Two posts of interest: Reforming how we do land use in Seattle

Time to bring Seattle's future into focus

Today is a busy day on the intersphere: two posts are up that point out some ways we might start to get busy on big changes to the way we plan and regulate land use in Seattle.

The first, at Crosscut, looks at Seattle’s neighborhood movement. Inevitably the comments will be filled with people saying “It’s not like that here in (fill in the blank) neighborhood.” I know, not all neighborhoods are created equal. But my point in the post is to highlight the ways in which neighborhood activism has become more about protecting what we’ve got, and making it slightly better. That’s a far cry from where that movement started and where it should go. Here’s a sample:

Seattle’s neighborhood movement, which started as a collaboration between neighborhoods starved for infrastructure and a city seeking to lead the region in growth management, has degenerated into a growth-resistance movement. What began as a social justice movement has become a bulwark of the status quo.

At Seattle Transit Blog I reprise an argument I made here, quite awhile ago, that we amend Seattle’s Charter to take away most land use decisions from Council and vest them instead in a newly empowered Seattle Planning and Development Commission. I think everyone of our Councilmembers is a good person with good intent in their heart. And they work hard to solve problems. But even the biggest pro-density, pro-growth Councilmember would run headlong into the local politics of land use, making getting big things done next to impossible. Giving the Commission more power would help.

Wouldn’t such a powerful and unelected body be undemocratic? I don’t know. But today’s governance model is breaking down. Nobody has ever been to the future, so making decisions about it is hard, especially when we’re afraid to take risks. Land use democracy now favors people who show up today, not people coming in the future. Big land use changes are about as popular as someone coming to your house and totally rearranging your furniture for a houseguest that’s coming for a visit in 10 years.

One of the big themes here is about what we consider to be “democratic.” Over the years, the pendulum has swung in favor of lots of community process, listening tours, town halls, and even polling. It’s time for it to swing back toward action, and getting things done. This view is likely not to be popular. And some would say my opposition to the tunnel is an example of inconsistency. Maybe. But nobody wanted that discussion to end more than me, so that we could have this one.

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