Townhouses Not Feeling The Love

No need to post a photo. If you live in Seattle, chances are you can throw a rock and hit one from your front door.

Over in West Seattle, architect and design review board member David Foster has been grumbling about micro-permitting, received this response from Richard Conlin, and even SLOG piled on. No doubt micro-permitting should be stopped, but there’s more to the problem, as I see plenty of shitty townhouses on single lots.

And over in the Central District, folks in the Squire Park Neighborhood have been raising concerns over proposed changes to multifamily zoning, while the Miller Park Blog and the Central District News hone in on the key issue: parking.

The best townhouses I’ve seen in my neighborhood are still highly compromised from an urban design standpoint by the requirement to accommodate cars. Even Seattle’s first LEED certified townhouses have an awkward ass-backward orientation to fit in two parking stalls.

So then, why is the City regulating parking at all? The market will provide parking if there is a demand. Currently, the City is in effect mandating bad urban design. And the same applies to larger buildings with their aircraft carrier-sized parking decks and gaping garage entrances.

We cannot have it both ways. Stuffing a building with parking stalls almost always leads to bad urban design. Here’s what Lewis Mumford had to say about it way back in 1961:

“The right to access every building in the city by private motorcar, in an age when everyone owns such a vehicle, is actually the right to destroy the city.”

10 Responses to “Townhouses Not Feeling The Love”

  1. Dan Staley

    I disagree with the premise that leads to your conclusion, Danny. Until we close the live-work gap (or make gas $10.00/gal), reg’lur folk will commute to work by car, unless the stigma of car-sharing is somehow magically removed.

    I hope we get rid of lots of these cars. Taking away parking stalls won’t do it. Improving the speed of alternative transport (1.5 hrs by bus vs 45 mins by car? No contest), closing the live-work gap, non-subsidized gas prices etc will.


  2. michael

    I’m thinking you’re reading a bit too much into it DS. Are you going to argue with the fact that accommodating the automobile has resulted in bad urban design in countless ways???
    If we let the market decide rather than requiring parking, then parking will still be provided in most cases until, as you suggest, transit can actually compete with it. No reason why the city should require it, in fact here is an idea – neighborhood congestion pricing. Make noticable transit improvements in designated neighborhoods (or city-wide)like Cap Hill, Lower Queen Anne while radically increasing what it costs people to park a car in the neighborhood both on street and off. We are at the point that many Seattle nhoods have become incredibly congested and it is only going to get worse – most make it more expensive for people to use their cars in the city! while improving transit! Exempt car shares, vanpools, etc.

  3. michael

    Did I mention that I think the 2 or 3 developers guilty of spewing forth the majority of the “cookie-cutter” townhomes in Ballard, West Seattle, and Central District (they know who they are) should be run out of town and never allowed to do business in Seattle again! They have produced a building stock that is not only detrimental to Seattle’s urban fabric, but will likely need to be torn down in about 20 years because of the shoddy materials used in their construction.
    And the builders/developers who are producing well-designed townhomes should be applauded and held up as examples by the city. Bring on DR!

  4. Dan Staley

    Well, I’m certainly on board, mister, but the fact is we haven’t shifted the cost burden of cars onto drivers yet, and until gas is expensive enough and buses get you there faster, people will want cars. So in the interim we want things built and we have to make sure people build things.

    I don’t like it either, but also I don’t like spending 16.99 on a CD with 2 good songs or 9.00 on a movie with a bad script, nor do I like the Libeskind wing on the Denver Art Museum, nor the crappy air quality from the auto emissions, nor steroids in baseball, and there’s too much ice to ride my bike to work lately. Oh, and the prostrating to the Dow and NASDAQ on NPR – I really don’t like the fetishizing there lately.

  5. dan bertolet

    Hey there DS, the point is that even if I was carless and wanted to buy new housing in Seattle without parking, the City makes that impossible everywhere except downtown. Seems pretty stupid for a City that likes to talk about being sustainable and reducing car dependence.

    This is America and no one will be forced to give up their car, EVER. But putting up buildings without parking isn’t forcing anyone to give up their car. It is, however, a step in the right direction for a future we all know is coming.

    About making sure things get built, well, I wonder what would happen if Seattle imposed a parking maximum in a dense neighborhood like Pike/Pine. Other cities have done it and lived to tell about it. Somehow I doubt development would cease.

  6. Dan Staley


    I said above we have to make sure people build things, I didn’t say development would cease. It would almost surely slow in such a regime. If you had the money, would you risk it today in an untried market? Which near-good jobs neighborhood, if so? Do you believe there are more than 300 people in Seattle working in places like Adobe/Amazon that don’t have their own car?

    Again, I’m not saying it’s right, I’m saying it’s easier to have a car today than rely on timely transit. There’s no market there yet without subsidies. Make gas 10.00 a gallon and we’ll revisit. Remember: I didn’t have a vehicle in Seattle and I didn’t have one in the boonies for 4 months, either.

  7. An Open Letter To The Livable Seattle Movement | hugeasscity

    […] In your Multifamily Zoning Update document, you make analogous claims about density causing sprawl, but this time townhouses are the main boogeyman. Your criticisms of townhouse design are spot on, and there is wide agreement in the community that we can do better. But as long as people are living in these townhouses, however badly designed, they are reducing sprawl, not creating it, contrary to what you claim on page 18. Your bogus arguments about sprawl do not serve you well in supporting your case for better townhouse design. […]

  8. If You Want To Understand The Real Reason There Are So Many Sucky Townhouses Going Up… | hugeasscity

    […] And all apologies, but I’m going to continue to repeat myself and leave you with this 1961 Lewis Mumford quote: “The right to access every building in the city by private motorcar, in an age when everyone owns such a vehicle, is actually the right to destroy the city.” […]

  9. Cookie Stuffing

    It\’s not the stuffing that\’s the problem, it\’s the religious whitehats that make it the problem.

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