Trouble: That starts with ‘T,’ that rhymes with ‘D,’ that stands for Density!

A friend mentioned the classic musical the Music Man the other night as I was processing my experience at design review. I can’t remember exactly the connection, but all I could think about was human nature and how easy it is to organize people around fear. The trombone salesman played by Robert Preston in the movie is able to brilliantly lay the ground work to both unify the community and sell his product at the same time using fear.

“Make your blood boil!”

“Heed that warning before it’s too late. Watch for the tell tale signs of corruption!”

And instead of where we buckle our knickerbockers it becomes all about who might make a killing with a proposed new development. The logic of those who oppose new, dense development is often as magical as the Music Man’s. One woman at the recent design review meeting I went to talked about how the new development would promote transients >gasp< and how the character of the neighborhood is rooted in and shaped by people’s front yards. Never mind that the faxt that her neighborhood is one of the densest census tracts in the Northwest. Even with yards, It’s already really really dense. The design guidelines for Capitol Hill are truly a study in trying to make everyone happy:

Three cornerstones of the community’s goals are (1) increasing housing affordability for a broad spectrum of community members; (2) strengthening and enhancing the character of existing residential neighborhoods; and (3) providing a greater range of housing types under the existing zoning. Achieving these goals will require an integrated program of housing strategies to reduce unnecessary obstacles to housing development while still preserving the historic, small-scale character of the existing housing stock. Revising zoning and making development regulations more flexible will affect these changes. At the same time, neighborhood residential design guidelines will help support the community’s historic, small-scale character yet also allow development flexibility.

The phrase “have your cake and eat it too” comes to mind. While some neighbors thump the Capitol Hill design guidelines like fundamentalist preachers thump the bible, the world has moved on. Seattle has passed some pretty cool changes to low rise zones which address the idea of flexibility, the very things that are outlined in this paragraph. But doing that can be impossible if the main outcome of every project is to “support the community’s historic, small-scale character.” As I said last night, density is coming, but where will it go if not L3 zones that are already dense.

I have to say I get really fed up listening to neighbors trot out the same, worn out arguments about Heightbulkenscale, parking, blocking day light, and setbacks. I was annoyed by a new development: parks department employees showing up at design review to complain about new development. That’s a new one! Let’s hope it’s the last time that happens.

What we need is a music man to roll into town to sell us what we need, more density! Yes, that rhymes with ‘T’ and that stands for Trouble! It looks like the up zone cheerleaders are getting some traction in Roosevelt. We’ve got to figure out a way to counter the easy sell of fear about a change today that makes the future better, over comfort with the consistently mediocre present. Someday I hope we’ll all look like this as we celebrate, together, new dense, walkable, energy efficient, better for water and air, transit oriented development. Grab your tromboner and join the parade!

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2 Responses to Trouble: That starts with ‘T,’ that rhymes with ‘D,’ that stands for Density!

  1. Roger, You and others keep saying dense and walkable in the same sentence, like it’s magic and happens everytime; but that’s not the case. An article in the Seattle Times recently and some letters to the editor indicate differently. There is talk of Greenway streets that are mainly for biking and walking. They are away from the arterials…because nobody likes to walk along arterials. Let alone not hearing what a companion says, you can’t even hear yourself think. Good neighborhood design recognizes this, because the people that live in a neighborhood know instinctively (like wild animals) which routes make more sense. So when Roosevelt designs for density that respects these natural greenways, we get miffed when others tell us that their way is better. If density is an issue, just say how much solves your problem and let the people who live there decide where it should go. We’re not afraid of density. We welcome it. Try to remember that.

  2. Pingback: Changes in latitude, changes in attitude: Northgate light rail station fun begins | Seattle's Land Use Code

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