Seattle Fair Growth: An Interview, Part 2 – Housing Debate

New development next to Cloudburst Brewery. (Doug Trumm)


With the goal of bridging the political divide and challenging my own assumptions, I sat down with Sarajane Siegfriedt (SS) and Jon Lisbin (JL) from Seattle Fair Growth, a group of neighborhood advocates who believe that the HALA grand bargain is “deteriorating” our city “from unrestrained development.” Nonetheless, they are adamant that they are not NIMBYs or slow-growth advocates. Instead, they recognize growth is coming and want to find ways to accommodate that growth. They believe that growth should pay for growth, that infrastructure should be built concurrently with housing, and that neighborhood groups should have a larger role in shaping growth.

In the second part of the interview, we touched on racism, infrastructure concurrency, transit, where missing middle housing should go, mother-in-law units, that amorphous idea of “livability,” and what Sarajane and Jon think urbanists are getting right and wrong in the housing debate.

A transcript of our interview is available below, lightly edited for clarity. Check out part one of the interview here.

The Housing Debate

BC: What do urbanists get wrong in the housing debate?

SS: That filtering thing. You just can’t tell people to wait 30-40 years for them to be affordable. It’s ridiculous.

JL: We think it’s wrong to be saying that the more you build, the lower housing cost is going to be. It doesn’t make sense when you’re building luxury units. It’s actually increasing the median cost of housing when 95% of new housing is luxury units. There is the law of supply and demand but we don’t see that working in this case because of the way that housing is being developed.

SS: Part of that problem is affordability. Part of it is upzoning everything everywhere–that one size fits all. I don’t understand the visceral hate of single-family homes and single-family homeowners. It’s not rational. The stuff that comes at me–that we’re all racist for owning single-family homes. We may be racist but that’s not the reason [laughter].

JL: Speak for yourself [laughter]. We all are in some way.

SS: I’ve been to plenty of anti-racism trainings and I understand the concept.

Another thing that is really wrong is that 65% of Seattle’s land is single-family zoned. It’s not. It’s just flat out wrong. It’s 35%. That’s based on acreage. You cannot include parks in single-family zones, and you cannot include right-of-ways. When it gets down to the actual single-family parcels, it’s 14,000 out of 53,000 [editor’s note: the City of Seattle estimates 64.8% gross acres of land is zoned for single-family residential, including city-owned open space and rights-of-way (34,404 parcel acres out of 53,113 total). Excluding open spaces and rights-of way from all zoning estimates yields an estimated 62.5% (21,217 parcel acres out of 33,940 total) still dedicated to single-family zoning.].

When you look at the carrying capacity, when you multiply all the mid-rise–and I do believe that pretty much all of the urban villages are going to be upzoned to mid-rise and that we need the density–but when you look at the carrying capacity, it’s eight-, nine-, ten-times in those urban villages. There’s no need to upzone single-family zones. So the logic of building townhouses on all those parcels–I don’t know why, I don’t get it. Other than the fact that I understand you don’t like my lifestyle.

JL: That’s what we alluded to before, that the amount of new units that are coming on, if you consider two persons per household, is keeping up with the amount of new high-tech workers that are coming to Seattle.

The other thing that I think the urbanist have wrong about what they perceive of Seattle Fair Growth is that we’re slow growthers. I don’t think we believe that. We never discuss slowing down growth. What we discuss is concurrent growth–that infrastructure should be concurrent with growth. We know that people are moving here and we welcome everybody that moves here. I love to see companies like Amazon coming to Seattle and all the high-tech companies. I’m in a high-tech business myself. That’s more business for me. We want to make sure that, like Sarajane says, we don’t destroy what we have that’s beautiful in order to bring all those people in.

SS: What we’re really missing, and I hope the urbanists will join me in advocating for, is family zones. As we both know, developers are not interested in building three-bedroom family units at all because they can make more money off of an efficiency unit and a one-bedroom. So that’s what they build. This city has a toe into getting some two-bedrooms for certain zoning. There was a study done in [Seattle City Councilmember] Mike O’Brien’s committee about two-and-a-half years ago about how we get family housing. In other words, we can take the study off the shelf. There were six recommendations.

What families are doing now if they need three bedrooms–you have to rent a house. So 25% of single-family homes are rented [editor’s note: we were unable to verify this claim]. The irony of saying that the single-family homes are racist. No. If you have a large family and you’re from an immigrant community, that’s the only option you have. You go rent a house. We really need to look hard at low-rise. Instead of sprinkling low-rise, the missing middle type of housing, throughout the neighborhoods, which really wouldn’t do anything, what we need to do is concentrate them, encircle the urban villages. When you see that diagram that we’ve all seen about the missing middle, and you see single-family, then there are some townhouses, rowhouses, courtyard buildings, stacked apartments, then mid-rise. They’re all shown in one flat row. That’s the middle part–they are a transition between mid-rise and single-family. What I’m proposing is that we actually do that, what the diagram says, not sprinkle them but use them as a transitional form around the urban villages as a transition to single-family so that there will be ground-related family housing and we would require it to be large enough for families. It would be close enough to transit to take advantage of our investment in transit.

BC: Would you be willing to rezone some single-family zones around urban villages to accommodate missing middle [housing]?

SS: Sure. That’s what’s happening now. That’s the nature of the urban villages is to look at a bit of upzone. But we had neighborhood plans. Each neighborhood deserves to have a say in where it goes and what it looks like. I just looked at the Uptown plan which was presented to the [Seattle City] Council on Monday [July 31st]. It looks really good. It’s very thoughtful. They’ve got the highest rises over off of 5th Ave by the Hyatt and they’ve got medium-rise along Queen Anne and then lower buildings at the foot of Queen Anne Hill. That came from the community, it came from their process about how they thought it should be done. The same thing in Roosevelt when we said the parcels directly south of the high school should be a little lower. It doesn’t make sense to build high rises and block the view of the school. Have some sensitivity to the inputs of the neighborhoods. What the Comp Plan has done is remove the neighborhoods from having any standing.

JL: And what the Mayor has done

SS: Yeah. So we’re asking for the neighborhood planning function to be restored. For the city planners to include it in their consideration legally. [Seattle City Councilmember] Lisa Herbold presented an amendment like that at the same meeting and it was two-to-one and she lost. You can’t get any traction on that stuff. So that’s frustrating.

The other piece is that the neighborhood councils have been disinvested and cut off at the knees. The irony is that the things that were criticized for–I’m on the Lake City [Neighborhood] Alliance. We don’t have just homeowners. There are all kinds of organizations–the small businesses are represented, there’s a Somali family organization, there’s a teen organization, there’s the Thornton Creek Alliance. It represents all the different interests in the city–the bicyclists are part of that. We’re all at the table in the Neighborhood Alliance. We’re part of communities that are part of north district, and it’s north district that got defunded as part of 13 district councils. There was no data that they lacked diversity or who even made up those counts. It was just an on-the-fly sort of thing. What this really goes back to is in 2009 when there were huge budget cuts and [then Mayor] Mike McGinn was trying to cut $67 million off his budget, there was an audit done of the district councils, and the district councils all said, “We want more diversity.” The way we would get that is with translators and interpreters and IT support, better web design, and better communication tools in order to get more people involved. Then, of course, there was no money to do that. So the exact same things that the district councils were criticized for and was given as the reason for defunding them were the things that the audit recommended that the district councils had asked for. All we’re asking is for them to be restored for very little money–$500 per month for meeting space and a couple hours of staff time.

JL: It should be restored with those other recommendations.

SS: And improved with the city agreeing that the district councils and the community councils have a role just like the renters. I mean, why not?

JL: Back to the misunderstanding about single-family neighborhoods. I think Sarajane alluded to that. There are a lot of renters in single-family neighborhoods. Anecdotally, on my block, I’m pretty much surrounded by renters. We just had a renter move into our house right next door. We’re a mixed community. We’re renters, we’re homeowners.

SS: If there’s one thing that I would want to communicate to the urbanists, it’s: what is your solution for family housing? We’ve got to address this. It’s absolutely necessary.

JL: I think that’s also why that’s happening–because there is no family housing. For instance, our neighbor has two new children, so where are they going to go? They’re paying a lot of money for a house because they need that. Much more than I would expect.

SS: Another piece of this is–what do you suppose happened to the “L” in HALA? You read the report, I presume. Do you remember anything about livability?

BC: What would you have liked to have seen from the report?

SS: I would like them to address livability. I’ve asked, I’ve talked to a lot of people about it, we all have our own opinions. There’s just no consensus at all about livability. There’s one use of the word in the report and it has to do with transportation. I know it’s more than that. I’m proposing that the City conduct a city-wide conversation on livability and that the next mayor take this on and that the community councils have that as one meeting, everybody talk about it, come up with five or six measurable goals, and then those are synthesized and we come up with a set of city-wide measurable goals for livability that then would be incorporated in the comp plan. It’s not okay not to include livability in what we’re striving for. We all know it’s missing.

I think tree canopy is a piece of it, but that’s me.

JL: Everybody has a different feeling. For me, Seattle now has some of the worst traffic in the country. I feel that we should have multi-modal transportation. I’m an advocate. I ride a bike to work and I think we should have better bike lanes. We should have alternatives so that less cars are on the road. I don’t think that there should be a war on cars, but I think we definitely need to have less cars on the road. There’s no way around that with everybody moving here. We need a great transit system, which we don’t have. That’s part of livability. I came here when Seattle was called the most livable city in the country. It was a Newsweek article 24 years ago. You can’t say today that Seattle is the most livable city in the country. I came here from Florida where it was strip malls, everything was the same, there was USA everywhere. You came to Seattle where you had small businesses, you had all these restaurants from private owners, not national chains, and you also had a community here that I felt like was in every single district. It was so cool that Capitol Hill had its own vibe, that Fremont had its own vibe, that Ballard had its own vibe. We don’t want it all to be commoditized into one big amalgam. We want to keep that uniqueness of all the communities as much as possible. We know that tons of people are moving here. But that’s something we’re trying to protect as advocates.

SS: The way to do that is to give the neighborhoods a voice, not the deciding voice, but to consider their input into keeping neighborhoods livable and interesting.

JL: The reason I got involved was a sad story. Our street has gotten busier and busier and busier and we couldn’t get crosswalk safety. We tried. I’m wondering with all the building that’s going on downtown, and there’s no money for crosswalk safety on our block? And our neighbors dog got out and got killed. That’s what prompted me–there’s something wrong here with all this development going on and yet we can’t pay for the little things that we need for safety in our neighborhood and our kids. Then, as I started getting more involved, and I saw what was happening in our urban village in Ballard with all the development going on, and talking with some of the people who are affected by it, and seeing their views, people who want to live and retire there, seeing big buildings that are totally out of proportion go up around them. They’ve got this little house over there, and they want to retire, and there’s construction on all sides. It’s easy to make policy but when you come down to the individuals and how they’re affected. That’s something, when you’re talking one-on-one with these people, you realize there’s something wrong with that.

SS: Something else I want to bring up. I think that we’re all in favor of more mother-in-law apartments. That’s something that urbanists and our group have in common. I’ve been begging and nagging, when it was Mike O’Brien’s committee, for years to ease the regulations on mother-in-law apartments, to get rid of the requirement for off-street parking. We have very few [mother-in-law apartments]. They’re legal. But there are too many restrictions and regulations so people don’t do them. Although, I have one and it’s not permitted and I just want it to be legal but I can’t get them to address the regulations.

What Portland has done is actively encourage mother-in-law apartments. Eliminate the permitting fee, which would be a big help. Because each of us only does this once, actually have somebody in the permitting department shepherd the process and maybe even own some goals–I’ll make 200 this year, 300 next year. We could have 1,000 naturally affordable units of mother-in-law apartments with no investment by the City. We don’t even have to pay for them. People have to pay themselves. Mine cost $20,000 because I have one of those mid-century modern with a half-finished basement so all I had to do was finish the basement and turn the half-bath into a whole-bath and put in a kitchen. It already had a daylight basement with its own entrance. There are a lot of opportunities like that that not only make it below market rate housing but–and this is crucial–you have to have homeownership as part of the definition of a mother-in-law apartment. Otherwise it’s not a mother-in-law, it’s a duplex. It’s that relationship that makes it affordable. Once I find a tenant who is trustworthy and reliable, I’m not going to just jack-up the rent and make them leave. I’m going to cover my costs but I’m going to keep them there. The developers are the ones that keep pushing on the City Council to get rid of the homeownership requirement and it makes no sense if we value affordability.

BC: You mentioned mother-in-law apartments being common ground with urbanists. So as a twist on a previous question, what do urbanists get right in the housing debate?

SS: That’s one, right.

JL: I don’t know if it’s a Seattle Fair Growth opinion, but personally I feel that development should be occurring in the urban core. You tell me if that’s an urbanist value, I’m not sure, but I do feel that that’s what millennials are gravitating towards right now–living downtown all over the country. I think that makes complete sense. I also think that there should be development around light rail and high-capacity transit. I’m personally an advocate–and we don’t all agree on this–but I’m an advocate of light rail and I was also an advocate of the monorail back in the day. I wish that was built. We need transit, we need transit alternatives, to get around the city. There’s no doubt about that. I wish we could have a subway if we could pay for that.

SS: I include the missing middle in part of that commonality. It’s just where you put it. It’s really inappropriate to sprinkle around duplexes and triplexes. Talk about frustrating–building three or four rowhouses instead of a block. You don’t go to Europe and see partial this and partial that. If you’re going to build them, you have to build that type of housing so that it’s significant and makes a statement. Then all the backyards have gardens. It’s not this way and that way.

JL: Bottom line is, I don’t think Dan Savage and his comment that you mentioned before, that he doesn’t agree with anything we agree with. I think he just doesn’t know yet or he doesn’t talk to us. I’m sure he does agree with a lot of the things that we believe in. That’s why we appreciate this conversation.

SS: I agree that we need a lot more housing, that’s one [laughter]. It’s just that we need a lot more subsidized housing for the people that are really hurting.

JL: We don’t oppose MHA entirely. We’re more along with some of the candidates like Jon Grant that feel that it should be a better deal, there should be much more asked of developers to be comparable to other cities. We don’t think that that will slow down growth in Seattle. That would be pretty hard to do.

SS: I get really tired of hearing the Roger Valdez’s who say if you put on impact fees, they’ll just stop building. Come on. We all know that it’s on the margin. It’s not black or white like that. The continual “oh, if you do this, no one is going to build anything.” No. It doesn’t work that way. I went to business school. I can do spreadsheets. You look at the whole thing. In fact, if Bellevue is imposing impact fees and all the other cities around us that are growing like crazy, then something in our assumptions is wrong.

JL: We know that it has to pencil out for developers. But we also know that demand is continuing, developers will meet that demand, and the reason for that demand, and I don’t know what the urbanists feel about that, is primarily because it’s still a lot more affordable to live here than Silicon Valley. When people from Amazon or other high-tech companies move here, they have a lot more disposable income after paying for housing. That’s the bottom line, that’s why people are moving here.

Seattle Fair Growth: An Interview, Part 1

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Ben is a Seattle area native, living with his husband downtown since 2013. He started in queer grassroots organizing in 2009 and quickly developed a love for all things political and wonky. When he’s not reading news articles, he can be found excitedly pointing out new buses or prime plots for redevelopment to his uninterested friends who really just want to get to dinner. Serving as the Policy and Legislative Affairs Director, Ben primarily writes about political issues.

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My small kids need outdoor space for free play without parental supervision in a perfectly safe and secure environment that they can access independently. Build those. Lots of them. Affordably. If that takes SFD and rownhomes, so be it. Anything else is anti-child.


And this

“the visceral hate of single-family homes and single-family homeowners. It’s not rational”

is so utterly, completely, obviously disingenuous it makes it difficult to take anything else they say at face value. It simply doesn’t make any sense. I live in a single family home, and I like it, and if all goes well I plan to die there in about 50 years. I think my neighborhood should obviously be upzoned, and I don’t hate my neighbors or their houses, let alone myself and my home. When the teardown across the street is finally sold, I think it’s grotesque that the only thing allowed to happen to it that makes economic sense is a mansion for millionaires, rather than 4 1000 square foot apartments or 8 500 square foot apartments that would allow my neighborhood to be shared with more people. And that would be possible without even changing the size/footprint of building allowed to be built!

The notion that single family homes must be surrounded by others to be enjoyed doesn’t make any sense, and pointing that out isn’t “visceral hate”. It’s completely off-the-wall bonkers.

Bryan Kirschner

+1 meeeelllliionnn


Housing supply restrictionists and single family zoning defenders arguing that “filtering doesn’t work” is kind of like people who drive on the sidewalk opining about the dangers of pedestrianism.


Omg, 65% of the City is NOT single family zoning, it takes some serious playing-with-the-number propagandism to come up with this number. Look at this map:
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Really look at it. Is the water on Green Lake single family zoning? NO!!! Is Discovery Park single family zoning? NO!!! Just because a neighborhood activist said it, don’t assume it’s wrong and what the city says is right. Please.

I know you might not like the source:

But just look at the numbers…
“[Buried in the Appendix of the Comprehensive Plan] you’ll see that city acreage given over to single family is 18818. Out of a city total of 53151, that’s 35.4 percent of the city’s total land area. Simple straight forward. What could be clearer?”

Ben, please look at the original source and then consider removing your “correction” of their statement. Because in the most straightforward, common sense math, what Sarajane says is true.


I’m not sure if I understand your point. The city doesn’t count water in their numbers, so that does make things look a little different. But just eyeballing it, I would say the yellow sections (single family areas) look to make up about 2/3.

The numbers that the city uses are here: The controversy arouse because the city lumped together open space in their calculations. So let’s take that out, and just look at the raw numbers. These are the acres that are privately held. This does not include parks, right of way, or that sort of thing:

Single Family Residential — 21,224
Multi-Family Residential — 3,716
Commercial/Mixed Use — 2,878
Downtown — 496
Master Planned Community — 26
Major Institutions — 939
Industrial — 4661

Now there are a bunch of different ways in which you can look at these numbers. The industrial, downtown and mixed use areas complicate things. But let’s start with all of it, and then start throwing out categories. All of these statements are true, if my math is correct:

1) 62.5% of the privately owned land is zoned single family.
2) 20.8% of the privately owned land is zoned Downtown, Mixed Use and Multi-Family.
3) 10.9% of the privately owned land is zoned Multi-Family.

I don’t think it takes a statistician to realize that the single family zoned areas make up a huge chunk of the residential land. Even if all of downtown and all of the mixed use areas were zoned for housing (and they’re not) the single family owned area makes up over three times the multi-family land. Of course, if you pull out the industrial and major institution numbers, then all those numbers get bigger. This statement, while bordering on propaganda, is completely accurate:

4) Not counting industrial land and land owned by major institutions, 74.8% of the privately held land in Seattle is zoned Single Family.

Things get really complicated when you dig into the downtown and commercial/mixed use areas. Some of the specific areas allow residential use, while others don’t. Thus the original number (62.5%) as well as the number when you don’t consider land and land owned by major institutions (74.5%) is smaller when you dig into the details.

Then you have the fact that almost all the multi-family zoned land is zoned low rise.

It is therefore very hard to come up with one number to summarize the situation, but the “2/3 of the city is zoned single family” is, in my mind a pretty good summary. If anything, it greatly understates the amount of land that could potentially be developed if we changed the zoning rules.


That post tries to have its cake and eat it – first the figures discount rights or way and green spaces from the Single Family Residential figures, but the author includes them in the total – that is disingenuous.

If I use the (Net area – open space) then I get 62.5%. That is, of land available for building, 62.5% is zoned for Single Family Residence.

Bryan Kirschner

” It’s really inappropriate to sprinkle around duplexes and triplexes”

Inappropriate homes sprinkled around our neighborhoods.

Should we tear them down?

Demand the residents move?
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If this is what new construction of duplexes and triplexes actually looked like, then no one would argue. But new construction bulldozes every tree and towers over neighboring properties. Setbacks are not the same, houses are boxed in. Not the same animal.


What? The new rules haven’t changed anything. Seattle housing is known for building houses close together. I still remember someone who grew up in Bellevue being shocked at the way our houses were built right next to each other.

It sounds to me like you are complaining about new construction. Fair enough. But new houses can be enormous too, and can take up almost the entire lot. I see no difference, really, between low rise construction and new houses. The only difference is that when people build an enormous house, only one family can occupy it.

Bryan Kirschner

Open zoning that allows multi family housing could retain the same height limits and lot coverage limits as current single family zoning. You are complaining about something in new construction that does not exist: multi-family homes with those same requirements in single family zones are illegal to build.

Andre Tsang

Ah, but you forget, more people living in the same area means more CARS! And that means more people with whom you’d have to share those coveted public street parking spots! How can you maximize your capitalization of those public goods if you have to share them with more folks!?


As a local housing activist who knows both Sarajane and Jon, I’m going to be circumspect in my comments. Lord knows there are plenty of people who want to challenge them in stronger terms than I. While I don’t mean to be personal with the following, they need to hear this.

The one thing I would mention to them is this: How often are you citing data, studies, academics, writers, thinkers, historians, urbanists, planners, city officials while you casually dismiss the people who don’t agree with your views? Is it possible that your views are, have been and remain unexamined — and, therefore, dated? When was the last time you challenged yourselves? When was the last time you changed your mind about something urbanist?

You see, I have lived in NYC, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Seattle and Berlin in the past 43 years and perfectly understand the biases that I shared with you regarding development and developers and the role they play in urban change. Developers bad, homeowners good. It’s been baked into our DNA, hasn’t it?

But that was then, this is now. Circumstances, like cities themselves, change over time. And as the circumstances change, so must our thinking.

To me, the biggest factor that enters into our current calculus is *climate change*. It IS coming. There ARE going to be radical effects to life on the planet as we know it. We as a society need to make BIG adjustments, like now. Hate to break it to you both, but people are going to have to give up their “views” in order to save the planet. I know it is a big sacrifice, but it needs to be done.

The other factor that really can’t be laughed off any longer is the role that racism and classism played in perpetuating the social injustice and economic inequality of our current land use codes and zoning, which has perpetuated and worsened the lives of low-income, new arrivals to our country and people of color. The information relative to this history is EXPLODING in the form of new books, studies, data-driven internet maps and the like. Not being aware of or referencing this history in formulating your opinions in addressing housing affordability is a particularly bad look right now. It basically delegitimizes you.

As a privileged white townhome-owner in an urban village, I say it is incumbent on predominantly white, single-family homeowners to recognize the history that they have benefitted from and to be prepared to sacrifice for the greater good of the larger society. While not having to hold the racist/classist views that created the current system in the first place (think of it as a type of urban apartheid), you d*mn well have a responsibility to recognize the need for a modern “truth and reconciliation” process to address the resulting inequities. Shouldn’t that be the part of the Seattle Way?

Looking forward to engaging with you in the near future.


Social injustice of our zoning? Do you know that since 1970, black households who own their own home in King County dropped from 49% to 28%? For Latino households, 50% -> 34%, while whites went from 64.2% to 63%. Why? “Tech boom”, speculation, income equality … not zoning. There is plenty of room to build in Seattle, and we’re building record amounts, but that isn’t going to counter the changes that are driving everyone but high tech elite out of the city, and no one dares to even think about addressing that.

And with that going on, the climate change argument rings kind of hollow, too. People who work at working-class wages are forced to find accommodations where they may outside the city, which is practically the definition of sprawl. If some of our high tech feeding frenzy moved to Tacoma, Bremerton, etc., it would do a lot more for climate change than knocking down some single family homes and replacing them with townhouses.


Are you saying that the high cost of living in the city will force tech companies to move to lower income places, like Tacoma, Bremerton, etc.? Where has that ever happened?

Look, everyone knows that the primary reason that real estate is expensive is because employment has increased so much here. If not for Amazon (and similar companies) then houses and rents would be much lower. Places like Detroit don’t have sky high rents.

But the zoning laws make things worse. They make it more costly to add housing. Yes, this is basic supply and demand. The biggest problem is demand, but supply — which is held low because of the law — is in part to blame as well.


No, it’s clear that high tech execs don’t care much about their employees’ housing costs, though it could be a factor. If your question is really something like “how would we take responsibility for a sustainable rate of growth”? I guess, for those who are attracted to simple supply & demand models for everything, one clear answer might be, constrain the land available for office buildings. The opposite of what just happened to the University District. The blame that may be due to single family zoning, compared to the University District high rise office building upzone, is negligible if there’s any at all.

Bryan Kirschner

If we constrain the land available for office buildings, high tech companies won’t go away. They will just outbid everybody else for the available buildings (e.g., the Google campus in Fremont is low rise, it just keeps adding buildings; ditto for Tableau in Fremont).


Or they will move to the suburbs. The last thing we want is a return of the 1980s suburbanization of office space. We are still living with the results of that change, and it is terrible. Bad for workers, bad for the environment.

You can see what this is like in the Bay Area. While there are plenty of companies in San Fransisco, there are also plenty of companies that moved to the suburbs a while ago. Many were lured by cheap property or by the ridiculous idea that their company is like a college. But the “campus” model doesn’t work. That is because people switch jobs, people have spouses, and not everyone wants to live in a suburb. So the idea that everyone will live close to a job in, say, Mountain View is absurd. They won’t. The same is true for San Fransisco. But it is a lot easier to get to San Fransisco. That is because the old transit infrastructure is designed to serve it, and it is easier to focus on one area, rather than a dozen. Trying to provide good transit to the dozen or so tech headquarters in the Bay Area is much more difficult than trying to provide good transit to San Fransisco and Oakland (the traditional core of the city).

As for climate change, it should be obvious that suburban office parks contribute way more in greenhouse gases than urban office towers. Of course they do. Put your office in Covington, and most people will drive to work. How else would they get there? Put it downtown, and lots of people walk or take the bus. Seriously — what part of town has the lowest rate of people driving to work? Why downtown Seattle, of course. What city has the lowest rate of car commuters? New York City.

All of this is beside the point. Yet it is typical for folks to talk about these things. Side issue after side issue, without ever addressing what urbanists have been arguing this whole time: Our zoning laws make housing more expensive here. No one has said it is the only reason things are expensive. No one has said that by changing the laws all of our housing problems will go away. But what people are saying is that by changing the laws — by allowing people to build homes for more people — things will be better than the alternative.

Bryan Kirschner


Yeah I am in the Bay Area this week. People drive all over hell’s half acre to get to all the suburban campuses. Environmentally terrible.

Andre Tsang

As a person thinking about running a startup, a dramatic increase in the cost of office space would be not so good for the startup ecosystem here. I’d be moving further and further away, probably first to Othello Station, then maybe Kent Station, all the while getting further away from UW and the talent. While housing affordability is important, we’ve also got to keep commercial, office, and arts space in mind too. Not having enough affordable commercial units may mean your favorite pho shop closing down, for example!

Kathryn Keller

My employer consolidated administrative operations at Longacres, right next to the sounder station. Considerations? First, a facility in what was remapped as the flood plain, then it rolled on by replacing a building in high rent SLU, and some office buildings near nothing. Location choice? Where the vast majority of the workers live and/or already worked. And access. And not flood plain. And, not hillsides. And, a lot of other considerations.

Some things to consider. The majority of the jobs at my facility are not high paid high tech, although require education and skills. There is support for working from home for many of them and onsite shift work for others. The majority of the people have absolutely no interest in living in Seattle, nor should they have to.

As far as surviving the impact of climate change, we are absolutely not invulnerable in this region. The issue is how we live and how we build with respect to what nature will do to us.

The economy and existing settlement patterns and infrastructure is regional. GMA is not about growing Seattle and depopulating everywhere else. Economic reality is the more concentrated and more aggressive the economy, the farther the reach and impact. The engine that is Manhattan means thousands of full commuter flights each rush hour from throughout the BosWash and beyond. One way or the other, whether we built a home for every person who works in Seattle in Seattle or not, a growing economy and the mix of jobs have more to do with the character of the city than anything else.