Those hoping zoning will hold back the tide of integration are losing in other parts of the country.

This is an open thread.

23 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: 7 Days That Changed the Law, if Not Society”

    1. Also of note – while they took pains to mention the span of service, they said nothing about the frequency. The answer: once per hour. However, it does appear like Ft. Worth has other trains that run slightly more often, and continue on to Dallas – so commuter rail isn’t *just* for going to the airport.

  1. Thank you for this morning’s video. Main political thought on my mind lately is how much I like what I see of people who are now the age I was in 1968. Trite to say “We’ll be ok. Thanks to them….we already are. Will appreciate their being welcomed and treated in these pages with the respect due them.

    Mark Dublin

  2. Found an actually-funny video discussing Elon Musk’s “Loop” system and why “Gadgetbahns” don’t really work. Worth the 40 minutes if you’re looking for something to listen to with your coffee on Sunday and laugh about:

      1. Musk has followers who aren’t on his payroll? He is certainly entitled to expect his employees to be Yes-People, though that makes for bad science and deadly engineering, as we’ve seen. The think tanks not directly on his payroll pushing some of the Inrix psychobabble are just using his arguments as a matter of convenience because they don’t like public transit (as this video explains). As it happens, Elon doesn’t like mass transit either, especially the idea of being on vehicles with strangers. (I assume he steers clear of Uber and Lyft.) That’s why he made the capacity on Hyperloop so tiny. It actually might be workable technology for much larger carriages, and lower G-force acceleration and deceleration, but not in his hands. Basically, it was just gadgetbahn trying to derail the California High Speed Rail Authority.

        Hey transit friends! Self-driving cars are your friend, and the solution to overcrowded buses, and downtown congestion. Um, yeah. Sure. Inrix actually tried to push that argument a couple weeks ago and get emergency permission to test self-driving cars downtown during the Highway 99 closure period.

      2. Until they figure out how to meet the ASHRAE 6 cfm fresh air intake per passenger requirement it isn’t a workable technology for passengers. This fresh air would have to magically move from the outside and get into the pod while dealing with the vacuum between the two.

        Could be a nice replacement for air freight though.

    1. Right. Zoning came out of private covenants.In the 1880s purpose-built middle-class villages started to be built, with curving lanes and open space to deter those who couldn’t afford their own transporation, and allowing only useless animals (dogs, cats) rather than food-producing animals (chickens, goats), and banning apartments. This was enforced through title-deed covenants written by the developer. The marketing showed that these restrictions were to keep out working-class people and minorities. Zoning began in the 1920s as a kind of citywide codification of this. There was a real problem with polluting factories being unhealthy to live near, but cities could have addressed on public-health grounds with industrial zones without micromanaging the rest of the city.

      The courts at first threw out zoning maps as infringing on landowners’ property rights, but eventually accepted them as long as they’re ostensibly balanced (giving some place for every use) That’s why Seattle can limit strip clubs to a few neighborhoods but can’t eliminate them. Some say that zoning is still on shaky legal ground, and the cities have mostly tried to stay out of court in fear it might be overturned wholesale.

      So the original zoning plans more or less divided things into industrial/permissive zones, residential/restrictive/white zones, and residential/permissive/mixed-race zones. Then after WWII Le Corbusier’s idea of single-use zones or euclidian zoning came into vogue, with one zone for houses/schools/parks, another for retail, another for arts, another for government, etc. That forced people to commute more than they used to because they could no longer go to the corner store but had to go to another district. Single-use zoning went to an extreme and has now pulled back somewhat. The areas that were (re)developed in the late 90s or later are more mixed-use, while the areas that haven’t been redeveloped since the 70s are more single use.

  3. It’s sad when a person’s goal isn’t getting out of poverty, but to live in poverty someplace else.

    1. Well Sam, I think you’ve cleared up for me what I’ve been doing wrong since I suddenly had to move off the 3100 block of NW Market street after about 25 years’ total residence.

      Incidentally, not my idea, but that of the speculator who bought my building and doubled my rent. Also tore down my kitchen wall, and destroyed my late wife’s lovely paint scheme. My mistake is that I would have settled someplace else for a comfortable single bedroom or studio, with no elevator and a a single coin-operated washing machine in the basement. At about $800 a month.

      Hate to think my lack of initiative has paid off this well. Very small quarters more than fit my needs. Even coin-free washer-dryer, and dishwasher, and garbage disposal. Fifteen minute bus service from my literal doorstep down to the Transit Center. Easy transfer to Seattle via Tacoma.

      But here’s the thing. When self-same market yields self-same results- unless you can tell me why it won’t- should I this time simply cross the street and buy a $165,000 (probably a basement studio) condo at the Capitol Lake Towers? Think Quicken Loan will let me finance it at an even thou? Because there’s already so much sadness in the world, I don’t want to watch a single extra ant get drowned in one more tragically misplaced teardrop.


      1. If I apply for Section 8 housing, I am entering into a contract with the government where I promise to remain in poverty in exchange for affordable housing. If I want to move from town A to town B, and keep my Section 8, my goal is to stay in poverty, but in a different town.

      1. To quote a wise man …

        “Not to understand a man’s purpose does make 𝘩𝘪𝘮 confused.”

        Master Po to Grasshopper. Kung Fu.

  4. Moved to Seattle recently and love the city for many reasons. However, I am disappointed in the urban fabric of the city. Outside of downtown and adjacent neighborhoods it basically feels like Mayberry with relatively small nodes of activity sprinkled throughout. With all the hype about the construction boom especially I expected a more urban environment. I moved from San Francisco which has major NIMBY issues but within the city proper you are unmistakably “in the city”, largely because it is a legacy city that developed before the automobile. Instead of single family homes there are Row houses and corner stores.

    Anyway, this has gotten me interested in Seattle’s zoning issues, which seem to be the chief culprit behind the largely suburban environment. I appreciate the advocacy work you guys do here trying to change that! It’s ridiculous that basically 80% of the city is zoned for Mayberry suburbia.

    1. They key to understanding the difference is that San Francisco had 775k in 1950 and Seattle only had 467k. The pre-WWII development attitudes were different.

      In recent times, Seattle seems to have upzoned for taller buildings lots more than San Francisco has. I can’t think of a single Seattle urban village without at least one or two 65-foot buildings in it. San Francisco is full of height-restricted neighborhoods (few new tall buildings allowed — even when one from the 1920’s is there — from the Fillmore to Noe Valley to the Sunset and Richmond. If West Portal was in Seattle, it would have new seven-story buildings on both sides of the street!

    2. Yep, it’s zoning.

      The primary factor in American cities’ layouts is their population size in 1929, when construction stopped for fifteen years due to the Depression and WWII. When it started again in 1945, it was markedly more autobobile scale. It took another twenty years for the built environment to fully change, so that those who grew up in the 1970s and 80s were the first generation to spend their whole lives in car-dependent, cul-de-sac, single-use zoning utopia. That created a backlash which led to the back-to-the-city movement in the 90s. Cities like Boston, New York, and Chicago had entire cities built up in 1929. Los Angeles also did, although at a less dense scale (but still as dense as Capitol Hill). San Francisco had the inner neighborhoods built out; I’m not sure about the extent in the Subset and southwest SF.

      Seattle’s population was 200K on the 1920s (compared to 550K in the 1950s, 415K in the early 80s, and 725K now). So only a few areas were built up, where the small-lot houses are now (to N 85th in Fremont, NE 65th in Roosevelt, down to Mt Baker, with streetcar tenticles to Rainier Beach and White Center. Seattle was a more recent frontier town than SF or Chicago, so its commercial/multifamily districts were less of the total area, because people didn’t feel they needed as many big-city features. And several neighborhood centers were reversed with 1950s and later xoning, leaving only one or two businesses left or converting them all to single-family houses. Mt Bakee, Fuhrman Ave, and Summit Ave have a few holdouts, while Woodland Park Ave in Fremont has reverted to houses. So the net result is that San Francisco is more of a mixed-use grid, while Seattle is a few walkable islands in a sea of low-density houses. The hills and water barriers also play a role: a full grid exists in north Seattle but was impossible in central and south Seattle. The hill and water barriers created north-south tentacles in south Seattle, that couldn’t grow big enough to create large commercial centers that would be east-west draws.

      In 1970 almost all of King County’s population was between Lake City, Seward Park, Renton, and Burien, Snohomish County, Pierce County, and Auburn were separate job markets — except for Boeing workers who were forced to drive everywhere as the company frequently transferred them. In the 1980s it had grown to Bothell, Redmond, and Kent. The county debated its growth model, choosing between “metro towns” (scattered satellite cities), concentrating all growth in central Seattle, or north-south rectangles of density (three on the Eastside). It chose metro towns. Seattle chose a similar strategy called “urban villages”. It upzoned a dozen existing commercial centers modestly, and restricted the rest of the land further. Some areas were zoned lowrise but were still single-family; the rezones limited it to the current level and increased minimum lot sizes. After the two towers went up in Beacon Hill and Madison Park, the city limited heights in multifamily areas. And the CAP initiative limited downtown towers to 40 stories. CAP was in force until the 1980s. All these led to the current landscape.

      Rents started accelerating in 2003 to 5% per year, then reversed in 2008, then jumped up to 10%in 2012 with the Amazon boom. That squeezed out all the remaining slack in the market (old, cheap buildings). The increasing housing crisis, displacement, and homelessness forced the city to consider a new zoning plan, called HALA. It has another modest upzone and expansion of existing urban villages. Originally it also recommended abolishing single-family zoning and replacing it with triplex/rowhouse level, but a NIMBY backlash made Mayor Murray withdraw that part. The rest of HALA has been in EIS and litigation, and a few neighborhoods have been done (around a few Link stations), and the rest will come up for city council votes this year. So that will be a great opportunity for pro-housing activism. Another movement that’s building is to resurrect the withdrawn part of HALA, to make “missing middle” housing legal again in single-family zones, like Vancouver has. But that’s another long shot./

      1. Mike,

        The Sunset and Richmond were almost completely built out by 1930. The Twin Peaks and Sunset Tunnels were both completed before 1920.

  5. Uh..Sam and everybody else, I just watched the second video. Adding its contents to those of the first….this sanitary waste’s not funny anymore. My residential and life’s means aren’t lavish, but at least I GOT some I’m in less danger than most of losing.

    What do you think, Sam? Is that family’s own negligence to blame for the danger they have to live in? And all those people at the “wrong” train stop. Are they just not trying hard enough to deal with laws deliberately crafted to keep them out?

    My own worst experience of race bigotry- college senior year, Detroit suburbs. Man my age, dark-rimmed glasses, intelligent, well-spoken, telling me seriously that black people’s only real difficulty was that they just did not know where they were not wanted. Passive voice always so genteel.

    Maybe too many movies, but I like my racists with their bellies hanging over their gun-belts, and names like “Bull” on stitched on their uniforms.

    These last five decades, no question there’s been progress against racial discrimination per se, both by statute and general attitude. But over my whole adult life, I think the this country’s misdivision in personal wealth, the real guarantee of freedom, has gotten much worse.

    Heard yesterday from a source I trust that major percentage of our people can’t reliably come up with $400 in an emergency. But a lot worse to me is thought of where we’ll all be if VISA goes the way mortgage lending did in 2008. Reason these little “digs” at the “homeless” stink so bad is how crowded those waterlogged freeway undersides are going to get when that’s the rest of our address too.

    Mark Dublin

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