Shill or shrill: Why I am a ‘Density Freak’

The Land of Enchantment: In search of the shade of a tall building

I’m from Albuquerque, New Mexico, a high desert city that has, among other things to commend it, four different seasons. Living there taught me the value of a car. Like water, a car in the dessert is power; a car allows one to cover large distances quickly and in comfort. In Albuquerque driving was a way of life.

I’ve never owned or developed land. I’ve never worked for a developer. But I did watch a documentary once about the construction of a skyscraper, and I found it exciting. I’m not married to a developer. And my dad isn’t a developer either. I don’t have an MBA or a certificate in real estate. I have a Masters degree—in Religious Studies.

I support more people living in a smaller space. I am an advocate for density.

I make these disclosures to make it clear that I have nothing financial to gain from supporting more people living in a smaller space. My passion (or pathology) for density springs from the desire of a child of the dessert for the shade of a tall building.

Real estate development is about money; investing it, spending it, making it. There is nothing that inspires more controversy in a community than one person who has something other people don’t.  In our still Puritan culture, Americans fret over the profit motive. And they fret over change. Real estate is about both change and profit. Together the two is a toxic mix for public discourse. Sometimes change is exciting. But more often it’s scary, and it can bring out the worst from the best of us.

But our region is growing. People want to live here, because, like me, they love the people, the places, and the access to great experiences. They come here for jobs, family, for love, to escape, to grow, to change and be changed. Our rainy corner of the planet affords all these things and more.

But those of us who got here first (an irony for First Nations people) feel jealous of our views, our peace and quiet, our parking space, and our way of life. And we’ve invested in this place too, buying homes, property, and cars. We’ve invested in the Seattle of now, or of our dreams, not the Seattle of a promised future. So what I’m about to suggest will raise ire, but I live here too.

We need to welcome more people to our region by allowing developers to do what they do best: build housing, retail, and commercial space. Sometimes their buildings will suck. Other times they’ll be landmarks. They’re going to make money doing this. That’s OK.

New growth is going go challenge our boundaries of personal space. Density means crowds, lines, and traffic. Density also means lively, active neighborhoods. But lively can mean noise and parking problems. We’ll have to live with that.

Being an environmentalist means more than writing a check to the World Wildlife Fund, or fighting to save a tree in our own neighborhood.

Being an environmentalist means living in a crowded city, recognizing that the inconvenience of the crowds and tall buildings means we’re having less impact on the planet.

Being an environmentalist means riding your bike to work in the rain, sitting next to a sickly poor guy on a bus, and, yes, having your P-Patch shadowed by a tall building for a few hours of the day.

In the Roosevelt neighborhood this week these issues will surface with a vengeance. Who’ll win, the people who “got here first” or all those people wanting to join us in our rainy wonderland?

Albuquerque's light rail: Downtown Station

Albuquerque photos from Wikipedia Commons, Albuquerque, New Mexico article

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3 Responses to Shill or shrill: Why I am a ‘Density Freak’

  1. Matthew 'Anc' Johnson says:

    Well said. As someone NOT from this area, but who wants to live in the city I completely agree.

    Although I have to disagree that having less space is a bad thing. One of my wife’s conditions is that we don’t have a yard. Townhouse, condo, whatever, it just can’t have a yard. We learned that lesson from our 3 years in the suburbs.

  2. Some cities need shade, some need sun.

  3. Pingback: Roosevelt rezones up for discussion tonight - Seattle Transit Blog

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