Somebody Help Me Out Here

When I read the letter below that landed in my inbox the other day, I couldn’t help thinking that the author and I must be from different planets. On my planet, human activity is pushing ecological systems to the breaking point, CO2 levels are reaching unprecedented levels, and scientists are telling us that if we continue business as usual that within 100 years we’ll lose most of the species on earth. On my planet, it has been established that compact development patterns reduce resource use and greenhouse gas emissions by increasing the viability of alternatives to cars, particularly transit. On my planet, there are countless examples of cities with compact development in which communities are thriving and people — including families with children — have a great quality of life. In my city on my planet, people are responding to the global crisis by working to change development patterns and logically want to see these efforts focused on the new light rail station areas.

If the author of the letter and those who are aligned with his views are not, in fact, from another planet, I am at a loss to explain their position. Can anyone help me out here? I believe these people actually do care about the fate of the planet, but if so, what is their alternative plan? I strongly suspect that the truth is they have no alternative, but I am trying to keep an open mind.

The text of the letter follows (the attachment referred to is here):

“Hello All,

Son of CRA is upon us. Please read the attachment on the forwarded e-mail thoroughly.

This year, 2008, the City intends to focus their efforts on SE Seattle and the station areas. There are many clues as to the City’s intentions in the document. The first is that the City wants to up-zone vast areas in order to “promote ridership goals for the regional line” (last sentence on page 3 of 5). This is the tail wagging the dog. Since it doesn’t appear that Sound Transit is going to reach their ridership numbers (and thus jeopardize further federal funding), the residents of SE Seattle are gong to be forced to accept a significant increase in density surrounding the platforms. The extent of the area that will be under the gun, so to speak, is hinted at on page 4 of 5. The third to the last bullet on the page sates that the radius of the development will be “within a 10 minute walk” of the platform. That’s 1/2 mile folks, not 1/4 mile. The encroachment on the single-family neighborhoods is going to be more than significant. And lastly, the City will again employ the tactic of divide and conquer. On the last page, sixth bullet from the last, the City wants “workshops and small group discussions”. The residents need to overwhelm the meetings and let their outrage be heard.

While this directly affects Mt. Baker/N. Rainier Valley, Columbia City, and Othello, we are all at risk. SE has the most seriously understaffed police precinct in the City, and we’re going to get lord knows how many new residents with this scheme. There’s also the issue of where to educate all the new children. But to me, the most serious problem is where are all these people gong to work and how does the train fit into that equation. The only employment centers that the train serves are downtown and the airport. It doesn’t serve Southcenter (#2 employment center in King County) and it won’t serve UW until some time in the middle of the next decade (#1 employer in Seattle). So, we’re going to get all these new residents with all their automobiles, and there will be no parking for them, since the City Council in their wisdom eliminated the parking requirement in the the station areas. The grand experiment will be held at our expense.

I know we are all busy this time of the year, but perhaps it’s time to reconstitute MCOM (or some entity like it) and start up a game plan to take on the City again. I’m game, are you?

Doug Cargill

P.S. The forces of ever increased density are already lobbying the Council and the Mayor.”

8 Responses to “Somebody Help Me Out Here”

  1. Ben

    I have to say that the author made some good points.

    The rail line will not serve Southcenter and UW. It also has no link to Redmond or Bellevue. This means that it will be a poor commuter rail system IMO. Poor public transport encourages car ownership.

    Encouraging higher density with no good public transport will make things worse. The right thing to do is to build rail to Bellevue, Redmond (near MS), Southcenter, UW, Downtown and the airport. Once this has been done, you only have to allow higher density development – it will encourage itself.

  2. litlnemo

    The link to the attachment does not work.

  3. Renee

    I think this is part of the attachment referred to. (See Sally Clark’s web site)

  4. Roger P.

    If our approach to public issues is lots of heat, and very little light, then the author is on his way. But sorry, that’s not my approach.

    He says “… the City wants to up-zone vast areas in order to “promote ridership goals for the regional line” (last sentence on page 3 of 5). This is the tail wagging the dog. Since it doesn’t appear that Sound Transit is going to reach their ridership numbers (and thus jeopardize further federal funding), the residents of SE Seattle are gong to be forced to accept a significant increase in density surrounding the platforms.”

    Nobody in City Hall expects Sound Transit to not meet ridership goals. First, those goals were set with current zoning and development patterns in mind. Federal regulations don’t permit ridership estimates to be based on speculative new development. With the unexpected rise in fuel prices, the better expectation is that ridership will be more than predicted, not less, when the line opens a year from now.

    Yes, you can list lots of places that this very first line does not go. Big deal. The first line in Denver only went 5 miles to a nowhere neighborhood, but look at their system today. And I wouldn’t put Southcenter real high on the priority list, what with development patterns that provide one free parking spot for every shopper and employee. There needs to be major policy changes made for that area, before it can become an effective transit hub.

    I haven’t seen the City document(s) to which he alludes, but his reading seems rather limited. Better to simply encourage people to be engaged in the process and insist on high design standards. My observation is that people don’t so much object to new development per se (at whatever density) but rather that it’s so poorly designed, so ugly.

  5. demo kid

    Brilliant. This guy is definitely a winner. So let’s see… if all of these new housing were being built in Samammish instead, there would be no need to expand their police department or school system?

  6. JoshMahar

    This person is obviously jaded in their perspective of a city. Crime per capita doesn’t go up with denser places. This is such a general misconception. If you look at the statistics of Seattle neighborhoods, some of the worst crime rates per capita are either suburbs (burien, marysville), or city neighborhoods with too few residents (i.e. the ID and South Lake Union).

  7. Sara Nikolic

    Since I am the “forces of ever increased density” to whom the author refers, who has indeed been lobbying both Council and the Mayor, I suppose I should respond. Unfortunately I am a bit lost for words. Does the author have an alternate plan for growth management, or does he, as I suspect, believe that preventing upzones is a way to stave off growth entirely? I happen to believe that growth is a very good thing…but I dont imagine that argument would get me very far. Perhaps it would make him feel better to know that I am also lobbying for increased retail and commercial uses in station areas. This will, of course, make for more jobs along the light rail line and should help quell his concerns about so many people moving to station areas, and then driving to work. It should also make him feel better to know that people who move to station areas will do so in large part to be close to the transit–a trend that we are already seeing. It will be a self-selecting population for whom the transit is an attractive amenity that they plan to use. So citing general population employment stats does not really apply.

    But I doubt those arguments will really help.

    The bottom line is that 1.7 million people are expected to join this region, upzones are no — and the only choice I see is where to put that growth, not whether or not to accept the growth. Ultimately, I feel that density is a moral obligation, yes, and I will continue to uphold that — but not as an end unto itself. I am not really a “density” advocate. I am an advocate for responsible growth management, for environmental sustainability, for social equity, for economic prosperity, for good urban design. Density is just the tool to get us there.

    So perhaps all I can offer to Doug Cargill is to say with the utmost sincerity that I am not trying to destroy his neighborhood. I truly believe that density can happen with respect to neighborhood values and character. It means change, yes, but it doesnt have to mean change for the worse. But the only way to get change right is for neighbors to take part in the process, and to fight together for the amenities and infrastructure investments that make increased density livable — and that cant happen if they are already setting up armies before the process even starts.

  8. Christo

    Who is this guy and what is his association to Seattle’s SE and to the city at large?

    While I believe that better infrastructure (light rail, roads) translate into economic growth, I would have to say that I don’t totally understand the argument (or have heard it expressed) that density improves a city.

    That said, I believe up-zoned development around the light rail stations is positive. If private interests think the area around light rail worth it, then I’m sure job creating businesses in the area will also see the worth in placing themselves in proximity to the stations.

    One thing I am thinking about lately is whether there is enough commercial zoning around the stations, particularly CC, where I now live.

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