9 Replies to “Podcast #100: Thinking Bigger”

    1. An easy goal would be twice the current population, or 1.6 million Seattlites. The average density would be like San Francisco, since we currently have almost SF’s population but twice the area.

      if Seattle had serious upzoning, we could accommodate another Amazon-sized headquaters at Northgate (40,000 people). That would significantly increase the tax base and make Seattle’s economy less dependent on one company. (Not that Seattle is dependent on one company, but more diversity is better.) The trick is we’d need 40,000 new housing units for the influx of workers so that they don’t overwhelm the existing housing supply. That’s what Seattle failed to do for the Amazon boom: it built only 9 housing units for every 12 new jobs. That’s what squeezed out the remaining slack in the market (run-down $600 apartments) and made all rents rise 50% in just eight years (2012-2019).

      If Seattle can’t build enough housing to accommodate a major increase in jobs, then we can’t go through another Amazon-sized job expansion, or it will be worse than the last one (because the slack is already gone). That’s a failure of Seattle city leaders, not the company or developers, because it comes from giving too much deference to nimbys and single-family homeowners. (Seattle is increasing multifamily housing, but on only 30% of the residential-compatible land, so it ends up being a tight bottleneck that drives up prices and shuts out smaller/local developers.)

      One billion Americans sounds unnecessarily large. That’s three times the current population for those who care counting. It’s not that we don’t have enough land, but they’d all need food and water and electricity and oil-derived products. And many of them would demand quarter-acre lots and parking everywhere. Large parts of the US can’t support a large population: the Rockies is a desert with inadequate water, mountain chains are inconvenient for large cities, and much the Lousiana/Florida coast is a flood plain/hurricane buffer that shouldn’t have people living on it (and didn’t until a few decades ago). So they would have to go in the remaining areas. That would be doable if they had a Taiwan or German lifestyle, but not if they insist on an American lifestyle. And if half of them are conservatives, they’d influence the laws and politicians to ensure a low-density, high-consumption lifestyle, just as they’re doing throughout the south and southwest now. (Many of those cities have six-lane arterials every mile, pedestrian hostile. The northern San Diego suburbs have neighborhood arterials that are 55 mph. Who needs a freeway when you have a 55 mph arterial around the corner from your house, and its blocks are a half-mile long, with only one building per block.)

      1. Reason the World’s empires always finish their days in muddy or dusty statue-grave yards is this really unfair habit of God. And also “little sisters and brothers.”

        If we want to come out even a little ahead in these wasteful and annoying competitions, what our most certain winning posture? All our figurines need is to have a tool in our every hand.

        And, unless we want to get killed by our tools and work- materials our first day of work, leave the “Sweat-Fret” to who or whatever our competition is. Computer just told me our competition’s got about seven and a half billion hammer-swingers.


        Main point? Calculating from the tools in your crew’s own hands and all the way to the “key stone” of stone-work….given decent workmanship and knowledge in once sense or another, our chief skill is still the final “ping” that really cuts the stone.

        Please don’t think you’ve got so assistance or support, my fellow crew- members. That rock takes the serious “ping” of the Earth Crust’s to mark out our own stance and posture. All over the region, the native stone has left more than enough that we can lay out and cut at least our share, or maybe even a little more. For many calendar-contents. And we really are just getting started.

        Mark Dublin

      2. The best place to put a bunch of new Americans, if not just people of the world in general is the Great Lakes region. There already is the infrastructure (water, electricity, roads, railways, etc.). It would have to be fixed up, but that is the case anyway (these sorts of things scale).

        I agree with your points about Seattle.

      3. Yeah cities like Detroit or Cleveland could triple their density with minimal new public infrastructure. Lots of public infrastructure would probably need to be rehabbed, and a vast amount of new private infrastructure to create all that new, denser housing. Sun Belt cities could triple their density by simply allowing for normal pre-war density, or LA pre-1960s density.

        The only thing I worry about the Midwest is that the cities that are growing – Columbus, Indianapolis – are sprawling and consuming very fertile agricultural land. I’m less concerned about the west’s ability to add population. If LA could use water per capita like Las Vegas does, there would be enough freed up water capacity in the Colorado basin to turn around and add an entire LA’s worth of population.

      4. Just to be clear, when I say 10 million Seattleites, I’m implicitly including the suburbs. There is no question that we can easily fit 10 million people into the existing urban areas in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties.

        I don’t think 600 million more Americans necessarily means that we would get three times as much of the same sprawl that we have now. There are a couple reasons for that.

        First of all, I believe a substantial portion of the 600 million more Americans will be immigrants. In my experience (living in other countries, marrying an immigrant, living among immigrants), the conventional “American dream” (a big house on a big lot in a residential-only neighborhood, with every adult driving their own car), while often appealing, is not necessarily as important to them as it is to the typical nonimmigrant American.

        Second, while most Americans do find that “American dream” to be something they want very much, the phenomenon of urban gentrification, where dense, walkable areas become more expensive, of reach of most people, proves that other models of urban development are also in demand. The problem is that virtually everywhere (including almost all of Seattle), dense, walkable development is illegal. And dense, walkable development is in fact cheaper to build than sprawling, unwalkable development, so many people that might prefer unwalkable sprawl will choose walkable density, if only to save money.

        So… using our existing modes of development, yes, of course, it just means three times the sprawl. This would probably have the Seattle area sprawling all the way from Bellingham to Centralia. But the only things stopping us from more sensible development are laws. Laws can be changed.

  1. Just want to shout out that this is one of the best STB podcasts I’ve heard in a long time. Bringing in somebody well known from the outside definitely adds good perspective.

  2. Great conversation! I like the point about building coalitions with people who’s interests are aligned, not just who you’d like to hang out with.

  3. Some powerful stuff from Matthew Yglesias to really think about. Especially on how transits that are more efficient should get more $$ than those who are not. Couldn’t agree more as someone who believes public transit is an intrinsic good that needs to be plentiful.

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