Fresh Air from the Puget Sound

A Seattle blogger has a skeptical view of the notion that Seattle, or any city, should try to become denser the way Vancouver and Portland have done. Knute Berger, aka Mossback, argues that Seattle’s density “policies are making the city more unaffordable. They are helping to drive the poor out of town. They are displacing long-standing communities. They are changing the scale of a once-egalitarian city that featured few poor people, few rich people, and a lot of folks in between. This old middle class Seattle is now seen as unsophisticated, not worthy of protection, backward even.”

Mossback points to another blog that celebrates the fact that Seattle is now the only city in the Northwest that has more multi-family housing than single family. Whoopee! We’ve made housing so expensive that we’ve reduced the quality of life for a majority of our people.

The Antiplanner makes no secret of the fact that he thinks the density mania is even more insane than the rail transit mania. I am glad that another blog, Crosscut.com, has people who feel the same way. And Mossback is not the only one.

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15 thoughts on “Fresh Air from the Puget Sound

  1. D4P

    We’ve made housing so expensive that we’ve reduced the quality of life for a majority of our people.

    First, please define “quality of life”. (While you’re at it, you might also define other concepts such as “sense of place”, “sense of community”, etc. Good luck).

    Second, please make an effort to consider and describe any positive “quality of life” impacts that preserving land from development might have on humans and other organisms, both in the present and the future.

    Third, since you’ve apparently concluded that quality of life goes down for the majority of people when land is preserved, please show us your calculations that demonstrate that the negative quality of life impacts exceed the positive.

  2. Dan

    Mossback wants everything the way it was in the 60s, when he was young, man. Talking to him is like talking to those people who are mired in the past, still wear Black Sabbath Tour 1976 concert T-shirts and don’t listen to any music made after they graduated high school.

    Seattle is expensive because of the copious amenities that attract folk with money (SoCal), and folk who want to live in the city don’t need yards anyways. Go across the water to Bellevue or Kirkland to get your precious single-fambly house with a big yard. Every decent city in the country is undergoing the same demographic transformation, so single those out too. Start with Atlanta.

    DS

  3. Close Observer

    But if the Smart Growth movement is successful and eliminates the ability to “get your precious single-fambly house with a big yard”, then all that will be left is the prohibitively expensive dense urban areas with “the copious amenities that attract folk with money”. Where do the rest of us “folk withOUT money” go? (Thanks for swerving into one of the points – cost – those of us on the other side have been arguing.)

    And what’s your beef with Black Sabbath? I’ll try new music . . . just send me their 8-tracks.

  4. Dan

    But if the Smart Growth movement is successful and eliminates the ability to “get your precious single-fambly house with a big yard”,

    The smart growth movement seeks to offer the market more choices than McSuburbs, it doesn’t presume to eliminate them.

    If opening up markets is scary to a small-minority ideological pro-market movement, then there’s not much to say, is there?

    DS

  5. rotten

    Eh? So your contention is that the “Smart Growth” movement invented density? How does it offer more choices than the market? High dense living has always been available in nearly any metro area.

  6. Unowho

    “Knute Berger…argues that Seattle’s density ‘policies are making the city more unaffordable. They are helping to drive the poor out of town. They are displacing long-standing communities.’” Seattle’s population might have become wealthier, younger, and more homogenous; dense it’s not.

    Seattle’s population growth rate has lagged behind both WA State and the US from the 1990 census through 2006 (est.). It wasn’t until the mid-nineties that the city’s population reached the previous high tallied in the 1960 census. Granted the city’s boundaries were smaller, but Seattle’s highest pop. growth rate was in the 40s–50s decades.

    The buildings may be bigger and shinier, but the demographics show that they are filled with more singles (with dramatically higher incomes), smaller households, and less children under five than the surrounding areas. Not an unsurprising result if you mix a desirable area with a restrictive building policy. However, by manipulating the permit process and awarding contracts to their campaign contributors–oops, I mean partners in urban redevelopment–Mayors such as Nickels, Newsom, and Bloomberg can keep real estate prices high while making hay out of the supposed market failure by doling out a pittance of subsidized housing, thereby keeping both votes and money rolling in. Nice.

  7. rotten

    No, my contention is what I stated above in 6.

    Ok, how does it create more market choices? I woulda’ figured that the market created plenty of opportunities for dense living and if that’s what people wanted, that’s what they would build.

  8. Lorianne

    There is hasn’t been a free market in housing since the 1960’s or so. It was (and still is in many places) illegal to develop at a higher density … not apartments, but smaller single family homes or towhouses on smaller lots, mixed use, etc.

    Furthermore, the form of development hasn’t been able to respond to “market forces” for many decades.

    There still isn’t a free market in development, but there is more choice in the market now than the last 50 years or so … due to backlash zoning and land use laws.

    The “free market” argument is bogus then and it is still.

  9. craig

    Choice is when a property is zoned for apartments and you can still build anything from a apartment to a single family home.

    Smart growth mandates Higher density’s and tells you where you must build it and you must build to that density and you have no choice.

    Smart Growth Planners in Portland didn’t offer a choice when they rezoned Portland’s neighborhoods. They just did it and told you you were rezoned and you didn’t have a choice if they did not agree with you.

    Smart Growth offers Mandates not choice.

    My first 2 homes were apartments and By the old age of 19 I had enough of Apartment life and moved into a house on a small lot rode a bike and Had no idea I was living the way we are trying to force people to live today. I rode a bike because my job was within 2 miles and I was poor.

    I got another job as a carpenter bought a car and made more money, I still rode my bike for fun. I had a lot more fun with my car.

    I got tired of hearing everything my neighbors were talking about as they were in their home and I was in my home and moved to a larger lot with more privacy. I’m now moving to a even larger lot.

    Smart Growth and Urban Growth boundaries has made all my choices much more expensive.

    Before Smart Growth and urban growth boundaries came to Portland, all the above choices were very affordable.

    I’m all for anyone that would like to live in a high densty neighborhood with out any subsidies. But don’t turn my neighborhood into one unless me and my neighbors agree.

    Real choices!

    Not Mandates!

  10. sustainibertarian

    I’m all for anyone that would like to live in a high densty neighborhood with out any subsidies. But don’t turn my neighborhood into one unless me and my neighbors agree

    So are you all for choices, unless they are in your backyard? What if someone in your neighbourhood wanted to rezone their lot for higher density and sell it? For a minute now, ignore ‘imposed’ density and answer this question in this context. Isnt that free market choice at its greatest? If no one is allowed to develop higher density through their own market driven choices, how is that free market choice.

    But maybe you have the homeowner’s association mentality, where either with or without any restrictive covenants, density should be kept out of the neighbourhood. Homeowners associations pervert the market by suppressing the ability of homeowners to use their property the way they would like to a lot more than government in many cases. Essentially they form pods of monopoly housing subdivisions, where the only choices that exist are those mandated to ensure an ‘easier sell’ of the developer’s product, which acts as a type of semi-private market oriented subsidy for the developers (and for those who want to keep ‘single family character’) as they can sell their product for higher prices and more easily.

    Homeowners associations can nevertheless have some strong arguments that they represent the ‘second best’ (the third best solution being government involvement and the first best being pareto efficiency) form of market oriented methods in the housing market. But, there is little denying that if you dont have a homewoner’s association with restrictive covenants, than restrictive zoning is reducing market choice by government and people should be allowed to use their property as they feel fit, which includes selling or developing their property for higher density.

  11. Lorianne

    Let’s look at a market where there is a natural growth boundary. In Hawaii, on Oahu, there is an non-governmental growth boundary … it’s called the Pacific Ocean. Even so, until recently and still in parts of the island higher density development was restricted by zoning and land use regs. This raised the price of housing even more than it would be as a result of the ocean boundary.

    So it is not just the boundary itself, but rather government not letting the ‘market’ solve scarcity problems in other ways as well, such as building at higher density if that’s what is needed.

    Minimum lot sizes and ‘single family only’ type zoning are just as arbitrarily restrictive as any boundary.

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