Thursday, December 13, 2018

District 4 City Council Candidate Shaun Scott Wants Seattle to Live Up to Its Urbanist Credo

Shaun Scott at Gas Works Park. (Photo credit: Alex Garland)

“I want readers of The Urbanist to know I’m someone who considered himself an urbanist before I decided to run for city council, and certainly before I knew what an urbanist was,” Scott said.

As a candidate, Shaun Scott is not afraid to speak his mind on difficult subjects such as the current debate on single-family zoning in Seattle.

“At this point if somebody doesn’t believe in the hard data around the negative impacts of single-family zoning, it’s tantamount to denying that racism exists and it’s tantamount to being a climate denier,” said Scott, who is running as a Democratic Socialist for the District 4 seat vacated by retiring Councilmember Rob Johnson.

For Scott, the issue of zoning sits at the heart of many pressing issues faced by Seattle. Problems such as the housing affordability crisis, homelessness, displacement of minority groups, and the City’s failure to meet its climate goals have all been worsened by the fact that over two-thirds of Seattle’s developable land is zoned for single-family homes.

To emphasize the importance of taking not just a “hard look, but also meaningful action” toward increasing housing density in Seattle, Scott’s campaign just released it’s official statement in support of the Seattle Planning Commission’s recently published report, Neighborhoods for All, which has recommended ending single-family home zoning.

Finally, we see the city’s own independently-reviewed research and data back up what urbanists and housing activists have been saying for years: namely, that until Seattle tackles the roots of racism in our restrictive land-use policies, Seattle’s pretensions towards progressivity will remain just that.

Shaun Scott, Statement on the Seattle Planning Commission’s Zoning Report

Land use policy is an area to which Scott brings both a depth and breadth of perspective that is rare among Seattle City Council candidates. In his 2009 Stranger Genius award nominated documentarySeat of Empire, Scott took a long, hard look Seattle’s history: in particular how prejudice against Native Americans, African Americans, Asians, and other minority groups shaped development through discriminatory practices such as restrictive racial covenants and redlining.

It’s clear from Scott’s work as a filmmaker, writer, community organizer, campaign staffer, and most recently, interim editor of Real Change, he is passionate about Seattle’s past, present, and future. Additionally, Scott’s work demonstrates how he has also spent a lot of time considering what qualities and attributes make a city succeed–or fail–its residents.

Although Scott has lived most of his life in the Seattle metro area, he spent his early years in New York, an experience that shaped his perspective on what cities can be. 

What We’re Reading: Doling Out the Dough, Euro Train in America, and Free the Streetcars


Metro’s budget: King County passed a $2.5 billion biennial budget for transit, so what does it fund?

Doling out the dough: The Federal Transit Administration is finally releasing funding for transit projects.

Paint the town red: Shaun Scott, a Democratic Socialist, is running for retiring Councilmember Rob Johnson’s seat.

Free the city: Spain wants to ban cars in cities across the country and there’s public support for the idea.

Redevelopment on the Cut: Near the Fremont Bridge, the Bleitz Funeral Home site is planned for office and retail.

Hiking express: How did the Trailhead Direct program perform this year?

Euro trains in America: The Federal Railroad Administration is finally allowing lightweight European-style passenger trains.

Another retirement: Councilmember Sally Bagshaw has declared her intention to retire from civic governance.

Safe drop-offs: Streetsblog highlights the European answer to taming the school drop-off chaos.

Best and worst: See the best and worst American cities for bus and rail transit.

Free the streetcars: Should Seattle ban cars from streetcar tracks?

SDOT Has an Updated Move Seattle Workplan But Outcomes Still Uncertain


Last week, the Seattle Department of Transportation released an updated work plan for the remaining years of the Move Seattle levy: 2019-2024. In doing so, it also provides a bigger picture of work has already been completed so far than we have seen yet.

The workplan lays out exactly how far behind the original projected plans several key components are, but programs where SDOT says it’s on track might be actually be the places where the results are most worthy of scrutiny.

Is it Time to Ditch 1950’s Era Single-Family Zoning?


A new report by the Seattle Planning Commission highlights how increasing density through “missing middle” housing could create a more diverse, equitable, and sustainable city.

As the closure and demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct grows imminent, it might be time for the City of Seattle to say good bye to another 1950’s relic: single-family zoning. 

Thus goes the central argument of the Seattle Planning Commission’s report “Neighborhoods for All: Expanding housing opportunity in Seattle’s single-family zones” published on December 3rd. 

The report describes how single-family zoning established in the 1950’s continues to prevent new development from creating diverse, walkable, and livable urban neighborhoods. It also explains how older development patterns found in many of Seattle’s most desirable neighborhoods may provide a key to solving current problems related to affordability and equity. The Seattle Planning Commission consists of 16 members, seven appointed by the mayor, seven by the Seattle City Council, one by the commission itself, and one Get Engaged young adult member.

Historic neighborhoods such as Wallingford, Queen Anne, and the Central District first developed around streetcar lines as compact walkable centers that incorporated both commercial activity and a flexible mix of housing.

This was because Seattle’s early zoning permitted construction of “missing middle housing” such as accessory dwelling units (ADUs), duplexes, triplexes, and small apartment buildings. These early development patterns were critical for establishing the density necessary to create vibrant, transit-oriented neighborhoods.

‘Ask the Trauma Docs!’ Mayor Durkan Says Scooters Are Too Dangerous

Lyft scooters. (Photo credit: Lyft)

While the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has a “New Mobility Playbook” touting trendy transportation options, it doesn’t have a e-scooter program. We got a hint at why in Mayor Jenny Durkan’s comments at Civic Cocktail last week.

“No helmet, no experience; it goes 18 miles per hour,” Durkan said. “I think they can be fun for people, but for the City to say ‘we’re going to put them in our right-of-way’ and have people use them knowing they’re going to get hurt, I don’t think that’s responsible.”

Add 100 miles per hour in speed and you’d be talking about cars, but the mayor signaled out e-scooters as the safety menace on our streets in a nation where 37,000 people die annually in car crashes. Despite the alleged danger, several companies have been interested in rolling out scootershare programs in Seattle, including all three bikeshare operators the City has permitted–Lime, Lyft, and JUMP (owned by Uber). Apparently venture capitalists think the scootershare market is larger than the bikeshare market, hence scootershare companies like Bird have a billion dollar valuation.

But even with the buzz around scooters, the City is dragging its feet. Mayor Durkan’s signature move in her first year has been the delay, so in part it comes as no surprise.

It’s true there have been some high-profile deaths among scootershare riders. For example, one Cleveland scooterer was run down by a motorist high on heroin. It’s easier to stand out when you’re one among a handful, but meanwhile dying in a car is commonplace–partially because Americans spend so much time in cars.

Early data does suggest e-scooters are less safe than bikeshare. Of course, as the example illustrates, getting run over by a person driving car is typically the largest danger for people riding scooters or bikes, followed by being driven off the road or doored by a motorist. Interestingly, Scott Kubly argued protected bike lanes would solve that problem, and scootershare would help build the political coalition to lobby for them.

“If scooters came to New York it would increase the number of people that want protected bike lanes,” Lime’s Chief Programs Officer (and former Seattle DOT commissioner) Scott Kubly told my Streetsblog colleague Gersh Kuntzman in July. “I also know how hard they are politically. When we found that some [Lime] riders in San Francisco were riding on the sidewalk, we asked why. They said they didn’t feel safe in the street. We asked, ‘If you had a protected bike lane, would you feel safe.’ And the vast majority gave it a hard yes. … Scooter riders want the same protection that bikers do.”

Angie Schmitt Streetsblog September 24, 2018

Mayor Durkan Deserves a “D” for Her First Year

Mayor Jenny Durkan straps into a Blue Angels jet. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Ian Cotter)

Mayor Jenny Durkan had her one-year anniversary in office on Wednesday so apparently that means it’s report card season.

The Seattle Times started that train Sunday with a Daniel Beekman piece with the optimistic headline “After political storms in first year, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan may be building momentum.” Mayor Durkan’s marked the anniversary herself on Wednesday and had nearly every City agency tweet out a graphic touting her successes and linking to a blogpost called “One Year of Urgent Action.” Crosscut’s David Kroman followed that up Thursday with a more fence-sitting headline “Micromanager or Mastermind? Mayor’s first year gets mixed reviews.” At Civic Cocktail, Mayor Durkan said Seattle deserves an A+, but stopped short of grading herself directly, saying she is “catching up.” 

Since the other periodicals are doing it, The Urbanist will weigh in too: Mayor Durkan deserves an “D” for her first year’s performance. While her own review may be titled “One Year of Urgent Action,” in actuality her first year was defined by delay tactics, inaction, and a shroud of secrecy over decision making, including a recent revelation that Durkan staff have bucked public disclosure law to obscure their head tax machinations.

And what a result it was! What could have been a steady annual source of about $75 million to fund affordable housing and homelessness services was halved and sunsetted by Durkan to a five-year package worth $250 million and then promptly flushed down the toilet and into Elliott Bay. So what’s Mayor Durkan doing instead for homeless and housing insecure folks? Well, she’s still working on a regional solution, just like Mayor Ed Murray did for most of his term. She’s also delivered 73 of the 1,000 tiny homes she promised for her first year while on the campaign trail. Only 927 short.

High atop the agonizing delay list is Mayor Durkan decision to delay the Center City streetcar repeatedly. She is still refusing to make a decision, which at least means it isn’t dead yet, but you don’t get points for torturing a decision. And beyond delaying, Mayor Durkan seemed to be actively trying to undermine public confidence in the project, by publicly doubting her own agency’s ability to fit a streetcar vehicle into a streetcar track and casting doubt on ridership projections, and hinting at alternative solutions which she still hasn’t revealed to the public. (Here’s our full case for the Center City streetcar.)

Sunday Video: Why Did We Build High-Rise Public Housing Projects?


In this video, Dave Amos explores why American cities built highrise projects for public housing. 

KING 5 Interview With Nathan Vass


In case you missed the broadcast earlier this week, here it is online! Hope you enjoy!

A huge thank you to Joseph Suttner, Suzie Wiley, Julia, and of course Michael King, for their graciousness and enthusiasm.