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.

19 Responses to “A Humble Rebuttal”

  1. wes

    Don’t bother, crosscut sucks. You are better off reading the comments from Seattle Times online stories. All the Crosscut stories are based on “facts” published by the Cato Institute and lovely diatribes by people with last-8years-amnesia like this commenter:

    “President Barack Obama will sign the $800-billion economic stimulus bill Tuesday.”

    And in doing so, he will betray the trust of millions of his fellow citizens who voted for him, and saddle their children with a debt and tax burden that they will not be able to pay off in their lifetimes. And Mr. Van Dyk calls it a “Victory”?
    — Seattle Observer

  2. David in Burien

    Nice piece. My first thought was somewhere close to Wes’s @1. Then I just concluded that the Kamerer piece wasn’t even worthy of rebuttal. If you read the piece and the several ‘Mossback’ (Berger pieces listed as similar) columns, you begin to realize these are guys with opinions formed on charicatures of “how it used to be” and no clue about the future. Fact is, now the future is hitting them squarely in the jaw and they have no idea that it’s already happened, as they rise again to the defence of a nostalgic past that didn’t really exist as they think it did anyways. It makes them grumpy. The tip-off is their constant lumping of people they hate into perjoratively-identified groups (“knowledge workers”, “Californians”, “trustafarians”) while grouchily equating them all. It leads them into all sorts of illogic, my favorite being that folks that own a car and a single family home can’t be expert on/weigh in on/take part in the public process over development policy and urban planning.

    Keep posting, Joshua.

  3. Sara @ Futurewise

    Funny, I don’t recall Krammerer conducting any survey of Futurewise and TCC Seattle-area employees’ living arrangements and commuting habits. But I have: five of twelve employees live in single-family homes and only one of twelve uses a car to get to work, and even then only about half the time. The rest of us walk, bike or take transit to reach our downtown offices.
    I agree with David@2 that owning a car and living in a single-family home does not mean that one can not also be an expert on these issues. However I feel that we do live the ideals that we preach, and resent such an inaccurate and unfounded personal attack on me and my colleagues.
    Thanks for the rebuttal, Joshua.

  4. Shefali from Transportation Choices

    I live in the Belltown slum, don’t own a car, take transit or walk pretty much everywhere…and I LOVE IT. Just sayin’

  5. Hey Wait

    I stopped reading Crosscut about a year ago. It’s just not worth anyone’s time.

  6. serial catowner

    It may be stupid to waste time rebutting Kammerer’s ‘argument’, but at least you now know that Kammerer and the “non-partisan” Seattle Neighborhood Coalition are idiots.

    Or maybe ‘drooling idiots’ would be closer to the mark. Does Kammerer really believe that our society of freeways, Microsoft, and suburban sprawl is a “thriving tribal society”?

    This, in a nutshell, is why I don’t click on Crosscut. They don’t act as a gatekeeper, they act as a sluicegate, hosing us down with whatever toxic sludge strikes their fancy. This is what happens when the parents go out to dinner and let the kids play with the computer.

    It ain’t a pretty sight.

  7. Ries

    While I think Kammerer is full of it, I DID live in Belltown for years in the 70’s and 80s, and it was great. It was safe, the drunks knew you by name, and there was a vibrant community of artists, poets, writers and musicians.
    No $12 drinks, but you could get a dollar schooner at 7am.

    Not to worry, though, all those condos are made of styrofoam, and they will be crumbling of their own accord very soon now.

  8. dan bertolet

    I wouldn’t dismiss Crosscut outright. It’s hit or miss, in my experience. For example, Dick Lilly’s writing on the school closures was the best I came across anywhere.

    Why did they publish such a blatantly low-quality piece on TOD? Two possibilities: (1) they don’t know any better, or (2) they do know better but they thought it would create controversy and get more traffic to their site. Probably 2, but pretty sad, either way.

  9. Dan Staley

    I agree with Dan’l that you can’t dismiss them outright, but one can dismiss most of their fearful tinfoil hattery and fear-based aggrieved white person fear outright. Did I mention fear?

  10. Bill

    Well it would be easy to be smug and use transit to work if everyone worked downtown as TCC and F’wise do.

    But many who live here now do not have access to viable public transit between work and home. Nor does the light rail line serve them.

    For the masses that will be arriving as the PSRC forecasts and Seattle ha volunteered to adopt, perhaps light rail will serve them between work and home – but its unclear how and whether all those jobs at near station areas will manifest.

    And only those that have that benefit of a direct link between work and home via light rail will live there since auto parking may not be allowed in the TOD zones.

    It still boggles my mind that the stadium stops, so close to the SODO industrial area and all its jobs is not a TOD station area. It is arbitrary rules like that that make this TOD bill still seem a little fishy…

  11. Sara @ Futurewise

    Bill – Actually, the two stadium stops are included in the bill. And the only reason that the Sodo stop is not included is because residential uses are prohibited in industrial zoned areas, so how can you put provisions in place that relate to residential uses? It’s still important to have a stop there because of the jobs, but it doesn’t make sense to apply affordable housing requirements if there isn’t going to be any housing.

    On the larger issue of who is going to use the light rail line to get to jobs…the full built-out system will connect the major job centers of downtown Seattle and Bellevue, Microsoft/Overlake, Sodo, UW, Northgate, Lynnwood and the Airport. And the very job-rich First Hill will be a quick connection via streetcar. There will be residential uses at many of these stations, and at the numerous other stations along the way.

    In fact, 75% of the whole Sound Transit taxing district’s residences and 85% of its jobs will be within walking distance to a stop, driving distance to a park-and-ride facility, or one bus transfer away.

    It’s true that the light rail line will not serve every trip for every person. But it will address a big percentage of trips: those commuting trips going in and out of our region’s job centers. And promoting the right mix of residential uses at stations is a key strategy to maximizing the use of the line.

  12. Sara @ Futurewise

    And to be clear on the exemption issue, the Bill does not call out the Sodo station; rather it exempts industrial lands from the TOD provisions. Should the Sodo station area ever be rezoned to non-industrial zones that would permit residential uses, then the provisions of the bill would apply.

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