Location: More Housing Everywhere!

So the second principle that animates the work of Seattle For Growth is location. Everyone has heard that old phrase about real estate being about three things: location, location, location! The other one is, “Buy land, they’re not making any more of it!” Our second principle is really about both of these: housing is a good thing and belongs everywhere. Here’s what I wrote in that first blog post:

  • Location – Housing everywhere. There should be no part of our city or community where healthy and viable housing opportunities should be limited or restricted.

I’ve written about zoning before, calling it what it was intended to be almost a hundred years ago: a public health intervention. Here’s what I said back in 2011 when I was reading through the entire land use code.

The idea that geographic parts of our city are zoned for use and standards–like single family or NC 85–is the relic of ancient zoning history. Zoning came about to separate use. We need to do the opposite. In a walk down any block in our city we should be able to see many uses and many typologies pushed together and even on the same lot. It’s going to take time to get away from the idea of preventing a “pig in the parlor” to welcoming the whole herd in the house.

Of course I was referring to the 1926 legal case from Ohio, Euclid v. Ambler, which set the stage for zoning codes all across the country.

In the 19th century and into the early 20th century, there were many toxic and dangerous uses that were all blended together in a city. Rendering factories, black smith shops, and factories belched smoke out right near where people lived. It made sense to take those more harmful uses and put them in one place and keep people’s homes someplace else. But once the legal principle for this was established, it didn’t stop there; design and type and use standards were all developed.

What happened as a result of zoning was a separation of uses that encouraged people to live one place, drive to work every day, and to other places to have recreation and entertainment. Subsidized roads and transit further facilitated this segregation. The problem with this is it is resource intensive, expensive, and bad for the environment. And with more and more people the convenience of roadways connecting segregated uses didn’t mean convenience but traffic.

Pushing uses together means convenience for people who don’t have to commute anymore, affordability because driving becomes an option not a necessity, more time and opportunity for community and shared space. And more efficient use of land means production costs fall and savings go up for consumers of housing. So rules that protect people from fires, earthquakes, and other hazards are essential; but we don’t need to be protected from each other. More housing everywhere means that if it is safe it would be allowed anywhere from single-family zones to older and declining industrial areas.


Comments are closed.