Front Page News

As illustrated in the delectable graphic above, and reported on the front page of the Seatimes yesterday, and by The Stranger several weeks ago, there is an unusual housing project under construction near 23rd and John on Capitol Hill.  The project is unusual because it is designed on the rooming house model, with very small one room units.

The delectable thing about the graphic is that it so clearly exposes how much space we give over to the storage of cars, compared to how much space people need to live in.  In the case of this project, one person gets about the same as one car (not including access drive area).  Which means this would be a totally absurd building if it had to meet the parking ratios required by code  in most of Seattle’s residential areas—at least one parking stall per unit.  The project will provide 6 parking stalls for 46 units, and that low parking ratio makes perfect sense.  Because given the project location, along with the demographics of the likely tenants, it is reasonable to expect that a large fraction of the residents will not own cars.

This project is exactly the kind of housing Seattle needs more of to help address the growing lack of affordability in the City, and to reduce car-dependence.  But predictably, it has been controversial with some of the neighbors.  “All of their cars will probably get dumped on our street,” said one.  The project is “going to be a magnet for very sketchy people,” said another, who fears for the value of his nearby $875,000 single-family home.  These sentiments perfectly capture the key drivers of anti-density NIMBYism:  bigotry against people who don’t own a single-family house;  the obsessive association of all that is good in life with the appraised value your home; and the expectation of a God-given right to a free parking space provided by the City directly in front your house.

The thing is, it’s a good bet that the folks quoted above—as well as countless others who have expressed similar gripes about dense urban housing—would consider themselves environmentalists.  If so, it is also highly likely that one of the most significant contributions they could make toward helping to solve our multiple envirnomental crises would be to support the development of more housing solutions just like the one they’ve been whining about.