Bill LaBorde of Councilmember Tom Rasmussen’s office organized a get together of local people to talk with two members of the Metro Council, a regional government that encompasses much of the Portland metropolitan region. Metro Councilmembers Carlotta Collette and Rex Burkholder visited with people like me, Dan Bertolet, Rob Johnson, and Jon Scholes.
It was a kind of “grass is always greener” conversation. What things do we like about Portland and what things do folks from Portland admire about us when it comes to land use and transportation. Here’s an interesting twist. There were two things that I thought were compelling in what the two Councilmembers said about what works for them and advantages we have over Portland.
Regional government is clearly the big leg up they have on us. Think about it. Here we’re buildings billions of dollars worth of regional transit infrastructure and the land use decisions are local ones. That means that we can build stations but a few worried city council members in a city can squash the zoning that would actually lead to real TOD (see Beacon Hill and Pioneer Square discussions).
The other was a surprise. “We don’t have a Bellevue,” said Burkholder. I hadn’t thought of it till he mentioned it, but it’s true. Many of our “suburban” cities (I don’t like that term, suburb) have much more aggressive and sustainable land use policies than Seattle does. And transit has to be regional if it’s going to work. And Collette and Burkholder seem to instinctively think regionally rather than parochially. So the idea that density in Bellevue could help Seattle isn’t a stretch for them.
As long as Seattle takes a go slow approach on density and we shy away from powerful regional government, maybe the hope lies in Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond where there might be greater enthusiasm for higher density.
Update: I wrote this from the meeting so I didn’t get to add all the links I wanted, and maybe even fully explain everything. In any event, here is a link to the State of the Centers Report which was mentioned by the Councilmembers. It is worth a look.