Tuesday, 26 May, 2020

Your Friendly Neighborhood Industrial Use, Finale

1
The Pearl district in San Antonio, Texas. Site of the former Pearl Brewing Company, the industrial site has been reclaimed for residential and commercial uses, with breweries and ice cream makers included. (photo by the author)

Over this series of articles, I have laid out an argument that Seattle should mix industrial uses in our residential and commercial neighborhoods. A long history of exclusion keeps interesting and useful things out of our communities, an absolute loss for building a vibrant and vital city. Now is the time to change this because the lines have disappeared between the places we work, create, build, and live. Right now, every neighborhood is mixed use.

  • Read part one of the series here introducing the concept of neighborhood industrial use.
  • Read part two showing how zoning has been a terror since it was permitted in the United States.
  • Read part three showing that the way we apply zoning through a broken and malignant use table is a joke.
  • Read part four showing what a cool neighborhood industrial use can look like, but recognizing the heavy legislative lifting to make it happen. 

Which begs the question, why does a terrible zoning ordinance or the potential of a cool new building necessitate change? We have spent a century putting industrial uses in very specific places. Seattle seems to be chugging along pretty well without having haberdasheries and cobblers on every street corner. Why change that now?

Because our city’s not actually chugging along very well. Our zoning perpetuates many of the problems we’re experiencing, from expensive housing to declining industrial jobs. All this is exacerbated by coronavirus. The most basic foundation of zoning–the hard separation of uses–actually breaks the city and makes every discussion of development into a death match.

The Zone of Maximum Conflict

We have an idealized image that urban development should taper up to more intense uses, with stages of growing height and heavier use going from a hinterland to a dense urban core. We imagine urban development being a spectrum. This is supported by everything from the original development scheme in SimCity through our current infatuation with the Missing Middle typology.

Missing Middle housing types ranging from duplexes to small apartment buildings. (Opticos Design)
Missing Middle housing types ranging from duplexes to small apartment buildings. Simplified graphics like this suggest that urban development happens along a continuous spectrum. (Opticos Design)

While we imagine this spectrum of density, the way we write our zoning ordinance prevents gradual intensification. We create groups of disfavored uses, defined broadly and outright banned. We impose hierarchies that conflict with one another. We carve out exceptions that are so narrow as to only impact a single building. We whittle down zones to specific lot lines, then lock those restrictions into perpetuity. We defer design decisions to the neighbor with the most restrictive zone. 

The result is that the vast majority of land in the city defaults to the most exclusionary use: single family detached housing. This presses the disfavored, intense, or expansive uses into small clusters and forces competition for land between uses that shouldn’t be competing. Officials can talk all they want about saving good paying industrial jobs, but it’s mainly lip service if zoning forces big-box wine shops and mini-storage on industrial land.

More acutely, our zoning puts low density homes right against the uses zoning was designed to separate. By removing the ability to gradually intensify, we’ve caused more conflict. All of the pressure that could be dissipated with gradual increases condenses into a zone of maximum conflict.

A corrected version of the Missing Middle transect, showing what happens when 75% of a community's land is devoted to single-family detached housing, pressing all other variations of urban development into a small corner of the city. Gradual increase is replaced with a zone of maximum conflict. (Opticos Design, with revision by the author)
A corrected version of the Missing Middle transect, showing what happens when 75% of a community’s land is devoted to single-family detached housing, pressing all other variations of urban development into a small corner of the city. Gradual increase is replaced with a zone of maximum conflict. (Opticos Design, with revision by the author)

Such segregation of uses pushes necessary, vital businesses far from most of the residents that use them. However, this does not stop the uses from appearing in neighborhoods. It sucks to drive across town to do stuff we like, so we bring stuff we like into our homes. Industrial uses are all over residential areas. From catering kitchens to massage parlors to climbing walls. From distribution centers to gyms, workshops to metal forges. Everything is allowable, if it’s wrapped in a single-family detached house.

Blacksmith YouTube is a very extensive and deep rabbit hole. Admittedly, melting stuff at a high temperature seems very fun. Perhaps we are actually advocating for a steel forge in Laurelhurst. Just a very small one. (The Geek Pub via YouTube)

This is the inherent paradox of zoning: insular single family homes violate the zoning that protects them. Having an otherwise excluded use raises the value of the most exclusive homes. Zoning does not separate residences from noxious uses. Zoning simply atomizes noxious uses into private compounds, while pushing services out of the area. This makes the whole neighborhood wealthier and poorer at the same time.

We can do so much better. The same uses that get built into ritzy vacation homes should be permitted in any residential zone. Eliminating the bright-line exclusion of industrial uses from neighborhoods is fundamental to reclaiming a green, fair, and vibrant city. 

A Greener City

Neighborhood industrial is a foundation of the green economy. Bringing useful things into our neighborhoods allows all of the benefits we can expect from reducing commutes and parking. Creating a community that is active all day evens out the demand on electricity and water. Neighborhood industrial will use the infrastructure we have throughout the entire day, and not leave behind empty homes being cooled or long pipes filled with water and waiting until the evening demand.

The mechanism with which we allow neighborhood industrial is also a way we green our communities. We cannot rely on industrial zoning to simply sweep smelly uses out of sight. Neighborhood industrial will require management plans to identify and mitigate potential sources of noise or discharge. Manufacturing and industrial processes, including everything from the water outflows at a brewery to a chalk eater at a climbing gym, can be monitored for how well they’re controlling pollution. With neighborhood industrial, we will expand our pollution testing and monitoring systems.

The public dashboard from the Bullitt Center in Capitol Hill. Real time data allows users to make meaningful decisions.   (University of Washington Center for Integrated Design)
The public dashboard from the Bullitt Center in Capitol Hill. Real time data allows users to make meaningful decisions. (University of Washington Center for Integrated Design)

Right now, the most local real-time monitoring we have in the city is morning and evening traffic reports. These change behaviors, making people choose different routes or delay their commutes. It also says a lot about what matters to us. Our counts are about how many cars are going by particular points. They’re not measuring the spewed noxious gasses. They’re not measuring the lives lost in crashes. Without measuring a problem, we deny it exists.

Management plans in neighborhood industrial will let us do better. Connect the sensors and monitors required by these management plans to create dashboards for every neighborhood, making real-time testing and reporting of air, water, and noise not just possible, but a priority. That way we can adjust our behaviors, just like we do to avoid a traffic backup. It should not take a special study to track particulates. It should not take a decade to figure out an ongoing dumping conspiracy. Real time reporting will allow residents and businesses to make meaningful decisions about their own activities to flatten the curve, to coin a phrase. And if you’re a business owner in the neighborhood you live, your decisions will be particularly meaningful. By bringing neighborhood industrial uses into communities with management plans, we will build the mechanisms to track our progress.

A Fairer City

Data-driven responsiveness will make our city fairer. By defaulting to single family residential across so much of the city, zoning simultaneously tries to sweep all pollution into a tiny corner. Out of sight, out of mind. Except for the predominately black and Hispanic populations that live in the distressed communities directly down wind. 

To understand a zoning code is not some great insight in urbanization and human society. Instead, it is peeling back onion layers of institutionalized racism and calculated bias, with all the weeping that entails. Americans try to manage the city through zoning, because zoning is the bluntest tool available. We insist on throwing it against every urban problem specifically because its wide margins cloak the racist impacts with economic justification. Zoning is not a tool, it is a weapon.

Neighborhood industrial will disarm that weapon. Allowing for a ground floor candy shop is not going to solve racism. But we bundle together race and class and a thousand other biases when we talk about “neighborhood character” and “nature of the community.” Neighborhood industrial is about uncoupling real, measurable pollution and nuisances from the thin justifications of character and desirability. It shortens the list of excuses for sweeping people of color and smokestacks into the same corners of the city. If that makes some folks confront that their actual desire is keeping brown folks out of the neighborhood, all the better.

The fairness also works in other directions. Our current industrial areas like Interbay and SoDo are located because of water, highway, and rail access. Businesses that need this expensive publicly funded infrastructure should not be forced into competing for the same space with mini-storage and big box stores. Whole Foods and Michael’s are not looking for access to marinas, they’re looking for favorable zoning.

It happens small, too. Surrounding the new four story loft West Woodland Business Park on the 1200 block of NW 52nd Street, there are three breweries (another around the corner), the RAD electric bicycle shop, and the relocated Serious Pie outlet. This would be an incredible block in any neighborhood and should be constantly busy with lots of homes right there. But we have relegated it to an industrial zone between a Vaupell plastic prototyping and Bardahl Manufacturing. These businesses take a full block of our precious industrial zoning, separate from most of residential Ballard, and add to land value pressure on nearby industries. That’s unfair to Bardahl, unfair to the breweries, and unfair to us. And every one of those breweries is very good. Making space for them in our residential zones would be an all around benefit to the community.

The, unfortunately parking heavy, south side of the West Woodland Business Park with Stoup Brewing next door. Urban Family Brewing is across the street, Obec Brewing immediately to the left, and Reubens Brewing around the corner. The block is zoned Industrial General and completely within the BINMIC. (Photo by the author)
The, unfortunately parking heavy, south side of the West Woodland Business Park with Stoup Brewing next door. Urban Family Brewing is across the street, Obec Brewing immediately to the left, and Reubens Brewing around the corner. The block is zoned Industrial General and completely within the BINMIC. (Photo by the author)

A Vibrant City

But mostly, neighborhood industrial uses are awesome. That’s why people put them in their homes. We love making stuff. We love watching stuff get made. We love buying stuff that our friends make. We go on vacation to places where people make stuff. As the sign says downtown–at Seattle’s mixed commercial, industrial, and residential Pike Place Market–we love to “Meet the Producers.” And it’s pretty cool to live next to them too.

Communities that make things are beautiful. And we have some very good examples. Hackeschen Hofe in Berlin is a early-20th century low-rise apartment building. Inside, the series of connected courtyards are surrounded by small workshops and shops selling things they make. As shown in Sightline, there are American examples of residential communities forming in industrial areas in Portland and Denver.

Residential tower in the Pearl District, San Antonio, Texas. (photo by Ray Dubicki)
Residential tower in the Pearl District, San Antonio, Texas. (photo by Ray Dubicki)

It’s easy to see the key to this development in reused industrial properties. In Baltimore and Boston, abandoned mill buildings are converted to offices and apartments. In San Antonio, the old Pearl Brewery has turned into a mixed use development. In San Francisco, reclamation of Pier 70 is underway with industrial, retail, and residential development. In our own Pioneer Square, old loft manufacturers are now apartments. These high-ceilinged, well built structures are full of windows and wide open spaces. These are beautiful places built from factories. The structures offer a flexibility that is just non-existent in the buildings we construct to fit current, confining zoning ordinances. It’s a flexibility in structure that we’re going to need moving forward.

The Recovered City

Which brings us to the current pandemic. We cannot close out any discussion today without recognizing that we are all at home. Far too many of us have seen our businesses and workplaces close, some permanently. If we are lucky enough to work, we are doing so from our kitchen tables or desks in our bedrooms. We’re told that we’re going to restart, that we’re resilient. It’s hard to see when we’re separated by a virus that makes busy urban places a fantasy.

The author's dining room table. While not a continuous zone of maximum conflict, it's gotten a workout over the last ten weeks. This mixed-use space requires flexibility in juggling the education of two elementary schoolers, Zoom calls, raucous ideas in urbanism, and so very much yarn. And that's between breakfast and dinner. Fiber by Canon Hand Dyes. (Photo by author)
The author’s dining room table. While not a continuous zone of maximum conflict, it’s gotten a workout over the last ten weeks. This mixed-use space requires flexibility in juggling the education of two elementary schoolers, Zoom calls, raucous ideas in urbanism, and so very much yarn. And that’s between breakfast and dinner. Fiber by Canon Hand Dyes. (Photo by author)

What’s more difficult is to expect our recovery will dump us into exactly the same situation that we were in back in January. Too many people are ready to work from home permanently, and companies are following them. Too many cornerstones of retail are shuttering, and replacements are not coming. Too many enormous factories and warehouses are vulnerable, and they are being lapped by small and responsive alternatives. The distance we go for necessities is decreasing, and we’re rethinking our neighborhoods.

These changes are not possible in the zone of maximum conflict. Recovery is not possible if we keep our hardline, inflexible zoning.  

This may seem to contradict our need to fortify our homes. While an understandable reaction, the pandemic shows that we pay for our safe little fortresses in other ways. By making everyone go to the exact same place for toilet paper, or meat, or church, our screwed up zoning creates massive vulnerabilities to coronavirus. The zone of maximum conflict concentrates low wage employment, promotes long distance travel, and disjoints social networks.

Neighborhood industrial can begin to mend these issues by addressing the underlying failures of zoning. We can dismantle and address the historic prejudices that drew broad rules to exclude disfavored people and uses. We can scrap the terrible use tables that are less regulations and more footnotes and exceptions. We can install mechanisms of flexibility and data driven responsiveness to stop hiding pollution and start protecting residents and the environment.

Cities take work and can be exhausting. We spent a century looking towards zoning to streamline the difficulties; to sweep the noxious uses out of sight, to demolish the slums, and to sequester the different people in an effort to “protect” the neighborhood. But in doing so, we cut to the quick and eliminated the buffers and extras that can only be found in cities. We don’t have the other store or the small workshop to iron out the bumps when the huge supply chains fail. In the name of efficiency, we ended up erasing the redundancies that actually protect the neighborhood.

Neighborhood industrial corrects the ways we overused zoning and scraped communities down to the residential bones. As we spend each day in our homes that are doubling as workplaces, gyms, schools, broadcast studios, craft galleries, and screaming booths, we can feel the places where our neighborhoods are thin. Coming out of this pandemic, let’s correct that. We may not really need to have a brewery on every corner. But the pandemic is showing how our most resilient communities have the flexibility that allows for one.

Puget Sound Transit Agencies Are Bringing Back Fares and Adding Service

1

Puget Sound transit agencies are beginning to restore service and fare payment is returning on some services. Pierce Transit and Sound Transit have released their initial recovery plans that will begin as soon as May 24th. Community Transit also plans join the other two transit agencies in implementing fare collection, at least on the Swift bus rapid transit network initially.

King County Metro recently added back some bus service on in-demand bus routes to address crowding issues that were leading some riders at the curb due to social distancing capacity protocols. The restoration of service and fare collection across transit agencies will likely continue to come in waves as summer approaches and people return to work. Metro still hasn’t selected a specific date to resume fare collection, though fare-free rides could end after May 31st—the day that Metro has formally extended fare-free rides at this time.

Pierce Transit service changes

Pierce Transit has promised a modest slate of service restorations. Normal weekday schedules will return to Routes 1, 2, 48, 58, and 500 with Route 1 receiving enhanced service. Weekday frequencies for on about two dozen routes will match that of Saturdays, but with start and end times typical of weekdays. Routes 3, 4, 10, 11, 16, 28, 41, 42, 45, 52, 53, 55, 57, 100, 202, 206, 212, 214, 400, 402, 409, and 501 fall into that service category. Route 63 will maintain a reduced and modified schedule on weekdays and Route 497 will be aligned with the Sounder commuter rail schedule on a reduced schedule. Pierce Transit plans to keep Route 13, 102, and 425 canceled until further notice.

Riders can expect revised Pierce Transit schedules to be posted on Wednesday. The transit agency plans to operate the service schedule until the next service change in mid-September. Beginning on June 14th, Pierce Transit will fully restore fare collection on bus and shuttle services. Riders will need to board from the front of buses and pay fare by the operator. Fares can be paid with by cash, ORCA card, or the Hopthru app–the latter two options effectively being contactless methods.

Sound Transit is planning a wider set of changes that will affect a much larger share of transit riders, but in two rounds of changes. Coinciding with Pierce Transit’s service changes, Sound Transit will roll out changes on May 24th to ST Express service based in Pierce County and King County. That will then be followed with increased Link light rail service and fare collection resuming on light rail and commuter rail service on June 1st.

It’s Time to Downsize Seattle’s Car Bridges

8
The West Seattle Bridge has been closed since March 23th, leaving fewer crossings of the Duwamish river. (Credit: King County)

While some are in a rush to rebuild aging bridges and expand car capacity, less is more when it comes to car lanes. Instead we must prioritize people walking, rolling, and biking on our bridges.

In a city as surrounded by water as Seattle, bridges are an obsession. Every campaign season they become a hot button issue as local candidates make the case their local bridge is a regional–if not national–priority.

The Magnolia Bridge is a great example of this phenomenon. Serving a peninsula with some 20,000 residents and two other bridges over the Interbay railyard, nonetheless we are to believe the third bridge serving this quiet enclave that fought inclusion in the city’s urban growth strategy is essential. In fact we are told it must be a “1:1” replacement (if not larger) to let the cars flow at high speeds and avoid a whopping 1.2-mile detour. That’s exactly the wrong strategy, especially when it comes to meeting our climate goals and designing a just and green rebound from the Covid recession. We can find a lot better ways to spend the money.

The City’s Magnolia Bridge study included a more modest replacement option that shortens the bridge span and provides better connections for buses and people walking, rolling, and biking while costing significantly less to build. Nonetheless, most of the local discourse remains laser-focused on a full 1:1 replacement which the City estimates will cost $420 million.

West Seattle can make a better case for the 36-years-old but crumbling West Seattle Bridge since it serves a larger area with fewer reasonable alternatives. And perhaps that will spell delay for the Magnolia Bridge as West Seattle leapfrogs it on the priority list.

Design bridges for the traffic you want

But again, keeping every single lane of car traffic (or adding even more) makes the case for replacing a bridge weaker, not stronger. For one it jacks up the price tag. It also locks in higher levels of carbon emissions. Highway boosters have us convinced that congestion relief is just around the corner if we build roads wide enough, but instead congestion returns and it’s always just another road widening project that’s around the corner. By chasing level of service for cars, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy of ever increasing vehicle miles traveled and greater car dependency.

The Year of Car-free Streateries

6

As our city starts to open back up, several issues are becoming quite apparent in our urban villages. In many, there is inadequate space on sidewalks to adequately social distance. There is also inadequate space to order and wait for food from restaurants for pick up. And given that restaurants will be extremely limited in the number of patrons that can dine in them, they will need to utilize the space in their parking lots or adjacent streets to allow dining with proper distancing measures.

This is an opportunity to prioritize businesses and pedestrians like none we’ve ever seen. We will need space so that our small businesses and restaurants can survive Covid. And given that we may be over a year away from a vaccine, these changes could not only be long-term, but the impetus needed to vastly improve livability in the densest parts of our city.

What We’re Reading: Reopening Main Street, Bellevue Open Streets, and Lower Rents Demanded

0

Reopening Main Street: A Long Beach design firm has provided tips on how to reopen Main Street in the age of COVID-19.

Major fraud campaign: There appears to be a vast fraud scheme to steal unemployment insurance ($) in the United States.

Revolting against apps: In an effort to support small businesses, people are beginning to revolt against third-party delivery apps ($).

Parking minimums: Edmonton could become Canada’s first major city to eliminate parking minimums.

Bridging Manhattan: A bike and pedestrian project in Manhattan has been given the go-ahead after a lawsuit to stop it was tossed out.

Chinese highrise regulation: China has moved to stop most copycat and supertall highrise architecture.

Cupertino redevelopment: A major mixed-use project in Cupertino on the site of an old shopping mall has been greenlit by the courts.

Go outside: Connecticut’s governor is suspending minimum parking laws to allow for parking to be repurposed for outdoor retail and café space.

Pennywise: Washington Governor Jay Inslee has moved to freeze most state hiring.

Sustainable food system: Could the COVID-19 crisis lead to a more sustainable food system?

Bellevue open streets: Bellevue is launching its own open streets program.

Cutting transit jobs: Pierce Transit is slashing 90 jobs with layoffs and furloughs.

Putting transit first: A new Maryland transit plan would be the first for Baltimore and its environs since 2002.

Big solar: An approved Nevada solar energy project would be the largest in the country.

Skip cash for clunkers: An automobile industrial bailout should probably not be repeated again.

Air travel woes: Sea-Tac International Airport was comparatively far behind, but face masks will now be required in the airport. Meanwhile, Paine Field Airport will close for several months ($).

Ballooning struggles: How did homelessness in America end up ballooning since the 1980s?

Death Star regime: The Trump regime is trying to stop Washington from protecting its residents from oil train disasters ($).

Save transit: A New York City councilmember has a plan to save public transit.

Falling, not massively: While carbon emissions are down due to COVID-19, they are not as far down as you might expect.

Let’s get together: Could the pandemic finally lead San Francisco Bay Area transit agencies to integrate?

CARVID-19 epidemic: In New York City, people appear to be considering car ownership in response to COVID-19. But how will most Americans commute after COVID-19 lockdowns end?

Lower rents demanded: Even Starbucks is asking that landlords lower rent for the company’s cafés ($).

Water plans: A major Northern California reservoir project has been significantly scaled back.

Net zero: Three net zero buildings in the Washington, D.C. area are leading the way.

Speeding up infill: Santa Monica may streamline the city’s approval process for housing in the city center.

Trail tunnel: Redmond is building an SR-520 trail tunnel under NE 40th St.

Override to ride: Maryland’s governor has vetoed a commuter rail expansion bill, but Democrats vow to override it.

Universal internet: With the pandemic in full force, Washington would be best suited if there were universal internet access.

Sunday Video: How To Design A Great Street

0

Europe is awash in great streets. But what makes them so great? And what can other cities learn from these streets?

Talking it Out, Together

1

He was talking about his dog. After rush hour and after sunset, there is time for dog conversations.

“I don’t let people pet them though,” he said. He was a younger man like myself, at the in-between moment of your thirties– neither young anymore nor old. You’re merely there, hopefully aware the prime of your life is drifting by with each passing second. These are the days of laughter before forgetting, when we still remembered the lessons of careless youth, but could temper them with the insight of the years. The problems in your life may be harder than before; but you’re now better equipped to handle them.

He reached a hand down to his pet’s affectionate lapping tongue. “Just today I was walking them right over there by Safeway and this white girl wanted to pet them and I said no and she called me a nigger.”
“Oh no,” I moaned. I wanted him to know I cared. “In this day and… man, stuff like that breaks my heart. People using that word.”
“It took me back… She called me a nigger!”
“That word’s just got too much awfulness behind it.” 

Convention Center Seeks $300 Million Federal Bailout to Complete $1.8 Billion Expansion

0
WSCC Addition construction progress. (Courtesy of the WSCC)

The Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) announced today that it was seeking $300 million bailout from the federal government to stay afloat. The WSCC’s ambitious $1.8 billion expansion project is midway through construction but in jeopardy due to the economic crisis. The project will run out of money in 10 to 12 months without intervention, project developer Matt Griffin said.

Local leaders like King County Executive Dow Constantine and MLK Labor Council’s Nicole Grant backed the WSCC in their request and emphasized that thousands of jobs were at stake. The estimate cited throughout the presentation fluctuated based on how many indirect jobs were lumped in with figures. Griffin said about 1,000 construction workers would be on site in 10 to 12 months when the funds are expected to run out and force the project to pause.

Executive Constantine seemed to emphasize both regional vitality and strength and the vulnerability that the convention center represents if it was not completed: “There are few [projects] that are more important to the region than the Convention Center Addition.”

“We have one of the best economies in the world here. We’re a hub of innovation that connects the rest of the region and the rest of the world,” Constantine said. “Delaying the project would have devastating effects on the construction industry and the hospitality industry… It would have a ripple effect across the region.”

Those ripple effects also include timely payments on the $161 million land sale Executive Constantine authorized on behalf of King County. The convention center is rising from the former footprint of the County-owned Convention Place bus station.

“On behalf of the workers we represent, I want to say the completion of the convention center is a major priority,” Grant said. “There is no way to stop this work. We must persevere. That is why I’m appealing, really appealing to our federal delegation…”

While not invited on the call, former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn criticized the WSCC Addition project and publicly questioned the value of bailing it out.

“Business powerbrokers will claim today in a press conference that a bailout for the Convention Center Expansion is essential to Seattle’s economy,” McGinn tweeted. “But what if, hear me out, expansion is just digging a deeper financial hole?”