New Year! New Horrors!
Pay for the whole year, but you’ll only need the edge!
In the spirit of Krampus, the Christmas demon who takes bad children into the woods and eats them, the holidays need some horror. And what’s better to present existential horror than a glimpse into 2022?
So here’s eight things that we want to do and think about the coming year. It’s G.O.R.E., but not all bad. Goals where we want to put our energy. Obstacles where we see stumbles coming. Resolutions where we want to try better. And explorations where it could get interesting or all go wrong.
If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that we don’t even know the words for the things coming. Everything is chugging along until we learn the word “heat dome” because it’s denuded entire mountains of foliage and killed all the oysters. But we try. Good luck, all.
Goal: Make all infrastructure funds function like Build Back Better
Bad digital hot takes are heavy about the impact of Sen. Joe Manchin going on Fox News to publicly drop his support for Build Back Better, President Biden’s flagship domestic policy. After months of balancing Manchin’s intransigence with a progressive push for more, the house of cards crumbled.
That said, Washington and the Seattle region are still slated to get a ton of money from the first infrastructure bill. What we do with it can fulfill BBB’s dual goals of addressing crumbling bridges and building a green economy.
A great example is the money allocated for auto infrastructure. The Urbanist has been vocal in its opposition to expanding highways. Unfortunately, that’s going to cost some significant money because it’s expensive to change what we have.
The key in 2022 will be making sure that the money spent on highways and large roads will actually reduce the future need to spend money on upkeep. Speed kills people, neighborhoods, and the environment. But it costs tens of thousands of dollars per mile to change highway speed signage. We have that money now. Highways block countless rivers and tributaries to prevent salmon spawning, and those crossings are at risk in worsening floods. We have money to improve them and treat runoff containing salmon poisoning tire chemicals.
Yes, we will be spending once-in-a-generation infrastructure money on highways. It needs to be done with the perspective that, by the time the next once-in-a-generation infrastructure money comes, we should not need to spend on highways again.
Obstacle: Design Review and Re-exerting Aesthetic Controls
Seattle’s design review process is broken. It costs the city thousands of homes and developers countless hours defending the color of bricks to an unelected cadre of competing architects and want-to-be Liebeskinds. 2022 will likely see that barrier to development kept in place by a new mayor who won office stoking homeowner fears and attacking his opponent’s work dismantling exclusionary zoning.
The perceived end of the pandemic will also see accommodations start to receive scrutiny. Commissions that prefer to work in obscurity, like design review and historic districts, will be able to return to non-Zoom meetings.
These will be the groups taking a swipe at the outdoor dining pergolas that have been glorious place makers and saved numerous restaurants. It has started in Edmonds where streateries that kept businesses afloat during the lockdowns are now subject to $4000 fees just to stay up until April. Some of the arguments leveled against the outside dining structures are thinly veiled dogwhistles, calling them ‘shanties’ or ‘favelas.’ San Francisco’s design book for outdoor dining is too complex for their streateries to continue. “Public comment” will be weaponized against community amenities, again.
Resolution: Discard the Term NIMBY
“Not in my backyard” is the call of people who are trying to block development using public processes. The problem is that NIMBYs blocking the development of affordable homes and neighborhood businesses aren’t concerned about their back yard. They want to dictate what’s happening in your back yard, force you to have a front yard (often limited to certain plants and parking), and even get involved in your bedroom.
Bedrooms translate to the number of residents that are allowed in a house. They translate to the size of the required lot and the number of required parking spaces. Bedrooms translate to cost, which in our society, completely and immediately translates to race.
So, these folks don’t deserve a cute name regardless of how it’s perceived. Single-family land use controls are exclusionary. People that support them are segregationists, not NIMBYs. Resolve in 2022 to speak truth to segregationists.
Exploration: The region’s waste stream
Over the next two weeks, there’s going to be a pile of garbage leaving homes across the region. From toy packaging to Christmas trees, it’s the busiest time of the year for disposal. So it’s a good time to think about waste and where it goes.
King County’s Solid Waste Management Plan was approved in 2019 and is now halfway through its 6 year term. Cedar Hills regional landfill is preparing to spend millions on opening new areas for dumping. Long term King County Councilmember, Kathy Lambert, who for all her issues tended to keep an eye on this garbage thing, was voted out in November.
Seattle’s Solid Waste Management Plan was revised in 2011, and is now ten years into what was supposed to be updated every 5 years. Train lines that carry garbage out of Seattle are susceptible to landslides. Seattle Public Utilities is boring a half-billion dollar, three mile long subway sized tunnel under Ballard and Fremont to store wastewater and untreated sewage when it rains too much.
The challenge here will be paying attention to a complex, unsexy, and invisible-until-it-fails component of modern life. 2022 will be an important year to keep waste of all sorts in mind.
Goal: Track and Comment on #WALEG’s 60-day session
Time is of the essence for the Washington Legislature in 2022. Having passed a bi-annual budget in 2021’s “long” 105 day session, lawmakers get to work (remotely again) for a 60 day “short” session this even-numbered year. That means all of the important work sculpting the incoming federal infrastructure money into a transportation package needs to move quick. Hopefully, the new chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Senator Marko Liias, will be up for the task.
Work is beginning. Reps. Liz Berry and Joe Fitzgibbon have laid out an ambitious climate strategy for the session. Futurewise continues its Washington Can’t Wait initiative, working to update the state’s Growth Management Act. That includes HB1099, which adds climate change provisions to future comprehensive plans. It passed the House last year, but stalled in the Senate. Other work to plan for housing equity and close a GMA loophole allowing farms to convert to sprawl are among WCW’s 2022 legislative goals.
This is a goal and not an obstacle because the outcome of the legislative session is completely within our control. Track bills. Sign up to talk with your legislator. Find a group that’s sending emails. Start with Futurewise and go from there.
Obstacle: The Great Resignation, Beta Variant
By leaving jobs that refused to pay a living wage, command human respect, or offer the flexibility to live between shifts, many have already participated in The Great Resignation. Though younger workers are getting blamed for long lines at the drive thru, it appears that Boomers are using this opportunity to exit the workforce. But really, anyone who has survived a pandemic worth of abuse has enjoyed a few Take This Job And Shove It daydreams. It’s about to get weirder.
Second-wave resignations will come to vital industries. Teachers and nurses are caught in a pinch as lower paid support staff have quit and not been rehired in proper numbers. Bus drivers, orderlies, substitutes, the whole list of folks that are labor muscle to education and health care have found different jobs. Now the pressure is on the backbone of the system as foolish budget decisions will put teachers and healthcare professionals in stressful and dangerous positions. They will be justified should they decide to quit.
Seattle area schools already closed for one day due to staff shortages. Bus routes did not start for the first two months of the school year. The current collective bargaining agreement between SPS and the teacher’s union expires in 2022. Just before the pandemic, staff at Swedish went on strike then were locked out. Their new contract was signed in “a fear vote” after a month of lockdowns. Bargaining for health care staff occurs at each hospital separately. Nurses at Seattle Children’s Hospital will be negotiating this year.
The upshot is that The Great Resignation may take on the same wave pattern as the pandemic itself. New peaks showing up as pressure builds on another group. Like climbing infection rates preceding fatalities, we can see the issues forming around hospitals and schools. The obstacle will not be the resignations, but the administrators and boards who refuse to properly pay staff, making another surge of resignations inevitable.
Resolution: Stop calling Bellevue the suburbs (or worse)
Though hacked apart by enormous car sewers and wrapped around a shopping mall, Bellevue is not a suburb any more. Christopher Randels has a wonderful series of articles about how growth and transit are making the City Across The Lake into a, well, city. But traffic, distance, and tradition obscure change. So it can be very difficult to stop lumping Bellevue into the group of exclusionary, sprawling “suburban towns.” If only they’d stop throwing themselves back in that pot.
Bellevue will be opening more Sound Transit stations over the next decade than Seattle will. It’s absorbing huge employment growth from Amazon and Microsoft. The 2020 census found the city was the fifth largest in the state, at 152,000 people with 24% of them arriving in the last decade. It only trails Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, and Vancouver for population, but Bellevue’s population density of 4,500 people/mile is higher than any larger city except Seattle.
Congratulations, Bellevue. You’re a city and we’ll do our best to properly represent that. With some luck, that level of respect will actually embolden you to do something that should have been done many years ago: absorb all the bankrupt billionaire enclaves between you and Lake Washington.
Exploration: The U District Crane Farm
With the opening of the U District Sound Transit station following the city’s lifting of building height limits, development in the UW adjacent student neighborhood has been unleashed. Construction trailers and fencing is surrounding parking lots and demolished buildings. Now is the time to reread Shaun Kuo’s series on the development spree around the new University District station.
Something that always gets lost in discussing UW. Seattle is the only large city besides Atlanta with the campus of a full-blown, football playing, research university inside the urbanized city. Most of the time, the big state school is out in its own town or older schools have a gulf of disinvestment buffering the leafy campus.
That’s not here. That’s not UW. We’re about to see the formation of a modern University District at a rate rivaling the transition of South Lake Union. Except that these towers will be home base for the most noxious, creative, objectionable, and invigorating force in urbanization: students. Get out to the Avenue and watch the party get started.
Ray Dubicki is a stay-at-home dad and parent-on-call for taking care of general school and neighborhood tasks around Ballard. This lets him see how urbanism works (or doesn’t) during the hours most people are locked in their office. He is an attorney and urbanist by training, with soup-to-nuts planning experience from code enforcement to university development to writing zoning ordinances. He enjoys using PowerPoint, but only because it’s no longer a weekly obligation.