Crosscut comments: Making my point?

Today, in Crosscut I wrote an article about some of what I’ve learned here reading the code. Crosscut commenters are a rare breed; creatively and obsessively curmudgeoned, they often have good insights, if not into my employment status, into their own condition.

Here’s Stan:

I couldn’t agree more that the land use code is a morass. However, I’m wondering if the author actually lives in one of the condo or apartment pigeon-hole units he seems to be promoting? I’ve heard more than enough blabbering from people who advocate more density, often those with a financial stake in the game. But if you ask them where they live, it’s “Mountlake Terrace” or “Madison Park”… The pendulum evidently has to swing back toward the type of housing the previous generation wanted to clear out after WWII. Single-family homeowners (emphasis on “family” and “owners”) seek to preserve some degree of personal privacy, their own outdoor space/gardens, general upkeep, and overall civility in their neighborhoods, which are threatened by large-scale dense developments, often rentals, with their increase in noise, traffic, crime, etc. I’ll bet if you talked to thse people, you would find that preserving equity is a second tier concern.

I don’t think Stan is wrong. It seems like he’s being honest. But he kind of makes my point doesn’t he? Not all single-family homeowners are afraid of a decline in “overall civility in their neighborhoods, which are threatened by large-scale dense developments, often rentals, with their increase in noise, traffic, crime, etc”

But it’s this very angst Stan writes about–density destroying the American dream–that underlies the counterintuitive tendencies we have as a city on land use. Why ruin that dream because someone says it’s better? And besides who are these do-gooders anyway? Why destroy the value of my investment for outsiders?

Am I right? Is Stan right, are we up zone cheerleaders going to bring noise, traffic, and crime?


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3 Responses to Crosscut comments: Making my point?

  1. Of course Stan is right. Density will bring more problems than it solves. I wonder what solutions you are providing by being a density cheerleader. Growth done right makes for better living conditions, reduced pollution from excess commuting travel, etc. Density done wrong brings crime and decay, and more people moving out to create more sprawl. All of this goes in cycles. You think everyone is moving to cities now and the trends show that. But in time and with changes in energy costs (relative to everything else) there will be another “back to nature” swing. Density for density sake is a failure in the works. Organic growth when needed, as needed by communities that care, communities which are involved, keep rural and urban neighborhoods livable, and people stay there. Increased rental property density bring transients who don’t really care, because they can always move. Banks don’t lend to condos with high rental rates. Home owners don’t want to be in high rental areas. Why? You know why.

    • Matt the Engineer says:

      There’s either something dishonest about [Glenn]’s comment, or he really doesn’t understand the math behind density. Let’s look at just one of his arguments:
      High energy costs = “back to nature” swing. Sprawl greatly increases energy costs in at least three ways. a. Commute: increased living space extends commutes, and car-based commutes further increases distances between home and work because of the infrastructure required for cars, which extends commutes further. If we’re counting fuel in “energy costs”, then it should be obvious that “back to nature” = greatly increased energy costs. b. Heating energy, cooling energy, plug loads: All three of these energy uses are directly correlated with the size of your home. “back to nature” = greatly increased energy costs. c. Infrastructure: the further we live from each other the greater the road area, sewer pipe length, water pipe length, electrical power run, natural gas pipe run, sidewalks, buses, parking lots, etc. Each of this increases the cost of construction (generally in an invisible way that’s paid for by regional or even state or federal taxes), and the electricity, water, sewer, and natural gas lengths actually increase energy use.

      Density is the best solution to a high energy cost future. Shared walls equals less heating, walkable areas equal less driving, and shared utilities equals less distribution.

  2. Matt the Engineer says:

    Noise? Probably – city life is far more lively than suburban life. Some call that a bug, some call that a feature.

    Traffic? Somewhat true. Miles driven per person drops dramatically as density increases. Part of that is because you’re closer to work, school, friends, and shopping. Part is probably because traffic increases, and people would prefer to get around in other ways than sit in traffic. That said, urban dwellers absolutely spend far less time in their cars than suburbanites. I’d consider the question of how fast you can drive to be the wrong question – the right one being how many hours do you spend in your car.

    Crime? Nope. I don’t have the data in front of me, but I believe crime per person is higher in suburban areas, or at least equivalent. Yes, with more people surrounding you it’s more visible in a dense city. But then I consider having more witnesses and people to help out a good thing.

    These questions answered, I believe they miss the point. Stan likes his way of life and doesn’t want it to change. His friends like this way of life as well. I’d guess most people in our region like this way of life. But not everyone desires a picket fence house and a drive to everything. In fact, the number of people in Seattle that live in a multifamily home is increasing, and is about even with the number of people living in a single family home (even though SFH zoning covers 70% of Seattle). And the value of homes – multifamily or otherwise – in Seattle compared to suburban areas shows that people want to live in the city.

    Stan’s picket fences exist all throughout this region. There is no shortage of single family homes. But we only have one large city, and one real chance for density. We should break the invisible ceiling of zoning and let the non-picket fence lovers have the homes they want to live in.

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