A Humble Rebuttal

I recently subscribed to Crosscut in the hope that I’d have daily access to thoughtful views to the right of my own. There’s value in stretching your thinking, right? Well, imagine my dismay this morning when I read the stinking pile of doo doo that one Kent Kammerer put out in his piece, “Beware greens pushing Transit Oriented Development.” I first thought of writing a thoughtful, well-balanced response to Kammerer’s piece, acknowledging his good points, validating his (and, presumably, others’) irrational fears, and striking a nice middle ground. But then I read his article again, and I decided that type of response would lend underserved validity to what’s obviously a knee-jerk, poorly reasoned, and ultimately dangerous line of thought.

You know those arguments that end with a Hitler comparison? “Oh, well, Hitler had a plan for TOD, too. What do you have to say about THAT???” Well, Kammerer has found the new Hitler: the Mau Mau uprising in Africa, not to mention imperialism, racism, and probably some genocide thrown in for good measure. Apparently, groups such as Sightline and Futurewise are the new colonialists, bringing their high and mighty Transit Oriented Development and squashing Seattle’s “natives” (I wonder what Seattle’s actual natives have to say about that). Kammerer is hell bent on throwing anything that might stick (let’s not piddle with scientific facts – thanks to Stephen Colbert, it is now well known that reality has a liberal bias). Let’s examine his main “points”:

  1. Hypocrisy: People working in places like Transportation Choices Coalition actually drive cars and live in single family houses. OOOHHHH, in your FACE, um, green organization people. I smell an expose here. Who’s he going to name? Whose green reputation will be destroyed? Who will be shamed and cast out from the rampaging tribe of green imperialists? Um, some people he knows of. He’s not going to say, but let’s take his word for it.
  2. Belltown is the new Harlem: Apparently, if you’re going to walk in Belltown at night, you’d better carry a Glock. And it smells like urine. I know the parts he’s talking about. We all do. They comprise about 4 blocks (of the roughly 24 blocks), and I agree that they’re not the best. There are a limited number of reasons you’d spend time on these blocks, and most of them are illegal (or, at the very least, immoral). Kammerer seems to be implying that these blocks were much better before development occurred in Belltown. Remember how great it was down there in the 70s and 80s? Ahhh, the halcyon days of Belltown before it was ruined by density! And all that nightlife, those restaurants, the Olympic Sculpture Park, the ability to walk to work – those have really blighted the area. The core point is this, though: the issues in Belltown are deeply rooted in many communities. Drug use, mental health services, homeless housing – these have not been adequately dealt with here, nor have they in many rural communities. Admittedly, Belltown is probably not the best model for dense development, but Harlem circa 1975 it is not.
  3. Net negative carbon exchange: TOD involves building with steel and concrete, both of which have negative environmental impacts. Yes, true, if taken from a static point in time. Building an apartment building this year probably uses more carbon than, say, not building an apartment this year. But I’d be willing to wager that building over the next 5, 10, 15 years will consume far less when compared to building a single family home for each of those residents, all of the services they consume due to their inefficient locations, the infrastructure needing to be built, etc.
  4. Building TOD is not enough: Apparently you need things like schools, infrastructure, and police services. This appears to be unique to TOD areas. Those same people, put into a suburban context, would no longer need these things, right? Krammerer’s argument inadvertently points to one of the main pro-density arguments – the reason you build up is that all of those services are more efficiently allocated to those who need them. He implies that since we’re just mandating housing, the other services wouldn’t happen and we’d get “tenement” style buildings. I agree that we need these services, but we’re not going to get them by avoiding TOD development.

I could rifle through more of Krammerer’s ham-fisted rationale, but here’s basically what he’s saying: let’s not do TOD because there’s no proof it works (other than here and here, among other places) and it is just one of the many steps we should be taking in urban development (which somehow seems to imply we should not do any of them). It’s a stupid argument, and I feel almost equally stupid having wasted the carbon this rebuttal has consumed.