and of course Aurora are full on car streets. Greenwood has a nicer ambiance and already has the bones of three or four little neighborhood nodes.

        Plus, it’s the top of Phinney Ridge. The tops of hills are superb places for mid-rises, and I think something similar should happen to Roosevelt north of the Link Station. Mid-rises on the ridgetops don’t block anybody’s view, although sun blockage on the shoulders of the hill is a concern and should be kept closely in mind during permitting. Putting buildings there creates hundreds of new “view properties”. And of course, Phinney/Greenwood was a streetcar line out to 85th and in fact hosted the Everett Interurban. It shows all the signs of having been a major transit route for decades. Seattle should build on that.

      4. “But I think the other broad flaw is that it’s designed to focus growth in so many places where highways and parking access stunt walkability, local transit, and attractiveness to families.”

        Al, sadly very accurately true. The ideal situation is for neighborhoods to have a low- to medium-speed transit spine through the center and higher-speed roads at the periphery to accommodate “through” cars and long-distance trips by residents.

        Of course, two such roads are not often available, but where they are the city should do all it can to segregate the uses: choose a transit street and focus development along it. Then make gasp traffic improvements for cars along the “through” street.

        For instance, West Seattle has something of this pattern south of the Alaska Junction, because Fauntleroy Way offers long-distance traffic the opportunity to bypass the neighborhood center closely but far enough to insulate it. Roosevelt can serve that purpose for Maplewood; Fifteenth NE is a much better through arterial and Fifth offers access to Northgate. Roosevelt can be more leisurely, and it too already has walkable development over nearly a full mile.

        In Ballard I would think that other than right at Market, 15th shouldn’t be developed. Let 24th become a local transit street with dense development all the way up to 85th while 15th keeps the hotshot RapidRide and through traffic. If a Link subway ever comes to Ballard, it should then follow the density up 24th with the low-speed transit “shadowing” it.

        In Capitol Hill Twelfth Avenue is becoming the through north-south arterial since Broadway is almost dedicated to transit and bikes now.

        All of these changes are admittedly hard on the people living along the “car” street, but it really does optimize neighborhoods for pedestrian and transit use.

  5. Put another way, where we have successfully built fast, grade separated rail (downtown, Ballard, U-district), the population density in the vicinity of the stations is about 30-50 thousand people per square mile, just playing around with Where we haven’t, but might – fremont, Ballard, etc., it’s more like 15,000. (I don’t include Rainier Valley because 1) grade separation, and 2) Most of Seattle has to be tunneled because of our hills, including any east-west route. Otherwise we’re stuck following water or switchbacking, like the whole Jackson routing of the first hill streetcar, and nobody likes that)

    The average population density of Seattle is under 7,000, and that’s of course including all these high density places, so the single family areas are substantially lower density than that – less than 5,000, I’d bet.

    So in the extreme example, if you didn’t focus density at all, you’d have to have three times to ten times the current density to warrant light rail to a given neighborhood. To do this would require insane population growth that the city could neither draw nor support. On the other hand, with the population growth that we do have, concentrated in the urban villages, we could potentially build a grade separated network covering almost all of the urban villages, where with this growth pattern, most of the city would live, within the foreseeable future.

    Obviously this is an extreme example, and we want to find ourselves in some, more comfortable middle ground. But the middle ground we want fits quite nicely in the urban village concept (just boost the heights by some percentage within the existing village, and expand the edges of it a bit at the old height limits).

    1. I think you may be falling into the trap of conflating means with ends.

      Grade-separated rail is not the goal. The goal is to provide the highest quality of urban life for the largest number of people who desire it, while enabling those people to move easily between the various sites of life’s requirements and activities.

      The problem with the current concentration strategy, and the logical dots you trace from it, is that there is zero evidence that wide-spaced node-rail — with gaping coverage holes and horrible access penalties right along its path, designed in denial of the fundamental reality that the lifeblood of a city flows in all directions, and that the vast majority of trips will never involve both origins and destinations in just 14% of its land area — ever actually works!

      The story of successful transit cities is the story of contiguous and multifaceted urbanity. Density levels may ebb and flow, and certain usages may be concentrated in certain places. But only when there is a reasonable “density floor” can high-capacity transit “corridorize” effectively, rather than seeing proper-spaced stations nixed because density levels won’t support it. Only then will access penalties not be exacerbated by visual monotony and a dearth of eyes on the street. Only then will there remotely exist the critical mass to provide comprehensive multimodal and “feeder” transit frequent enough to be worth anyone’s time.

      None of that occurs when you allow only 14% of the city to be “city” enough for transit to work. Which the growth-quarantine concept inherently continues to do.

      1. For the goal as you stated it, what means can compete with grade separated transit? We have too much traffic for transit without at least exclusive ROW to provide a high quality urban lifestyle, and if we’re creating new right of way (elevated or underground), the costs are high enough that we should use rail for maximum capacity per square foot. But rail can’t climb our hills, so, while certainly there are corridors that are ideal for different modes of transit, underground rail is what we want to do the heavy lifting of our system, connecting the densest places.

        So the question for me is how to build a city where the most people can have access to that. If the minimum density for that is five times the current average density, but in 40 years we expect growth of maybe one tenth of that, how do we make a good transportation network? We can go BRT, etc., to save some money, but that only saves so much – we’re looking at an order of magnitude difference between our tax base/potential ridership and what we need (obviously, very roughly).

        So I think sure, Seattle will eventually have a big, dense network of high speed, frequent, grade separated mass transit, but our laws aren’t going to last anywhere close to that long. I think the way we get there, though, is by increasing the part of the city that is above the threshold, rather than trying to get the city there. If we have 50% population growth to work with, and we can get 80% of them to live in places that are now, say, 1/3 of our threshold density, we could get those places all up to the threshold, and serve 80% of the new residents with high speed transit, plus half as many people who were already there, we’d end up with an additional 40% of our (eventual) population having access to great transit, on top of those who live in places that are already dense. If instead we just spread those people out everywhere, hoping that we’d reach enough density to have really good transit, we’d have transit only in the (much smaller) number of places that already have 2/3 of the required density.

        And here’s the other thing that’s great – if we don’t cover everywhere, but the places we cover are dense, that is, in many ways, most of the city. I literally never go to a place, other than a park or somebody’s house, that is not in one of Seattle’s urban villages. What concerts are there in Wedgewood, what great restaurants in Maple Leaf?

        The urban villages will expand, certainly, until there are only a few pockets of land in-between them, rather than most of the city. But the best path to that kind of density, I believe, is with real density where we can get it.

      2. (Note – I agree, our stop spacing is rediculous – the cost of tunneling justifies more stations, and I have little doubt those areas will be filled out by the “build it and they will come” principal, within reason)

      3. This is not about disparaging the need for targeted high-capacity (sometimes rail) transit investments.

        This is about disputing the strategy of funneling our entire growth futures into just a handful of relatively disparate “nodes” on the premise that this is how self-sustaining, high-volume-generating subways work — when it is, emphatically, counter to any and all existing precedents of subways that actually work!

        You are correct that an increasing percentage of city residents will inhabit multi-family dwellings, wherever (and in whatever form) they may be allowed to exist. But all of the existing inhabited areas will continue to be inhabited, and must therefore interact with not only their inhabitants, but with all of the friends and visitors and service-deliverers who might have a need to reach those inhabitants.

        (That you “literally never” go anywhere more than five inches from a potential subway node tells me only that you are very young. And I say this as someone who intentionally rents in the dead center of Old Ballard, and whose outings and errands also trend toward other urban villages more often than not. I still make multiple trips a week for which an urban-village-only transit network would not suffice.)

        Comprehensive three-dimensional mobility is what separates a transit city from, well, a sprawl suburb. If you are wantonly limiting in the way you privilege only one type of transit trip, you deny access not only to those outside the “growth quarantine”, but you also require cars for anyone leaving the quarantine. Thus car ownership remains a ubiquitous fact of Seattle urban life, infrastructure remains built with cars in mind, and transit retains its middling modeshare — even where your rarified subways have reached.

        Comprehensive transit does not involve buses snaking through 4,000-person-per-square-mile s.f. zones twice an hour, with (predictably) nobody on them. Comprehensive transit requires predictability, frequency, and speed, and a critical mass of people wherever they go to make them worthwhile. Thus, in every city where transit is a fact of life, large swaths of mixed-density and mixed-type is requisite. Seattle has plenty of places where this could be a reality — plenty of opportunity for infill, for a non-threatening, non-invasive, organic new urbanism. You quarantine that out of existence at the future city’s peril.


        Not to toot my own horn, but that is what we should build, and I’m not alone in thinking that. Just about any outside expert would say this, just by looking at the data. But I’m no outside expert. Rather, I’m a long time resident who knows that while things have changed quite a bit over the years (e. g. where is Redmond?) other things have not (UW, Ballard and downtown Seattle are still vibrant areas that aren’t that far from each other).

  6. I just thought of something funny today. Many right-wingers believe urbanists and pro-density people are all influenced by Marxism/Communism. However, the reality is that Karl Marx actually advocated what we call “urban sprawl” today. I quote the 9th plank of the Communist Manifesto:

    “Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equitable distribution of the population over the country.”

    Of course, modern Communists (such as myself) aren’t so foolish. We figured out long ago (about 90 years ago, after some of the Russian revolutionaries tried to implement it) this would never work and actually impedes progress rather than promoting it. Of course, in 1848, when Marx proposed this, life was so much better for the urban proletariat (relatively speaking) than for the peasantry that one could look back and see why this seemed a good idea at the time. But I digress….

    Anyway, to those non- and anti-Communist urbanists out there, please feel free to quote the 9th Plank as to why urbanism is not in any way a Communist-inspired idea!

    1. I think you may be falling into the trap of conflating means with ends.

      Grade-separated rail is not the goal. The goal is to provide the highest quality of urban life for the largest number of people who desire it, while enabling those people to move easily between the various sites of life’s requirements and activities.

      The problem with the current concentration strategy, and the logical dots you trace from it, is that there is zero evidence that wide-spaced node-rail — with gaping coverage holes and horrible access penalties right along its path, designed in denial of the fundamental reality that the lifeblood of a city flows in all directions, and that the vast majority of trips will never involve both origins and destinations in just 14% of its land area — ever actually works!

      The story of successful transit cities is the story of contiguous and multifaceted urbanity. Density levels may ebb and flow, and certain usages may be concentrated in certain places. But only when there is a reasonable “density floor” can high-capacity transit “corridorize” effectively, rather than seeing proper-spaced stations nixed because density levels won’t support it. Only then will access penalties not be exacerbated by visual monotony and a dearth of eyes on the street. Only then will there remotely exist the critical mass to provide comprehensive multimodal and “feeder” transit frequent enough to be worth anyone’s time.

      None of that occurs when you allow only 14% of the city to be “city” enough for transit to work.

    2. Thanks, John! It’s always great to look into history for perspective on the present and the future. But you know some other constants too.

      All the world’s major religions, and the US Pledge of Allegiance, share this with Communism: movements start out seeking to liberate people, especially women. But as soon as they become the ideology of a human ruler, their founders are- and have been- the first ones killed by the governments they inspired.

      Every aggressive radical needs to remember that when the State really does get smashed, gangsters and psychopaths have their shovels sharpened for the next phase. Unless the surviving rebels have an improved grade of police.

      Any student of Communism knows how little time it took before the Communists started killing more Communists than anti-Communists did. Democratic socialists were dead on sight. Stalin probably had Karl Marx on his death list, just so as not to take any chances.

      To keep this all [OnT], Karl Marx would be happy to die all over again to see Lynnwood- sprawl, working people’s pickups and all. And Stalin would cheerfully shoot every pro-transit densitizer in Seattle for lack of cement monstrosities with little towers for red flags on top.

      But remember: Nikita Kruschchev gave Ukraine its fifty mile long mountain trolleybus line with cute stewardesses for tour guides and drivers both cute and handsome too. Today the Crimea. Tomorrow…..Long live the Route 7 to Ellensburg, and the happy peasants and workers of its terminals!

      Comrade Mark Dublin

  7. Until the MF areas are actually built out there is no reason to go after SFH areas. It’s a fools errand, and generally pointless.

    The mix of SFH areas adjacent to small/med/large business districts is one of the things that makes Seattle great. We should celebrate that and find ways to prove it while maximizing available housing.

    1. “Built out” is a broken concept in this context. The closer to “built out”, the higher the cost. If you have row of 4-story buildings in a 5-story building zone you need amazingly high rents to make tearing them down and rebuilding pencil out. And if you get just a few land owners prospecting on the future by keeping parking lots, you’ll never get there.

      There has to be a middle ground, and I think Matthew has been very reasonable. Keep much of SF zoning, but expand the cores. Maybe add rowhouses near the cores. This keeps most of the charming Craftsman homes, but allows some price relief.

      1. “Keep much of SF zoning, but expand the cores.”

        More or less. I don’t see a need to upzone Magnolia or Lake Washington or maybe even 22nd Avenue. But we can’t have SFH’s just a block from Link stations or future Link stations, at least more than a token amount. Not when so many people want to live near stations and either can’t find a place at all (not many options near Mt Baker station) or have to choose from a few high-priced buildings.

    2. Lazarus,

      That’s what I’ve been saying all along, build up the areas that are already on their way up. But, others just want to tear down the old residential neighborhoods and build up 10-story towers all over the city in the name of ‘density.’ Keep the towers on Aurora and Lake City Way and away from Phinney Ridge, Pinehurst, and Loyal Heights.

      1. Then you clearly haven’t understood the post.

        Nobody is proposing towers in your backyard. In fact, the argument for expanding where multi-family properties can exist is that doing so would explicitly protect property owners from feeling pressure to sell in the tiny slivers of the city where development is presently quarantined.

        The slash-and-burn of recent years in places like Ballard and Capitol Hill has done a fantastic job of convincing Old Seattle to “fear” density. But it is our policies — and the quarantine policy pushed by those like yourself in particular — that has led to hideous design-by-algorithmic-maximization, that has encouraged the destruction of anything of existing interest, that has yielded an overpriced monoculture not on the basis of quality, but only on the basis of how expensive it was to buy up the neighborhood and tear everything down.

        But mixed-age, mixed-size, organic growth and change is not inherently scary. It is not something you must keep a mile from your precious lot line at all times. Indeed, it is what makes most cities functional and interesting and dynamic.

        I know this may come as a shock to you, but most of the 100,000 Craftmans in this city are neither precious nor special.

      2. I’ve always been the one to advocate taller buildings that actually look GOOD, even from the pedestrian’s point-of-view. Setbacks from the street, narrow towers that don’t dominate the street-view, wider sidewalks for pedestrians. Instead, what we get is the garbage that was built in Ballard and the new stuff built on Broadway. THAT is what I’m afraid of and THAT is what I don’t want–and will fight against–in other neighborhoods.

        And I certainly don’t think that tearing down a row of houses along 65th and then building row houses is a way to beautify a neighborhood. Having a separation between buildings is another way of making the view for pedestrians–the ones who actually live and walk around in their neighborhood–more pleasant. Sure, sometimes what is between the houses is junky, but at least there’s something separating the houses instead of one long wall.

      3. I know. That would be just awful, wouldn’t it?

        Like, completely hideous


        I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Cinesea, but you have terrible taste. Setbacks and pushbacks and pocket plazas and recessed towers are generally the tools of awful cities. Even Vancouver, whose successful urbanity via slim and sightline-managed towers on pedestals is the exception rather than the rule, makes it absolutely clear that the lower floors should arrive at the sidewalk such that the active-pedestrian experience be paramount.

        As for the necessity of low-rise detachment “for those who actually walk around their neighborhoods”… see the examples above. Those are places where most people walk, most of the time. Seattle Bungalowlands are where most people drive, most of the time. Because the walks are tedious and everything — by definition, thanks to those legislated gaps — will wind up being further from everything else.

        Again, current rules bar such incredibly basic forms of housing as the mother-in-law apartment, the retrofitted duplex, or a house on a skinny property next to another house on a skinny property. Nobody is trying to put a Capitol Hill breadbox on your street. But you need to get over your irrational fear of this. It isn’t terrifying. In fact, it’s insanely in demand right now. And it’s how more people get to live in the family-friendly neighborhoods whose character and community you cherish.

      4. And I certainly don’t think that tearing down a row of houses along 65th and then building row houses is a way to beautify a neighborhood. Having a separation between buildings is another way of making the view for pedestrians–the ones who actually live and walk around in their neighborhood–more pleasant.

        This is a great example of why I can’t take aesthetic objections to density seriously in practice. In theory, I care about aesthetics a great deal. In practice, however, aesthetic arguments have become nothing more than a tool in the anti-density toolkit, to be used and abused as necessary. Cinesea’s argument about the inherent ugliness of rowhouses is so obviously absurd that I find it incredibly unlikely it’s offered in good faith, but the very nature of aesthetics (eye of the beholder, no accounting for taste, etc etc) make it pretty much impossible to confidently call him out.

      5. It is funny you mention Pinehurst, as the built environment there is so piss poor I think it could actually be improved by buldozing the whole thing and replacing it with the sort of development we’ve seen overrun Ballard and Capitol Hill.

        In any case “10 story towers everywhere” is not what we’re talking about and wouldn’t likely happen even if such a zoning change were made. For that matter there are only a few spots in the entire city where any residential construction over 65′ (6 stories) or even 40′ (3-4 stories) is allowed.

        What is realistically on the table is the following:
        * extending the areas zoned NC and MR out further into current L zones.
        * modest height limit increases in some NC and MR zones
        * extending L zones out further into areas currently designated SF
        * changing ADU rules to remove the parking and owner occupancy requirements.
        * extending the boundaries of some current urban villages.

        BTW for those of you who hate the n-pack townhouse developments and the 4-6 story “bread loaves” realize these built forms are a direct result of the Seattle land use code. Some of the most hated features of town home developments are a result of requirements for parking setbacks, and fenced yards put in at the insistence of mostly single family homeowners. The restrictive building envelopes allowed are the very cause of n-pack townhomes and “bread loaf” buildings.

        Don’t believe me? Go look at any suburb around Seattle where either townhomes or 3-6 story multi family are being built. Even better go look at similar sorts of developments elsewhere in the US.

      6. BTW for those of you who hate the n-pack townhouse developments and the 4-6 story “bread loaves” realize these built forms are a direct result of the Seattle land use code.

        Another reason to not take the aesthetics crowd seriously. They support a bunch of rules that severely limit design options for any kind of increased density, and when that predictably results in dreary aesthetics, they declare density ugly. It’s just another example of how aesthetic arguments are cynically abused.

      7. What we most need is larger rectanguar areas with the density in DP’s pictures. An “urban village” in my mind is a place with a wide variety of destinations within walking distance, so that people can meet most of their weekly needs without leaving the neighborhood. “Center City” and the U-District have that — a significant number of people only leave the neighborhood once every month or two — but several of the others are too small to have enough variety. We need something the size of Center City in north Seattle, and the most logical thing would be to extend the U-District west to Wallingford — sorry SFH’s. Or even Ballard: say a multifamily zone south of 65th, which would already be centered on the 45th subway. That would give us something like Chicago’s North Side and enable a lot of multipular living/working/transit use within that area, and enough reasonably-priced apartments for everyone who wants one. It could even be a suitably-sized “quarantine area” if you want to look at it that way.

        Re Cinesea’s concerns about setbacks and space between buildings: not everybody wants those, and a large percentage of people find linear development pleasant if it’s done well. Part of the problem is modernism in architecture: too many geometric shapes and large plain surfaces, not enough moldings or decorations or plants. And those filled-in spaces mean more destinations within walking distance, which make it easier to be a pedestrian.

        If you look at DP’s third picture, the building on the right is the same size and capacity as several of our new buildings, but the surface features bring it heavily down to human scale. Its biggest problem is the narrow sidewalk: you’re walking single-file right against the wall. I’d make it twice as wide, which is not possible in this street but Seattle sidewalks are already that way. (I’d also paint the bottom story something darker, perhaps brown, because I like high contrast.) I’ve also heard of boxy buildings being disguised as multiple narrow buildings; I haven’t seen any examples of this but it sounds promising. For instance, this building could have some vertical lines and different colors and windows to make it look like three buildings per side.

      8. multipular multipolar living/working/transit use; from all parts of the village to all other parts.

      9. I’m under no illusion that any large swath of Seattle is about to become Paris or Boston.

        Even in Paris, where the primary arterial landscape was indeed rearranged overnight, all the stuff in between the arterials is a product of hundreds of years of gradual and organic change (both predating and postdating Haussmann and, contrary to popular belief, including a surprising amount of recent construction and some modernist masterpieces).

        And that’s really the point here: allowance for organic shifts over time. Cities that successfully balance a masterplanned framework with the leeway to encourage a heterogeneous and interesting built environment that adapts to changing needs are the richest and most vibrant cities. Full stop.

        Cities that try to force form at critical junctures — slum clearances and urban renewals, Disneyland “recreation and entertainment” zones, forced envelope-maximizing on just a handful of blocks out of an entire city — I don’t think “lackluster” even begins to capture the affronts to the urban realm.

    3. @Matt,

      I hardly see why we should assume that the solution to a slow build-out of the MF zones is to attack the SFH zones.

      If the MF zones are building out too slowly, then that is the problem we should be addressing. And that is where the greatest opportunity for affecting total supply is anyhow.

      1. Great, let’s address it. Your protection of every square inch of fully-built-out SF housing space has crammed half of our population into 8% of our land area. In a time of high job growth it’s exactly that which is causing high rents.

        What, exactly, is your solution if you can’t spare a single craftsman to relieve this demand?

      2. I don’t see extending the area where MF is allowed further into SF as ‘attacking’ them. One who is reasonably familiar with Seattle only has to look at the current zoning map to spot the absurdities. Major arterials with nothing but SF zoning along them. Pockets of SF zoning in the middle of a sea of NC65 zoning. Any SF zoning at all within 1/4 mile of a rail station.

        Then there are they areas where the zoning was changed to SF without considering existing uses. The areas with pockets of non-conforming apartment buildings or commercial structures. This is particularly tragic in the case of commercial structures as the allowed uses are limited once the grandfathered occupancy permits are allowed to lapse. Many are now illegal apartments rather than being corner groceries or coffee shops because commercial businesses can’t get occupancy permits from the city while the prohibition on MF use goes largely unenforced.

        I currently live in Maple Leaf. You could easily change the zoning along 5th NE, Roosevelt, 15th NE, and NE 80th to allow MF development along their entire length without ruining the ‘character’ of the adjacent SF homes.

        In the areas where current MF zoning isn’t being built out to its maximum it is probably useful to look at why a particular lot may not be built out. Perhaps the height limits recently changed and it has a newer 40′ structure or townhomes where now a 65′ breadbox would be allowed. Perhaps the current use is as some form of retail (hint: successful gas stations and grocery stores are rarely torn down to build MF development). Perhaps the lot contains a historic structure. Perhaps there is some issue with the lot that makes development uneconomic (easements, setbacks, odd shape, too small, or toxic contamination). Perhaps the current property owners are simply not motivated to develop the land or sell to someone that will (common where the current use is SF).

  8. I agree completely with the post and most of the comments. The idea that we can simply create “mini-cities” and concentrate growth there is flawed for many reasons. First of all, it will (and has) contributed mightily towards high rents. Drawing circles around a handful of areas and saying “you can build apartments there” is probably the most expensive way to increase housing. To begin with, a lot of people in that area simply won’t sell. They have no interest in converting their house, small apartment or parking lot into a bigger apartment. If they do sell, then increasing density will be expensive. Not only do you have to jump through all the hoops that the city throws at you (and they throw a lot of hoops) but you actually have to build the bigger apartment. You have to tear down that fully functioning (in most cases) valuable piece of property (house/small apartment/parking lot) and pay for the construction of a bigger unit. This isn’t cheap. The only reason we see so many cranes around town is because builders think they can get top dollar for every unit (in most cases, they are right).

    The opposite is to simply convert a big house to a multiplex. This is relatively cheap, and would be done quite a bit if not for the rules that pretty much prevent it. Then you have subdivisions, additions and the like which are also banned in almost all cases. Simply put, if you want to increase density given the current rules, it will cost you. This, in turn, means that it will cost the renters.

    Plus the whole “urban village” concept cuts both ways. There are plenty of areas within Seattle that are reasonably dense, but outside the arbitrary limits. They are being told, from a transit service standpoint, that they need to get in back of the line. This is stupid. The best and cheapest way to increase density in the city, and to lower the cost of housing (all other things being equal) is to allow for more density in the single family zones. Provide good public transportation to those areas and everyone wins. Well, not everyone. The folks that want easy parking will just be out of luck. Boo hoo. Housing is a right. Parking isn’t.

  9. Before we start raiding the residential neighborhoods and tearing down the wonderful houses, lets first develop along the arterials and make them desirable areas to live. Instead of ripping out the houses on Phinney Ridge, how about ripping out the giant parking lots on Aurora Avenue? Build 10 story condos along Lake City Way before ripping the heart out of Broadview. Basically, there are already plenty of spaces that can be re-developed before you dig into the neighborhoods that made Seattle the place that people moved to and want to grow old in.

    I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way, but I guess I’m the only one that is brave enough to post it on here.

    1. Livable, walkable neighborhoods don’t develop in thin spindles along state highways. Livable, walkable neighborhoods grow in two dimensions, and give people place to exist other than adjacent to four lanes of 50mph traffic.

      1. It certainly doesn’t have to be a 50mph road–that’s a political decision entirely. A boulevard, nicely landscaped, with wide sidewalks and shops available to everyone. A lot of the old-style downtown areas that people dream of really are one street with all the retail and restaurants facing that street. Or, just take a look at Columbia City for a small version of what I’m writing about. Basically one street that has all the retail for about three blocks in length. Sure there are some shops along the cross streets for a bit of variety. Or, the town of Snohomish, where the old downtown is basically one street that has a few shops on cross streets, too. Aurora Avenue from 120th to 205th could basically be a bunch of three-block ‘neighborhoods’ with a few bigger ones(like around 155th/Sears). Lake City Way from about 105th up to just north of 145th could also be a series of ‘neighborhoods.’

        I’m just asking people to consider that alternative rather than trying to force density on the single-family residential areas that have been the areas that people want to live in, and grow old in, the houses that they bought years ago.

      2. Nobody is forcing density. The people who live there now are under zero obligation to sell but it gives the people who do want to sell the ability to sell to a larger base. Nor does LR zoning prohibit single-family housing. In fact, single-family housing is an explicitly *allowed* use under LR1/2/3, unlike NC1/2/3 (neighborhood commercial) where building or rebuilding a SFH requires a use permit. (Though an existing SFH can stay under “legal, non-conforming” standards.)

        And if your next response is “but if my neighbors sell and then I’m surrounded by townhouses, I don’t like that,” my question is what gives you the right to dictate what your neighbors do with their otherwise lawful property?

      3. Cinesea, you are right on about Columbia City. Especially if the city goes through with the road diet from Alaska to Orcas, Columbia City and its close neighbor Hillman City will become the Ballard of south Seattle. However, the Rainier road diet depends on the rebuilt Martin Luther King and its much improved auto capacity.

        There is no such alternative to Aurora and Lake City Way providing through traffic services. There are no available alternatives. One obviously can’t force all the traffic that now uses LCW and Aurora onto I-5 farther north; I-5 is usually a parking lot in the peak direction twice a day already. If you want to develop in the Aurora corridor put the development between Aurora and Midvale and run low-speed urban circulator type transit up and down Midvale. Folks can get on the Hot Dog Bus for long trips and the circulator to hop six blocks down to their favorite bar without the danger from crossing Aurora one way or the other.

        Lake City has the same opportunity to concentrate along 30th and 35th. I doubt that huge new complex at 125th will be very successful. It’s at the corner of two highways, not to mention the glaring sodium arc lighting. (How gross is that!?!) Neighborhoods should turn their backs on large highway arterials and develop along “arterial-ettes” a block or preferably three or four away.

      4. Lakecityrider,

        If you want to go in that direction, then I would dare say that we expect government to have rules and regulations to say where and what can be built. I didn’t move to Texas, where they have schools next to warehouses and all their polluted trucks. I moved to the Seattle area, where they have nicely defined neighborhoods and choices of neighborhoods where people can choose where they live. If someone wants to live in a dense neighborhood like Capitol Hill or lower Fremont, they choose that, with all the highlights that their neighborhood provides. If someone wants to live in Phinney Ridge or Blue Ridge, then they are choosing the amenities that their chosen neighborhood provides. It is the people on this blog that are saying, “We don’t care that you chose the Meridian neighborhood for it’s single-family homes. We are going to turn it into South Lake Union.” I expect my government to listen to the people of the neighborhoods and do what is expected of them. This government has already said where the Urban Villages are to be–if I want to live in Greenwood or Ballard, then that is where I would choose to live, but I didn’t. When I was younger, sure, I loved living in Fremont, but now I’m older and I bought my single-family house in a neighborhood that I expect will be relatively the same 20 years from now. Sure, with LINK coming, I would love to have a bus route that gives me relatively quick access to it so I can get to Alderwood Mall, downtown, or even Bellevue without use of a car.

        I expect my government to listen to ME in MY neighborhood. I don’t care what someone in White Center, or Laurelhurst has to say about MY neighborhood any more than they would care what I say about THEIR neighborhood. High density belongs in specific areas, not all over the city. And no one will ever convince me otherwise. If someone disagrees, I recommend them to walk around South Lake Union and then walk around West Magnolia–do we really want them to look the same?

      5. First off, you chose poorly by replying to me with a swipe against Texas. I (am a Texas native and) was a homeowner in Texas for many years. Based on your description, and I mean no disrespect, you’d actually really like the zoning laws in most Texas cities. There is no such thing as density in most cities there and even if a zoning change or specific-use permit passes, citizens _anywhere in the city_, not just around the affected lot, have the option to push it to a full City Council vote. That means that someone who is, literally, 20 miles from a parcel being rezoned can force the entire council to vote on it, unlike in Seattle where only surrounding property owners have a guaranteed voice. Heck, even in “urban village”-style zoning, like at the corner of Preston Rd/Northwest Hwy in Dallas, well-off landowners can prevent someone from building medium-density lowrise buildings simply because it “isn’t in the character” but it otherwise fits with the overall master plan. The only place your “hands-off” zoning idea applies is in Houston, which has no zoning rule but has a wide variety of private deed restrictions, and in very rural counties which have no zoning authority. Anywhere, outside of Houston, that more than 50 people actually live has zoning, and I guarantee you that the overwhelming majority of it is very not-dense.

        My point is and continues to be that someone who got there first is not entitled to force land use policies for now and forever, nor are the rest of us required to wait for that person or those people to die off or move until our democratically-elected council can make a move. I also think that it smacks of hubris, or at least the height of economic discrimination, that rezonings can happen in places like the Central District and Highland Park (in the former, the city is proposing to rezone several SFH lots to LR2 and neighborhood commercial) with nary a peep but mercy forgive us should we ever want to let Roosevelt or Phinney Ridge homeowners rebuild to some rowhouses or have a residential corner store.

        All “getting here first” guarantees you is the right to live in your house on your land. It does not buy you or your neighbors the ability to set the city in amber, especially when there are so many negative externalities–which you are not paying for–against having large tracts of SFH in a city that needs and is crying out for more density.

      6. If a couple raises a family in a larger home in a SF zone, and then wants to remain where they’ve lived, but not pay the costs (and produce the ecological waste) associated with two people in such a large home, they might want to subdivide into 2-3 apartments. Built environment stays the same, density increases, they can save some money from rent and better prepare for retirement while reducing their carbon footprint. But the current rules of SF zoning make it illegal for them to do that. All this talk about “forcing” is pure projection.

      7. “I bought my single-family house in a neighborhood that I expect will be relatively the same 20 years from now.”

        It all depends on where this house is. If it’s in the periphery of the city, beyond the existing urban villages, then I see no reason to upzone it. But if it’s in Greater Fremont or Pinehurst or central West Seattle, then I do. Your wish for an SF neighborhood conflicts with the rising population and changing city and the sheer number of people who want to live within walking distance of good transit and destinations. If you had two children and they started families, where are they going to live? The villages need to enlarge. What happens further out is less of a concern.

        “Sure, with LINK coming, I would love to have a bus route that gives me relatively quick access to it so I can get to Alderwood Mall, downtown, or even Bellevue without use of a car.”

        I’m hoping that all parts of the city have good feeders to Link, so that should be covered.

      8. with LINK coming, I would love to have a bus route that gives me relatively quick access to it…

        Shame, then, that you’re working so hard to ensure there won’t be enough people around to support more than the crappiest of crappy feeders. Geometry is a real thing.

      9. Mike Orr,

        I used to live in a condo in Fremont when I was younger. I loved it there. It was my first home purchase and it was exactly where I wanted to live when I was in my 20’s and 30s. Now that I’m older and married, we found a house in another neighborhood that more suited what WE wanted now. A quiet residential neighborhood, full of single-family houses with yards, parks, and other families. There is a nice diversity of people here, too, of all ages, races, AND number of family members(in case anyone wanted to accuse me of seeking ‘only’ people like me). But, we all have chosen to live in this neighborhood because of the way the neighborhood is. We don’t want to live in a “Ballard” or “Fremont” because that is not what suits us anymore. D.P. doesn’t know me or who I am so he/she can only guess and nearly everything he/she has written about me has been absolutely wrong. I’m not working to destroy other neighborhoods–I’m working and fighting to preserve mine. The people of Seattle know what they’re getting when they move to specific areas. Why force one neighborhood to become like another? Some people like Starbucks, others like Uptown Espresso, and other people may just want an ice cold Coke. Who are we to say they are wrong? The only people who are wrong are the ones like d.p. who try to force THEIR opinions, THEIR beliefs onto others. Feel free to maximize density in areas where it is already building up; there’s still a lot of room along Market Street between 8th and the Ballard Locks that could be built up before you start drooling over other neighborhoods.

      10. One of the key points of those photo links, which never got fully enunciated in last night’s fracas, is that many of these places are superlatively quiet and family-oriented. Just as the suburban majority of Seattle aims to be.

        This is especially true of the Philadelphia neighborhood — less than a mile from City Hall and full of young kids — but one could point to dozens of areas in Paris and thousands of equally dense places around the “Old World” that are just as serene and sedate.

        It is both offensive and objectively incorrect to associate adulthood and family-rearing only with detached homes and wide spacing. Just because Seattle is unfamiliar with “quiet density” — that it associates rowhomes and apartments only with proximity to commercial bustle, in part due to doubling down on the Urban Village strategy — does not make it an impossibility.

        It is hard not to presume that statements like the one above arise only from ignorance, prejudice, and fear.

    2. NIMBYism is neither brave nor rare around here, Cinesea.

      “Density is a necessary evil, just keep it way the fuck over there. Who cares if forcing the total zoned-capacity-maximization of 14% of the city is terrible policy leading to the worst examples of 21st-century urbanity in North America. I don’t care. As long as it doesn’t come anywhere near my precious bungalow or any of the 100,000 others exactly like it.”

      You couldn’t be more NIMBYing if you tried.

      1. Puh-leaze…

        It is the developers who design the buildings that look like crap and therefore it is up to other people to decide what they want in their neighborhood. Again, if I want Ballard, then I would live in Ballard. I don’t want Ballard, so I moved away and found what I wanted elsewhere. To force me to accept something else, well, isn’t that against what you believe in, too? I chose to live where I live now, because of the neighborhood that it is and I found a house that I could afford to buy. Who are you to decide that my choice is destroying Seattle, or that it doesn’t fit your lifestyle so therefore my choice is wrong?

        My choice is not NIMBY. My choice is what I chose. What other people choose to do in their neighborhood is none of my business.

      2. “Not In My Backyard.”

        “Not In Any Backyard Remotely Near Mine.”

        “Not In Any Backyard That Remotely Resembles Mine.”

        You have precisely and repeatedly stated that you do not care what effect current zoning policy has on areas other than yours — areas that do get pressured and squeezed and bulldozed and replaced — simply because they represent such a tiny percentage of the city and are being asked, by you and those like you, to “put up with” any and all externalities associated with the present bad policies.

        You don’t care… as long as the bad policy plays out far from you. You won’t accept a shift toward a demonstrably better policy, that yields better architecture and less pressure, if that policy places one fucking unit of growth even a single inch closer to you.

        Please explain to me how you aren’t the textbook definition of a NIMBY.

      3. Textbook example?

        Ha! Try, protecting my own ass…the city of Seattle has proven over and over that they can’t get it right. Look at Ballard, look at Broadway, look at Belltown…you try to tell me that those are the mistakes of the past and to trust that Seattle will get it right if we just give them more neighborhoods to increase density? I don’t trust them because they haven’t proven to me that they are trustworthy. Therefore, I will fight for my own neighborhood, where I live, and where my neighbors live. The neighbors who I have spoken with over the years and have told me what they like and don’t like. I do care about bad policy which is why I will fight to prevent that bad policy from taking over my neighborhood. I have yet to see what a ‘better’ policy is; I can look all over Seattle and see failures in policy.

        If that is what you deride as NIMBY, then hell yes, I have earned that badge and I display it proudly. I have earned the right to state my belief and to expect my government to listen to me. If they choose to fail and you choose to ignore the past, then don’t expect me to accept future changes with open arms. I’m not afraid of the future. In fact, I welcome it but I will also be in charge of my future. And I certainly won’t give it up to you or anyone else who wants to force their beliefs onto me.

      4. Okay, as long as we’re clear about that.

        You’re a NIMBY. You wear it proudly. You’re not afraid of the future… as long as anyone else other than you is the one dealing with it.

        You don’t care about outcomes in the city you or your children will wind up living in once 86% has been frozen in amber, and you realize you cannot pass on your one house to all of them.

      5. Guess what, the Seattle land use code and the limited number of lots open to development is directly responsible for why developers are building buildings that look like crap. This is largely not the case even in the cities surrounding Seattle, much less in other cities such as Portland or Atlanta.

        However whenever a proposal comes along to fix these problems with the land use code all we hear is howling from mostly the same crowd who complains about how ugly all of the new development is. That’s right those very provisions of the code you’ve insisted on in order to ‘protect neighborhoods’ are what is destroying them.

        FWIW as someone who lives in Maple Leaf, the arterials could easily fill with the ugliest examples of n-pack townhomes and 3-6 story bread boxes without destroying the character of the neighborhood. A much bigger threat to neighborhood character are the tear downs we’ve been seeing recently where a modest house is torn down and replaced with one maximizing the building envelope. These are just as ugly as any n-pack town home development and tend to really loom over the adjacent lots even more so than the townhomes do.

        While you say you don’t care what happens outside your neighborhood, there are others who want to dictate development for the entire city. They may not live in SLU or Capitol Hill, but they wish to stop any further development in those neighborhoods. The idea of imposing a building permit moratorium citywide for as long as the city can legally get away with it is depressingly popular, especially with the NIMBY crowd.

      6. Reaching back to pile on…

        Here, I deconstructed the FAR and lot coverage limits and setback requirements — the Cinesea trifecta — give us such putrid outcomes in the “transitional” low-rise zones, while also swallowing up more expensive existing properties than necessary. Also, note that we actually incentivize design that gives us block-long fences.

        As for breadbox ugliness: DPD dictates that crap right in its prologue: General design standards require that visual interest be provided by articulating the façade, varying building materials, or using architectural features.

        Translation: “We’ve outlawed infill, non-consolidated lots, appropriate scale, and form that follows function. Now please paint your rectangle 17 colors so maybe people won’t notice.”

        Awful follows from stupid.

    3. I hate to break it to you, Cinesea, but houses are being torn down all over the city. They are being replaced by .. bigger houses. I’ve seen several go up in my (SFH zoned) neighborhood. This is all perfectly legal. The city doesn’t make you do a special review, nor are they trying to create a new tax on these sorts of things. Tearing down an old house and putting up a new one is just fine.

      But you know what isn’t legal? Converting a house into a duplex. OK, technically I could do that. But only if I jump through a bunch of hoops (e. g. add parking) and only if it fits within certain limits (the units aren’t that big, etc.). Furthermore (and this is a big one) only if I live in one of the units. Think about that for a second. I can buy a house and rent it out. I can buy a house and live in it. I can buy a house, convert it to a duplex, then rent out one side and live in the other. But I can’t buy a house, convert it to a duplex and then rent out both units. This pretty much kills the market for ADU and DADU in this city. Very few people want to be a landlord for only one property (an adjacent property). Most landlords handle multiple properties or multiple units. This one restriction really kills the market. Take this example:,-122.299606,47.71231,-122.313554_rect/16_zm/1_fr/?view=map

      Two houses for $565,000. A bargain, right? No, read the fine print. You can’t sell the little house (which would go for around 300,000 in the neighborhood) and then live in the big one (which would go for around 400,000). You can’t rent them both out. You have to live in one and rent out the other. Hardly anyone wants to do that. You would have better luck selling an old pair of size 15 dance shoes.

      If you really want to see houses preserved, then please push to liberalize these rules. No one wants to tear down Phinney ridge houses, because for the most part, they are nice, big houses (bigger and nicer than the two shown on that link). People would love to convert some of the big, four bedroom houses into multi-plexes. They would love to add small houses next to existing houses. But all of that is illegal.

      Oh, and all these rules — they push the price of housing way up. When you do allow tear downs, but not conversions, you make it really expensive to live there. I could convert my house into a duplex for around ten to twenty grand (it already has two doors and two bathrooms — all I need to add is a second kitchen). But buying a $700,000 house on Phinney Ridge and then replacing it with a small apartment only makes sense if rent is sky high. I throw away a nice house (worth 700 grand) then pay for the cost of tearing it down, then pay for the cost of new construction, the permits, the extra parking and so forth.

      That is what is really frustrating about the zoning arguments in the city. I get it. I grew up here and I walk around this town more than just about anyone. I see the change, and some it is ugly. But the rules make things worse. They encourage ugly development, while stifling small, incremental change that would not only be more attractive, but lead to cheaper rents. The only clear cut winner with the current zoning laws are those that want free parking. Really. The zoning doesn’t preserve beauty. It doesn’t preserve the quality of the architecture. It certainly increases rent. But it preserves parking — and that disgusts me.

      1. The tiny house movement also figures into ADUs. A significant number of people would like to have a small house with perhaps a mini kitchen and bathroom. Some of them build them themselves; others buy prefab houses from companies. But they need a back yard to put it in. The city has severe restrictions on what kinds of tiny houses are allowed. Already there’s a tiny house hotel in Portland. With loosening restrictions, we could see not only adult children/mothers-in-law building tiny houses, and tenants renting yards for their portable house, but also people building tiny houses to rent out.

      2. perhaps a mini kitchen and bathroom: referring to the size of them, not whether they’re present

      3. FWIW as a young lad, when my mom first moved to Seattle I lived for 1 year In a 2 br basement apartment in a house right across 103rd from what is now Oak Tree Plaza.

        We then lived for 2 years in a 2 br apartment in a large converted old house on Capitol Hill. This was a 3 story house that now had 2 2br, 3 1br, and 2 studio apartments In it.

        Later we moved to a 3 br apartment in another converted large house in the North Greenlake area. This one had only 3 apartments (one per floor including the basement).

        As an adult I lived for 3 years in a 2 br basement apartment in a house converted to a duplex in Wallingford.

        In most other cities large houses converted to flats, duplexes, and triplexes make up a fair portion of the available housing stock. Here you only find them when they were converted prior to the zoning changes prohibiting such conversions along with the occasional illegally converted duplex.

        Of course it isn’t just zoning that makes such conversions impractical in Seattle as you don’t see a lot of converted SF homes in MF zones. Current code requirements for sprinklers, accessibility, parking, etc. make not just conversions impractical but small apartment/condo buildings in general.

        There is a reason you don’t see anything being built that is between the n-pack townhomes and larger bread loaf buildings in size and density. The Seattle land use and building code requirements make it impossible to do so and make money. (Or at least as much money as you can make building n-pack townhomes or by assembling a larger lot and building a half-block bread loaf)

      4. @Mike — I agree. It really is an entire class of housing (multi-plex conversion, small houses on small lots, etc.) that is driven out by our crazy rules.

  10. I feel like there is are two trade-offs here that you are not considering Cinesea. The first is neighborhood values verse property owner values. As much as the neighborhood is your neighborhood, for all your neighboring property owners, it is their property. And because it is their’s, there is value in them being able to do with it as they please. Balancing these trade-offs is what the political process is for, but both sides have value. Similarly, assuming that there will be upzoning and growth in some parts of the city, we face a trade-off between heavily concentrating development in a small fraction of city land, or spreading out upzoning more broadly. The urban village strategy was a way to address this trade-off and has worked fairly well over its life all things considered.

    However, as the post notes, there have been problems with the urban village strategy. Two of the most notable downsides is that growth is being concentrated in tall expensive (and sometimes ugly) high rises, over mid size town homes. This has implications for what kind of housing is available and to what classes of people. The second is that many of the old buildings (the character builders of the neighborhood if you will) in these neighborhood centers are getting torn down at the expense of building big condos. Even concentrating development in urban villages will cause somebody’s neighborhood to be radically changed. That is a trade-off.

    Considering how the urban villages have grown, I think it is fair to reconsider the urban village strategy and study the potential impacts of modestly raising the height limits in SF zones (or a good portion of them). The key point in such a study would be to gauge how quickly these zones would grow. In particular, because most houses in SF zones are owned by the tenet I don’t think this process would be nearly as rapid and invasive as you seem to believe it would. Tenets have use values in the existing house and neighborhood, and therefore won’t readily sell the house at the price a developer would be willing to pay. Moreover, a modest increase in heights would NOT turn Broadview into SLU.

  11. People,

    Don’t try and tell me that it is only the Seattle Code that explains why the buildings are so ugly. No way. The developers could design something that is pleasing to the eye but they choose not to. I have seen two exceptions, though. On Denny Way near the Seattle Center, I think it is Taylor Avenue, those two new buildings are closer to what I would like to see more of. Not perfect, mind you, but definitely closer to what looks good from the street. Wider sidewalks, set back from the street a bit, not just a blank wall but some contours that actually look good. If they can do it, why can’t others? Until I see more of that example, I will still say, “Not In My Backyard.” Keep Ballard in Ballard, since that is where they want it.

    As for d.p.’s pictures of row houses, yeah, those actually are kind of ugly. There may be a charm to them for some people but not to me. Maybe it is the whole environment of them…give me wider sidewalks and some trees to break up the monotony of the street view. Plus, all three of your pictures show few pedestrians but many cars so your examples fail on many levels.

      1. We read the same article. This is a clear case where the code leads to ugly architecture and poor built form. There really is no way to put lipstick on these pigs. A few high-quality townhomes are less bad, but there is only so much you can do and still meet requirements.

        Even with the bread loafs there is much the same thing going on though developers have a bit more flexibility there.

    1. Say what? Paris is ugly? San Francisco is ugly? Montreal* is ugly? Holy smokes, Cinesea — what is pretty to you? Orange County?

      I’m not even sure if you like the looks of Seattle, for that matter. Really. Check this out:

      What do you think of that building? I think it is a gem. Built long before they mandated most of the rules. There is a little courtyard, but no setback (scroll around to the other side and you can see that it is right next to the street).

      Perhaps this is more your style:

      Nice setback, complete with a hedge, a bush, and one tree. Lovely, just lovely.**

      Seriously, though, that second style is what gets people pissed about density. Walk that neighborhood (or most single family neighborhoods) and you will see typical, Seattle housing. Plenty of variety in both the housing style as well as the landscaping. Very nice, in my opinion.

      But in the eighties, a lot of it was replaced with buildings like this — buildings with concrete in front and (at best) a couple bushes for landscaping. The reason is obvious — they required parking. The builders simply built the parking the cheapest way possible, by putting it right in front.

      I agree with you though — you can’t blame the city code entirely for ugly development. Developers can do things to make it look nicer. But the city has to take a lot of the blame, for several reasons. The code mandates parking and other unnecessary amenities, which leads to ugly architecture. Other rules make for really expensive construction and high rents. It used to be, if you wanted to attract those willing to pay high rent, you had to make your building really attractive. Now, people are willing to pay high rents just for a decent place to live, giving developers little incentive to build nice looking buildings.

      I also think that it makes sense to build right up to the street, but put retail there. I agree with you that this — – is ugly. They built that building for the folks that use the parking lot ( They basically gave pedestrians the finger. But mandating setbacks would only push that back a little (as it is, I don’t think it is right next to the sidewalk). If you want to see an example of doing it right, you can just walk down the “Ave” (AKA University Way). Very few setbacks, but a very nice pedestrian experience. Until, of course, you get further north, around 51st, where you have the ugly Christian Science building on one side ( and the mini-mall on the other ( I have a hard time believing that you think that area is more attractive than the buildings to the south.

      * d.p. didn’t link to Montreal, but he could have.

      ** I actually don’t mind this too much. It represents an architectural style that has fallen out of fashion (some would say thankfully). It is like looking at the addition to the Suzzallo. It is interesting, but there is no way I would say it is nicer than the main Suzzallo building.

      1. RossB,
        In the example you show at 15th NE & NE 80th I suspect Cinesea would prefer a wide setback from all block faces. In the case of this property that would have resulted in probably a car lot or gas station as there is little space left if you apply a 15′ setback on all sides.

        Personally I don’t think any new suburban strip mall crap like this should be allowed anywhere in the city. I would prefer to see a 4-6 story mixed use development built out to the sidewalks and covering the entire lot including the alley ROW in place of the buildings here. Even though that means possibly losing a decent Middle Eastern restaurant.

        BTW the ‘strip mall’ you show at University Way & 52nd is actually quite old. I believe it was built just after WWI as either an auto dealer or gas station. (Which simply proves that older buildings don’t necessarily have great built form, especially when re-purposed)

      2. Cowen Park!

        Thanks, RossB, that was the neighborhood I was trying to think of last night when writing my reply. I have loved that building for the 30 years I’ve lived in Seattle, from when my school bus would drive past it to when my friends lived north of the area. THAT is what I wish we could see more of in the city–if we could do it years ago, why can’t we do something similar nowadays? Of course, I don’t know what’s inside, so I’m not talking about anything to do with elevators, ADA requirements, etc. Just the look of the entire building from the street and pedestrian point-of-view. I know we can’t really have more brick buildings nowadays but surely there’s gotta be a way to have some sort of beauty in architecture, not just the ugly boxes that are being built. That second example, well, it is something that is efficient for the residents of that specific property but sure ain’t good looking–but hey, it’s got sidewalks!

        Again, the people insulting me on here have no idea who I am or what I do and that doesn’t matter. I live here and I have as much right to voice my opinion and garner support from my neighbors to decide what WE want in our neighborhood.

      3. I have loved that building…

        And today it would be illegal to build, in that location, for about a half-dozen reasons.

        So there you go.

    2. Beauty is a contiuum, and all these cities have many different kinds of buildings, some beautiful and some not. What concerns us here is the general size and shape of the buildings: how many people they accommodate and what their footprint is. If they accommodate fewer people (lower density), where are the other people going to go?

      That Paris picture clearly needs wider sidewalks, but that’s not possible given the narrow street space descended from medieval times, and all the surrounding streets are likely the same so there’s no place to take space from. As for the number of cars vs pedestrians, that depends on the moment the Google Street View crew drove through the area. Some moments have more pedestrians than others. But what the picture does suggest is that there’s probably at least one or two pedestrians most of the time, which is more than you can say for our auto-oriented neighborhoods (including Columbia City, which is too small and specialized to generate that much foot traffic, and which would be a great candidate to extend).

    3. Plus, all three of your pictures show few pedestrians but many cars so your examples fail on many levels.

      Okay, the disingenuousness of Cinesea’s “arguments” has finally reached its apotheosis. Anyone who has spent five minutes with Google Street View has surmised that Google sends the cars around when traffic will be lightest — early Sundays, immediately post-commute on a Tuesday, etc. — and has noticed that the streets are relatively quiet in most images. The above retort is the equivalent to denying climate change because the winter is cold.

      And the retort isn’t even decriptively accurate. Between all three images, the only vehicles in motion are a black sedan and a single moped. Spin the SF image around and you’ll see at least a half a dozen pedestrians (even at this quiet hour). In Paris, I count 7 on one minuscule block, including a couple strolling leisurely a foot apart without remotely blocking the “tiny” sidewalk or getting in the way of the adjacent bike lane. (On a skinny street? Impossible!)

      Oh, and in Philly, I intentionally chose a 1-block connector — the furthest possible thing from an arterial through-street — to demonstrate that density and unbroken rowhouse frontage away from major boulevards are not signs of the apocalypse.

      Facts, Cinesea: San Franciscans walk. Philadelphians walk. Parisians walk about 50 times as much per capita as Seattleites. And calling Paris “ugly” will put you in the minority in pretty much any conversation you have with any human being on earth.

      How many people walk down the average Wedgwood block face in an entire month, Cinesea? A dozen?

    4. Well I’ll be honest I’m not pleased with much of the newer built form we see in the city. I don’t think anyone really wanted Ballard to turn out the way it did. But I hate to tell you the overly prescriptive Seattle Land Use code, the limited land available for development, the ‘Seattle Process’, and the demand for housing not only predict what has happened in Ballard they guarantee it.

  12. The 1.7MM new residents is a really, really large number. I just don’t see zoning changes generating nearly enough new development if we really expect so many new residents in the area over the next 25 years. Just to illustrate the scale of development that would be required, let’s say there are only 3 kinds of residential development: rowhouses, neighborhood apartment buildings, and high-rise apartment buildings.

    Rowhouses replace SFH 2:1 and house the same number of people (lets say 3). Building 2 rowhouses adds 3 residents.

    Neighborhood apartment buildings replace 5 SFH and house 100 people, for a net gain of 85.

    High-rise apartments replace 0 SFH (they are built in other zoning areas) and house 500 people.

    Even if Seattle expects 850,000 new residents (50% of the projection), the scale of building required is unprecedented. One example that adds 850,000 residents is 654 high-rises, 5800 neighborhood apartment buildings, and 20,000 rowhouses. 39,000 units of SFH would be removed in that example. Play around with the numbers and assumptions however you want. The challenge of potentially 125% population growth in 25 years is formidable however you slice it.

    1. Seattle’s population is 550,000; maybe up to 600,000 by now. So it’s not likely to add another San Francisco which would more than double the population. But it may get up to a million or even over. But Seattle is only 1/3 of King County’s population and 1/5 of Pugetopolis’. South King County has more people than Seattle, 820,000 or so. So that suggests where most of the new residents will go: to the suburbs. And thus why Bellevue’s downtown will probably spread to 124th, and why Renton and Tukwila and Burien and Kent need to build up their downtowns, and Lynnwood needs to put its big plans into action.

      I’d probably prefer to increase Seattle’s population to 1.4 million or 2 million instead, but if we’re having so much trouble just whittling down on the 49% single-family area it’s not going to happen, so we’d better be sure the overflow have suburban downtowns to go to or they’ll just add to the single-family sprawl.

      1. Seattle is already at an estimated population of 652,000 according to the Census 2013 estimate, up from 608,000 in 2010. ~32k housing units were added from 2000-2010, and I expect about the same number has been added 2010-2013. That is some rapid growth, keeping in mind the limited and largely unchanged MF zoning capacity.

        In 2010, only 138,000 of the 301,000 housing units in Seattle were SFH detached, 11,000 were SFH attached, and the rest were at least in 2+ MF buildings. Large scale conversion of SFH into medium or high density MF would be needed to increase the population to over 1.4MM using SFH zones. I don’t think that is likely to happen.

        We certainly need the suburbs to step up their density and urbanization, but their capacity is probably even less than Seattle. The inner suburbs (Burien, Tukwila, Renton, Mercer Island, Bellevue, Kirkland, LFP, Shoreline) that border Seattle only have 477,000 residents as of 2013. We’d be asking a lot for them to double up in the next 25 years, and even that wouldn’t get to 1.7MM, so then the growth is inevitably going into Kent, Auburn, Puyallup, Issaquah, and much of Snohomish County.

      2. If the population increase over the next 25 years is roughly proportional to the current population over the next 25 years then Seattle needs to grow by roughly 400,000 people.

        The safe way to bet is those parts of the region currently seeing growth will continue to see it. This means there will be more pressure on Seattle for growth than say Carbonado.

        If Seattle says ‘NO!’ to much of this growth then we are ultimately dooming the City to San Francisco level prices,

        The tremendous influx of people means the plans for urban centers in places like Lynnwood, Tukwilla, Federal Way, Burien, Renton, Kent are needed and may very well succeed. Also the projections for transit ridership growth base on those urban centers likely aren’t as far off the mark as some here might think.

      3. Isn’t that one of the reasons to build things like LINK, to spread the density around the region? If the area is expected to gain 1.4 million people in that time frame, not all of them are going to want to live in Seattle, no matter how many housing units are built for them. And not all of the jobs are going to be in Seattle. Some people may want to live in Everett, or Bellevue, or Issaquah, or Burien. Maybe one spouse works in West Seattle and the other works in Renton but they choose to live in Georgetown.

        There are a lot of choices for people to live. And building transit systems makes it easier for them to have MORE choices. With LINK, I could live in the Roosevelt neighborhood, have a leisurely walk to the station and take LINK to a job in Bellevue if that is what I wanted. Or even more extreme, live in Auburn and take Sounder to my job in Edmonds, if THAT is what I wanted to do. 1.4 million more people is a lot of people and I don’t think it is completely accurate when you consider fluctuations in the economy, job market, and mobility. But even if it does become reality, again, not everyone is going to move into the city of Seattle, no matter how much you want them to.

      4. Yeah, that’s some of the thinking behind SprawlLink.

        Too bad it’s a stupid hypothesis that didn’t work in the Bay Area, and that won’t work here. The tiny fraction of the suburban expanse that we be accessible to the train will be of little use to the vast majority, and any modest increases in density at the far-flung “nodes” will do precious little to change the predominant manner in which people must get around

        No one is going to live in Everett and work in Federal Way. And if someone did — which almost certainly would not be by choice — the chance of the train meaning a damn to their specific journey is approximately nil.

        So it’s a dumb idea, much the way freezing 75% of Seattle in amber and cramming all comers into tiny and isolated areas is a dumb idea.

        Really, they’re the same dumb idea at different scales.

        Since all trends point to people desiring proximity to the core of the region, the core of the region city is going to have to do a lot better job of figuring out its growth plan than it has.

        Get it?

      5. [ad hom] No way did I say someone was going to live in Everett and work in Federal Way. But you know what? Who’s to say that they couldn’t? Jobs get moved around all the time and one just can’t easily pick up and move to follow the job. Why are you wanting to force people to live in a certain area? If the job is in Marysville, why can’t the person choose to live in Shoreline? If he wants to spend the money and drive his vehicle, then so be it–he can choose to be stuck in traffic, too. If he decides to take transit(maybe in 25 years, LINK will be built out to Marysville?), then that is his choice, too.

        Trends change and who’s to say what things will be like in 25 years? Sure, we can moan and groan about the decisions made here years ago. I’m sure in 25 years, people will moan and groan about things that were and were not done today. No matter what decisions are made, someone will always disagree. Sure, you can try and plan for the future, but things always change, perspectives change, and peoples’ desires change. Plus, there’s the reality of political and fiscal responsibilities. Everyone talks about wanting transit to go here and there, but the majority of people in this whole region have different ideas about what they want and politicians can only do what they do, which is compromise. Sometimes good, sometimes not, and usually not everyone is happy about it. But it is reality. [ad hom]

      6. Apparently you’re the only one who “is to say what things will be like in 25 years”, what with you’re freezing 75% of our land area in amber and all.

        Such absolutist policies have a massive effect on broader city and area outcomes. Why do fail to get that?

        Some [ah] like to understand what about development and mobility patterns works well globally before we adjudicate policy. It’s called “precedent” and “observed human behaviors”, and sometimes paying attention to it will suggest that treating a small industrial city 32 miles away as a Ballard Overflow, or hoping people will be able of commuting from sprawl to sprawl by transit even if they wanted to, are approaches with zero likelihood of success.

        Which is why one attempts to strategize smart — and liveable — growth.

        Which is precisely the opposite of foisting growth off on everyone else (i.e. your approach).

      7. Sure Seattle isn’t going to get all of the estimated 1.7 million people coming here in the next 25 years. However to suggest Seattle should only accommodate a small fraction of the newcomers is insane.

        Seattle is going to have to accommodate a lot more people in the next 25 years or housing prices will skyrocket to the point only the very well off will be able to afford to live inside the city limits. That isn’t speculation but simple math.

        Unfortunately people think Seattle can continue to quarantine growth into very limited areas while declaring the vast majority off the city “off limits”. Some even want to go further and stop issuing any permits for new construction.

      8. “Isn’t that one of the reasons to build things like LINK, to spread the density around the region?”

        No. It’s to connect the existing population centers together. The sprawl happened two decades ago or longer, and now there are hundreds of thousands millions of people outside Seattle who need to get around, and Seattlites also need to go to those areas. We can’t bring Link to every residential neighborhood but we can at least bring it to the largest city centers. When those 1.7 million people come we’ll be more glad we did, especially if they settle within a couple miles of a station as many of them will. (This goes for Sounder too of course.)

        “Too bad it’s a stupid hypothesis that didn’t work in the Bay Area”

        The difference is that Link has no equivalents of Pittsburgh, Dublin, or Fremont — miles beyond the principal cities (ignoring San Jose for the moment). Link’s furthest endpoints will be Everett, Redmond/Bellevue, and Tacoma — the largest anchor cities in the region. (Issaquah is a short extension so it’s a minor inexpensive sideshow, especially since Eastgate has its own reasons for inclusion.)

        “No one is going to live in Everett and work in Federal Way.”

        That doesn’t matter. One person goes from Everett to the U-District, and another person goes from the U-District to Federal Way. Mark Dublin goes from Olympia to everywhere, including Everett sometimes. He’s not the only one who makes long regional trips. Whether several times a week or occasionally they all add up. Now, Link’s travel time will argue against using it for Everett – Federal Way frequently, but again that doesn’t matter because the long line enables many shorter trips along it.

        “Since all trends point to people desiring proximity to the core of the region, the core of the region city is going to have to do a lot better job of figuring out its growth plan than it has.”

        That would be ideal but we can’t force the city council and county council to do it. In the meantime millions of people have to live somewhere and go places, and it’s not always in the “region city core” (which I suppose means either part of Seattle, or Seattle and part of Bellevue).

      9. I’m not feeling combative today, Mike, but how many times do you have to be told that Richmond, CA is more populous than Everett, and that Fremont, CA is more populous than Tacoma?

        BART doesn’t work.

        Link is not an interurban connecting far-flung concentrated hubs of old; those hubs no longer exist or function as they did. Link is attempting to “serve” the vast sprawllands of Snohomish and King, chasing the exact demographic that BART tries — and fails — to garner beyond the slimmest category of SF peak commutes.

        Doesn’t work for BART. Won’t work here.

      10. “Region city core” was a typo, but yes, I meant Seattle as well as inner-ring areas.

        The flaw in the very notion of a PSRC is that it can dictate where people will be, and then effectively “spread the density” (again, oxymoron) to far-flung places to accommodate it.

        It doesn’t work like that. People increasingly want to be proximate, not just to a coffee shop and a rail station (that takes you an hour to get anyhere), but proximate to real, thriving, interesting, non-manufactured “places”. The PSRC model will only achieve further pricing-out of all but the wealthiest from Seattle, with any distant New Urbanist areas becoming consolation prizes for the displaced. Where — as all prior New Urbanist follies have shown — they’ll still need to own cars and drive most of the time anyway.

        The PSRC is bad policy, Mike. Link is bad policy. It’s the same bad policy as Seattle’s Urban Villages, magnified to a exponentially more untenable scale.

      11. “Richmond, CA is more populous than Everett, and that Fremont, CA is more populous than Tacoma”

        The point is not their raw population but their role in the metropolis. The principal cities in the Bay Area are San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. The principal cities in Pugetopolis are Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, and Everett. By serving those you get the primary centerpoints of jobs, homes, and trip patterns. Richmond and Fremont are more bedroom communities (although they have some industry); that’s why BART’s off-peak ridership is so tiny there it makes you froth in the mouth. And I don’t care if Link’s terminus ridership is as low as BART’s! The important thing is to connect the principal cities and neighborhoods with fast/frequent/reliable transit. That’s the necessary-but-not-always-sufficient prerequisite for high transit use and non-car mobility ability. It makes it possible for the other things to fall into place, and once it’s approved and paid for the biggest hurdle is done. It’s the lack of comprehensive transit that’s reinforcing all these maximum-roads-and-parking clamors. Building high-quality transit doesn’t necessarily make it better, but it makes it easier to get the rest done, and in the meantime it enables those who want to get around without a car to do so without extreme sacrifices.

      12. As I’ve said several times, it’s not strictly necessary for Link to extend to Tacoma and Everett. I’d be satisfied with frequent BRT from Lynnwood and Des Moines. But if Pierce and Snohomish want to fund it, I’ll not stand in their way because it really would be best for overall mobility.

        “proximate to real, thriving, interesting, non-manufactured “places”. The PSRC model will only achieve further pricing-out of all but the wealthiest from Seattle”

        Those issues go far beyond Link and aren’t really relevant. Is the PSRC preventing Seattle from designating a Ballard-to-15th-NE mega urban center? Is it capping Seattle’s growth and saying don’t take too many? Is it outlawing the human-scaled designs mentioned above? Or is all that Seattle’s policies and King County’s policies? I don’t think the PSRC is the problem. The problem is Seattle being willing to absorb most of the influx and expand its urban villages.

      13. Suppose Seattle told the region and the PSRC, “We’ll take 3/4 of the newcomers.” What would the suburbs say? “Yes, we approve! Take them off our hands!” Seattle could even use it as leverage to negotiate for more in-city Link lines, possibly breaking subarea equity to do it. In other words, it might be able to get the other subareas to contribute something to Seattle lines, by dangling the carrot of keeping those people out of the burbs so they don’t have to do any nasty upzones.

      14. The point is not their raw population but their role in the metropolis.

        Richmond is a real city, though a somewhat one with a dwindling industrial economic base. In that sense, it is not that much unlike the Everett proper that you believe could “anchor” or north-stretched Link.

        Fremont is a massive sprawl suburb, but one that actually contains a fair number of destination jobs. Unfortunately, these jobs are by and largely unreached by BART and poorly served by any other geometrically-feasible transit, which makes Fremont fairly well analogous to the reality of today’s greater Everett or greater Tacoma or everywhere in between.

        Spindly BART fails even though it, unlike the Puget Sound, has an adjacent conurbation at its center of three largely pre-auto cities (SF, Oakland, Berkeley) totally 1.35 million in population and extensive urban-scaled transit (especially in SF) that, while imperfect, works well enough to provide comprehensive urban reach in complement to anything BART manages to do.

        Nevertheless, only between these three cities does BART garner respectable ridership. The agency rewards these riders by charging them fares far higher than the cost of the inner services, in order to funnel those funds to the $30+/rider outer-leg subsidies while still claiming a 70% farebox recovery systemwide. (Seriously, Oakland-SF-Berkeley riders are getting screwed.)

        And again, these cities are adjacent. Not 30 miles apart. The proximity, far more than the relative size or “role in the metropolis”, is why concentrated all-day demand is even a possibility.

        So, to review, we have smaller cities, way further apart and not especially more healthy, mostly defined by their poor amenability to centralized transit, separated by sprawl that is even sprawlier than their sprawl, and such dysfunctional interior transit mobility that almost no one is going to bother riding in on the train unless headed precisely downtown, to the U, to a sporting event, or to one tiny sliver of Capitol Hill.

        And you think Link will buck BART’s failures how?

        Suppose Seattle told the region and the PSRC, “We’ll take 3/4 of the newcomers.” What would the suburbs say? “Yes, we approve! Take them off our hands!” Seattle could even use it as leverage to negotiate for more in-city Link lines, possibly breaking subarea equity to do it.

        All the above said (for the umpteenth time), this latter addendum is actually a pretty great idea. The best way to remain the function center city for the region is to take steps to actually be a functional center for the region! A city that acts like a city — imagine that!

        But of course, this requires convincing our civic representatives that Seattle has need not also be the great 84-square-mile Craftman Preservation Museum that our Lesser Seattle friends would have us be. Nothing wrong with some Craftmans in the fabric, of course. We just need to stitch up an actual fabric — the current one is full of gaping holes.

      1. Would you like to explain how freezing most of the city in amber, thus guaranteeing extreme and sometimes unsavory changes in the remaining sliver, is not “forcing” others to accept those extreme or unsavory changes?

        The whole point of a broader zoning relaxation would be to relieve the pressure any one property own anywhere might fee to sell. No one would ever “force” any neighbor of yours to sell their house.

        If you’re so sure that all your neighbors feel exactly the way you do, why don’t you seem to trust them?

  13. One of the reasons to have higher density in some areas(like the so-called Urban Villages) is to have a place for high-speed transit to go to. If the whole region had equal density, as some people wish would happen, then what is the reason to have something like LINK or Sounder? Even the MAX doesn’t stop everywhere, but only in higher density places, or in places that will eventually have a higher density, otherwise known as ‘planning.’ We have LINK, and we’re getting more of it.

    Here in Seattle, we have those higher density areas. Ballard, University District, Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, Belltown. And those are the places that even more density should be focused to. And after that, you’ve got Northgate, Wallingford, Fremont and Roosevelt that can also take the increased density. But why try and spread density all over the city? Rail transit for those areas and bus transit for everywhere else. That way, throughout the entire city, you get a mix of housing instead of forcing increased density where it shouldn’t belong. What’s the point of discussing rail to those other neighborhoods if you’re trying to increase density where it doesn’t fit?

    And on a bigger scale, you increase the density of certain parts of other cities. Bellevue, Redmond, Burien, Tukwila, Everett can all have areas that are served by rail that have increased density but then other residential areas that are single-family homes.

    1. Thank you for your helpful suggestion of literally every place other than near you as the perfect location to focus 100% of present and future growth expectations.

      This in spite of entire completed conversations detailing the demographically and topographically flawed outcomes of such an approach, as well as its weaknesses from a transportation-policy perspective. This as well in spite of the shoddiness and relative costliness of present bus transit that aims to serve areas of stubbornly low density and little all-day demand, a problem that you would perpetuate to eternity.

      You are truly a magnanimous contributor to the discourse and a paragon of civic participation.

      1. [Ot]

        Every city is different and every neighborhood in that city is different. Seattle is not San Francisco, Portland, Chicago or even Houston. Just like Ballard is not Montlake, Seward Park, Magnolia, or Broadview. Why people want to make every neighborhood the same just doesn’t make sense. Since you obviously have such disdain for Seattle and our residents, feel free to move to Iceland.

        Please reread my previous posts and I would be happy to point out specific details where you may need some clarity.

      2. No one has ever suggested that all neighborhoods must be exactly the same.

        So good luck with that strawman.

      3. I would also presume you know what “they” say about opinions.

        You are, of course, entitled to the gamut of opinions. You are not entitled to your own facts.
        Nor are you entitled to use policy to directly impact everyone else, while expressing a morbid fear (and righteous indignation) that even the slightest evolution might come to your general vicinity.

    2. “But why try and spread density all over the city?”

      It’s not “all over the city”. There are two urbanist proposals. (1) Expand the urban villages and possibly merge (fill in between) adjacent ones. (2) A broad upzone in single-family areas. With both of these there’s room for negotiation. Which urban villages? How much bigger? Which ones to merge? Can we upzone some single-family areas (perhaps half of them) and not others?

      Even if we upzoned all single-family areas, nobody expects wall-to-wall apartments from Sound to Lake. The demand is larger than the existing urban villages but it’s not as large as Manhattan. What you’d see is the urban villages expanding in area, perhaps 50%, perhaps 100%, with mixed single-and-multifamily in the periphery as some homeowners refuse to expand. Outside that area, say east of Rainier, west of 15th W, north of U-Village, you may see a lowrise every block or two, probably mostly on the bus streets. If there’s plenty of urban-village space for everyone who wants to live there, there’ll be less interest in multifamily buildings outside it! I could see a compromise to keep 25% or 33% of the city single-family, but not the 49% that extends to just one block from major transit streets.

      And what’s wrong with ADUs over a wide area? That’s more preserving of the “character” of single-family areas than anything else is.

Comments are closed.