Every bad building built is a permanent anti-density billboard.”
—Seattle Planning Professional
"Homelessness has one cause: the loss of low income housing"—John V. Fox
“AMC had created the Gremlin to be an affordable compact car that still had some power
under the hood.” —from “AMC Gremlin: History of the World's Ugliest Car,” by Jerry Benson
For many, density is controversial because it changes the status quo by making room for people that haven’t gotten here yet, planning for their interests, and putting more resources behind supporting growth. Some people are opposed to growth, and that can be a reasoned point of view.
But too often in Seattle, we try to have our growth and stop it too. The idea of “good” density and “bad” density is a canard that must be challenged by smart growth advocates. Opponents of growth often say, "Hey, I love density, but just not THAT density." Density is a simple concept: more people in a smaller space. Sure there are buildings that we like more than others, or buildings that have cheaper rents. However, taken together all neighborhoods in Seattle need to grow, and while big ugly buildings that are too expensive for one person makes a compelling argument for them, it doesn't make a good argument for avoiding density all together. For some neighborhoods, any effort to grow is greeted with the "bad density argument."[pullquote]There are a lot of ugly and expensive cars on the road. Should we have had a design review process that might have prevented the birth of the Gremlin or the Pacer?[/pullquote]
For other people, the speed bump they can't get over is affordability. In Northgate, some are opposing a map change requested by owners of property hoping perhaps, one day, to redevelop their property for more people. The main argument against the change is about the process; the neighborhood hasn’t been asked for permission, and developers are trying to avoid incentive zoning requirements. Incentive zoning is a policy that allows developers to build more housing in exchange for keeping some portion of the units they build affordable according to federal standards.
First of all, in Northgate, there isn’t even a project proposed. So there is a long way to go before anyone truly knows what might happen on that property. There is still plenty of time to influence the outcome. And one of the best ways to support the cause of affordability is to build more housing.
The argument that developers are trying to “get around” or avoid so-called “incentive zoning” is proof that incentive zoning doesn’t work: if it is such an incentive, why would developers be trying to avoid it.
Should the government intervene in the design and pricing of cars? There are a lot of ugly and expensive cars on the road. Should we have had a design review process that might have prevented the birth of the Gremlin or the Pacer? Maybe we could have stopped the building of the El Camino and Ranchero as well. Has the Gremlin hurt the cause of driving? I don’t think so.
True buildings are more permanent than cars, and good design and affordability are important. But like any other product the issue is do they work? Doesn’t pressure to build perfect buildings add cost to those buildings, which, in turn adds to the price renters have to pay? Most developers would agree that today, the Design Review process does add more costs which just get passed on to the end user.
If we loosen regulation, it should be to increase the supply of housing, which, while not sufficient, is necessary for affordability. Let’s face it, someone who is about to be homeless probably isn’t worried about what the building looks like, they’re worried about how it functions. And for people who really want to live in a great building, what’s wrong with expecting them to pay a bit more for it?