Morning Fizz

City Overlooking Opportunity to Fight Global Warming

Caffeinated news featuring bad planning and good compromising

By Josh Feit May 28, 2015

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1. The city's Department of Planning and Development held a public meeting at city hall last night to present an overview of the four options under consideration for Seattle's comprehensive plan, the document that governs how the city will manage population growth and development over the next 20 years; Seattle is expecting 120,000 new residents, 115,000 new jobs, and 70,000 new units by 2035.

The four Seattle 2035 options are:

1) Channeling growth throughout the city into "urban villages"—a term that includes "urban centers" including Downtown, First Hill/Capitol Hill, Uptown, South Lake Union, the U District, and Northgate, "hub urban villages" around jumping neighborhood business districts in places such as Ballard, Fremont, and West Seattle Junction, and "residential hub villages" around lively, but smaller neighborhood business districts including Columbia City, Rainier Beach, Wallingford, and Upper Queen Anne. This is the strategy the city has followed for the past 20 years under the first comp plan established in 1994.

2) Channeling growth mainly into the six "urban centers."

3) Guiding growth to urban villages that are near light rail (within a 10-minute walk shed), potentially adding a new urban village—to the current six—near a possible 130th Street light rail station

4) Guiding growth to urban villages near both light rail and major bus hubs. Options three and four, unlike the other two, add substantial development to Southeast Seattle—which turns out to be a mixed blessing because it also comes with the highest risk for displacement absent public investments for affordable housing.

After the presentation, DPD took comments from the audience at the crowded Bertha Knight Landes Room—about 100 people showed up. There was some thoughtful stuff—calls from the East African immigrant community to keep an eye on gentrification and rents, warnings about adding real protections for tree canopy, an eye-opener about the need to coordinate with schools (the need for classrooms is growing much faster than the plan anticipated), a reprimand about failing to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals (more on that in a second), and some words of wisdom from an African American teenager who summed up future growth rather poetically by simply redefining it as "today's youth," telling the DPD planners to involve young people in the planning process.

However, there were some frustrating comments too. Longtime neighborhood activist Irene Wall attempted to ridicule the academic nature of the draft document by questioning the report's use of data on vehicle miles traveled per capita (a measure of average car usage that guides DPD's strategies on transit alternatives and parking). She complained that statistics didn't capture what people actually experience in the car—traffic! She sounded like a Republican arguing that last winter's icy temperatures on the East Coast debunked the science on global warming.  

There was also a, frankly, maddening Catch-22 criticism from a woman who simultaneously complained about neighborhoods accepting too much growth and also the lack of reserved open space. In a bad case of open space privilege, she seemed to be saying that the city should hold on to its open space, rather than developing some of it, while also preserving the single-family neighborhoods.  

There's was also a curious comment from the city itself. During the presentation, the consultant noted that the plan will barely reduce greenhouse gas emissions—and the slight reduction will only come thanks to more fuel-efficient cars.

What? Did the planners at DPD miss the whole point of the Evans School, or wherever they got their planning degrees? Growth management is precisely about fighting global warming. Yes, with 120,000 new people and 70,000 new units, Seattle's carbon footprint, would, if mismanaged, increase. And a slight decline with so much growth might be seen as progress. But coordinating new density is actually an opportunity to transform our city into a bulwark against climate change. By seizing growth as a catalyst for transit oriented development, built around urbanist and pedestrian values, Seattle could actually be facing a cure for wasteful greenhouse gas emissions. Growth induces efficiency.

I have to second the commenter who kicked off last night's public testimony pointing out that the city was failing to meet former mayor Greg Nickels's goal of getting to 7 percent below our 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.  (We've only dropped 1 percent—while San Francisco and Portland have dropped 23 percent and 14 percent respectively.)

He urged DPD to go back to the drawing board by using greenhouse gas reduction as a stricter metric for its plans.

I hope DPD was taking notes.

2. Despite protests from homeless and civil rights activists who believe a proposed smoking ban in parks is a way to criminalize homelessness, the Seattle Parks Commission is expected to recommend the ban to supportive parks director Christopher Williams later today.

Parks advocate and council member (and initially a supporter of the ban) Sally Bagshaw told me she's had a change of heart—thanks to Real Change director Tim Harris, who's been lobbying against the proposed rule for months.

When I contacted Bagshaw yesterday for a quote supporting the ban (Harris had held a press conference that morning against it), she surprised me with this email:

"I am in favor of having an area in our downtown parks equipped with tables, chairs, ashtrays where people CAN smoke. The remainder of the park can be smoke free. Frankly, my position evolved after talking with Tim Harris. I'm a total nonsmoker, but recognize some people DO choose to smoke and this could be a compromise that works for most of us."

When I asked her if that compromise was on the table, she said: "That's my unsolicited recommendation." 


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