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Seattle continued its strong performance on the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore Index in 2019, holding on to 11th place in the national rankings just behind Chicago. Washington, DC ranked first followed by Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is nonprofit that has protected more than 3.3 million acres of open land and completed more than 5,400 park and conservation projects since 1972. One of the organization’s primary goals is to ensure that all Americans live within a 10-minute walk of a park. According to 2019 data, about 72% of Americans meet that criteria.

Although 72% might seem like a fairly strong figure, access to parks is not equally shared. Despite the fact that there are 23,727 parks in the 100 largest U.S. cities, about 11.2 million residents of those cities do not have a park within a 10-minute walk of home.

“As few as 8,300 new parks in places where they are needed most would close the gap in park access in our 100 largest cities. At current rates of investment in park creation, it will take more than 50 years to build enough new parks to fill this gap,” said Breece Robertson, Chief Research and Innovation Officer at TPL. “But because we now know exactly where to site the parks, we know the first 1,500 could solve the problem for nearly 5 million people.”

The top ten best and worst cities’ rankings broke down as follows:

Credit: The Trust for Public Land 2019 ParkScore rankings
What metrics does the ParkScore Index measure?

ParkScore rankings are based equally on four factors.

  • Park access, which measures the percentage of residents living within a10-minute walk of a park; 
  • Park acreage, which is based on a city’s median park size and the percentage of city area dedicated to parks; 
  • Park investment, which measures park spending per resident; and
  • Park amenities, which counts the availability of six popular park features: basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, splashpads and other water play structures, recreation and senior centers, and restrooms.
A map of all of Seattle’s publicly owned open spaces or parklands. Credit: Seattle Parks and Recreation Parks and Open Space Plan 2017

Seattle scored particularly well for park access. According to TPL, 96% of Seattle residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, among the highest scores in the nation.

Proximity on a map does not always equate to access. Instead of measuring distance to a local park, ParkScore considers the location of park entrances and physical obstacles to access. For example, if residents are separated from a nearby park by a major highway, the ParkScore Index does not count the park as accessible to those residents, unless there is a bridge, underpass, or easy access point across the highway.

Moreover, while access to small parks is widespead, a Seattle Parks and Recreation open space gap analysis has suggested that larger parks and green spaces are not equitably distributed, with accessibility tending to be worse in lower-income areas. Marquee parks, meanwhile, tend to be ringed by restrictive single family zoning.


Walkability from open spaces based on a 2016 analysis. (City of Seattle)

Investment was another strong area for Seattle. Seattle spent $279 per person on its park system in 2019, trailing only Minneapolis’ $299 and San Francisco’s $318–all far above the national average of $90 per person. 

In terms of amenities, Seattle stood out for its commitment to dog parks, with about two off leash facilities for every 100 residents, a number that is almost double the national average.

Blue Dog Pond dog park in Central Seattle Seattle. Credit: Seattle Parks and Recreation

But Seattle’s overall score was hurt by its small median park size of 2.4 acres, which is below the national ParkScore median of 5.0 acres.

At the same time, when the City of Seattle’s 2017 Parks and Open Space Plan identified what park facilities Seattleites visit most frequently, small neighborhood or community parks came in number three on the list, indicating that these small parks are being used by residents.

Credit: Seattle Parks and Recreation 2017
Seattle Parks is seeking feedback on concepts for a new park in West Seattle

A landbanked site at 48th and Charlestown in West Seattle will become one of Seattle’s newest neighborhood parks. The .33 acre site was acquired with the help of King County funding, which restricts its use to low-impact, passive recreation and requires that the majority of the land is green open space that can provide stormwater infiltration.

Currently, the three concepts include:

Dog Friendly – this concept would include a fenced off-leash area for dogs, a lawn, a loop trail, and a picnic area with tables.
Community Green – this concept would include a big central lawn, a loop trail, a nature discovery trail, a dog comfort station, and a small plaza-like area with moveable tables and chairs.
Neighborhood Play – this concept would include a play area, a lawn, a nature trail, and a small plaza-like area with moveable tables and chairs.

A map detailing plans for the “Dog Friendly” concept, one of the three concepts that are being presented to the public for feedback. Credit: Seattle Parks and Recreation 2019.

Seattle Parks is currently seeking community feedback on its park concepts for 48th and Charlestown site. The survey is open until May 24th.

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Suburbs surrounding Seattle, some of them literally islands, are pulling up the drawbridges to growth. That is putting even more pressure on Seattle to shoulder the load for the entire metropolitan region, and it’s making the window for affordable housing solutions even narrower.

Bainbridge Island has had a moratorium on most new development since January 2018. Since 2009, Bainbridge had added residences at the “breakneck” pace of 66 per year and local home prices have continued to rise. This prompted several Bainbridge City Councilmembers to exclaim supply and demand does not work–at least not in Bainbridge! Do you expect them to add more than 66 homes per year?

In the same timespan, Seattle has added more than 50,000 apartments and well over 100,000 new residents.

Mercer Island froze development in 2015 and even with the ban technically lifted, it may be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than an apartment building to earn a building permit in Mercer Island. The offering of a development site near Mercer Island’s future light station station (set to open in 2023) could be the rare exception to that rule. Incidentally, Mercer Island is the residence of Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen, who’s turned his paper’s opinion section into a megaphone for apartment bans–that is preserving single-family housing, neighborhood character, and civilization as we know it.

Sammamish had a year-long moratorium that it partially lifted in September 2018, although the City ironically extended the building ban in Sammamish’s “Town Center”–supposedly the community’s mixed-use focal point. The Sammamish City Council enacted “Neighborhood Character” restrictions like a doubling of building setbacks that will shrink and discourage new development, not to mention a concurrency requirement linking density to wider roads.

The Issaquah City Council passed a citywide moratorium on apartment development in September 2016 following uproar over a large new apartment building. Issaquah councilmembers said their decision was motivated by a desire to encourage more density, improve urban design, and calibrate affordability requirements.

“Get rid of single-story, 1980s suburban retail and replace it with multi-story, denser projects that will accommodate growth and create a more vibrant part of the city in central Issaquah — that’s what [city leaders] wanted, but we weren’t necessarily getting that,” said Issaquah Development Director Keith Niven in a Crosscut interview.

But, to the region, even moratoriums with good intentions end up meaning less housing gets built and more pressure is put on everyone else–and ultimately Seattle given the trend.

Issaquah lifted the citywide moratorium in March 2017, but extended the ban in central Issaquah (where apartments were being funneled anyway) to continue tinkering with the development standards and “get it right.” Finally the City lifted the ban completely in May 2018 and released new development guidelines. Admirably, Issaquah has a urbanist vision for its downtown (big plans for the central district helped the city lobby for its own Link light rail line in the Sound Transit 3 package.) However, the 20-month moratorium seems to have taken the wind out the sails of the little development boom Issaquah had been having. Post-moratorium, no major projects have materialized yet.

Federal Way issued an “emergency” one-year apartment ban in June 2016, citing crowded schools. Even when the ban was lifted, Federal Way policymakers used exceptionally high impact fees on apartments–raising them seven-fold to more than $20,000 per unit while leaving single family fees as is–to effectively continue the ban. Public outcry made it clear a loud minority of residents resented apartments and associated them with crime. Federal Way City Council came through with code changes upping parking requirements, reducing building massing, limiting building heights, and increasing setbacks–all seemingly intended to zone new apartments out of existence.

The state legislature considered legislation outlawing impact fees targeting apartments for higher rates than single-family homes, which would have challenged Federal Way’s practice. However, that stipulation was left on the cutting room floor as a more stripped down version of House Bill 1923 passed. Regardless, Federal Way’s code changes may have been sufficient to discourage new apartments exorbitant impact fees or not–or the City may have just invented new obstacles. Federal Way will get a light rail station in 2024, but transit-oriented development prospects aren’t looking great.

The spate of moratoriums and downzonings jeopardized on the Growth Management Act, which only allows moratoriums in emergency circumstances. Recent history suggests emergencies are now pretty commonplace in suburban communities. The intent of growth management was to encourage growth in existing communities rather than pushing it out to the unincorporated areas where it’d encroach on farmland, forests, and wilderness areas while requiring expensive new infrastructure and larger climate footprints. Instead, unincorporated Snohomish County and Pierce County seems to be filling the housing vacuum as suburbs shirk their responsibility.

Some Targeted Suburban Upzones

Some suburban cities are taking measures to encourage growth. Everett rezoned its core to allow some highrises. Edmonds upzoned along SR-99; although, its downtown upzone was scuttled out of desire to preserve the views of hilltop single-family homes. Shoreline rezoned neighborhoods adjoining light rail stations coming online in 2024. Mountlake Terrace is rezoning to allow 12-story buildings adjacent to its future light rail station (again 2024), but is generally preserving single-family zoning everywhere else–a common story.

While providing highrise zoning is a promising sign, the question remains of whether developers will take advantage of it. Lenders may look at large expensive projects in unproven markets as risky investments. Proximity to light rail could be nice selling point that ends up getting big projects built. However, there are plenty of places that are just a little a bit farther from bus rapid transit or future light rail stations that could see missing middle housing typologies (like triplexes, rowhouses, and courtyard apartment buildings). Only they aren’t zoned for it. Restrictive single-family zoning continues to hem in the urban districts. Seattle’s problem is the same problem regionwide.

Missing Middle housing types. (Opticos Design)
Opposition to Low-Income Housing

Other suburbs are seemingly pro-growth, but not when it comes to low-income housing.

The Lynnwood City Council is blocking a public housing redevelopment just off its Swift Green bus rapid transit line on SR-99. Lynnwood had been making waves for its vision for mixed-use midrise development and residential highrise in its new “city center” around its future Link light rail station (set to open in 2024). If the Lynnwood City Council has turned against low-income housing, that could be a bad sign for those that had hoped Lynnwood City Center could prove a release valve for working class folks priced out of Seattle and the Eastside.

Bellevue gets accolades for allowing 60-story towers in its playground for the rich downtown and props for its midrise mixed-use corporate office park at the Spring District. However, when it comes to siting a homeless shelter rather than a corporate campus, Bellevue wasn’t so generous. A nonprofit has been trying to build a homeless shelter since 2014 and is looking at a 2022 opening best case scenario as neighborhood after neighborhood has turned them away, whether by direct opposition or the prevalence of single family zoning. Moreover, “Bellevue’s housing stock overall is growing at about half its historical average,” Mike Rosenberg pointed out, even with some splashy towers going up.

Most of the Eastside shares the sentiment with not many shelters to begin with and only a trickle of new capacity since the region’s homelessness crisis worsened in the past decade. There are a few promising signs after years of inaction. For example, Kirkland is set to get its first ever permanent 24-hour homeless shelter in the year of 2020.

Seattle Is Facing Housing Obstruction Too

Pointing out that suburbs have been sandbagging growth isn’t to let Seattle off the hook. Seattle’s designated urban villages have grown remarkably rapidly, carrying 85% of the city’s new housing growth. Meanwhile, the pace of growth in Seattle’s single-family zones has been tepid. Some single-family-dominated neighborhoods have seen their populations shrink in recent decades as household sizes decrease and no new housing goes in.

More than 10,000 additional apartments have been leased in the last year. (Credit: Mark Nowlin/The Seattle Times)

Even fighting with a hand tied behind its back, Seattle has done well, leading the region in growth and adding more than 130,000 new residents since the city’s 2010 census figure came in at 608,660 to something like 750,000 residents today. Even so, the narrative many Washington lawmakers continues to push is that Seattle, by obstructing housing and not growing faster than it is, is ruining everything–which is a well-worn narrative and pretty misleading in this case. Sen. Guy Palumbo (D-Maltby) is one state legislator known to use the narrative and his colleague Sen. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien) pointed out one hole in “Seattle is to blame” line; namely, that most suburbs have just as much (if not more) single family zoning as Seattle does.

What does it look like in Bothell?

— Joe Fitzgibbon (@joefitzgibbon) May 20, 2019
Seattle Is Building Much Faster than the Suburbs

The reason is that Seattle–even with some egregious examples of NIMBY hijinx–is growing much faster than the suburbs. Housing obstruction in the suburbs paired with a trend toward walkable urban housing has nearly ground to a halt multifamily housing growth in the suburban cities. Seattle Times real estate reporter Mike Rosenberg reported on the slow growth suburbs phenomenon in August 2018:

Right now, Seattle has 62 percent of all the apartments under construction in King County, according to Apartment Insights/Real Data, which tracks construction and planning of buildings with at least 50 units. In the county’s suburbs, Redmond and Bellevue host more than half the apartments underway now.


But looking farther into the future, the forecast calls for an even stronger divergence: Seattle has 82 percent of all the apartments planned but not yet under construction in King County, among large buildings. Actually, there are more apartments planned in the core of downtown Seattle than in all of the county’s suburbs combined.


Not all of those units will get built, but still – Seattle has nearly 28,000 apartments in the pipeline, while all the suburbs combined have about 6,000 planned, among large buildings.

It’s hard to explain away such a reversal in growth between Seattle and the suburbs. Certainly urban living is “in” right now and Seattle does have Amazon and other major employers drawing people inward. Still, clearly there’s demand to live in communities all across the Puget Sound region and people might live in those places if there were more housing options. It’s just that Seattle is doing a lot more to meet that demand than anywhere else and it’s not even close.

While some believe markets are very efficient at meeting demand, housing markets are pretty complicated. The 2008 Housing Crisis dried up the development pipeline and drove a good number of construction contractors and developers out of business–especially those overinvested in exurban McMansions. Since, the crash developers may have overcorrected abandoning suburban projects to get in on the action in Seattle, where Amazon had rapidly added 45,000 high-paying jobs. The hoops, hurdles, and moratoriums developers are being forced to jump through in some suburbs may have helped make their mind up.

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The Urbanist by Nathan Vass - 5d ago

This lil’ thing just keeps chugging–thanks to you. We’ve printed a third run of books, in conjunction with my recent TED talk (which will be online shortly; stay tuned!). If you’ve already bought a copy, Thank You!! Tell your friends, your bookstores, book reviewers and others! It’ll be a while yet before this little endeavor is actually sustainable–even when considering how phenomenally it’s been doing.

That’s not just because books are a terrible way to get rich. It’s because I’m Nathan and I can’t help myself, in that the focus from day one has never been profit. When you leave the artists in charge of everything, it’s never about the money, for better or worse… This was always about making the best possible item we could for you, the reader.

This book is about that level of quality but also about something else, something deeper. I used to scoff at material objects– especially the buying of material objects–in a way that I’ve cooled down on in recent years. 

Because objects outlast loved ones.

They live longer than people, and carry with them the bodied memories of a thousand ordinary days, the days when that person still wandered about the house, called you, whisper-chuckled in your ears. Objects stick around, long after your friend, grandparent, whomever– has drifted out of your life, whether by death or something smaller, heartbreak maybe, or just moving away. 

A friend once mailed me a letter (yes, young people still do that!) that included a handwritten copy of Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Things.” It’s a celebration of physical objects, and at the time I thusly disregarded it. Who needs objects when you’ve got people, human souls to connect with?

Well.

I’ve been learning what my older friends already know. Humans don’t always stick around, even when they desperately want to. We feel the unsolvable gnawing questions of God and Death and Time, and we, all of us, act accordingly.

Some will tell you the organizing principle behind everything humans do is sex. Or love. Or loneliness. But all of those sit broadly at the root of something larger.

Death, Don Delillo wrote, is the motivating factor for all human action. Meaning the act of life, and specifically the recognition of its fragile preciousness. The urgency of it, of our being here.

Why did I begin creating with such urgency in the last five years? The blooming of my blog, the mad rush of photography, the large-scale darkroom printing, the book and everything it entailed, my upcoming film and everything that involved, the various radioprint and television placements, the awards at work and at large

What else would you do, friend, if you were in a terrorist attack, and then survived?

“Tell us about Paris,” a friend in the audience asked during my Elliot Bay author Q&A. I’ll be giving incomplete answers to the fallout of that event for the rest of my life. I’ll post the video of that talk soon as well, and you’ll notice how uncertain I am as I fumble about for an answer, something succinct.

This is how I might answer now:

Life has urgency for me now, and I fight its fragility by creating. This fight will always be a losing fight, Sisyphean in a way, pathetic from a certain angle; but I welcome that futility, and all the growth that comes with it. It means I will never tire of making art, trying to be good, kind, loving– the ultimate art act of existence is how we live life. In the face of death, I create. I infuse my art with everything I’ve got, everything I’ve learned and gathered, such that I might be able to throw a beam of light into the void, for a flicker of a moment.

As I say above, this book was never about the money. Debut authors don’t always find it strangely necessary to have their books printed on photo-quality paper, with offset-printed covers, blurbs from major local luminaries, or come graphic-designed to within an inch of their lives, until you have what is basically a non-fiction coffee-table conversation art piece masquerading in the shape of a novel… But our book is all of these things, because we pulled out all the stops for you. The generosity of spirit that’s come my way via the blog all these years demands it.

But more deeply, more profoundly even than that, is the Urgency. To pour my absolute best, every single solitary thing I’ve got, into something I can gift to you, something that will live on your shelf or someone else’s, in your mind, maybe your heart, for longer than I will be able to live on this earth.

Objects. They carry secrets like I never knew.

​…And a big thank you to The Urbanist for illuminating the human angle of urban planning.

Buy the book here.
​More on the book here.
Nathan on the Elliott Bay author event: Parts I,II, and III.

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How Leonardo da Vinci made a "satellite" map in 1502 - YouTube

Long before satellite was invented, Leonardo da Vinci made highly accurate maps mimicking the above view plan commonly found in satellite-based maps.

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5G has roadblocks: 5G has its opponents over aesthetics.

Disney’s unique venture: Would Disney really build a nuclear power plant in Orlando?

Hateful leadership: A newly proposed federal housing rule could deny 55,000 children of immigrant families housing assistance.

Fairer burden for roads: Connecticut’s governor wants to toll highways across the state, ending the free ride to many many motorists.

Mixed use: Chicago is trying to make public housing better with inclusion of libraries ($).

War on Americans: The ill-advised tariff war by Donald Trump will increase the cost of ORCA cards ($).

Decongest Seattle: Sightline takes a deeper look at how decongestion charging in Seattle could work.

Lexington’s greenbelt threatened: America’s first greenbelt may be on its way out.

Highway state of mind: Why America’s roads are actually in bad shape.

Not so smart: Smart cities are not necessarily smart enough to consider people’s feelings.

A better way: How could America spend $2 trillion in transportation funding the right way?

Reinvent infrastructure: Paris has ideas to reuse aging infrastructure in a clever, new ways.

First Hill design review: The latest design review for a new development next to First Hill’s iconic First Baptist Church.

Grotesque grandstanding: Donald Trump is trying to clawback nearly $1 billion in funding for high-speed rail in California.

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The Urbanist by Nathan Vass - 1w ago

​He had one of those ‘normal’ names. Mono– or duo-syllabic, from the Western tradition: Christian, Jewish, something. Paul. Eric. You know. The kind I can never remember… and also the kind that humanizes a downtrodden face. All names do that, but it’s the ones we grew up with that double up in our mind, sandwiching in between the déjà vu of older memory.

I knew a lot of Erics as a child, grew up around Michaels and Matthews and Carlos’s, but never one with a face this scruffy, shaggy, stubbly, brow-beaten, aged, hollow, and slight. None of the Erics I sat next to in school dragged around a garbage bag large and lugubrious enough for me to fit inside of—or at least, not yet. 

This Eric did, though, and I was sorry to have forgotten his name, because he remembered mine. I’ll have to build up the nerve to ask him again– again– someday. His voice was raspier than a Leonard Cohen buzzsaw, and his name, ordinary as it was, served as a reminder that he was as we are, regular folks trying to make something of ourselves, for a month or for an hour.

“Hey. I went to Georgetown today,” he said. It sounded incongruous, such an innocuous statement declared so hoarsely, from such a scarred, battered, nigh war-torn visage. His was the face you’d have from leaning into a hard wind for six decades. But beneath that gravel-shredding guttural croak: hear the friendliness in his tone!

“That’s cool,” I said. 
“I’m going to apply for a job down there. I got a paper application.” 
“That’s right!” I replied, my memory jogging to life. “You got all kinds a stuff going on. Last time we talked I remember you were takin’ class somewhere.”
“Yeah I am.”
“Sweet. What classes are you takin’ again?”
“Accounting, I’m doing accounting, gardening—”
“Gardening that’s right—”
“And woodworking. I don’t wanna spend the rest of my life wearing a coat downtown, collecting cans.”
“Gets kinda old after a while.”
“Yeah. Plus you only make $67 a day. I’m gonna do building maintenance. Sweeping the floors, fixing up the bathrooms, changing light bulbs and stuff.”
“I like that kind a work,” I said, without irony. “Working with your hands. Feels good, like you’re really doing something.” 
“Yeah. It’ll be good,” he said. “I was a janitor before.”
“Oh you’ll get it then, you got prior experience.”
“Hope so. Anyways. I’ll let you drive. I thought I would tell you that though. I’m going up to Wenatchee next week.”
“What’s in Wenatchee?”
“It’s my hometown.”
“Oh cool. How’s the weather up there these days?”

He wasn’t a homeless person. He was a homeless person with an interest in gardening, who’d been a janitor, was enrolled in classes… who spent nights planning, musing on the future. 

Who thought about his hometown.

How many others coming upon his streetraggled form tonight will know of his secrets? What will they miss? Or will they have their kind eyes on, the eyes to see all this man is, was, and might ever be?

“Go get ’em,” I said, as he left. 
He grinned.

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The five Seattle City Council candidate forums will focus on mobility, housing affordability, and the climate crisis.

The election is fast approaching. Sign are appearing, candidates are jockeying for money and endorsements, and our city is pondering its identity. It seems we are at an inflection point and which path we choose could hinge on this election. Who wins these seven council races will determine how we deal with the problems of housing cost, homelessness, transportation, and climate change.

Ahead of the August primary election, the Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) Coalition is organizing a series of forums in five of the seven Seattle City Council districts. (Details at the bottom.) It’s a great chance to hear the candidates define and defend their positions.

Tale of Two Seattles

People seem to be living in different realities. In one, Seattle is dying and can only be saved by turning back the clock, turning to brutal crackdowns, and turning our back on racial equity efforts. In another reality, we’re going through a painful rebirth with a promise of a brighter future on the other side.

To people who think Seattle is dying we are Free-attle. Homelessness and the crime they associate with it are caused by people moving here to take advantage of us and the solution is to criminalize poverty and chase people away. They think that businesses is being driven away by a profligate Seattle City Council that is wasting our money on bike lanes and social services. Led by the likes of Brier Dudley, this crowd holds sacred single family zoning and home ownership as the one true path for the “middle” class. The kind of socialism they love is car-based: free unbridled access to all roads and abundant free parking. They think this is the election to wipe out Seattle’s progressive majority.

In another reality, we have problems, but they are largely from our success and the need for a vision to solve them. The thousands of our neighbors sleep on the street each night are a result of rising rents due to the growth of our tech economy–and investing some of that great wealth could ensure that all are housed. The vision involves welcoming new people throughout our city (even in single family zones) while building more affordable housing so those who are here are not pushed out. In this reality, climate change is real and demands action to re-envision our city and prioritize pedestrians, people biking, transit, and our Vision Zero goal of zero traffic deaths by 2030.

And into this ideological maelstrom comes some 50-odd candidates for seven city council seats, four of which have no incumbent. Each one with a mix of ideas on how to take our city into the future (or try to drag us back to a mythological past). And how to decide?

Seattle City Council Candidate Forums

To help you decide, MASS members–the Transit Riders Union, Sierra Club, Cascade Bicycle Club, Seattle Subway, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, 350 Seattle, Disability Rights Washington, Rooted in Rights, and The Urbanist–as well as the Housing Development Consortium have sponsored five forums each covering a Seattle City Council race. The other two races not included (District 1 and 5) may get their shot during the general election, when each race is whittled down to the top two.

The date and locations of the debate are as follows:

District 2 (Chinatown/International District, Little Saigon, SoDo, Beacon Hill, Georgetown, Mount Baker, Columbia City, NewHolly, Othello, Seward Park, and Rainier Beach): 6pm to 7:30pm Tuesday May 28th at the New Holly Gathering Hall (7054 32nd Ave S)

District 3 (Capitol Hill, Central Area, First Hill, Little Saigon, and parts of South Lake Union, Mount Baker, Montlake and Yesler Terrace): 6pm to 7:30pm Thursday May 23 at the Washington State Labor Council (321 16th Ave S)

District 4 (Eastlake, parts of Fremont, parts of Maple Leaf, Ravenna Bryant, Roosevelt, University District, Wallingford, and parts of Wedgwood): 5:30pm to 7:30pm Thursday May 30 at the Cascade Bicycle Club (7787 62nd Ave NE)

District 6 (Crown Hill, Greenwood, Ballard, Phinney Ridge, Greenlake, Tangletown, and Fremont): 5:15pm to 7:30pm Tuesday May 21 at the Phinney Neighborhood Association (6532 Phinney Ave N)

District 7 (including Pioneer Square, Downtown, part of First Hill, Belltown, Denny Triangle, South Lake Union, Uptown, Queen Anne, Interbay, and Magnolia): 6pm to 8pm Wednesday May 29 at SEIU 775, (215 Columbia St)

Don’t know which district is yours? Find it here. 

Seattle Times reporter Heidi Groover is moderating the first week of forums and Erica C. Barnett of The C is for Crank is moderating the second week. Barnett hosted the Growing Seattle forum in 2017, which was very illuminating on where mayoral candidate stood on the issues.

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Last week, we asked you to narrow down a slew of Denny intersections, and you did.

2017 winner Denny & Stewart advanced, while 2015 winner Denny & Terry narrowly lost to Westlake & Blanchard. Boren & Lenora also advanced. These three intersections will now compete against others across the city that were nominated.

We now have a bracket and a real competition! There are 16 reader-nominated intersections lined up for you to choose from in this week’s worst intersection survey.

The bracket is organized to support geographic diversity in the competition and this year’s regions are color-coded on the map below as follows:

  • South / West (south of Yesler and not downtown, includes West Seattle)
  • Northeast (north of 520 and east of I-5)
  • SLU / Central (South Lake Union and downtown)
  • SLU / North (West South Lake Union and areas North of South Lake Union and West of I-5)

Last year’s winner is located in Rainier Valley, and even though that intersection is being improved, there are plenty of other intersections worth considering from that area. Unfortunately, none of them were nominated this year.

Still, there are plenty of bad intersections across the city that are awful for all modes.

In making your choices, consider the intersections that are the worst for walking, biking, and busing (odds are they are bad for driving as well).

Review the nominations thread as you consider your decision and submit your vote by Friday May 24. We’ll announce the 8 intersections that advance the following week.

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The Urbanist by Natalie Bicknell - 1w ago
Don’t let the rainy forecast stop you from participating in one of the biggest cycling celebrations of the year.

Cascade Bicycle Club estimates that last year about 20,000 people across the Puget Sound region participated in their annual Bike Everywhere Day on May 17th. Despite this year’s gloomy forecast, Cascade hopes to beat that number and get even more people out on bikes and participating this year. Celebration stations across Seattle and in neighboring cities will be curbside with food and drinking, games, and opportunities to engage in bike advocacy.

Credit: Cascade Bicycle Club

Recent months haven’t been very kind to Seattle’s cyclists. News that the protected bike lanes planned for 35th Avenue Northeast had been cancelled was quickly followed by the revelation that Move Seattle Levy was running short on bike funds and that SDOT was going to have to make hard choices about what transportation safety projects to put on the shelf.

But not all is doom and gloom. The independent oversight committee that oversees the Move Seattle Levy has requested additional funding for implementing the Bicycle Master Plan. And last January, bike counts surged over previous records; more than 34,000 trips by bicycle were counted by Seattle’s three bike counters than had been counted in 2018, an increase of 27%.

The city is moving forward with plans to build protected bike lanes on Pike and Pine that will connect Capitol Hill with Downtown, which will open up an important east-west corridor cyclists of all ages and abilities. Additionally, SDOT is moving forward with plans to construct another protected bike lane on East Union Street, and currently has an E Union St protected bike lane community survey posted online for people to complete until May 31st. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) project team will also be hosting a community meeting at 20/20 Cycle in the Central District on Saturday, May 18th, from 1 to 4pm.

A map of the proposed bike families on East Union Street in the Central District. The protect bike lane is currently in the conceptual phase and SDOT is continuing to seek community feedback. Credit: SDOT

While advocates like The Urbanist’s own Ryan Packer have been frustrated at how the current plans create a critical gap near East Union and 23rd Avenue and don’t connect to rest of the protected bike network, it’s not too late for the community to demand that SDOT ensure the future plans include safety improvements to this busy and critical intersection.

The most recent Move Seattle Levy report shared that the NE 65th Street Vision Zero Project is almost complete. The project includes a variety of safety improvements that will make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists to access the future Sound Transit Roosevelt light rail station, opening in 2021. A parallel Neighborhood Greenway on NE 68th Street is currently in design.

Credit: SDOT

Finally, local nonprofit Outdoors for All has partnered with SDOT to provide free adaptive bike rentals at Magnuson Park all summer. Outdoors for All will also be bringing the free adaptive bike rentals out to for people to enjoy at Seward Park and the White Center Bicycle Playground on selected dates.

Credit: Outdoors for All and SDOT

Celebrations like Bike Everywhere Day build solidarity, which is something people need in both good and bad times. While things might not be perfect, there are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic that active transportation, like walking and biking, will continue to increase in Seattle and beyond.

So this Friday put on some rain gear and go out in search of as many Bike Everywhere Day celebration stations as you can find. Most stations will be open in the morning, and some will be open during lunchtime and during the late afternoon as well. And if you find yourself craving more biking activities, sign up for one of the Bike Everywhere Month challenges.

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Samuel Stein’s new book Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State aims to challenge urban planning orthodoxy. Writing from a socialist perspective with New York City as his case study, Stein recounts how urban planning arose to meet the needs of capitalists, industrialists, and colonizers. Today, urban planning is firmly within the grips of the real estate state–an unholy alliance of global finance and megadevelopers–which is more powerful than ever, Stein argues.

After all, the president is a landlord and real estate tycoon, he points out, and his signature tax cut helped real estate developers most of all, furthering a pattern of preferential treatment for rich developers (and their bankers) while the working class continues to languish.

In fact, the conventional policy prescription for cities often amounts to stoking gentrification in Stein’s estimation. Hand out upzones and developer tax breaks and the ensuing supply boom will lower rents for all, the logic goes. Stein isn’t buying it.

In place of “gentrification planning,” Stein offers a radical alternative based on building renter power, threatening mass rent strikes, enacting rent control, building public housing in spades, and transforming urban planning to center historically marginalized voices. He admits that road is less certain and some radical solutions are still being formulated and fought for against the tremendous power of the real estate state. But Stein would rather be in the fight rather than reproducing the same inequalities of the past.

If you’re interested in hearing more from Sam Stein, you have two chances this weekend as part of Red May. At 7:30pm Friday May 17th, Stein will be on a panel titled Neoliberal Seattle: The City as Investment along with Mimi Sheller (Mobility Justice), Cedric Johnson (The Neoliberal Deluge: Hurricane Katrina and the Remaking of New Orleans), and filmmaker-Seattle City Council candidate Shaun Scott at The Summit. On Saturday May 18th, Stein will be doing a talk and book launch at Elliott Bay Book Company starting at 7pm.

Do homes filter to the working class?

As part of his argument, Stein seeks to knock down the justifications and defenses proponents of business as usual have put forward. One big defense is that building more housing automatically helps the working poor through lowering prices. The theory of filtering (or sorting) would suggest as wealthier people leave older housing and move into new housing, that older housing will become more affordable for everybody else. Stein holds that filtering or sorting rarely happens in practice. One reason why, Stein wrote, is the phenomenon of rich people buying homes for investments purposes and not even living in them.

[M]ost of what is constructed post-upzoning is aimed toward the very top of the real estate market, and does nothing to alleviate costs for most residents. In human terms that kind of luxury construction does not even guarantee greater numbers of people living in a given area; in fact, in some scenarios it can reduce, rather than expand, urban densities. While upscale developments may contain more “units” than older, more affordable precursors, they are often “filled” with shell investors. single-person households and large footprinted retail, thus reducing the number of people within an area and belying the supposed environmental, economic, and social benefits of density for density’s sake. those arguments, then, hold little appeal to urban residents seeking to prevent their own displacement.

Stein didn’t point to any studies suggesting the phenomenon of density decreasing following redevelopment is widespread, whether due to speculators not living in the homes they buy or household size decreasing. However, it’s hard to argue people being displaced would see density’s appeal for their block. Thus Stein contends centering the urban struggle on density is not the way to go. “The density thing has become a proxy for price, because we don’t have enough means to go after price,” Stein said. “I think that’s going to be trap in the long term.”

Due to the widening wealth gap, homes would have to filter a long way to reach someone making $15 an hour. While Stein may be too dismissive of the downward price pressure that increasing housing supply can create, he’s correct in his assessment that the working poor in gentrifying neighborhoods generally are generally last in line to get the benefits. And there can be other people jumping into the line; latent demand for urban housing means upper-middle class people will move into vacated housing stock before it can filter down to the working class.

The Power of Real Estate State

Nonetheless, the market-based supply paradigm is strong, and Stein sees that as a reflection of real estate state power. To those who doubt the power of real estate industry, Stein lays out some staggering facts.

“Global real estate is now worth $217 trillion, thirty-six times the value of all the gold ever mined. It makes up 60 percent of the world’s assets, and the vast majority of that wealth–roughly 75 percent–is in housing.”

Hudson Yards has become the posterchild for gauche megadevelopments soaking up tax breaks. (Photo by Jim.henderson, Wikimedia Commons)

That’s a staggering amount of wealth. The prevalence of wealth being tied to housing suggests the spike in real estate values is driving wealth inequality and exacerbating the racial wealth gap. And existing policy interventions may be geared toward making it worse. Stein highlights the “nearly $2.75 billion New York gives away in landlord and developer tax breaks every year” as evidence of this.

Trump: Developer President

One masterful exploiter of developer tax breaks is in the Whitehouse. In Chapter 4, Stein recounts how Donald Trump and his father and grandfather before him exploited opportunities created by the urban planning schemes of the day. Friedrich Trump fleeced miners with brothels in Seattle during the Klondike gold rush. Friedrich’s son Fred made a good chunk of his fortune during World War II as a war profiteer, overcharging the military for large workforce housing projects and subsequently systematically excluding Blacks from them. Donald switched the focus of the Trump empire to “glaringly gauche” luxury housing, hotels, and casinos following the neoliberal turn of his time, and he made sure to exploit every tax break imaginable along the way.

So is Trump indicative of other real estate tycoons? Stein would largely answer yes.

“[The Trumps] are a particularly vulgar version of the real estate capitalists in America,” Stein said. “I think they’re exceptionally ugly and proud of what they do, but they’re not exceptional in the way they’ve played off the state to make a profit in real estate.”

The rest of the real estate industry doesn’t love Trump, Stein said, in part because his brashness draws attention to their practices.

“He was never a major member of the New York Real Estate Board of New York or anything like that,” Stein said. They [real estate capitalists] disliked him because we was so brash about all the stuff they were also doing that it didn’t make them look good.”

Gentrification Planning

What Stein is proposing is not freezing neighborhoods in amber–although he is interested in attacking real estate capital’s right to exploit neighborhoods. “Healthy cities exist in a state of flux,” Stein wrote. “Change is necessary and good: people come and go, are born and die; industries are carefully harnessed, but almost never become permanent fixtures. A city that never changes is probably not a city at all.”

Gentrification, he sees, as a different animal.

“But a particular kind of change is taking hold in many cities and towns around the world–one that presents itself as neighborhood revitalization but results in physical displacement and social disruption for the urban working class,” Stein continues. “In geographer Ipsita Chatterjee’s terms, it represents ‘the theft of space from labor and its conversion into spaces for profit.’ This change is generally known as gentrification, the process by which capital is reinvested in urban neighborhoods, and poorer residents and their cultural products are displaced and replaced by richer people and their preferred aesthetics and amenities.”

Nonetheless, the pull of gentrification is strong and cities that embrace it can be rewarded by real estate capital. On the flip side, turning away from gentrification can risk a city’s credit score and bond rating. “The city that rejects gentrification planning is therefore taking a significant financial risk,” Stein wrote.

Inclusionary Zoning

While inclusionary zoning is presented as a moderating force (including by us at The Urbanist), Stein is skeptical.

“It doesn’t create enough affordable housing and the affordable housing it creates isn’t affordable enough,” Stein said in an interview. “[It’s] a program premised on gentrification while trying to correct gentrification. Some neighborhoods it could create a net loss in affordable housing.”

With other solutions blocked at the state or federal level, inclusionary zoning can one of the few tools readily available to policymakers and Stein recognizes its attractiveness in that light. But the way he would implement inclusionary zoning is just about the opposite of how New York City has gone about it. New York has targeted poorer areas for upzonings while downzoning wealthy White enclaves, particularly under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mayor Bill de Blasio continued the pattern, introducing mandatory inclusionary zoning to lessen the sting some by creating some affordable homes–but still not enough since the affordability level is often too high for many, especially Blacks and Latinos whose incomes tend to be lower that area median incomes that rents are pegged at.

Upzoning wealthy White areas would be a better approach, Stein contends, instead of funneling growth to working class neighborhoods and intensifying gentrification and displacement.

“[I]f inclusionary zoning were only used in rich White enclaves and never in neighborhoods at risk of gentrification, its results would be notably different: forcing the wealthy to integrate at least a bit, rather gentrifying the city and calling it progress.”

New York has generally done the exact opposite.

“Though results varied by neighborhood and block, in its totality Bloomberg rezonings reflected a particular racial capitalist spacial agenda: White upper-income homeowners tended to see their blocks downzoned or contextually zoned, while working class tenants of color tended to see their blocks upzoned,” Stein wrote. “The pattern could not be explained away by any other obvious consideration. For example, transit access–the standard urban planning rationale for upzoning–did not seem to be a factor here, as 59% of downzoned lots were within half a mile of a subway entrance.”

Radical Solutions

Chapter 5 is Stein’s tentative road map to unmake the real estate state and find housing solutions that will combat gentrification and shelter the working class.

One part of the road map is universal rent control–in New York’s case this would mean closing loopholes. While we discussed rent control on the phone, Stein acknowledges that rent control won’t be effective in the absence for a mechanism to ensure housing growth. Exempting new development is one route cities have used, perhaps with an opt-in option linked to property tax breaks. Oregon recently enacted statewide rent control–albeit in a weak form–showing an expansion of rent control isn’t so far-fetched. Still Washington state would need to repeal its state ban before Seattle could try this. Strengthening tenant protections is another no-brainer in the interim.

Cities should be seizing more public land, Stein argues. He gives a nod to Paris to “right of first refusal” law that gives the City first pass on any land sale in certain parts of the city. The city can pay market value and convert the building to social housing. Another option to shift land ownership trends is reforming foreclosure law to give the City first right to buy properties to keep them in public use rather than falling to the likes of Steve Mnuchin, who (in a related development) has been elevated to U.S. Treasury Secretary under Trump. Stein also proposes a foreclosure fee on banks to add a disincentive to dispossession. In short, Stein desires to turn land “from commodity to commons” by shifting land to public ownership and kicking off a social housing building spree.

Finally, Stein wants to see reindustrialization to offer an alternative to gentrification as an economic development model. “This would mean using zoning, tax policy, rent regulation, and subsidies to keep existing industrial projects going, and invest heavily in the kinds of infrastructure–ports, energy, rails and more–industrial firms would need.” An industrial resurgence could challenge “real estate capital’s monopoly on city planning priorities.” Before late 20th century deindustrialization, industry offered a counterbalance to the real estate state because industrial capitalists had a desire for cheap labor (and cheap land for their factories) and thus promoted policies furthering cheaper land and housing. When factories left the country or moved the suburbs, the real estate state filled the power vacuum in urban politics, and gentrification planning took over.

All in all, Stein wants solutions to come from marginalized communities and tenant movements, rather than continuing the status quo planning structures that favor the entrenched power of the real estate state. Rent strikes and blocking new luxury developments are options that could disrupt real estate capital, he suggests, and the incredible amount of real estate debt could make them vulnerable to such tactics.

What Does Community Control Mean?

Some urbanist may bristle at more community control in development, but Stein is aware of the risks of obstruction and doesn’t intend for a blanket veto of land use decisions by any old neighborhood group.

“If we believe in community control, for example, that doesn’t mean that every community gets control,” Stein said “It means that communities that have been denied control of their spatial amenities get more control, while it undos some of the community control that’s been afforded to exclusionary neighborhoods in the past.”

Although not a focus of the book, Stein acknowledges homeowner power and wealth hoarding is another side of the real estate state.

“Urban planners are above all land use managers,” Stein wrote. “Yet their power is subordinate to landowners–not just individuals who own land and houses, but the organized power of real estate capital, in both its concentrated (billionaire developers) and diffuse (exclusionary homeowner associations) forms.”

Stein is ready to imagine and build a better system.

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