It's photo snapping time as the Bainbridge ferry approaches Seattle, offering sweeps shots of the skyline along the shores of Elliott Bay
The Seattle skyline keeps growing as does The Urbanist. (Doug Trumm)

Early this year, the The Urbanist board of directors approved a 2024 advocacy agenda focused on abundant and affordable housing and sustainable and safe transportation. It was the first time that our organization has formalized our agenda to this extent, but we think it is important to guide our efforts and help readers understand our advocacy journalism.

Our journalistic coverage will continue to be rigorous and fact-based as always, but we think it’s helpful for readers to know where we stand. We are advocacy journalists, which means that we reject the falsehood that journalists are neutral observers, and instead openly state our preference for the policies that we believe will bring about the vision we seek for our region: abundant housing affordable to all; safe, sustainable, and reliable transportation; and a strong, just, and decarbonized economy.

Stories are reported by people, who have biases whether implicit or not, and they are then printed through the filter of a publishing apparatus that has a business model of some sort, which can privilege certain perspectives. We think it’s better to have transparent positions rather than opaque ones hiding behind a veneer of impartiality and pomp.

Our advocacy committee formulated the agenda after careful consideration. A big thanks to the board and staff members that participated in that process.

The three top advocacy items touch on core urbanist issues:

  • Advocate for transformational Comprehensive Plan Updates that increase housing capacity across the Puget Sound region, including allowing midrise housing in all residential areas served by frequent transit.
  • Advocate for the selection of future light rail stations that maximize ridership, rider experience, and opportunities for equitable, community-based development.
  • Advocate for enhanced local multimodal transportation funding, including renewal of a Move Seattle Levy focused on delivery of specific multimodal projects.

These three items will be the focus of our efforts in 2024, and we lavish extra attention on them on our publication this year.

We’ve already covered Bellevue’s comprehensive plan and Home in Tacoma, in addition to our coverage of Seattle’s very delayed draft plan, which will reportedly finally be released the first week of March. Coverage of more cities and counties is to come. Likewise, we’ve closely covered Move Seattle renewal efforts and participated in a coalition pushing the City of Seattle to go bigger on the levy renewal and focus investments on safety and sustainable transportation.

In addition to these top “advocate” items, we also have a number of “support” agenda items where we will seek to lend a hand, whether by calls to action or covering stories on the topic.

In pursuit of our goal of housing abundance and affordability, we support funding affordable and social housing, the state-level transit-oriented development bill (which we recently wrote about), “state-level efforts to increase funding for affordable housing and establish a permanent revenue source for the Housing Trust Fund,” and oppose “unnecessary and burdensome fees and regulations on homebuilding.” We support investing in anti-displacement strategies.

Some of these are urbanist no-brainers. We support transit and making it safer to get around, whether walking, rolling, biking, riding, or driving. But, the how is important too. Specifically, we support improving transit through increased service and rider-centered restructures and reforms and the expansion of pedestrianized streets, bus lanes, improved bike lanes, and street trees. We back state-level efforts to repeal arbitrary jaywalking laws — alas the Washington State Legislature once again punted on that issue. Having good transit means being able to safely access transit stops.

We support efforts to expand and improve intercity passenger rail service in the Pacific Northwest. Many of our readers do, too, based on the popularity of our recent article on proposed Amtrak route expansions in the region. Our support encompasses both a high-speed rail moonshot and more incremental passenger rail improvements. Much like the state funds both expressways and local roads rather making motorists pick one speed at which to travel, both conventional and high-speed rail should see investment and improvements as soon as possible.

We support a version of rent control that doesn’t disincentivize housing production, commonly referred to as rent stabilization. As luck would have such a bill is under consideration with House Bill 2114 that exempts new construction and caps annual rent increases at 7% would still allow homebuilders to operate with a healthy margin. That state bill is currently under consideration in the senate after passing the lower chamber.

Everyone has a right to be safe in the city, and we believe the best way to achieve that is with holistic, evidence-based approaches to public safety, including investing in unarmed community safety officers, diversion programs, mental health treatment and crisis response facilities, and drug treatment programs. We’re providing more coverage of public safety because we believe getting these policies right will make cities better and more livable.

Like Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, we reject notions of austerity. We take that to the logical conclusion of supporting the protection and expansion of progressive revenue sources to increase public services and avoid austerity.

Our advocacy agenda was built on an update to our policy principles and mission statement, which undergirds all of our work.

The Urbanist’s mission is to tell stories that inform and influence the public and their leaders — and win them to our vision of people-centered cities in the Puget Sound region. We seek to influence urban policy in the Puget Sound region to deliver abundant housing, safe streets, ubiquitous rapid transit, and a strong, just, decarbonized economy. We believe the following principles should guide decisions made by people in power in order to create great cities and urban areas in the Puget Sound region and beyond:

  • Free Cities from Car Dependence: Cities must be designed so that everyone is able to get around safely, quickly, and cheaply without a car. Cities should prioritize investments and street space to meet the needs of people biking, walking, and rolling. Cities should work to end car dependency and reduce vehicle miles traveled by investing in frequent, reliable, public transit, repurpose land allocated to parking to other uses, and ensure mobility access for people with disabilities.
  • Affordable, Abundant Housing For All: Housing should be available in such abundance that safe, healthy, high-quality, and stable housing is affordable to everyone. This will require increasing supply, subsidy, and stability — building more homes near jobs, transit, and opportunity; increasing funding for social and affordable housing; and protecting people’s ability to stay in their homes. The primary goal of housing policy should be to provide homes affordable to people at all income levels — not investment vehicles.
  • Build Up, Don’t Sprawl Out: Cities should grow up, not out. Land use regulations should allow for substantial growth in existing urban areas, while preventing sprawl and protecting wild and agricultural land. Mixed-use neighborhoods, which allow people to live more of their lives close to home, should be permitted widely.
  • Inclusion and Justice For All: Cities must foster belonging for all people and remove barriers to opportunity wherever possible. This will entail identifying and dismantling systems of exploitation and extraction, as well as collaborating with communities that have been colonized, racialized, and marginalized to establish new approaches. The Urbanist believes that Black Lives Matter and that everyone has a right to the city.
  • Community Safety For All: Everyone should be and feel safe in the city and enjoy the benefits of urban life. The pursuit of public safety should follow holistic, evidence-based approaches and not further mass incarceration and racialized oppression. There should be fewer guns on the street, including those responding to non-violent crime.
  • Just Economy: People who work in the city should be able to live and thrive in the city. Among the building blocks of shared prosperity are: living wages, strong organized labor, local ownership of business, outstanding public education, diverse industries, and health care for all. Cities must act boldly to raise progressive revenue in order to provide universal access to a wide range of public services.
    Vibrant, Welcoming Public Spaces: Healthy public spaces and vibrant public life are critical to the functioning of great cities. Cities must cultivate a variety of communal spaces — including parks, plazas, gardens, tree canopy, greenways, and waterways — in all areas of the city, accessible to all. Streets are a vital component of public space and many should be reclaimed from cars for people. Public spaces, including transit, should be free from harassment, including catcalling and gender-based harassment.
  • Sustainable Growth and Ecological Harmony: Cities must be leaders in achieving climate and environmental justice by making it possible for more people to live low-carbon lifestyles, equitably mitigating environmental threats, and achieving long-term sustainability. This will entail collaborating with tribal governments and confronting those blocking a just transition to a green economy and our collective survival.

Thanks for reading The Urbanist, and an even bigger thanks to those of you who contact your legislators and policymakers to advocate for the urbanist cause. We believe much is possible when our movement makes its voice heard.

Donate: Another way to support this agenda is with a gift or monthly subscription to power more advocacy journalism.

Article Author
Publisher | Website

Doug Trumm is publisher of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington in 2019. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.