Dave Amos takes a dive into how Pyongyang was designed by the ruling Kim family. The impacts of their directives are far ranging on the North Korean capital city.
Will this work? Let’s see. The conversation contained some rich sublimity deep down, buried within a sea of inconsequential nothings. The ingredients were all familiar, but something ineffable came of mixing it together—what she brought to the space, and what I gave out in return. We made the best of each other come alive, and the air benefited on a plane beyond the verbal. All I have to convey it to you, dear reader, are words, and for that I hope you’ll forgive me.
But picture yourself on a southbound 36 at Third and Union, back in the days of the chat seat—you remember, the older buses with stairs at the front, wherein the first passenger seat was very close to the driver and the layout practically cried out for small talk.
She’s stepping on now, a face I’ve picked up before, but now there’s time to converse. Trim with sparkling brown eyes and a bouncing, playful demeanor; she has on a habesha kemis laced with floral patterns of purple and red, with a netela of bright aquamarine.
“Hey! Nice to see you!” I say, as she enthusiastically proffers her arm for a handshake. She waits at the front, wanting to talk more, and I gesture toward the chat seat. Thank goodness for the old bus. The masses bustle in. She watches as I greet everyone boarding with enthusiasm.
In an announcement video released last week, Andrew Grant Houston introduced himself as a “queer Black and Latino architect.” He is a regular fixture on Twitter as Ace the Architect where he covered this summer’s protests and meticulously picked apart the city’s budget. He frequently switches hats, currently working as the interim policy director for Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, sitting as a board member for Futurewise, or appearing as a housing advocate on any number of panel discussions. And now he’s running for mayor.
Houston’s top line goals for his first year in office are fairly direct. Fund the creation of 2,500 tiny homes to shelter the most vulnerable. Create a corporate income tax to double the local apprenticeships for green new jobs. Put buses back on the ballot to fully restore lost service and prepare for a bigger expansion in 2024.
That’s the what-if. Asked for an elevator pitch, Houston offers the why he should be mayor. “It’s going to take someone who has the systems-based thinking and approach to address the complex issues that we have. It is clear the leadership we’ve had in the past–whether it be a lawyer or career politician–has not solved the major crises we deal with. Given the extreme need for a massive shift in way we operate in Seattle for every community here, I believe I’m the person to bring that perspective.”
For a city that’s had its share of extreme shifts over the last few years, that may be a loaded answer. But Houston doesn’t back away from the term. “My aim becoming mayor is to break down the gatekeeping that occurs through process or through the language we use around the resources and opportunities we provide in Seattle.” In his announcement video, Houston put it more succinctly. “Simply delaying action becomes inaction. Inaction is unacceptable.”
Houston envisions a lot of action. In conversation, he brings up a long-term goal of Seattle as a forest city, where walking outside does not risk being overwhelmed by forest fire smoke, but the smell of pine and cedar. He talks about the structural needs of new community centers if we are to have services within a 15-minute walk of all residents.
Earlier this year, Houston released a series of proposals for a light rail and bus system that can only be described as audacious. The Sustainable Seattle Transit Map puts frequent transit within half-mile mile of every home in the city. It’s a view of an alternate Seattle, one where transit stops replace parking lots and people can get around easily but may not have to go as far as they think. Admittedly, the idea is extra fantastic because it would connect Ballard to Kraken games and Sounders matches without a transfer.
In recent years, cities in the Northwest have responded affirmatively to calls to make housing more available and attainable through zoning reform. Portland, Oregon, adopted wide reforms in August 2020 that are meant to promote infill by making it easier to build “middle housing,” a category that includes smaller and more affordable dwellings, as well as many types of housing that exist extra-legally–accessory dwelling units (ADUs), for example. Just this month, Sacramento joined the party.
Middle housing also addresses disparities in mobility afflicting many people who live and/or work in cities because that middle housing is built nearer jobs and other city amenities, making it so that residents have options beyond driving to get to work, school, restaurants, and retail. Like most Puget Sound cities, Tacoma reserves 75% of its residential land for single-family homes, which means middle housing really is mostly missing.
The Olympia City Council passed its own reforms in late 2020, centering the role of middle housing in creating greater access and affordability for housing in the city. Other cities in the region have taken up zoning reform that begin to address pernicious housing inequity and injustice in the region, including Everett, Burien, Bremerton, Kirkland, and Kenmore.
Tacoma is poised to follow up on the easing of restrictions previously put on ADUs that passed in 2019 through its “Home in Tacoma” project, which proposes changes to the city’s growth strategy through, in large part, the adoption of middle housing. The project seeks to create more housing for more people along more of the city’s transit corridors, many of which still serve areas of the city zoned for single-family homes.
Tacoma’s existing blueprint for growth, One Tacoma Plan, funnels growth Downtown while avoiding most outer neighborhoods. Tacoma’s official growth targets call for about 60,000 new homes by 2040, with about 80% of that growth in to Tacoma’s Centers (e.g., Downtown and the Tacoma Mall). About 20% or 9,300 new dwellings would be in other neighborhoods. Home in Tacoma presents a variety of new housing types that could be added to single-family zones including duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, townhouses, small multifamily buildings, tiny homes, and cohousing.
Working towards creating missing middle housing in Tacoma is a viable and necessary step towards making the city more affordable, accessible, and inclusive. Housing prices in Tacoma are spiking at an alarming rate. Tacoma’s median home value jumped 42% from 2016 to 2019 and median rents jumped 21% in the same timeframe, the project website notes. The result: “About 40% of Tacomans pay more than they can afford in housing costs,” and one-third of Tacomans report feeling housing insecure, the City added.
Placing this missing middle housing along existing transit corridors is also a necessary step towards the city’s accessibility goals, but only if those transit corridors count as high-quality transit service. Whether or not Tacoma’s transit corridors meet the criteria that would qualify them as high-quality is another question. How many of these existing corridors are actually served by bus service that runs at a frequency of 15 minutes or less during peak commute hours; how many of the city’s transit corridors serve riders who need to move about the city at hours outside of the typical 9-to-5 schedule? Those questions are not the focus of this piece, but I raise the issue to make a larger point: revisions to housing policy and strategy in Tacoma (and really any city who is serious about equity and access) are bound to fall short if these aren’t fully engaged with transit policy and strategy.
On Tuesday, Washington House Democrats revealed an ambitious transportation package exceeding dueling senate proposals by more than $10 billion. The 16-year package would raise $26 billion, with $8 billion set aside for carbon reduction projects–$17 billion, meanwhile, is in a highway-related category.
The bill relies primarily on increases to the gas tax (which would be indexed to inflation) and a carbon fee to fund its investments. The carbon fee would kick in on January 1st, 2023 starting at $15 per ton, rise to $20 after two years, and to $25 by 2027. It is projected to raise $7.5 billion. The gas tax would raise $17 billion, including the diesel tax differential.
The headline of The Seattle Times story yesterday read “Gas taxes and fees could reach $1 per gallon under new Washington state transportation proposal,” adding together existing state and federal taxes, the 18-cent hike, subsequent increases from indexing to inflation, and the expected carbon fee impact: 15 cents. Several Republican lawmakers have already spoken out against any gas tax increases, pointing to the recession as poor timing.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle say the gas tax revenue is strictly restricted by Washington state’s 18th amendment to highway purposes–though they could likely sidestep that requirement if they set their minds to it. The carbon fee would be spent on carbon reduction, at least. The bill would also levy about $2 billion in assorted registration and licensure fees–setting portions aside in the highway safety fund, highway patrol fund, and a flexible multimodal fund.
In the carbon reduction plan, the package allocates $5 billion dollars for bike, pedestrian, and transit projects, which would be unprecedented investment from the state, as Ryan Packer detailed in Seattle Bike Blog. Much of that is various transit grant programs; plus, Amtrak Cascades gets $721 million operations funding and $143 million in capital investment. Additionally, $569 million is specifically for ferry system electrification and $2.5 billion goes into a general carbon reduction fund.
The highway-related spending plan invests $3.5 billion in fish-friendly culverts (which is a court-mandated intervention to meet Stevens Treaties made with Northwest tribes), maintenance and preservation composes $4.6 billion, the ferry system get an additional $1 billion for capital improvements and operations, and $6.7 billion in a general highway slush fund dubbed “freight projects.” Among the few projects definitively funded is $1 billion for the Columbia River Crossing which supercharges freeway infrastructure in Vancouver, Washington and provides a new earthquake-resilient bridge to Portland–now rechristened “Interstate Bridge Replacement.”
“We’re proposing $6.7 billion in new road-related investments, $1 billion for the Interstate Replacement Bridge connecting Washington and Oregon, and fully funding fish passages,” said Rep. Sharon Wylie (D-Vancouver) in a statement. “There are also significant investments to reduce carbon. We do so using a wide range of strategies, including alternative fuels, the electrification of vehicle fleets, and increased spending for multi-modal services such as transit and special needs transportation along with bike and pedestrian projects.”
Rep. Wylie said the Columbia River bridge should be “adaptable” to rail use, but avoided promising rail would go on it when it opened. Backlash over light rail was one factor that sunk the Columbia Crossing the first go around, with many in Clark County suburbia opposed to a light rail connection to Portland. Since then, high-speed rail talks have heated up and got a federal champion in President Joe Biden, suggesting the bridge really should be designed to facilitate the Portland to Seattle high speed rail line hoping to cut travel times to one hour.
During the press event unveiling the package, House Transportation Chair Jake Fey (D-Tacoma) said the highway projects (beyond Columbia River Crossing) weren’t pinned down yet because sponsors intended that negotiation to happen as the bill advanced. He pitched the effort as a climate effort and a job creation one, too.
“Our proposal is much more substantial than any in state history because the needs and challenges are so much bigger,” Fey said in a statement. “Those needs include long-overdue investments in preserving and maintaining our current transportation system, help for frontline communities, and carbon reduction to fight climate change. Our proposal will also mean a boom in construction jobs in every corner of the state.”
On Monday, I looked at what redistricting will mean for the Washington state legislature. Redistricting will also have a big effect on U.S. House districts. The 2020 Census will shift the allotment of House seats (and thus Electoral College votes) toward faster-growing states and away from stagnating ones.
The effect on the Electoral College will likely be slight, but it’s likely to tilt a few House seats toward the Democrats as newly drawn seats are pulled toward fast-growing metropolitan areas, barring gerrymandering shenanigans which will likely be on full display in states under Republican control.
The biggest gainer will be fast-growing Texas, which is expected to get two or three additional seats, followed by Florida at one or two seats. Oregon, Montana, Colorado, Arizona, and North Carolina are projected to each gain one seat based on preliminary 2019 census figures.
Those newly drawn seats must come from somewhere, and the Census Bureau projects California, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, and Alabama will each lose a seat and electoral vote if 10 new House districts are drawn. The official 2020 Census figures will be the ultimate determinant, though, and could be different enough to save some states on the bubble, like Rhode Island and Minnesota.
Projecting Washington state district changes
Washington state will stay pat with 10 Congressional districts, but it is trending toward adding an additional seat eventually with its 14% growth nearly doubling the national average, based on preliminary figures. Since the state’s growth is mostly in the Seattle metropolitan area, the borders of districts will shift significantly. The fastest growing and thus “overpopulated” districts are all held by Democrats: the 7th (Pramila Jayapal), the 1st (Suzan DelBene), the 8th (Kim Schrier), and the 2nd (Rick Larsen). Those districts will shrink to shift population to their underpopulated neighbors, whose borders will expand.