We Don’t Build These Anymore

[ 16th and Howell on Capitol Hill ]

But we should. (I’m talking about the building, though that is a pretty sweet two-tone pickup.)

This apartment provides about twice the housing unit density of today’s typical townhouse 4-pack. And because of its modest scale and substantial setbacks, it would also be less obtrusive in a single-family neighborhood than zero-lot line townhouses are. Yes, the apartment units are much smaller than those in townhouses, but Seattle has a greater need for affordable apartments than for half-million dollar townhouses.

So why aren’t we building any more of these small apartments? Short answer: Cars.

In most Seattle neighborhoods this apartment, if built today, would require 1.1 off-street parking spaces per unit. Most of the first floor of the building would be taken up by parking stalls and the building couldn’t possibly pencil out. So bring on the 4-pack.

Of course, even if the City reduced the parking requirement to zero tomorrow, most housing developers would still not build projects without parking, based on widely held assumptions that housing without parking is not marketable (assumptions with which the lenders tend to agree). But couldn’t we at least allow the possibility?

As greenhouse gas emission regulations become more entrenched, eventually there will come a time when the City will either do away with parking requirements or face lawsuits. But we’d be much smarter not to wait that long, given the massive reductions we need to achieve, and knowing that every car-oriented building that goes up today will likely still be around in 2050, at which time our goal is to have cut vehicle miles traveled in half.

It is astounding to me that even after CO2 has become a household word, and even in liberal Seattle, the most common neighborhood objection to proposed development is that there won’t be enough parking provided. It’s as if people believe there is an inalienable right to park two cars on the street right in front of your house.

Your cars or your planet, people, which is it gonna be?