From the viewpoint of an editor, it’s clear that many articles do not end up receiving the attention they deserve the first time around. The internet can be a mysterious place when it comes to readership, and sometimes articles that feel very important end up getting lost in its expanse for no easily discernible reason.
So for my second look back at 2021, I decided to round up some articles from The Urbanist that did not generate as much buzz as they should have at their time of publication. These articles introduce big ideas, relate important news stories, and in general make for satisfying and informative reading. Keep this list handy during the snowy — and soon to be muddy — days ahead.
As Developer Stalls, Affordable Talaris Offers a Greener Vision
You have probably heard of controversy surrounding Talaris, former conference center site in Northeast Seattle, where a developer wants to skirt the city’s McMansion ban by giving each McMansion its own “private” street. Reporter Ray Dubicki called the Talaris plan an “unmitigated disaster” for the climate and housing affordability crises back in 2020. His 2021 follow-up article, however, showcases work completed by volunteer group Affordable Talaris to create different development scenarios for Talaris that prioritize housing affordability, community, and sustainability. If you want to get rankled by a truly horrible development proposal — and then learn about how Talaris could be cultivated in a much more positive and community centered manner, read this article.
How to Reduce SPD’s Budget, Improve Public Safety
Improving public safety for all people continues to be a major concern in American cities, and many difficult questions surround role of policing. In this article, Guest Contributor Bryan Kirschner, who previously worked in law enforcement research, takes a close look at the Seattle Police Department and identifies how current flaws in the department practices contribute to misuse of resources. He then offers up practical, data driven solutions that would bring down costs of policing and lead to better public safety outcomes. Read it here.
A Perspective From Across the Lake
Much of what is written about Bellevue and other Eastside cities come from a Seattle-centric perspective. In this informative piece, Eastside Reporter Christopher Randels considers the urbanism at work in Bellevue from the perspective of someone who understands the city and cares about it deeply. It’s an informative and enlightening read no matter what side of the lake you live on. Read more.
Laying Down Paint, Seattle Catches Up on Making Room for People Biking
One of the bright spots from the last year was progress made on expanding Seattle’s bicycle network. In this article, Reporter Ryan Packer takes close look at the nearly seven miles of protected bike lanes and over 11 miles of neighborhood greenways planned to be completed by the City in 2021. It’s the highest number to be added to the network since the passage of the Move Seattle Levy in 2015 — read this article and celebrate!
A Plan for Addressing Transit Equity in Tacoma
Despite being the second largest city in Puget Sound, Tacoma woefully lacks in public transportation options, in large part because Pierce County voters have voted against referendums to increase funding for transit. In this article, Guest Contributor Chris Karnes puts for the idea that Tacoma should institute a 0.1% sales tax through Tacoma’s Transportation Benefit District. Learn more about his plan to increase transit equity in Tacoma.
Book Spotlights: “Recast Your City” and “Feminist City”
There were many excellent books published on urbanism in 2021, and The Urbanist spotlighted two of the most interesting. Executive Director Doug Trumm reviewed “Feminist City” by Leslie Kerne and Reporter Ray Dubicki interviewed author Ilana Preuss of “Recast Your City.” Both articles and books are well worth checking out as we move into the new year.
Burien Paves the Way for Legacy Corner Stores in Residential Neighborhoods
Throughout the Puget Sound region it’s possible to see evidence of former corner stores and other small retail and commercial structures tucked into residential neighborhoods. Through an ordinance passed in 2021, Burien is seeking to allow corner stores to reopen in locations where they existed before being prohibited by residential zoning. Senior Reporter Stephen Fesler takes a close look at a plan that could inspire other cities to bring back more corner stores. Read more.
ST 2040: A Shovel-Ready Vision for Seattle and Sound Transit
With the opening of the Northgate Extension, 2021 represented a big year for Link light rail, and more system expansion is on the way. However, what if we were to dream bigger, much bigger? In this vision exercise, Guest Contributors Ace Houston and Conor Bronsdon present an audacious 2040 plan for Sound Transit that places every Seattle resident within a 10 minute walk of a light rail stop. Other areas of the region, from south of Tacoma to Everett, are included as well. Read more to discover an alternate vision for Puget Sound light rail. If it feels too pie-in-the sky, check out plans for the Grand Paris Express to place it in a wider transit context.
Are Historic Districts a New Variation to Restrictive Covenants?
In this article, Guest Contributor Mike Eliason analyzes how a push to make Seattle’s single family zoned neighborhoods historic districts emulates some of the trends that inspired the racist restrictive covenants of the past by promoting social and economic separation. Read more here.
How Cities Can Adapt to a Hotter Planet
As I look out at the piles of snow outside my window, the scorching heat waves of last summer’s record-breaking heat dome feel like memory that took place on a different planet. Yet, here we stand still on the same Earth — facing the same climate crisis. When I wrote this article on adapting to a hotter planet, the topic felt vitally important. Now as I stare out at record-breaking cold temperatures and snow, it still does. Read more.
District Energy is a Fit for Seattle
In an article that goes hand and hand with important energy saving updates made to Seattle City Code in 2021, Boardmember and Editor Shaun Kuo walks us through how a district energy system works and why it could be such a good fit for Seattle and other cities. (Hint – we already have at least two district energy systems running in the city and one has been open since the 1890s.) Read more.
The Secret to Seattle’s Success is Social Infrastructure Not Low Taxes
Often time low (or non-existent) business and income taxes are attributed as being key ingredients to Seattle’s success as a city. However, in this article, Trumm argues that the city’s willingness to invest in its social infrastructure has made the bigger positive impact. Learn more about the importance of investing in Seattle’s safety net here.
The Benefits of Auctioning Off Development Rights
“In an era of tight city budgets, legal limits on taxing authority, and expensive problems, it is time for Seattle to get creative. We can’t tackle issues like homelessness, crumbling infrastructure, and over reliance on cars if we stick with our current leadership’s go-small planning,” writes Guest Contributor Ron Davis, who goes on to make a case for how auctioning off “air” (i.e. development rights or land value capture) could help the Seattle’s government raise much needed funding for affordable housing and more. It’s a concept that’s taking off across the world and worth examining locally. Read more.
Natalie Bicknell Argerious (she/her) is a reporter and podcast host at The Urbanist. She previously served as managing editor. A passionate urban explorer since childhood, she loves learning how to make cities more inclusive, vibrant, and environmentally resilient. You can often find her wandering around Seattle's Central District and Capitol Hill with her dogs and cat. Email her at natalie [at] theurbanist [dot] org.