Owen Pickford holding a beer, wearing a Sounders shirt in front of a bridge, river and large towers in Tokyo.
Owen Pickford founded The Urbanist as an advocacy nonprofit in 2014, and helped build a fledgling blog into an institution in the intervening years. (Owen Pickford)

Reflecting on The Urbanist’s 10th anniversary leads me back to the very beginning. The Urbanist founding coincided with a Seattle boom cycle. Enthusiasm for urbanism was broad and deep. During The Urbanist’s infancy, business associations supported taxes for public transit. Council unanimously passed an ambitious bike plan. We achieved the biggest upzones in generations, directly resulting in record housing production and affordability investments. The region passed one of the highest per capita, voter-approved taxes for rail in the country’s history.

Among this broad and deep support for urbanism, I thought founding The Urbanist was necessary. I believe political change is downstream from institutions. Seattle needed an explicit and sustainable urbanist media outlet. 

Seattle urbanists can be thankful for many incremental wins over the last decade but many urbanists may also feel discouraged. Rents and home prices climbed to astronomical heights. Traffic casualties and serious injuries are higher than they’ve been in nearly two decades. Implementing the bike plan has barely begun and council appears ready to abandon it. We are facing a comically bad comprehensive plan. Elected leaders seem willing to sabotage a generational transit investment. These are clear losses for urbanists, Seattle and the Puget Sound Region. 

But 10 years later, the root problem still seems the same. Would you know about these losses without The Urbanist? Would you know the root causes? Would you know about solutions?

During The Urbanist’s lifespan every local election was won by a candidate endorsed by either The Stranger or The Seattle Times (with one notable exception). Despite our ongoing efforts to inform the public, the broader urbanist ecosystem does not have strong enough institutions to muscle through election wins. Electoral power will be out of reach as long as Seattle’s biggest media outlets — the information ecosystems of the median Seattle voters — are hostile to urbanism. Solving our housing and transportation challenges will require the median voter to be urbanists. The Urbanist must grow past its niche stage and go mainstream. 

Despite the glacial pace of improvement and clear losses we’ve encountered, I’m still very hopeful. My family decided to raise a kid in the city and we’re planning to bus and bike to daycare downtown. This optimism springs partially from The Urbanist’s trajectory. Many amazing people were attracted to the same mission. The institution garnered enough momentum that I could leave without it failing. Not only was I replaceable, The Urbanist is indisputably better since I left. Many amazing people pushed it to new heights. Like The Urbanist, Seattle is full of people who truly want to make the city great. If we keep investing in institutions with an urbanist vision, Seattle will realize its potential.

NOTE:  The Urbanist has switched to a new donor platform that has more features for subscribers, like being able to adjust your credit card yourself. If you have any questions, please email finances@theurbanist.org. We’ll be planning multiple anniversary celebrations over the coming months. Keep an eye on our new Events calendar for details.

Article Author
Owen Pickford holding a beer, wearing a Sounders shirt in front of a bridge, river and large towers in Tokyo.
Owen Pickford

Owen is a solutions engineer for a software company. He has an amateur interest in urban policy, focusing on housing. His primary mode is a bicycle but isn't ashamed of riding down the hill and taking the bus back up. Feel free to tweet at him: @pickovven.