Saturday, 25 May, 2019

MASS Coalition Kicks Off Its Seattle City Council Debates in District 6

A map of District 6 which includes northwest neighborhoods such as Fremont, Greenlake, Phinney Ridge, Ballard, and Crown Hill. Credit: City of Seattle

On Tuesday night ten of the twelve confirmed candidates for Seattle’s District 6 City Council race attended a two-hour-long debate focused on transportation, housing, and sustainability sponsored by the MASS coalition. (The Urbanist is a member of the MASS coalition.) Candidates John Lisbin, a vocal opponent of the Mandatory Housing Affordability program, and Jeremy Cooke, a North Ballard resident, did not attend.

District 6 candidates from left to right: Jay Fathi, Sergio Garcia, Melissa Hall, Kate Martin, Joey Massa, John Peeples, Tim Rice, Dan Strauss, Heidi Wills, and Ed Pottharst. (Credit: Rooted in Rights)

Setting the stage for evening, moderator Heidi Groover asked the candidates to describe how they got there, a question that was meant to be literal, not figurative, although some candidates were eager to share their personal journey to running for office.

A few of the candidates who lived nearby walked. Others bussed, biked, or carpooled. John Peeples, an engineer who has presented himself as the City Hall opposition candidate in the race, proudly declared he had driven to the debate in Phinney Ridge from downtown in sixteen minutes. Another admitted solo driver was former Seattle City Councilmember Heidi Wills. In a remark that felt a bit behind the times, Wills bragged that she was the second person in Washington State to buy a hybrid vehicle and that she had driven that same vehicle to the event. That statement might have sounded a lot more revolutionary back in 2003 when Wills was voted off the the council.

With such a crowded race, the onus was on the candidates to distinguish themselves and their platforms. However, it was difficult at times to parse out differences. With few exceptions, most candidates positioned themselves as pro-transit, pro-density, and eager to address urgent issues like climate change and housing affordability. Even Peeples, who sprinkled right-wing radio styled asides throughout his responses, praised Metro transit and voiced support for some efforts to increase urban density.

Automated Camera Enforcement

On the question of automated camera enforcement for traffic, most of the candidates came out in support of using automated cameras to ensure that vehicles do not block intersections and pedestrian crossings. Police officer Sergio Garcia was opposed to using automated cameras, as was Peeples, who was also only candidate to oppose reducing speed limits in areas where it would increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

Melissa Hall, an attorney with a background in land use policy, emerged as a standout in topic by first acknowledging how state law continues to prohibit the use of automated cameras for enforcement, and then by promoting how changes to the location of traffic signals has successfully been used to prevent drivers from blocking intersections in Europe. At the end of the debate, Hall also used her final statement to share her vision for keeping transit lanes moving by implementing dual transit only and tolling lanes, with the idea that the toll charged to the driver should reflect “the cost of the person being in the transit lane.”

AIA Seattle’s Density Done Right Forum Imagines a Better Blueprint

Mariposa 1038, an apartment development designed by O'Herlihy Architects in Los Angeles. Credit: O'Herlihy Architects

How can a city increase its density gracefully? What would such a transformation look and feel like for residents? These questions guided the series of informative and wide-ranging presentations at AIA Seattle’s 2019 Housing Design Forum. From the beginning one theme remained constant throughout the day: when density is done right, it prioritizes people. “Good density” centers equity, sustainability and livability at the forefront of design efforts.

The forum took a mostly macro-level to the topic of density, and while some presentations, including the keynote address by architect Lorcan O’Herlihy, connected the larger social and environmental issues to the design process of individual buildings, zoning policy emerged as the one of the hottest topic of discussion.

This was in part because the event was kicked off by presentations made by urban planners from Portland and Minneapolis which focused on efforts these cities are taking to increase density without displacing vulnerable residents.

Portland currently has two major initiatives aimed at increasing density across the city: The Residential Infill Project, which focuses on adding density to current single-family zones, and Better Housing By Design, which revises development and design standards multi-family zones outside of the City Center. Both initiatives focus on increasing housing options for households of all ages, incomes and sizes, although according to presenter Sandra Wood, Principal Planner in the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability at the City of Portland, displacement of low-income and minority residents continues to be a concern. While both the Residential Infill Project and Better Housing By Design are expected to decrease displacement in comparison to no action alternatives, the City is currently reviewing additional anti-displacement strategies to implement alongside both initiatives.

Seattle Scores 11th in Nation for 2019 ParkScore Index

Cal Anderson Park in Capitol Hill offers a variety of recreational opportunities for the surrounding urban neighborhood. Photo by author.

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:

Off Limits: How Seattle’s Suburbs Are Blocking Housing

Southport development in Renton with Lake Washington in background. (Seco Development)

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.

The Book Lives


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.

Sunday Video: How Leonardo da Vinci Made a “Satellite” Map in 1502


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

What We’re Reading: 5G Has Roadblocks, Decongest Seattle, and Reinvent Infrastructure


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.

Eric, Fully


​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.