Monday, 18 February, 2019

Seattle Planning Commission Remains Steadfast in Support of MHA

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MHA has already been implemented in the 23rd Avenue corridor in central Seattle, which means unlike most housing under construction in urban villages in Seattle this 532 unit structure will contribute toward affordable housing. Photo by author.

As the City Council debates Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) amendments in the lead up to next Thursday’s big public hearing on MHA, the Seattle Planning Commission (SPC), an appointed board that advises on broad planning goals, policies and plans, is currently advocating for two proposed amendments to the City Comprehensive Plan that would ensure full implementation of MHA.

The first amendment would expand the boundaries for ten urban villages to provide more housing options near frequent transit nodes, while the second amendment would revise neighborhood plan policies that seek to retain single-family zoning in urban villages.

In a draft letter to Councilmember Rob Johnson, SPC wrote, “The amendments ensure consistency with citywide policies and support the implementation of MHA, which is a critical step in addressing housing affordability.”

Last November, SPC, emerged as advocates for increasing affordability and homeownership through “flexible zoning that promotes diverse neighborhoods” with their publication Neighborhoods For All.

SPC is continuing that work through their stewardship of the Comprehensive Plan, specifically in how it can support the goal of MHA to create 6,000 affordable homes.

“We are trying to have more options for people in urban villages,” said Grace Kim, Seattle Planning Commission member. “Single-family home owners are benefitting from access to amenities and resources. This privilege needs to be shared as our city continues to grow.”

Sunday Video: Inside Hong Kong’s Cage Homes

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In this video, Vox host Johnny Harris explores Hong Kong to understand why housing is so expensive and why people are living in such small spaces.

What We’re Reading: Amazon, Corporate Welfare King, F on Shoveling, and Setting the Bar

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Amazon, corporate welfare king: Amazon threw in the towel on a new branch office at Long Island City in New York because the company could not get its way to receive government handouts to cushion shareholder profits ($). That push to block handouts was partially led by advocates from Seattle. In the fallout, Amazon reveals that they will soon cap out jobs in Seattle ($). Meanwhile, the company will not a penny in federal taxes, despite record breaking profits in 2018. Richard Florida says that this debacle should push cities and states to enter into compacts to reject corporate welfare.

Promise of midblock crossings: Philadelphia shows how adding midblock pedestrian crossing can reorient the city in favor of pedestrians.

Edmonds housing backlash: A backlash to a housing strategy in Edmonds may stall an effort to make space for more people and housing ($).

Leading the charge: Hilary Franz, Washington’s Public Lands Commissioner, has a bold plan to save forests from wildfires, create jobs, and build affordable housing.

Cross-country HSR: It’s possible to replace cross-country air travel with high-speed rail.

Mukilteo’s big crook: Anti-taxer Tim Eyman has been caught shoplifting ($).

Unintentional parking reformers?: Knowing or unknowing, but national Republicans pushed through a tax expenditure bill last year that apparently increases the cost for parking lots.

F on shoveling: Former Mayor Mike McGinn says that Seattle should get an F for snow shoveling.

Obstacle to ADUs: Sightline argues that parking requirements for accessory dwelling units are “climate killers” and overly burdensome.

Falling tax rates: Property taxes will fall for the first time in a long time in many King County cities ($).

CAHSR still moving ahead: California Gavin Newsom bungled his proposal to temporarily scale-back his state’s high-speed rail program this week. Robert Cruickshank says that the program should not stall.

Concerned about gentrification: Business owners in the University District still oppose land use changes in the neighborhood.

Fare-free transit debate: Think-tank Transit Center asks if transit should be free.

Schwebebahn: CityLab profiles Wuppertal, Germany’s odd suspended railway transit system known as the “Schwebebahn”.

End of an era: Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien will not run for reelection ($).

WA’s head biking apostle: Crosscut profiles Barb Chamberlain who is the Washington State Department of Transportation’s hardworking active transportation program director.

Going green: Oregon has unveiled a cap-and-trade bill to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

Setting the bar: On the back end of Capitol Hill, there is a very interesting infill townhouse development proposed.

Thwarting anti-vaxxers: Washington could preempt personal objections to certain vaccinations.

Compounding disaster: Richard Florida explains how natural disasters can lead to gentrification.

Promise of fourplexes: Legalizing fourplexes in much of Portland could reduce displacement risk, according to the city’s analysis.

Win them back: How transit agencies could win back their riders.

Subscriber Drive: 2018 Publication Accomplishments

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Seattle skyline looking up Fourth Avenue. (Doug Trumm)

The Urbanist published 594 articles in 2018. On average, 34,600 users visited our blog each month in 2018. Both were new records. So thanks to our readers for giving us your time and engaging in this citymaking conversation with us!

Stronger output was built in part on new contributors. We had a new member join our all-volunteer publication staff: Natalie Bicknell, who is settling in nicely as our senior reporter. We’re also getting volunteer copy editors plugged in, which will lighten the load on our senior editors Stephen Fesler and Ryan Packer (and yours truly).

The goal is to bring you ever-improving content that advances urbanist advocacy. At year’s end we detailed our 10 most popular articles of 2018. We’re starting to learn what our readers like. Transit maps and slick renders help, but we’re also so glad that so many folks are willing to get into the weeds with us and go deep with on issues whether it’s how to transform Aurora Avenue for people-centered mobility (and rapid transit) or how to avoid the many pitfalls of adaptive signals.

Admittedly it’s a lot of work to keep a daily publication running. Sometimes stories are late coming in, sources fail to respond, or the website crashes out of the blue and we’re forced to scramble. For the most part, problems get solved quickly thanks to our amazing volunteer staff, and we’re proud of what our organization has accomplished as we celebrate our fifth anniversary.

Still, to anticipate The Urbanist humming along another five years down the road, it’s hard not to imagine needing paid staff in place in order to keep improving the quality of our journalism and advocacy–and avoid drop off when volunteers move on or reach their burn out point.

That’s what this winter subscriber drive is all about. We want to thank the many readers who donated, and I’ll make one last pitch to those who are still on the fence. Please give to invest in a brighter urbanist future.

2019 Subscriber Drive

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Is Participatory Budgeting Feeding Safety or Leading to Hunger Games?

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CM Juarez joined with Mayor Murray to celebrate $1 million for Aurora neighbors to make street improvements, via the Neighborhood Streets Fund in 2016. Credit: Seattle City Council

Although the City strives for democratic engagement, Neighborhood Street Fund and Your Voice, Your Choice force competition while failing to address widespread safety infrastructure inequity.

The concept is catchy, simple, and on the surface appears to be quite democratic. Seattleites are invited to propose ideas for how to improve transportation-related projects in their communities through two City programs, the Neighborhood Street Fund (NSF) and Your Voice, Your Choice (YVYC).

Important deadlines for both programs are coming up soon. On February 22nd, idea collection for Your Voice, Your Choice, and community prioritization ranking for the Neighborhood Street Fund, come to an end.

Seattleites can participate online through the program websites, which also contain information for those who prefer to engage in-person.

In both NSF and YVYC, proposals go through rounds of competition before the finalists are selected and funded. Funding currently comes from the Move Seattle levy, which allocates millions of dollars into small scale infrastructure improvements.

NSF and YVYC are examples of participatory budgeting, a practice which is supposed to engage people who have not historically been involved in government or budget processes by letting them directly decide how to spend part of a public budget.

However, big questions exist over whether open access actually equates to broad participation.

In the past, District Neighborhood Councils used to weigh in on NSF proposals. However, Seattle cut ties with the District Neighborhoods Councils under Mayor Ed Murray because they were found to not be representative of their communities. As a result, now anyone can participate. The expectation would be that public engagement would increase; however, the relatively small pool of participants suggests that this has not occurred. Additionally, disparities in infrastructure across the districts raise important equity questions.

What Seattle Can Learn from Philadelphia’s Freeway Lid Project

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A rendering of the future Penn's Landing freeway cap project. Credit: Hargreaves Associates

A visit from a Philadelphia planner with expertise on freeway lids offers insights for how to reconnect Seattle.

Last week the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) invited Karen Thompson, Director of Planning at the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC), to participate in a panel discussion, From a Freeway to Future Possibilities: The Opportunity to Lid Interstate 5.

DRWC has led the charge to build a freeway lid, which they call a “cap,” over Interstate 95 (I-95) in central Philadelphia. The project, which secured full funding in 2017, is currently in its final design phase. The freeway cap will create a new public park, reconnecting the center city with historic Penn’s Landing on the Delaware river.

Other panelists included Sam Assefa, Director of the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) and Liz Dunn, Principal, Dunn & Hobbes, LLC and a member of the Lid I-5 steering committee. The panel was moderated by Larry Costich, a real estate attorney with a background as a civil and environmental consulting engineer.

The panel discussion was held during the final breakout session of the DSA’s annual State of Downtown, which was themed, “Big Ideas, Big Challenges” and addressed topics related to creating a more vibrant and resilient downtown Seattle.

Philly’s New Freeway Cap

In 2012, Philadelphia City Planning Commission adopted a Master Plan for the Central Delaware Waterfront. Similar to Seattle’s situation with the Alaskan Way Viaduct, Philadelphia was cut off from its waterfront by the construction of I-95 in 1960’s.

However, the construction of I-95, which runs the entire length of Philadelphia, left a freeway scar more reminiscent of Seattle’s Interstate 5 (I-5) east-west divide.

Mosqueda, González, and Juarez Push for Bigger MHA Rezones Amid Amendment Debates

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Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) is about welcoming more neighbors like these. (City of Seattle)

On Friday, the Seattle City Council had a marathon meeting on amendments to the proposed Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) rezones and land use regulations. The meeting started with discussion on text amendments to the Land Use Code and then moved into a district-by-district discussion on proposed amendments to zoning changes.

The latter portion of the discussion generally focused on reducing the scale of MHA zoning changes, which also would reduce affordable housing that program was designed to deliver in the first place. Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda, M. Lorena González, and Debora Juarez pointed this out and highlighted the need to undo the legacy of racist housing policy and discrimination in the marketplace.

[T]he city was deliberately redlined and constructed to keep particular people out of neighborhoods in particular areas. I’m hoping we can right a historical wrong.

Councilmember Debora Juarez

Most of the amendment proposals were considered to be consensus items by councilmembers. This means that at meeting on February 25th, the city council will introduce revised bills incorporating the amendments unless they were objected to by councilmembers at Friday’s meeting. There were several instances where amendments did get an objection, particularly where there were zoning reductions sponsored by councilmembers for specific areas. It is possible that those amendments could still find their way into the final bills.

Unless an objection is noted or the text indicates otherwise, the following amendment proposals were adopted at the meeting.

Map Amendments

District 1 Map Amendments

In Councilmember Lisa Herbold’s district, a large number of the proposals would reduce MHA rezones. She went on to suggest that she generally supports the proposals to reduce MHA rezones in her district, providing various justifications for this such as future station area planning around Alaska Junction that may bring greater density in the future and their small area. Councilmember Rob Johnson said that he opposed the lower rezone proposals, but that he would later have an inconsistent argument for his own district.

Subscriber Drive: Cary Moon Testimonial

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Cary Moon (Credit: Cary Moon for Mayor)

What is a city anyway? Try to answer that; it’s not as easy as you think.

We could say it’s a collection of people united by not just geography but an ever-changing culture, economy, and social practices. We could say it’s the political structures, community organizations and the power dynamics of who is at the table making decisions. We could say it is the on-going accumulation of experiences we all have as we drift within this place, living our lives. We could say it’s the people, some of who are new, some who have been here for ages, and some who are being cruelly pushed out. However you start answering that question, it becomes clear that the definition is complex, messy and hard to pin down.

Whatever a city is, it is always in the process of becoming. Shaping its future requires constant dialogue among us all. We need a place for that dialogue. And The Urbanist has become that place.

Can you imagine where we would be without them?

They are a team of great writers who inform, provoke, and inspire.

They are super nerds about policy and history, who happily go deep into the details and explain what others miss.

They are bricoleurs who find the cool stuff other cities are doing and examine how we might adapt and transplant good ideas here.

As needed, they poke at elected leaders or other power players when they fail to act for the well-being of people and planet.

They are hopeful activists who help organize us around solutions that will improve lives.

In some ways, it’s a miracle that The Urbanist exists at all. It’s hella hard work, powered by mostly volunteer energy. Their written pieces are consistently high quality and thought-provoking. How do they do that, day after day, when most of us are exhausted and worried and maybe feel like being snarky and cynical?