Someone once told me the term “bureaucracy” is intentionally hard to spell. When I first tried to spell it without Googling it, I butchered it so badly that my spell check couldn’t recommend a revision at all. After frustratingly trying to get it closer so my phone would auto-correct, I realized this was a waste of my time, gave up and sent it incorrectly spelled anyway. The recipient still got the point.
Some fights just aren’t worth it.
I don’t doubt that there is opportunity with industrial zoning, I just wonder if this was the best use of our time? Seattle has spent years and years putting together several options to modestly add a trickle of homes (2,900 to be exact) and slightly diversifying the commercial uses along our industrial zoned lands so we can convert warehouse spaces and maybe add some breweries next to our waterfronts.
Nobody seemed to notice this effort was going on, and nobody will notice the impact it really has had. The public meetings were rarely attended, the stakeholders are mostly from freight industries, and the biggest group present was the staff itself. Despite the little return, we still managed to produce a 928-page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This 5+ year effort spanned three mayors and survived several worsening crises, a global pandemic, and a loud effort to get something done to solve housing in Seattle, which the State Legislature ultimately took over.
Naturally, we missed a big chance.
The department dedicated so much time to produce a plan that focuses on industrial job growth and not on housing growth, which is exactly why efforts like these have always miss the moment.
Every economist agrees that you need to produce enough homes to keep up with job growth. Not doing so will lead to gentrification without demolition as housing of every kind goes to higher bidders with deeper pockets from those jobs that were created.
The domino effect of letting job growth lap housing growth is why we have a housing crisis on our hands and people are displaced into other homes, which pushes someone else out, and so on until someone is kicked to the street, and I doubt they care we relaxed a few rules on industrial zoning.
The housing crisis will not being solved with industrial zoning.
As we continued with the industrial planning effort, the housing crisis got worse and worse. Article after article came out illustrating how single family zoned cities were causing these problems. Responding to these findings, Seattle has only gotten around to renaming the zone to “Neighborhood Residential” without outlining how the zone can deliver more homes.
Economists at BERK Institute state we need 152,000 homes by 2040 or the city will continue the path of unaffordability and housing insecurity. The comprehensive plan, originally due in April, then pushed to June, and now pushed out to September likely won’t hit that mark and these delays make you wonder if we procrastinated this for too long while focusing on the wrong thing. Even the community meetings they held didn’t plan for enough seats for all attendees; quite the metaphor.
Maybe it’s denial, maybe it’s direction, or maybe it’s just bureaucracy (thanks spell check!). Either way, the EIS to rezone Seattle’s single-family zoning has seemingly not been given enough time to solve, while at the same time, industrial zoning was given the runway to come up with a finalized plan.
While industrial lands consume 7,000 acres, single family zoning, errr, I mean…. “Neighborhood Residential” lands consume 18,800 acres; that’s the equivalent of 2/3rds of the land in Paris and is 60% of Seattle’s land we can build anything on.
Neighborhood Residential Zoning, with a few other midrise slivers mostly aligned to noisy arterials, is a land use we have that outright requires homes being built. Downtown’s zoning doesn’t, commercial zoning doesn’t, and neither does industrial zoning.
We spend too much time on tree ordinances and boat dock zoning.
We don’t farm our own crops and hunt for food anymore, we go to the grocery store. We don’t build our homes from scratch with our bare hands, we let developers build them. Efficiency is how society takes steps forward to save valuable time for solving bigger problems at the macro scale.
The term planning is “based on foresight, the fundamental capacity for mental time travel. The evolution of forethought, the capacity to think ahead, is considered to have been a prime mover in human evolution.”
We have known since before this process started that, looking ahead, we needed to add a lot of homes and need them in our restricted single-family zoned neighborhoods. Instead of using that foresight to combine the efforts of adding housing everywhere and tweaking industrial land use plans, we squandered it by separating the two, missing out on the bigger one and focusing solely on how many homes we can fit near a boat dock to make everyone happy.
Using foresight, I figured out the recipient of my text would know what my point was without wasting too much time on the spelling of bureaucracy.
The subject of that text was how we can speed things up, avoid bureaucracy, and get more homes built faster than the molasses of government led planning. The conversation was how legalizing sixplexes citywide opens the capacity of over 800,000 homes with a single policy change.
Only 2,900 homes? I wouldn’t have wasted my maritime with that one.