Ye Olde Crosscut Not Dead Yet

Publicola just reported that online news and opinion non-profit Crosscut.com is set to receive a $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundation.  And they’ve also hired a new deputy editor, who will hopefully pay a bit more attention to the credibility of what they publish.   Coincidentally, this past week saw two land-use-related pieces that show Crosscut’s potential for making positive contributions to the public dialogue on urban planning.

Knute Berger’s latest contains lots of useful density stats and is uncharacteristically free of tired “slow-growther” rhetoric.   Well, mostly free of it.  First, there’s the image caption that reads “Belltown’s density won’t work everywhere.”  Good point.  But then nobody said it would.

And typical of much of his writing on this subject, Berger insinuates that all those stupid planners are creating more harm than good, writing,  “As these cities grow, they seem to generate adjacent sprawl as well, despite (or perhaps because of) the Growth Management Act.”  In other words, density causes sprawl.   Never mind considering where all those people would have gone if they didn’t have the option of moving into dense neighborhoods.

Berger continues, “This trend seems to support geographer Dick Morrill’s contention that the market will continue to demand lower density housing options despite New Urbanist planners’ attempts to promote density and in-fill.”   Fine.  But then no one is denying that there is still demand for low-density housing.   And the fact is, due to evolving demographics and preferences, demand for higher-density housing is growing rapidly, and is not being met by supply.  This is why housing in Belltown costs so much more per square foot than does housing in DuPont.  As Christopher Leinberger put it:

It’s not that nobody wants Tony Soprano. About 50 percent of Americans actually do want that configuration. But if we’ve built 80 percent of our housing that way, that’s the definition of oversupply. The other 50 percent of Americans want walkable urban arrangements and yet that’s just 20 percent of the housing stock. That’s called pent-up demand.

Curiously lacking from Berger’s analysis is any acknowledgement that there’s anything wrong with sprawl, or any ideas about how we could do better to control it.

Last week Crosscut also posted an excellent report on the latest population growth data from OFM by Douglas MacDonald.   This will (hopefully) be the subject of a future post, but I can’t resist pointing out here that the latest data on Seattle totally torpedoes this sorry bit of hackery pubished by Crosscut just a few weeks ago.

3 Responses to “Ye Olde Crosscut Not Dead Yet”

  1. Abide With Me

    “First, there’s the image caption that reads “Belltown’s density won’t work everywhere.” Good point. But then nobody said it would.”

    This is the pattern of every Berger article. State with shock that something is happening (or not happening) in the suburbs and use that as an argument that smart growth principles don’t work.

    I have taken to avoiding the term ’suburb’ because it seems to play into the Berger-Kammerer-Cox axis of evil.

    I don’t care where it happens, in Kent or Katmandu, it is what it is and good, well planned density can be quantified.

    Berger and his ilk thrive off of the culturally loaded terms urban and suburban. Take away those terms and they stand as what they truly are:guys with only one string on their banjo.

  2. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    You know, I think the “density causes sprawl” argument has a piece of truth in it. The problem is not recognizing what type of density we’ve been building in the center city: density for cars. Highways. Wider arterial streets. More parking.

    There used to be lowrise apartments along Howell. Now it’s a widened street with parking lots that dead-ends into I-5.

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