Skip to content

Guess That City

2011 April 29
by dan bertolet

What city goes in the blanks in the quote below?

The civic culture of ______ values democratic process more than it values results. So we have created a system for decision-making that just takes a really long time. I want it to be easier to get a good project approved in ______ than a sprawl subdivision out at the edge of the region. Right now, it takes years for even modest-size apartment buildings to be approved.

How about this one? Does the same city fit, perhaps?

We have the opportunity to take a much bigger share of regional growth than we have been. If ______ were willing to allow more physical change, it would not only be a big win for the environment, it would make the city more affordable. If ______ decides that it doesn’t want to grow, it’s going to follow the path of smaller boutique cities like Boulder, Colo., and become so expensive that only the ultrawealthy can live in the city. …What’s at stake is whether we want to have a living economy or be a combination bedroom community and tourist town.

One more time:

The biggest challenge we face in this region is suburban sprawl. We continue to channel growth into locations where people have to drive for essentially every trip because they are too low-density for transit. Sprawl is inefficient, wastes land [and] is not an ethical way to organize our settlement patterns in an era of climate change. The way forward is planning to intensify, grow along transit [and] add jobs in______ .

The obvious setup here is to mislead you into thinking it’s Seattle, but you’re too smart to fall for that. Right?

Answer after the jump…

The city in question is San Francisco, and the quotes are from a recent Wall Street Journal interview with Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR).

The last quote could apply to dozens of cities nationwide. The middle quote is more relevant to Seattle and other “creative class” cities such as Boston and Austin.

But regarding that first quote, those of us Seattleites who follow planning issues (read: dorks) would no doubt be inclined to claim that dubious distinction as ours and ours alone. Could it be possible that any other city on the planet suffers as much as we do from the decision-hindering dysfunction known as the “Seattle Process?”

Maybe it’s a west coast thing. (Though that would imply that Portland isn’t really on the west coast, given the rate a which light rail, street cars, and bike lanes have been sprouting up there.)

One more thing: How come Seattle doesn’t have an organization like SPUR that gets to mouth off about sprawl in the WSJ?


4 Responses leave one →
  1. BBnet3000 permalink
    April 29, 2011

    “(Though that would imply that Portland isn’t really on the west coast, given the rate a which light rail, street cars, and bike lanes have been sprouting up there.)”

    But is it actually having denser development? Thats most of what Metcalf was talking about.

    • Tony the Economist permalink
      April 30, 2011

      The answer to your question is an emphatic “no.” A few stats:

      City Density
      Land area: 84 sq mi
      Pop (2009): 617,000
      Pop Density (per sq mi): 7,345
      Jobs (2002): 480,000
      Job Density (per sq mi): 5,714

      Land area: 134 sq mi
      Pop (2009): 582,000
      Pop Density (per sq mi): 4,343
      Jobs (2009): 361,000
      Job Density (per sq mi): 2,694

      Seattle = 1.7 times denser than Portland in population
      Seattle = 2.1 times denser than Portland in jobs

      Center City Density:
      Area: 2,505 acres
      Jobs (2002): 230,000
      Households (2004): 44,000

      Area: 2,400 acres
      Jobs: 144,000
      Households: 27,000

      Central Seattle = 60% more jobs than Central Portland
      Central Seattle = 63% more households than Central Portland

      Tallest buildings:
      Tallest: 546 ft
      Over 400 ft: 4

      Seattle (including the Space Needle):
      Tallest: 937 ft
      Over tallest in Portland: 9
      Over 400 ft: 25

      Seattle also spends more money on transit and has higher transit ridership than Portland.

      Portland is slightly denser at the metro level (if and only if you exclude Vancouver, WA), but that difference owes entirely to Portland’s success in getting its suburbs to develop with slightly smaller single family lot sizes.

      • dan bertolet permalink*
        April 30, 2011

        Love the data Tony, thanks. To be clear though, my point wasn’t that Portland is more urban than Seattle or anything like that, but rather that the Portland culture seems to be more capable of getting progressive urban infrastructure projects done, e.g. light rail, street car, and bike infrastructure. The success of development in the Pearl is also something that Seattle could emulate.

  2. Tony the Economist permalink
    April 30, 2011

    “Maybe it’s a west coast thing.”

    Actually, Dan, it is a west coast thing, just like initiative, referendum and recall. Most of the western states were founded in the late 19th century, which was the height of the populist movement in the United States. We see imprints of that movement in the our state’s founding documents and that movement has continued to shape our culture ever since.

    This tendency toward populism is reinforced by the fact that the western states have been, and with the exception of California continue to be, populated by people emigrating away from the big cities of the Northeast, and in our case, California as well. Many of these folks left their homes and moved here precisely because they wanted to get away from population density and unresponsive big-city governments. Of course they demand process and want to keep Seattle a small town. That’s why they moved here!

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS