In the classic Western film the drama often starts when a stranger comes into town. The swinging doors of the local saloon flap back and forth, the piano player stops playing, if it’s a Sergio Leone film, the Ennio Morricone soundtrack kicks in, you start eating popcorn, and the fun begins. I guess the same can be true of local land use decisions. But neighborhood folks get annoyed when people who don’t live in the neighborhood weigh in on important land use decisions there. I get it. A person who lives next door to a proposed rezone, for example, wakes up every morning next to the project. I may only see it now and then, or never. Why should I have a voice in what happens in land use decisions that happen in other neighborhoods outside my own Capitol Hill.
There are three reasons that those of us who don’t live in station areas not only can weigh in on land use decisions there but should weigh in. First, Roosevelt, Beacon Hill, the University District actually are my neighborhood. Think about it. Light rail makes it easy for me, like I will this afternoon, jump on the train and visit my dad on Beacon Hill. We’ll likely jump back on light rail and take it to Columbia City. Some other folks are doing the same thing, but maybe coming the opposite way. Light rail brings us closer together. That means Roosevelt becomes a three block trip for me, and for someone living two blocks from the Roosevelt station, a visit to Capitol Hill is a two block walk.
The second reason we all need to engage is climate change. We need to change the way we operate and the way we live, finding ways to rely less on driving cars and more on light rail, buses, and other ways of getting around. Making those things easier and more affordable affects not only all of us in Seattle, but arguably, the whole planet. Each of us in the region has a big stake in making sure that light rail works, even if we don’t use it or can’t use it. Building dense, walkable, and livable neighborhoods around light rail stations is essential to the success of light rail. Simply laying down tracks and turning the “on” switch isn’t enough. Building lots of housing and commercial space around stations is what makes light rail work.
The third reason is kind of obvious and cuts both ways. I wouldn’t be all that happy to have NIMBYs showing up in my neighborhood arguing against a big fat new mixed new development I supported near my home. I might feel a twinge of the “you ain’t from around here” syndrome. But if the person opposing the project felt it had implications on the direction the city was going with land use decisions, or that the project set some kind of precedent, I’d actually welcome the opportunity to debate and discuss those issues. That’s healthy for our city. We are all from Seattle and this is a city that we share, whether we are single family champions or up zone cheerleaders. Let’s have honest debate and discussion. After all the code calls for that right in the opening lines. Remember this:
Procedures are established to increase citizen awareness of land use activities and their impacts and to coordinate necessary review processes.
We can disagree vigorously. But I strongly urge my colleagues all across the city to refrain from the “you don’t even live here” trope. It isn’t helpful and it simply doesn’t matter. As I have suggested, we do have a lot to talk about. And while it might be a lengthy, sometimes contentious discussion, let’s think of all of this happening over a dinner table, or at the local pub. Admit it, it’s fun. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t do it. It’s also hard work. Let’s not make it any harder by trying to silence each other because some of us don’t live in the neighborhood. With light rail, the internet, and coming growth we’re all neighbors now.