There's a lot to respond to in Knute "Skip" Berger's "Mossback Manifesto on Density,"  but first, let me say: Kudos to Skip (a writer I personally like and admire) for writing an entire manifesto on density without resorting to the word "shoebox" to describe smaller-than-single-family living spaces (an infuriating mischaracterization he's certainly relied on in the past).

(OK, he does resort to the infuriating trope of "nannyis[t]" "strictures" to describe things like recycling. "Strictures" is just another term for "laws," and I'm assuming that few Seattle residents want to abolish laws against, say, littering, DUI, running red lights, or urinating in people's yards after too many Irish car bombs or whatever the kids are drinking these days.)

As someone who's covered Seattle development from an unabashedly pro-density (or, put another way, demand-side) perspective for many years, I also have to give Skip props for evolving in his views---from the guy who referred to tall, dense buildings, oxymoronically, as "vertical sprawl" (building vertically is precisely the opposite of sprawl, since sprawl, by definition, consists of far-flung, car-dependent development patterns that suck energy and require huge investments in roads and other infrastructure to exist), to someone who writes things like this:
Ideally, I'd love to see a system in which architects and builders can operate the Nordstrom way: use your best judgment, do what's right for the customer. In this case, the customer is the city and the neighborhood. How does the project enhance city life? Sterile, inaccessible public spaces aren't enough. Unfortunately, I'm not sure we live in a society that cultivates that kind of wisdom or responsible behavior. Still we have plenty of examples of how great design can make a difference in the public and private sector: the downtown Koolhaas library, the Link Light Rail stations in South Seattle, the Space Needle, the new Federal Courthouse, the IBM Building, and Gas Works Park, to name a few.

A few caveats (the "C," after all, is for Caveat): If the market (in this case, the customer) should be able to decide what's right for them, that implies strongly to me that easing parking requirements makes good market sense. If people demand parking (some will), developers will build it. If people don't demand parking (fewer young people, for instance, are driving now than ever before), they won't.

The second caveat, an aesthetic one: The light rail stations in South Seattle are not an unqualified success. For every Tukwila station (the Tukmajal), there's a Mount Baker, with its vast, wind-swept, useless expanse of downstairs space, its poorly placed escalators, and its lack of proximity to nearby transit.

And the third, a practical one: I don't think allowing developers to build without air conditioning, an idea Berger brings up twice, is the environmental equivalent of making it possible for people to live without a car (who do you know who has air conditioning in Seattle, anyway?)

But on the whole, I have to say, Skip is right on the big points: NIMBYs often have their neighborhood's best interest at heart, if misguidedly so; density needs to be subject to design and location standards (a high-rise in a remote part of, say, Laurelhurst wouldn't make sense, because the kind of businesses that make density work---restaurants, bars, shops---wouldn't be easily accessible by walking or transit, and choice (your choice to live in a single-family house in Columbia City, my choice to live in a small apartment down the street from you) is important. Although I do think increased density is inevitable and desirable in itself (because it increases affordable and because I like knowing my neighbors), I don't argue that the quality of that density doesn't matter. On that, Skip and I (for once!) definitely agree.
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