Asking City Council for more density

I just sent the following to City Council and our new Mayor. If you live in Seattle and agree that we should be embracing density rather than fearing it, I encourage you to send feedback in this week, because there is a loud and effective group of anti-density activists making worrying headway.

Dear Councilmember _________,

I have just learned that a group of my neighbours is trying to get recent improvements to our land use code reverted, to prevent one additional storey being allowed on certain buildings. I won’t be able to make it to the public meeting on January 14th, so I’m emailing my comments in instead. I believe this would be a terrible mistake for the following three reasons:

1) Density is a generally good thing, because it supports more businesses and friendships within walking distance of my house, makes infrastructure cheaper to provide per person, and allows more people to live without cars. I don’t want to turn Capitol Hill into Manhattan, but the modest increases in building sizes that were allowed in 2010 don’t come close to producing that outcome.

2) Further to the above, we should be accommodating many more people within walking distance of our light rail stations, to get the maximum benefit out of the huge investment we are making in building fast, comfortable, high capacity transit.

3) Perhaps most important of all, Seattle has a housing affordability crisis. Too many people who work here can’t afford to live here, saddling them with long commutes that are toxic to their quality of life, strain our transport infrastructure, and add to the region’s carbon footprint and air quality problems. While City Council is taking some positive steps to approach this problem by looking at a large minimum wage increase, all such efforts will be rendered futile if we don’t significantly increase the housing supply in walkable, transit-served parts of Seattle, because putting more money in peoples’ pockets without addressing the artificial scarcity of housing will only increase housing costs by the same amount.

I grew up in London and as wonderful as that city is, I have seen one after another of my old friends pushed out to the edges of town, to deprived, high-crime areas, or to dormitory towns beyond the green belt, because housing is so completely unaffordable in any location that really enjoys the benefits of London. Even people with well established, high status careers are being pushed out, unless their parents can help them buy a home. I desperately want to avoid this fate for Seattle, but since so many people move here each year we can’t avoid it without dramatically loosening the limits on new housing construction.

As a homeowner in the LR3 zone at the top of Capitol Hill, my financial interests would be served by restricting construction, preserving my view of Mount Rainier and inflating the price of my house, but I am speaking up in favour of increased development because I have more to gain by making the city I have adopted into an even better, more inclusive and more sustainable place.

Please stand by the 2010 Code and consider increasing the density allowed around light rail stations, for the sake of the many people who should be able to enjoy what I have but will never be able to afford to if we restrict construction, and for the sake of the much better functioning Seattle we could have if we allow it to be built.

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