Sunday Video: Marijuana Legalization and Drug Decriminalization Did Well This Year


Marijuana legalization and drug decriminalization took a big leap forward this year. Arrests and prosecution of drug possession and sale has been disproportionate, but decriminalization can go a long way to undoing this paradigm. So far, politicians have not caught up with public opinion, Vox explains.

Names Nathan Gets Been Called: 4th Edition!


What will we call each other sixty years from now? Sixty years ago we thought we knew. We didn’t. Some of it won’t be the same, and some of it will. The delirious human project will continue forth, and from time to time we’ll look back on today. These were the names we used to use, that have been said and will be said again–sweet nothings of love and hate and everything in between. 

Which works for me. 

This latest list (same the earlier three below) are culled from the last two years, and include many of my personal favorites. Here goes~

Dream Machine
Big man
Little man
Young Man
My favorite millennial
The famous one
Time and a half
Doogie (this one just won’t go away…)
The Ghetto Tour Guide
Could I Get a Transfer
King Bus Driver
Captain of the Ship
Number 7
White Woman
Bubble Tea
Mr Kind Hearted
Mr Friendly
The Old Guy Who Looks Really Young
The Young Father of Metro
Nigger (as an epithet, on the 5)
Nigger (as a term of endearment, on the 7)
My Son
Korean Bus Driver
Lil Bro
Objectively the best bus driver in the city
The personification of the movie Amelie
The Natalie Portman of bus drivers
The Ernest Hemingway of bus drivers
The Studs Terkel of bus drivers
The Mister Rogers of bus drivers

I’ll see you out there.

Other names Nathan gets called! A list in three parts: 123.

An Urbanist Case for Small Nuclear Power Reactors

An artist’s rendering of NuScale Power’s small modular nuclear reactor plant. (Courtesy of NuScale)

Nuclear power accounts for nearly 20% of American electricity generation, which still outpaces renewable power generation by a few points. That output is done at legacy facilities since the United States has not completed a new nuclear power plant in three decades. However that appears likely to change soon, and nuclear power can be a key part of decarbonizing our energy mix and reducing air pollution.

On October 16th, the Department of Energy approved a multi-year cost share award of up $1.355 billion to a new entity, the Carbon Free Power Project, to demonstrate and deploy a 12-module small modular reactor (SMR) power plant. This news follows the first ever SMR design to receive U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Design Approval in August. NuScale Power’s design is forecasted to be built by and start operation in the Carbon Free Power Project plant in 2029.

The 720 megawatt (MWe) fission plant will be located at the Idaho National Laboratory and be composed of NuScale’s 60 MWe nuclear power modules. If the process goes well, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), which owns the Carbon Free Power Project, hopes to begin construction of the plant in 2025. Applications for construction and operation are set to be applied for in 2023. UAMPS will be distributing energy from the plant to their participating public power utility customers in Utah, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming. UAMPS CEO noted that this project will complement and enable additional intermittent renewable energy, wind and solar that are a growing part of the agency’s portfolio.

Idaho National Laboratory, where the the CFPP plant will be built. (Courtesy of the Department of Energy)

The SMR power plant will be the first of its kind in the United States, whose fleet of fission reactors has begun a slow string of retirements. Nuscale’s small form factor fission reactor technology is a part of a newer family of Generation III/III+ reactors, which have better economics and safety features compared to the Generation II reactors that are stereotypical of the American fleet and public perception.

Supposed benefits of SMRs and their improvement in fission energy may make them compelling options for growing urban communities in search of non-carbon energy sources. If the technology proves to live up to its promises, it could revive America’s nuclear industry and help provide our cities with fossil free power. Local fission and climate advocates at Seattle Friends of Fission (FoF) see great hope in this form factor of advanced nuclear.

Where SMRs depart from conventional nuclear

As defined by the World Nuclear Association, small modular reactors are nuclear fission reactors generally 300 MWe equivalent or less, designed with modular technology using module factory fabrication, pursuing economies of series production and short construction times. These properties and modern reactor design potentially allow SMRs to avoid the older and prototypical reactors’ baggage, namely safety, cost overrun, and construction delay concerns.

Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima meltdowns immediately come to mind when thinking of safety and nuclear. Products of a combination of negligence, human error, and design, these incidents greatly reduced the favorability of nuclear energy at the time. These systems required active cooling systems, which ended up failing in spectacular meltdown and radiation contamination.

Holiday Video: How Big Can Cities Get?


Davos Amos ask how big cities can get. Many megacities, largely defined as over 10 million people, are rapidly growing in industrialized countries. But cities over 100 million–gigacities–could be possible this century as megacities grow and merge.

Happy Thanksgiving Day to you and your family from all of us at The Urbanist. Take care and be Covid safe.

Cascadia Needs New Zoning, Not New Cities

Lion's Gate Bridge with Van City skyline in background. (Courtesy of Cascadia Innovation Corridor)

Abolishing apartment bans is how we grow as a region, not sprouting entire new cities in pasture.

The Cascadia Vision 2050 report made it onto KUOW with its claim that four cities of 300,000 to 400,000 residents need to be built from scratch in the I-5 corridor running from British Columbia to Oregon in order to accommodate growth.

Natalie Bicknell covered the “hub cities” idea in depth in an October article. There are pros and cons, obviously, but it seems more clear the study is being used to justify a fatalistic attitude toward reforming zoning in Seattle region, rather than an idea really centered around environmental sustainability as billed.

“Unless existing cities like Seattle are willing to bulldoze 40% of their single-family homes, those cities won’t grow dense enough to fit all the people coming to the area in the next few decades,” KUOW’s Joshua McNichols said. “Because of this, housing will get more expensive, urban sprawl will increase and emissions will rise, the report says.”

The Cascadia Vision report comes from Cascadia Innovation Corridor, a partnership between the Business Council of British Columbia and Challenge Seattle, which is led by Christine Gregoire, former Washington Governor, and brings together the region corporate moguls to try to solve problems and influence long-term planning. While the partnership made its name pushing for high-speed rail from Vancouver to Portland–which is a goal The Urbanist shares–they may be tackling the wrong problem with their hub cities plan. In contrast, Shaun Scott’s op-ed today in Crosscut laid bare that ending apartment bans is the fight, not simply to meet ambitious growth projections but to create more equitable, less segregated communities everywhere.

Ending apartment bans

The “bulldozing single-family homes” language from the report invokes the imagery of housing opponents and is misleading and inflammatory. For one, converting oneplexes (detached single-family homes) to fourplexes would not necessarily require demolitions. Accessory dwelling units (ADU) offer a way to add density without teardowns. Seattle, Tacoma, Burien, Olympia, and several other cities already laws permitting and promoting ADU conversion.

Cascadia Vision 2050 cited the example of Forest Cit, Malaysia, which is an eco-focused edge-city made from scratch near Singapore and on the planned light rail line to Kuala Lumpur. (Rendering by Sasaki Design)

Moreover, the 40% figure sounds dramatic but over 30 years that only requires about 1.2% of single family homes to be converted to fourplexes per year. And we do not need to assume only fourplexes can be built in their place, we could allow more options than that and create something akin to the Forest City example the report cites in existing cities. Some neighborhoods are already seeing teardown rates exceeding that rate, and unfortunately too often these teardowns are leading to bigger, posher homes rather than more homes. Changing our housing rules can make the construction we’re already seeing anyway more equitable by encouraging more affordable options.

We can also promote more sustainable buildings. Washington state recently increased its height limit for mass timber towers to 18 stories. Now we just need the proper zoning to allow mass timber towers to go up in more places–and incentives and public investment to jumpstart the industry. Rather than grafting cities onto rural areas, we can build mass timber eco-districts in existing cities and generate a sustainable forestry employment boom in rural communities so they can grow in a more natural way.

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon to Join Us at December Meetup

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon speaks at a West Seattle Transportation Coalition (WSTC) rally for transit back in 2014 when Metro faced recession cuts. (Courtesy of WSTC)

For our December 8th meetup, we are excited to be joined by District 34 Representative Joe Fitzgibbon. District 34 covers West Seattle, White Center, Burien and Vashon Island, but Rep. Fitzgibbon has been a leader for our entire region. The Urbanist endorsed him because he has been an advocate on land use, transportation, and climate issues. Fitzgibbon is Chair of the House Committee on Environment and Energy. He has gotten bills passed that allow camera enforcement on cars that block crosswalks and bus lanes, ban requiring parking for ADU’s, encouraging cities to update their housing policies, require electric vehicles, allow the Idaho stop for bikes, and more. As our endorsement committee said, “For land use policy wonks, it doesn’t get much better than Joe Fitzgibbon.”

With a major election now thankfully behind us and the 2021 session just around the corner now is a good time to think about the state legislature and what we can accomplish in our Washington even if there is gridlock in the other Washington. Progressive revenue? Growth Management Act reform to consider climate change and housing? Police reform? A transportation package that does not double down on fossil fuel use? A clean fuels standard? He will be sharing his thoughts on the 2020 elections, what the 2021 session will hold in store, his advocacy for his district, and he’ll take your questions.

This monthly social event is free, all ages, and open to everyone. Call in if you want to meet other people who care about our city, network, or hear from an inspirational speaker. The line opens at 6:15pm for networking and discussion and the speaker starts at 6:30pm. We hope you can join us!

Register for the Zoom link:

Seattle City Council Passes 2021 Budget with 18% Cut to Police Department

Police line at the June 3rd protest at City Hall. (Photo by author)

The war of spin is well under way to frame the outcome of a 8-1 vote setting next year’s City budget.

After weeks of debate, the Seattle City Council has approved the 2021 budget and Mayor Jenny Durkan has said she will sign it. The dust had not yet settled as Councilmembers, the Mayor, and everyone else began the mad dash to frame the budget.

Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda pitched it as a historic win: “This council has stepped up in the midst of a historic crisis.”

In contrast, Councilmembers Kshama Sawant (District 3), Alex Pedersen (District 4) and Debora Juarez (District 5) heaped plenty of criticism on the process and final product.

Sawant was the lone vote against the budget, as has been her custom since she took office in 2014. Her major criticism was the Council should have cut the police budget by 50% (rather than the 18% reduction on which they landed) and they should have increased the tax on corporate payrolls to boost spending on social services, as she proposed with her Amazon Tax.

Meanwhile, Pedersen objected to cutting the Seattle Police Department (SPD) budget as much as they did. Both Pedersen and Juarez voted against both the JumpStart tax, and the rebalancing package and veto override that cut SPD funding this summer.

Juarez is still steamed at protesters

Juarez’s complaints were more process-oriented. She gave a review of various slogans and their efficacy, arguing Black Lives Matter and indigenous land acknowledgements were good, but Defund The Police was bad and people who used it were overly “entitled.”

“When you say that ‘I want to acknowledge that I’m on Indigenous ground,’ that means you behave as a guest and you listen,” said Juarez, who grew up on the Puyallup reservation and is a member of Blackfeet Nation. “Defund the police by 50% was a slogan, and it was an empty and misleading slogan. It caused damage. It caused pain. It caused trauma. It caused the anger. But I understand the aspirational, emotional feeling of why that some of my colleagues felt the need to do that, and I’ve done that before.”

In her comments, Juarez acknowledged cutting SPD by nearly 20% in one year was a big step and a nation-leading accomplishment, but she intimated they should think twice before cutting deeper. She blamed rather than credited activists under the broad Solidarity Budget coalition (which The Urbanist joined) that pushed for cutting SPD’s budget, and particularly to the protesters who used direct action tactics, such as showing up at her house and the homes of other City leaders.

“When you undo these racist institutions–take from me who has been around a long time–it doesn’t happen overnight,” Juarez said. “It doesn’t happen because you have a chant and a T-shirt. It’s being in the trenches, and some of us have been there a long time in the trenches, moving forward marching toward a plan to do right by everybody.”

The Solidarity Budget Coalition hosted a teach-in Monday night summarizing their reactions to the budget and reiterating the group’s desire to keep divesting from policing and reinvesting in community with a goal of 50%.

Juarez riffed on how terrible it was activists want more and sooner: “The privilege of entitlement, that’s what I call it,” She proceeded to give her version of a Defund pledge, and it definitely didn’t fit or a T-shirt of a bumper sticker.

“We are going to slowly and systematically as much as we can redirect funds for the Seattle Police Department to upstream programs to meet the needs of what a police department we believe should look like, within the confines of the Consent Decree, our bargaining responsibilities, and everything else,” Juarez said. “So when you hear people say and scream at you that ‘you’re not doing enough,’ we are doing, and we’re going to continue doing, and continue working with the Executive…”

What We’re Reading: 57 Days, Unfounded Fears, and Trail Connection


Flimsy: Drunk walking statistics are built on flimsy conclusions.

Stop drunk drivers: Meanwhile, the federal government is finally looking at technology to fight drunk driving.

Lift a finger: If Congress doesn’t act to save transit from the pandemic, will New York Governor Andrew Cuomo lift a finger to save New York City’s system?

57 days: The environmental terrorist-in-chief is rushing to sell oil drilling rights in the Arctic but this will face serious lawsuits ($).

Covid budget hit: The Metropolitan King County Council has adopted a two-year budget that is smaller than the last ($).

Wide bike lanes: Even in suburban Portland, the city is planning wide, buffered bike lanes.

Green Marshall Plan: Pittsburgh’s mayor is proposing a $600 billion “Marshall Plan” for Middle America to facilitate a transition from fossil fuels.

Space Needle rival: Could a local architecture firm’s fantasy Seattle 2030 highrise tower design become reality in Seattle post-pandemic?

An apology: The American realtors’ association is apologizing for the industry’s role in discriminatory housing practices ($).

Take the loss: Puget Sound Energy is legally required to divest in coal energy, but the company’s plan to strike a deal to sell its interest in a Montana coal plant has fallen through.

Economic threat: Severe transit cuts would worsen the American economy.

Safer than you think: Studies continue to show that riding transit is relatively safe during the pandemic.