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Goddamned Seattle Liberal Hypocrites

2011 April 26
by unavowed pharisee

(Note: There’s almost nothing more pathetic than anonymous web rants, and so it is with mixed feelings that I’m posting the anonymously submitted piece below. It’s a raw and rambling rant, and could use a hefty dose of nuance, but it does, I believe, hold a kernel of truth. — dan bertolet)

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I can’t even believe Seattle’s liberal hypocrisy.

Density is good, so long as I get to live in a single family neighborhood. I want to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by growing my own arugula and riding my bike to work, but I won’t actively support housing density near jobs and transportation (which is the single best way to reduce GHG emissions). I am against the tunnel because it’s expensive and might result in more car dependence, but I won’t support upzoning neighborhoods directly adjacent to the most expensive infrastructure investments in our region so that people can actually use them. I think it’s important to support homeless people and their services, so long as the services are only provided downtown, because “those people” aren’t in supposed to be in my neighborhood.

Goddamned Seattle liberal hypocrites.

Our elected officials (and the City generally) are the best examples of liberal hypocrisy. You can’t get elected in this City without being liberal, which last time I checked meant being super against global warming. Elected officials love to crow about growing their own food, make sure that everyone sees them in their biking clothes, and will spend however much of the City’s money to protect bicyclists. However, when it comes to making the decisions that have the biggest impact on GHG emissions, electeds get scared. I’m talking about making good land use decisions. As we all know, density around jobs and transit are the things that do the most to reduce GHG emissions. But our elected officials don’t want to make good land use decisions.

Pioneer Square? No, we don’t want to give 10 extra feet of height because we’re worried about preserving the historic nature of Pioneer Square. Good idea—preserve the neighborhood in amber forever and see if people want to live there. Why don’t you just require 1890s clothing and horses and buggies while you’re at it? That would definitely help people want to locate in a neighborhood in the heart of downtown which will reduce GHG emissions.

South Lake Union?  No, we don’t want to allow a lot of density because we want to preserve every single existing view of the 50-year old Space Needle.  Wow!  A whole 50 years!?  That Space Needle is sure old and therefore important!  And, I tell you, views of the Space Needle really help reduce global warming.

South Downtown Rezone?  No, we don’t want to allow higher FARs and heights because it’s zoned industrial and we’re afraid of what the unions might say.  By the way, the areas being rezoned haven’t actually been in significant industrial use for 20 years, and are located two blocks away from the highest capacity transportation station on the West Coast. That’s using fantastic planning principles.

Station Areas?  God forbid we raise heights and densities much more than 40 feet (which is only 5 feet taller than a single family home) because it will ruin the character of the single family neighborhood.  I think by character what they’re really talking about is the ability of the rich white people who own single family homes around transit stations (here’s looking at you Mount Baker and Roosevelt) to be able to walk from their single family homes to one of the largest transportation infrastructure improvements in the region!  It’s like your own personally chauffered light rail line!  And a great use of regional resources. And certainly results in increased ridership and reduced GHG.

Time to call out Seattle’s liberals for their hypocrisy.  If you say you’re for something, then actually make choices and decisions that reflect your beliefs. It’s time to hold people, and their elected officials accountable.  Otherwise, you Seattle liberals are no better than what Bill O’Reilly says you are.

17 Responses leave one →
  1. Anonymous Unsubscriber permalink
    April 26, 2011

    Tacky headline. Unsubscribed. Goodbye. Bummer for me.

    • Joshua Daniel Franklin permalink
      April 26, 2011

      Yeah, I think “liberal” has gotten overused too. Maybe should have said “progressive.”

  2. Rich permalink
    April 26, 2011

    The writer makes some interesting points. Their fallacy is to assume Seattle liberals are a monolithic block. Are you a Mike McGinn liberal or a Richard Conlin liberal? Makes a lot of difference.

  3. April 26, 2011

    I love the smell of rant in the morning.

    agree with one thing you say… Seattle does have a certain class of people who think they are greatest thing since sliced whatevs but are really just selfish pricks with lots of money.
    I can’t believe how much racism there is in the history of this city but that is essentially the root.

    In any case, I disagree bundling all of seattle in with these assholes but maybe you didnt mean me. If that is the case then proceed and #ftfff…

    Also SoDo rezone sounds good, pioneer square should be preserved for artists, SLU: thats owned by vulcan… suckit. Leave space needle out of it.

    To Anonymous Subscriber, your opinion doesn’t count if you don’t use your name… can’t believe you are so easily offended by a simple rant on the web

  4. posixmosh permalink
    April 26, 2011

    I though I was gonna read “GET OFF MY LAWN!” three differnt time in that post

  5. April 26, 2011

    There is something to this rant. It is not just Seattle though. I agree with Rich and Hector that it should be specified to some people, not the entire city. Lots of people in this city do not have the political will to effect change because of a lack of time or wealth or know-how. Lots of powerful people in lots of places want to keep privileges for the elite only. Literalism ends up meaning “supporting the individual’s ability to self determine” which in one thread means “social justice” and another means “let anyone do what they want.” Guess where the social reproducers are?

  6. April 26, 2011

    Concentrations of density alone aren’t salvation from climate change. Still, I can understand a bit of this poster’s frustration. But I don’t think the type of density that combats climate change will always require up-zoning historical districts. Especially when such an up-zoning could endanger the historic status and the funding that comes with being designated a historic district. I think this rant is too narrowly focused to be taken seriously. Now a focused rant on upping the density around transit stations would make a lot more sense.

    • archie permalink
      April 26, 2011

      “up-zoning could endanger the historic status and the funding that comes with being designated a historic district”
      How so, exactly? Density will do more to preserve the history of Pioneer Square by keeping it relevant and getting more people to embrace/enjoy/enhance the neighborhood. See the ranter’s spot-on metaphor about “keeping the neighborhood in amber.”

  7. Jon Scholes permalink
    April 26, 2011

    There’s much truth to the underlying premise here, that as a City we haven’t quite connected the dots between our land use decisions, the policy goals we support and our vision for urban neighborhoods. We talk about creating dense, walkable, urban neighborhoods, but so quickly can find a reason to oppose land use decisions that help foster these types of neighborhoods. We talk about the trans-formative power of investing in transit, but haven’t yet adopted a significant upzone around the billions of dollars of transit infrastructure we’ve built. But we know we want to build more of it!

    So our fixation on how to get people from low density living to employment centers continues. We carry on debating very expensive transportation technologies (i.e. light rail to West Seattle, light rail on 520) as means to connect low density neighborhoods to Downtown and other jobs centers around the region. And the implicit promise we are making to Seattle residents is that we will continue to prioritize single family living, build you a billion dollar rail line to the front door of your craftsman home and will throw in a grade separated bike lane for good measure on the days you’d prefer biking to work vs. riding your train. None of those are terrible investments, but at some point this strategy becomes unsustainable and unaffordable and it undermines our ability to create complete, dense, urban neighborhoods.

    Great urban neighborhoods don’t work without significant density which provides enough demand for all the things we want and need in a neighborhood (grocery store, playground, school, etc.). Right now we are standing in the way of density and all the benefits that come with it.

    • Wells permalink
      April 26, 2011

      The key is ‘diversity’ not ‘density’.
      Density without diversity backfires.
      Economically diverse low-density development is more stable than high-density development that leaves no room for a diversity of uses.
      The parking lot facing Occidental Park should be developed.
      Should it be taller than adjacent building? No.
      Should it be a streetcar barn? No.
      Any development along Alaskan Way should be at historic height and architecture.
      The football parking lot could have taller buildings in keeping with the stadium and overlook.
      The Pioneer District DOES NOT have a working transportation plan.
      Don’t plan any development until mass transit is functioning.
      SDOT is subservient to Seattle’s moneybag developers.
      The character failing in that agency is incompetence.

  8. northquirk permalink
    April 26, 2011

    I’m curious – has the author actually studied any of the zoning proposal they so readily dismiss? The rezones in South Downtown, which includes Pioneer Square increase height limits and have been under development since 2006. In South Lake Union the draft EIS has just been published, with the intent to [gasp!!] increase height and density. Similarly with station area planning, which actually began more than a decade ago, there are increases to height and density. It’s not very useful for anonymous, armchair urbanists to broadly dismiss the actual planning proposals the City does put together without delving into the details of the proposals.

  9. Alex Broner permalink
    April 26, 2011

    Rants like these are useful as a touchoff point for more nuanced discussion. I fully support publishing one or two a year.

    The basic problem (politically) with infill density is that the new residents and business owners that the density would allow do not yet have a vote or a voice while existing residents do. Elected officials will generally “split the baby” between the amount of density that would make economic sense and the amount of density that makes political sense. One way to shift the “split” towards more density is to ensure that density is tied to funds for community amenities. Density should be tied to a package of improvements paid for via impact fees and/or Tax Increment Financing. If a neighborhood wants more transit they should have to accept more density and if the city wants more density they should have to provide more transit, improved parks, perhaps a new community center, etc.

    There is something to be said for “organic” growth in neighborhoods with an established form and character. One way to avoid “spaceship” type buildings is to set conditional zoning, for example: When X single family neighborhood has 1/4 of its building converted to 3 story multi-family then 6 story multi-family will be allowed. Setting the condition in advance avoids the need to “go back to the well” of the planning process.

    There is also something to be said for shorter, bulkier buildings as a means of including considerable density while allowing sunlight to get in and maintaining a “human” scale. Jan Gehl in his book “Life Between Buildings” suggests that the human senses are ill equipped to enable meaningful contact beyond 50 feet of building height. Christopher Alexander in “A Pattern Language” suggests buildings over 4 stories make people insane. One alternative to having a few neighborhoods go to 10+ story buildings and the rest staying low density is to do upzones to 4-5 stories in a broad number of places. This strategy would focus more upon low cost mass transit such as streetcars and BRT trolleybuses rather than light rail. I suspect there is room for a mixture of both strategies.

  10. Giovanni Piranesi permalink
    April 26, 2011

    You are setting up those who disagree with you as liberal hypocrite straw men and, with all due respect to the “unavowed pharisee,” I think, unfairly so. There is, in fact, a great variety of opinion concerning upzoning in the city that sometimes reflects other concerns. For instance, the Cascade portion of South Lake Union has traditionally been a working class neighborhood and, even until a few years ago, had a strong sense of neighborhood and place. Upzoning was threatening to many local residents, because they did not want to loose the neighborhood’s sense of place or be forced from where they lived. While trained planners often have a strong belief in Urban Growth boundaries and densification – and overall I am sympathetic to this- the push to upzone South Lake Union has changed the entire neighborhood significantly. The other issue is that quick development does not necessarily yield wonderful architecture. The outcome in South Lake Union (or South Lake Union/ Cascade), for instance, is somewhat mixed.

    Pioneer Square, which is a National Register District, as well as a City District, is one of the most interesting parts of the city (and possibly in the entire state), in terms of both culture and history. It has been on the wane of late, mainly because of the economy. Small businesses and startups have closed all over the neighborhood. Why developers and some trained planners are so convinced that the key to improving Pioneer Square is to upzone and develop it, when the economy is in a shambles, is actually somewhat puzzling. While overall, densifying the city is not a bad idea and some development in Pioneer Square would work, there is good reason to retain the area’s basic scale and character. (Nick Licata’s concerns are not ill-founded).

  11. Mike Orr permalink
    April 27, 2011

    Seattle is not a monolithic bunch of like-minded people. What you call hypocracy is a clash of different people with different opinions. It’s like the old “liberals are for black equality but they wouldn’t want their daughter to marry one”. Some do and some don’t! The people I know who are pro-transit actually do live in dense areas, or if they don’t they aren’t opposing.the expanding urban villages.

    There are some people who want desity, if not across the entire city then at least in islands with good walkability and transit. There are other people who want to keep their single-family neighborhood and cheap parking and want a Deep Bore Tunnel bypass so they can avoid downtown traffic. It should be obvious that these are different people, and that if one person is anti-height and anti-transit one day, s/he is probably the same one being anti-height and anti-transit another day. And there are other combinations too. I know somebody who lives in a house and drives everywhere, but he says “Make the urban villages 30 stories tall; that’ll solve the housing problem.”

  12. Sean Champagne permalink
    May 21, 2011

    Calm down everyone, I think the author has a good point.

    And the author probably expects everyone to FREAK OUT AND SAY OMG NOT TRUE NOT FAIR OMG.

    Because Seattle tends to be a little hypocritical as compared to other metropolitans.

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