As the spring weather brings forth sunshine and blossoms, it would be wonderful if City Hall could re-craft some of its more controversial policies to reduce the dramatic discussions dividing our communities. So many discussions are dominated by the “D” word: “Density.” Communities and interest groups battle each other every week over former Mayor Ed Murray’s backroom deal for real estate developer upzones. Our own Councilmember in Northeast Seattle carries the torch for that divisive policy.
If you’re a fan of legendary urban thinker/activist Jane Jacobs, you know that she viewed density (“concentration”) as just one of four necessary elements for vibrant communities (“exuberant diversity”). In her view, the other 3 elements were equally necessary: mixed uses, small blocks, and older buildings.
We also want vibrant communities to endure. Therefore, another overarching goal that transcends density is SUSTAINABILITY.
According to Wikipedia, “There remains no completely agreed upon definition for what a sustainable city should be…Generally, developmental experts agree that a sustainable city should meet the needs of the present without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Think of a balanced diet that sustains us. To endure, you need a balance. Build, baby, build — construction cranes are the carbs. But too many carbohydrates can make you sick. And you can’t live on carbs alone. You need water and protein as the balancing foundation. Water would be core city services like streets, safety, and…water. Protein would be the people. And you don’t displace protein to make room for new protein; you slowly build upon the muscle that you’ve got. This analogy is making me hungry, so I’ll move on.
Seattle’s present course is not sustainable. Presently, there are many needs not being met by city leaders, even with a $5 billion city budget: we need more schools, better bus service, more affordable housing now (not waiting to build the affordable housing several years from now or waiting decades for expensive tiny units to age in place).
To add fuel to the fire, the upzones on steroids that incentivize rapid growth are not coupled concurrently with other services and amenities to sustain our Emerald City’s livability for our children and grandchildren. In other words, City Hall’s jolting land use policies are sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Here are some ideas to re-focus Seattle leaders on Sustainability:
- A sustainable city strives to sustain the people who live here already and does not push them out with higher taxes or real estate development upheavals.
- A sustainable city builds schools, parks, and transit as it grows. (BTW, public schools should not be considered a mere “amenity”; they are a constitutional necessity for an informed representative democracy.)
- A sustainable city gets developers to pay their fair share of the growth through Impact Fees, like those used by cities across the state and nation.
- A sustainable city gets developers to build affordable housing on site, instead of allowing them to exclude low-income families by writing a check to City Hall.
- A sustainable city focuses on ecology, not ideology.
- A sustainable city — one that really cares about the environment — preserves its trees and plants more; it does not turn a blind eye to profiteers ripping them out one-by-one across the city.
- A sustainable city protects and provides access to its waterways (For example, focus on preventing raw sewage from being dumped in Puget Sound or Lake Washington instead of grandstanding about issues outside of King County.)
- A sustainable city supports its existing assets (from the Port of Seattle and its middle class jobs to the charming houseboats that made the city famous on film).
- A sustainable city supports its small, neighborhood businesses (Many upzones hurt small businesses that rent their space because the triple net leases allow landlords to pass all increased real estate taxes to the families that own those funky, adorable businesses. Therefore, City Council should not sneak back the harmful upzone of The Ave in the U District! Save The Ave!)
- A sustainable city lives within its means. (Thank you, Mayor Jenny Durkan for recognizing that!)
- A sustainable city takes care of the basics first. (Yes, it matters that City officials building more buildings don’t know the capacity and vulnerability of our aging sewer lines.)
- A sustainable city prioritizes projects after asking residents to pony up a billion dollars to catch up on transportation infrastructure (Mayor Jenny Durkan should pause SDOT’s ill-conceived 35th Ave NE re-paving project by installing just the crosswalks for now because the entire $8 million re-paving lacks urgency, removes bus stops, and ignores the need to build sidewalks throughout the city where families, seniors, & school kids desperately need them now.)
- A sustainable city takes care of its vulnerable (including seniors and children with special needs).
- A sustainable city is affordable — by keeping steady the regressive utility bills that burden seniors and families with children — instead of allowing them to skyrocket by forcing ratepayers to subsidize other government ventures.
- A sustainable city ensures that profits earned in the city are reinvested in the city (instead of hidden offshore or paid to developers from Texas).
- A sustainable city employs common sense by replicating best practices from other cities instead of inventing hair-brained schemes on the fly.
- A sustainable city analyzes data on recent projects to inform new projects. (Where is the data on the expensive road re-do of Roosevelt Way NE before spending so much to re-pave / re-configure 35th Ave NE?)
- A sustainable city does not have leaders who allow their interest groups and campaign donors to demonize neighbors who take time from their busy lives to voice their for concerns.
- A sustainable city is where elected officials listen to their constituents — and “listening” does not mean public hearings and blog posts to state concerns — Listening means materially changing / re-crafting government policies and budgets to address the concerns of residents.
- Share your ideas at Alex@4toExplore.org
Sustainability is within our ability. And our city’s politicians can achieve true sustainability by living our most important constitutional value of representative democracy — listening to the people who elected you.