Seattle Succeeded Because City Challenged Neighborhoods

RECEIVED Tue., May 22, 2007

Dear Editor,
    I was disappointed to see that Katherine Gregor failed to mention the central dynamic that made neighborhood planning in Seattle so successful, namely that neighborhoods were given a choice between mandated, uniform increases in density or coming up with their own plan for increasing density in their neighborhood [“Developing Stories,” News, May 18]. Given this, neighborhoods in Seattle rose to the challenge, not infrequently submitting neighborhood plans that added more density than they were asked to accommodate. With no mandates, neighborhood planning in Austin has been mostly an exercise in institutionalizing the status quo. Rather than add density, many neighborhoods have actually tried to decrease density by downzoning and attempting to make existing mixed-use and multifamily uses illegal. In this context, none of Seattle's "best practices" make any sense: A city fund for neighborhood projects? For what, exactly, given the plan is "no change, no way"? Until we start to think realistically about what it might take to survive the oil shortages and climate instabilities of the coming years, we will continue to drown in our own effluvium.
Patrick Goetz
   [Katherine Gregor responds: The effect of mandated density increases will be addressed in the second installment promised of best practices from Seattle, to run in an upcoming issue. According to Jim Diers, only two neighborhoods initially requested an increase over their mandated density, but all did agree to it. A key difference is that Seattle was itself mandated to conduct long-term growth planning (from whence sprung density mandates) by its state Legislature, leaving no room for neighborhood argument; Austin is not so fortunate.]
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