The Urbanist Policy Principles

The Urbanist examines urban policy and advocates to improve cities and quality of life in the Puget Sound region. Urbanism is about building outstanding communities characterized by the values below.

Values Of Urbanism

Successful urbanism values accessibility, equity, civic engagement, health, safety and prosperity. We believe the following principles should guide decisions in order to achieve our values of successful urbanism.

  • Transportation Principles: Cities must allocate public resources meeting the following transportation hierarchy: pedestrians, bicycles, public transit, multiple-occupancy vehicles, and single-occupancy vehicles.
  • Housing Principles: Cities must provide access to stable, healthy, and safe housing. Housing must exist for everyone in the neighborhood of their choice. This requires reducing housing costs, diversifying housing typologies and increasing public subsidies.
  • Land Use Principles: Cities must continuously allow growth everywhere within their boundaries. Mixed-use neighborhoods–allowing residential, commercial and light industrial uses–are critical. Uncompetitive essential uses must receive protection.
  • Civic Principles: Cities must make explicit efforts to protect and affirm all neighbors regardless of race, age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, immigrant status, ability, religion, veteran status, or income.
  • Public Space Principles: Cities must acquire and provide adequate access to a variety of vibrant public spaces in all areas of the city.
  • Public Services Principles: Cities must capture their wealth to control and provide universal access to essential services, especially in non-competitive markets or areas where the private markets don’t serve all people. Cities should maintain public assets in public control and avoid privatization.
  • Development Design Principles: Cities must regulate design to minimize negative externalities, ensure consistent and predictable process and accommodate cultural needs in appropriate neighborhoods.
  • Environmental Principles: Cities must be leaders, passing regulations that equitably mitigate environmental threats and achieve long-term sustainability.

Transportation Principles

Allocating public resources towards transportation should follow the following hierarchy: walking, bikes, public transit, multiple-occupancy vehicles, and single-occupancy vehicles.

  1. Accessibility: This prioritization ensures safe accessibility to most people, creating places to be rather than places to get through. It also benefits freight and people who use private cars by reducing congestion from users who don’t have to use cars.
  2. Equity: This ordering prioritizes transportation options by their expense to both the individual and the community.
  3. Civic Engagement: Accessible walking, biking and transit allows everyone to partake in civic life. Walking, biking and transit also allows people to interact with each other in public space, creating street life and community.
  4. Health: Walking, biking and even public transit allow people to couple daily activities with exercise. Reducing private vehicle use also improves air quality.
  5. Safety: Traffic injuries and deaths are preventable. The principles of Vision Zero prioritizes vulnerable users in ways that enhance the safety for all users.
  6. Prosperity: This priority ensures that cities have lower capital and maintenance costs. Individuals can also choose options with lower personal costs. This allows cities and individuals to achieve more economic growth and allocate resources to higher needs.

Housing Principles

Cities must provide access to stable, healthy, and safe housing. Housing must exist for everyone in the neighborhood of their choice. This requires reducing housing costs, diversifying housing typologies and increasing public subsidies.

  1. Accessibility: Supporting diverse populations requires providing diverse housing typologies. Cities must allow growth in order to be accessible to newcomers without displacing existing residents.
  2. Equity: Housing options in all neighborhoods will reduce economic and racial segregation. It will also ensures access to services and opportunity.
  3. Civic Engagement: Housing stability creates the environment necessary for civic engagement and proximity to government makes it even easier.
  4. Health: Many health indicators are closely tied to housing quality and stability.
  5. Safety: Secure, stable, private housing is critical to ensure personal safety.
  6. Prosperity: Ensuring people have access to safe and stable housing in cities increases economic productivity and public revenue while reducing per capita cost of services.

Land Use Principles

Cities must continuously allow growth everywhere within their boundaries. Mixed-use neighborhoods–allowing residential, commercial and light industrial uses–are critical. Uncompetitive essential uses must receive protection.

  1. Accessibility: Access to services, from jobs to healthcare to entertainment depend on land use regulations that allow mixed-use neighborhoods. Inclusive land use policies ensure people that depend on various uses maintain access.
  2. Equity: Decisions about where various uses are allowed must be driven by an equitable, inclusive process, using a city-wide lens. The burden of costs from necessary uses must not be borne by those with the least power or the most marginalized.
  3. Civic Engagement: Mixed-use neighborhoods have facilities that allow residents to be civically engaged, such as recreational and social spaces and service facilities.
  4. Health: Uses such as medical care are necessary at the neighborhood level to ensure strong health outcomes and are often excluded. Proximity to mixed uses also promotes public health by allowing for active mobility such as walking and biking.
  5. Safety: Mixed uses allow for activation throughout the day, ensuring safe and comfortable spaces.
  6. Prosperity: Mixed-use neighborhoods promote local business, ensuring economic resiliency. Innovation depends on a diversity of economic activities, requiring the preservation of businesses that might not otherwise be able to compete for space.

Civic Principles

Cities must make explicit efforts to protect and affirm all neighbors regardless of race, age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, immigrant status, ability, religion, veteran status, or income.

  1. Accessibility: Good policy sometimes greatly enhances accessibility for most but not everyone. Using a race and social equity lens will help identify gaps and accessibility and provide universal solutions.
  2. Equity: Race and social equity analysis centers our attention on disparities in resources, opportunities, and outcomes. Rectifying disparities will increase equitable outcomes.
  3. Civic Engagement: An inclusive city that explicitly and proactively engages communities will raise up voices that are missed with passive engagement.
  4. Health: Most policy choices impact health outcomes, which tend to be worst among those most marginalized. Inclusive civic efforts will help identify these problems.
  5. Safety: A race and social equity analysis will identify fair, compassionate, and racially equitable policing practices, prioritizing community healing and justice. It will also reorient transportation priorities around safety in the most impacted communities.
  6. Prosperity: When wealth and growth are inclusive, we are all more prosperous. The prosperity of the city is closely tied to lifting up marginalized populations.

Public Space Principles

Cities must acquire and provide adequate access to a variety of vibrant public spaces in all areas of the city.

  1. Accessibility: Abundant park, recreation, and other public spaces provide opportunity for passive and active use. Not everyone can pay to use private meeting space, bars, coffee shops, clubhouses, or other private spaces.
  2. Equity: The impacts of access to space are disparate. Those with less resources and privilege are most affected by the privatization of space. Ensuring we have an adequate variety of accessible public spaces promote equity.
  3. Civic Engagement: Open and vibrant public spaces and public infrastructure, such as community centers and libraries, create opportunities for shared experiences. Social connection is key to creating engaged communities.
  4. Health: People in cities often don’t own enough private space to have the tools necessary for exercise. Parks specifically give ample room for exercise and other physical activities necessary to maintain high levels of public health. Additionally, public spaces, such as community centers, pools, and libraries, are key resources for delivering services that impact public health.
  5. Safety: Public spaces are critical to creating vibrant cities. When done right, public spaces create positive norms for social interaction furthering public safety.
  6. Prosperity: Urban spaces have a natural advantage when it comes to resources. We can share the cost of resources more efficiently. A public space–whether a park, library, or community center–is a resource we all share that makes us all richer than if we each paid for and owned it individually.

Public Services Principles

Cities must capture their wealth to control and provide universal access to essential services, especially in non-competitive markets or areas where the private markets don’t serve all people. Cities should maintain public assets in public control and avoid privatization.

  1. Accessibility: People choose to live in cities because of proximity to many things including services. Expanding services that are publicly available has a compounding effect on accessibility. For example, transportation and translation services make other services more widely accessible.
  2. Equity: Public services reduce inequality and provide opportunity that would otherwise be difficult to access for people without social privileges.
  3. Civic Engagement: Civic engagement is impossible without many public services. Services such as public media and broadband further engagement.
  4. Health: Funding is one of the biggest impediments to many health initiatives, especially mental health support. The amount of wealth in cities could provide the necessary funding needed to improve public health.
  5. Safety: Strong investments in public safety must be holistic and paired with criminal justice reform, with a focus on addressing the root cause of violence and harassment rather than the symptoms.
  6. Prosperity: Providing abundant public services directly mitigates expensive externalities while also allowing everyone to provide a meaningful contribution to the city.

Development Design Principles

City must regulate design to minimize negative externalities, ensure consistent and predictable process, and accommodate cultural needs in appropriate neighborhoods.

  1. Accessibility: Good design standards mediate public and private interests, ensuring that both public and private spaces are welcoming and accessible.
  2. Equity: Development creates externalities, which are typically borne by the most marginalized. Identifying and minimizing externalities through design requirements creates more equitable spaces.
  3. Civic Engagement: Culturally appropriate design that honors and furthers the history of neighborhoods and communities ensures that the city remains a place for everyone. It also directly encourages engagement in the political process by communities that might otherwise be marginalized.
  4. Health: Strong development design principles ensure public-oriented outcomes that ultimately increase walkability, light, green space, stormwater management, and other benefits. All of these directly impact health.
  5. Safety: Good design standards embed safety. Private design is often used for public benefits, such as sidewalk improvements, bike lanes, street lighting, and other investments that improve safety.
  6. Prosperity: Places that maximize the profit to a single stakeholder usually do not benefit the general public. Identifying the externalities of development puts costs where they belong and creates a more predictable process.

Environmental Principles

Cities must be leaders, passing regulations that equitably mitigate environmental threats and achieve long-term sustainability.

  1. Accessibility: Pollution and climate change threaten physical spaces. Environmental stewardship is necessary to save threatened spaces for future generations.
  2. Equity: The negative repercussions of environmental disasters are overwhelmingly felt by the most marginalized communities. Environmental racism must be addressed to create equitable outcomes.
  3. Civic Engagement: Ensuring a robust process of environmental stewardship opens doors for civic engagement from the most affected communities.
  4. Health: Environmental concerns have widespread impacts on public health. Environmental stewardship protects clean air, water, and affordable, healthy, and culturally appropriate food.
  5. Safety: Environmental hazards often pose direct safety risks, from polluted water to exhaust from motor vehicles.
  6. Prosperity: The cost of environmental stewardship will pay dividends for generations, making everyone wealthier.