Townhouses - Part 1 (Background)

Townhouses have been a subject of much discussion in Seattle over the past few years. During the boom, a lot of them got built, most of which were disgustingly bad.
This is another subject of abiding interest to me. I've long had a fascination with the attached urban house type, having studied the subject in depth both in architecture school and in my professional career. Several years ago, I stepped away from a plum job enabling wish-fulfillment for spectacularly wealthy individuals in order to devote more time to designing better urban housing in Seattle, and have been struggling with the task ever since. Our municipal government is now in the throes of re-writing the section of the Land Use Code which governs the design and construction of these classic and misunderstood dwelling units. That's a good thing, and I've been involved in trying to help guide that process nearly from day one, but so far the result has been about as productive and positive as any other expression of the "Seattle Process."
Which is to say: it has devolved into what the military so colorfully refers as a clusterfuck.
But, more about that later. Let's begin with some background and history...
Once Upon a Time...
Though only comparatively recently named as such, the "townhouse" dwelling type (with its many variations: row houses, courtyard houses, patio homes, terrace houses, maisonettes, etc.) has been around for a long time. Although the first recognizably modern townhouses (slot buildings with multiple stories internally connected by stairs and fronting on a public street) did not start to appear in Europe until the Medieval period, examples of attached low-rise residential structures can be found all the way back to the dawn of urban living, thousands of years ago. You can find examples all over the world from every period of human history. In fact, it's fair to say that urban environments are defined by the presence of the numerous individual attached residences we so generically refer to as townhouses. Urban life and the attached single- and extended-family residence are inextricably linked.
Çatal Huyuk - ca. 7,500 BC
one of the earliest known cities
composed almost entirely of attached dwellings
Townhouses are structures of necessity. For most of human history, that necessity has been the combination of security and economics, with shifting dominance between the two. For the first few thousand years of human urban development, building individual residences in attached, tightly packed configurations allowed the residents to gain the economic benefits of being close together in a city (reduced transportation costs & time, access to resources and markets, social opportunity, and ability to specialize to lever comparative advantage), while also allowing such a valuable and inviting target of predation as a town or city to be compact enough to defend against attack. When the size of your town is defined by its maximum defensible perimeter, every inch of space inside the walls needs to count for something.
High density and low height within the Medieval walls of Dubrovnik
Townhouses offer the advantages of urban density without many of the drawbacks of communal living found in apartment blocks (which, though you may think of them as modern, have also been around for thousands of years). Every townhouse sits on its own piece of land, sole and despotic domain of the homeowner. This reduces the amount of public and semi-public space -- areas always problematic from a maintenance and security perspective -- thus protecting privacy and individual control while allowing residents to live very close together indeed. It also allows residents to maintain some level of territorial control not only within the boundaries of their own residence, but projected into the public realm as well.
Brooklyn, New York Streetscape
the sidewalk as semi-private domain of the public street
As security from attack became less important a factor in urban form, and changes in military technology made city walls obsolete, the economic side of the necessity equation became the primary determining factor in townhouse development. From 1700 AD forward, we start to see townhouses flourish mainly during periods of strong economic prosperity.
San Francisco's Painted Ladies
expressions of a booming economy
Basic economics explains this: as more and more people desire to live in close proximity to one another land values (which are linked to a finite supply of buildable land within an acceptable travel distance) increase dramatically. Lot sizes then decrease as home builders seek affordability through subdivision, and lot coverage increases as they seek efficiency to completely use what they've paid for. Taken to a logical extreme, the end result is something that looks a lot like this:
7-foot wide house in Amsterdam
Certainly not someplace I'd like to live (since I'm nearly as tall as this house is wide), but it does have a kind of oddball charm. Sliver townhouses of this sort can be found all over the world, always in cities where rampant land speculation has driven property values to absurd heights and subdivision is mostly unrestricted. Tokyo is full of them and every old European city has at least a few. Usually, other forces intervene to prevent this sort of micro-subdivision: regulatory limits and economic crashes foremost among them.
Which brings us to Seattle in particular.
"Townhouses" in Seattle
Unlike many cities in the United States and Europe, Seattle does not have an established pattern of development which encourages the construction of townhouses. Low-rise urban development within the city has historically taken a decidedly suburban form, with substantial setbacks, building detachment, large areas devoted to auto access, and a lack of direct engagement with the public realm at the sidewalk.
In fact, townhouses as such were virtually unknown in Seattle prior to adoption of the current incarnation of our low-rise multi-family code in 1986, and very rare until the turn of the 21st century and concomitant real estate boom. Prior to that time, the emphasis on low-rise urban housing had been almost entirely on small apartment buildings.
Those townhouses that did get built maintained a strong suburban character. This was largely the result of the way the code was written and continued to evolve, with numerous restrictions on development configuration and size intended to make any new l0w-rise urban housing development closely mimic existing suburban single-family development patterns.
This, by the way, is a recurring theme in Seattle land use politics and ties directly into the issues I raised in my last post about Seattle's inherent conservatism. If I may digress for a moment, please consider the following comparative maps (courtesy of DPD, color-coded by David Neiman):



Single-Family Zoning

Multi-Family Zoning

The red areas represent those portions of the city of Seattle designated for single-family detached housing and multi-family housing (of which townhouses are considered to be part, for reasons that should become obvious as we proceed). The former covers approximately 70 percent of the city’s land area. The latter, less than 7 percent.

Now you know where Seattle’s urban priorities lay, regardless of whatever rhetoric may emanate from City Hall. These two maps tell you nearly everything of consequence you need to know about Seattle municipal politics (overlay them with US Census data denoting racial breakdown and household income, and you will behold the Rosetta Stone of Seattle’s turbid political waters…pardon the mixed metaphor).

At any rate, what we can see quite clearly here that most of the city is off-limits to any sort of townhouse development, which can only be built in the red zones found on the starboard map.

Which is not to say that the traditional townhouse has been excluded from Seattle by design. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Some months ago, as I was listening to deliberations of the Planning, Land Use, and Neighborhoods committee in City Council chambers, I heard a DPD representative make a remarkable statement. PLUNC has been considering the mind-numbing details of the proposed re-write of the multi-family zoning code, and the committee chair asked a fair question along the lines of: why don’t we have brownstone-type development in Seattle, and what can we do to encourage it?

Excellent question, I thought. In fact, it’s also a question that is consistently asked by neighborhood representatives during public meetings about this subject. Many Seattle residents and leaders want brownstone-style row house development in Seattle instead of what we’ve been getting, and are deeply puzzled about why it doesn’t happen.

The answer provided by DPD was: Seattle’s land plat gives us lots that are typically 100 to 128 feet deep -- too deep for traditional rowhouses, and thus requiring the uniquely Seattle “four pack” front-and-back development configuration.


Seattle is typical of 19th-century American cities in that it was originally platted (meaning: its lots were originally subdivided from farmland and laid out) on a grid intended to facilitate speculative development and future subdivision. In Seattle’s case, the lot dimensions that were used in the overwhelming majority of cases were modeled directly on the plat pattern used for most of Manhattan and Brooklyn: 40 to 50 feet wide (subdividable to 20 and 25 feet respectively) by 100 to 128 feet deep. Let’s compare.

First, we have a couple of examples from New York:

Original Plat of Brooklyn, NY

HarlemCurrent plat pattern of Harlem, NY
showing further subdivision over time
(from City of New York GIS)

In both cases, we see the characteristic “gridiron” street layout, filled in with a sub-grid of individual rectangular lots. Most lots are oriented so that the narrow dimension fronts on a right-of-way, with corner lots being the primary exception. Alleys are rare. Rear lot lines typically abut other lots.

These typical New York lots were usually 25 wide (sold in pairs, as 50 foot lots, when first established…then only later subdivided), and 100 to 128 feet deep.

Sound familiar?

Let’s compare to Seattle. Here’s a typical example of Seattle’s lot layout (from an area located on Capitol Hill):

Typical Seattle Parcel Map
(from City of Seattle GIS)

Now, this Seattle map shows only legal parcels (combinations of lots with a single owner) rather than the underlying lot lines. Even then, the similarities between Seattle and New York in planning logic should be fairly evident, particularly if you focus your attention on the port side of the Seattle map.

It could easily be a map of Brooklyn or parts of uptown Manhattan, except with a few more alleys. In fact, it was originally intended to be more or less exactly that, since that was standard land planning practice at the time most of inner city Seattle was laid out. Seattle’s lot plans even improve on the New York model by making alleys much more common.

In fact, many of the ubiquitous 50’x100’ parcels found all over Seattle’s neighborhoods are composed of two 25-foot wide lots as shown in the original plat maps.

So, it isn’t Seattle’s lot sizes or plat pattern that are preventing the development of the kind of attractive townhouse development we see in cities all over the world. Most of Seattle was intentionally platted in a way that should make subdivision and the creation of brownstone-style row housing easy, not hard.

So, what is preventing it?

I’ll tackle that subject in the next installment: Townhouses – Part 2 (The Problem).

Seattle's Inherent Conservatism

Not one to shy away from a little controversy, let's tackle a sensitive subject right out of the gate.

Ask most Seattleites whether or not they consider their city to be conservative or not, and the vast majority will answer: No way! Within the limited boundaries of partisan politics, they're right. Only Democrats get elected to office here, and far-left rallying cries are perennial favorites. There's even a statue of Lenin displayed in Fremont (though it's for sale, in what seems to be a bit of subtle ideological prevarication). Suggest to shoppers at the local PCC that Seattle might actually be one of the most conservative towns in America, and watch the outrage and stunned disbelief fulminate.

No, really. Try it. It's fun.

But this weblog isn't about politics, or even cognitive dissonance. It's about the culture and practice of urbanism and design in Seattle, Washington. Wouldn't we expect that a city that prides itself on its Progressivist militance and Green credulity would be at the vanguard of radical urban practice?

Alas ... not so much.

Don't get me wrong. I love this city, despite its idiosyncrasies. I've lived all over the world, and yet I always gravitate back to this relaxed, drizzly Eden. I've chosen to make a home here even at significant cost in opportunities lost and ever-present friction with some of its less pleasant aspects. Seattle is blessed with an amazingly forgiving climate, despite the proverbial rain. Natural grandeur abounds at every turn: glorious mountain peaks at the end of every vista, verdant plant growth, spectacular forests, abundant wildlife, streams, lakes, Puget Sound, and a quality of light that is ever-changing and yet unique in my experience. I live just over seven miles from the downtown core and well within city limits. Bald eagles circle my house and nest just up the street. My commute to the office downtown takes me along the shores of Lake Washington every morning, under the trees and alongside glittering water where otters nest and play. I can be hiking in the mountains or skiing with a 45 minute trek from my driveway. A half-hour ferry ride puts me on the edge of a vast wilderness.

And the downtown is still alive, after all these years. While downtown districts in cities all over America were withering away during the 70s and 80s, Seattle's accidental geographic bounty protected it from the worst of the blight and desertion. Hemmed in by water to the east and west and limited in ability to expand north or south, the impetus to sprawl never took hold as disastrously here as it did elsewhere.

But when it comes to shaping the built environment, make no mistake: Seattle is profoundly conservative and committed to mediocrity.

We coast along with a focus on our manifest natural grandeur and let the banality of the environment we've created here for ourselves lay mostly unremarked. Perhaps subconsciously we think we can get away with creating mediocre human environments because the natural environment so totally eclipses them in so many ways. A beautiful sunset across the Sound and Olympic Mountains can certainly take your mind off the cheap condo you're sitting in.

Contrast this to another American city of my early childhood: Chicago. The City of the Big Shoulders may be meatpacker to the world and Second City to America, but it has very little to recommend it geographically apart from a central location on the rail and barge networks. It's flat as a table. The weather is miserable except for those few, fleeting, glorious days of spring and fall (don't blink! you'll miss them!). The nearest thing to a mountain anywhere near is Mount Trashmore: distinctive, perhaps, but certainly not grand.

Chicago is a city of man-made grandeur and high cultural aspiration. It is not an accident that ambitious, no-nonsense Chicagoans have produced some of the most interesting and ... dare I say it ... beautiful buildings and urban environments to be found in North America. They had to. They didn't have anything else to work with.

Nor is it a foregone conclusion that any city with an abundance of natural beauty will necessarily give rise to a boring and banal urban environment. Vancouver, BC (that hated and admired arch-nemesis to the north) shares many of Seattle's geographic attributes and benefits, and yet has also managed to create a stunning and vibrant urban fabric with intriguing architecture and a thriving, cosmopolitan, urbane culture. It's easy to develop an inferiority complex as a Seattleite walking down Robson Street to Stanley Park. Why can't we pull something like that off? It can't be that hard, can it?

Upstart Portland, to our south, has systematically developed an approach to creating positive urban space and amenities that, while more than a little contrived and compromised by over-reaching and trendiness, is surprisingly welcoming and energetic. The citizens of Portland, no matter how fractious or misguided their activism (a foible we share in common), seem fully engaged with the project of making their city great in a way that Seattleites can never quite muster. That energy shines through and knits the city together.

I could go on, but let's return to the point at hand. When I say Seattle is a profoundly conservative city, what I mean is that we seem to have developed a culture and approach to building our city that is deeply risk-averse and hobbled by a towering burden of prejudice and fear. A survey of the cultural-urban landscape:

Risk Aversion
Risk-aversion is a pernicious force, in practice and effect usually far worse and more common than actual malicious intent. I often find myself reminding my design students of this as they try to play it safe in their work and avoid controversy or criticism. To achieve something truly great, you have to accept the risk of failure. To gain love, you must risk hate. Without the risk, there is no chance to achieve.

Seattle is well-known for its culture of politeness and conflict-avoidance. This can make getting along very easy, public debate very reserved and congenial, and visitors to the Emerald City often remark on how pleasant everybody seems ... even when driving.

But the downside of so civil a culture is that most Seattleites break out in hives at the thought that someone might take offense to something they say or do and confront them about it. Projected onto others, Seattleites tend to react very negatively when presented with proposals or opinions that are risky or controversial or even just a little bit outside their comfort zone. Better to avoid anything that might cause us to fight, or risk opposition, even if it means we never have the chance to reach a strong accord through a rough-and-tumble meeting of the minds. The productive, metabolic dynamic of conflict is anathema here.

We, catholic Progressives all, fear change.

The resulting mediocrity is so ubiquitous and pervasive that we don't even notice it unless we've recently returned from traveling. We get a surfeit of mediocrity because, while it's easy to challenge and defeat a bad project or praise a good one, the mediocre yields only indifference and is too slippery and blase to give us traction for criticism. That's the point, of course.

Entire careers have been built on this, though we'll refrain from naming names. You know who you are.

It's also interesting to note that while Seattle is home to many very talented and successful architects with national and international prominence, most of them have done their best work elsewhere. When world-famous architects such as Frank Gehry or Rem Koolhaas come to town, the results are almost uniformly inferior to their other work (I can only think of one exception to this rule, done by a local boy who made a name for himself in New York and came back to rub our noses in it).

Great architecture and great urban design are not dependent only on great designers. They are dependent to equal or greater degree on good patrons in visionary cultures which value the products of that design. Seattle may have a surplus of the former, but the latter is in short supply.

Maybe it's something in the water.

Our culture also works very hard behind the scenes to penalize failure, and our approach to urban planning is almost entirely negative. Risk-averse and conflict-avoidant, we have never had the civic conversation necessary to reach a common vision for what our city should be. Our guiding principles for urban development, such as they are, then become a voluminous laundry-list of neighborly pet peeves codified into "don't you dare" proscriptions with force of law.

Did you know that there is an entire section of the Seattle Land Use Code devoted to Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs? And yet, nowhere is there a clear and concise statement of what our vision and goals for our city are or should be in anything but generic platitudes or muddled cliches carefully crafted to avoid controversy (or even clear meaning).

The Comprehensive Plan is a confusing and laborious mess. The neighborhood plans are no better, somehow managing to combine ad hoc issues activism with boiler-plate uniformity (a neat trick, actually, frustrating though the results may be). The Land Use Code is a gordian knot of self-contradictory limitations predicated on decades-old, discredited notions of city planning and antediluvian NIMBY rallying points. I dare you to read all this stuff without caffeine enhancement. We have numerous and varied strong opinions about what we don't want, and not the faintest clue about what we do want.

For a group of people who are so proud of our supposed casual attitudes and tolerance, we seem to spend an unwholesome amount of time and effort using the voice of official power and process to tell our neighbors what they can't do.

Rule by Consensus and Attrition
Our civic culture places a very high value on consensus decision-making and participatory democracy, almost to to the exclusion of all else. Noble as the intent behind this may be, its problematic aspects are manifest. As Aesop pithily observed, "Please all, and you will please none." We've been trying the former for years, and have certainly achieved the latter in spades.

Combined with a fixation on due process, our pathological need for consensus participation in even the most minute decisions about our urban development has resulted in the gargantuan, schizophrenic Frankenstein monster that is our Land Use Code, a nightmarishly complex permit approvals process, and a fickle, interminable public engagement whereby applicants are subjected to death by a thousand cuts and the interference of thousands of chefs in the kitchen.

This is not to say that the insistence on participatory consensus isn't in some ways justified. We can point to numerous examples in the history of the development of our city where individual decision-makers or small groups forced through ill-advised plans and our city paid a terrible price. *cough* Viaduct *cough* Stadium *cough* But repeating the trope misses the point.

The point is that this need for us to vet everything through the "Seattle Process" isn't motivated by reason, but by fear. Fear is typically a very poor basis for deciding anything, regardless of who or how many are doing the deciding. Let fear motivate your decisions and you leave yourself prey to the fear-mongers, pro and con.

The result is a process of vetting and approval that depends on the interpretation of byzantine regulations created via interminable public feedback, public comment and review processes that have no clear criteria, and a contest of economic and emotional stamina. The presumption seems to be that any applicant who is crazy and determined and wasteful enough to stick it out through the entire, exhausting process must be serious enough to actually, you know, build something. Call me crazy, but attrition does not strike me as a sound basis for determining which projects best contribute to the success of our city's urban environment.

There's a gravel parking lot on Pine Street that stands (lays?) as a monument to the dysfunctionality of the Seattle Process. I'd suggest putting up a plaque, but it would take years to get a permit, let alone design approval. Locked in a war of attrition with neighborhood interest groups and stuck for two years in the SEPA/Design review process, Murray Franklyn, the developer of the Belmont & Pine project finally won master use permit approval only to have the decision appealed by a local activist with a legal education, a chip on his shoulder, and a lot of time on his hands.

To put that in perspective, the project owner first started navigating the approvals process in 2005. The project is still stuck in appeal, has not been able to obtain financing due to the uncertainty surrounding it, and will now likely never be built. Rather than replacing the dilapidated but charming commercial/restaurant buildings formerly on the site with a more modern storefront engaging the street with apartments above to bring people into the neighborhood, we now have an eyesore.

Thanks, Dennis. That really made a difference for the quality of Seattle's urban spaces.

Let's face it: We, bold pioneers on the western frontier, are imprisoned in the romance of the past. In particular, there is one spectre that haunts our dear city and populates its dreams and nightmares: the Craftsman Bungalow. This is a subject deserving its very own post cataloging all the flavors of pathology connected with it, so I won't flog this particular horse to excess just yet. Let's just say for now that it's more than a little ridiculous and hypocritical for a city so desirous of sustainability and urban quality to be so completely focused on the preservation of this shibboleth - the SUV of the housing world - against all else.
You may also have noticed my unabashed self-promotion there. Watch out for me. I'm a sneaky bastard.

We're still just a small town with small-town attitudes, despite the fact that the Seattle metro area now contains 3.4 million people. In fact, we're not really that much of a city after all: more of a confederation of towns that share some infrastructure costs and administrative duties. Occasionally, turf wars between the principalities will break into the open (school district budget cuts being a recent example), but mostly the struggle remains cold and covert: a kind of multi-polar municipal detente. This may serve local interests and activists very well, but it has nearly crippled our ability to plan for growth or enhance our urban environment.

NIMBYism is rife and mostly unchecked. This hardly needs explanation to anybody who pays attention or who has attended any sort of public meeting associated with proposed development projects. One wonders how the citizens of Laurelhurst sleep at night, having recently driven a stake through the heart of Children's Hospital's expansion plans.

We waste our money on signature feel-good infrastructure money-burners like light rail, driven by a sort of Rotary boosterism run amok, and ignore the rotting infrastructure on which we already depend. Rather than fixing obvious road hazards and choke points or implementing smart traffic lights to reduce congestion, we spend many millions on re-striping roads for bicycles and increasing the hazard to bicyclists. Newsflash: Seattle actually has a lot of steep hills and it's been known to rain from time to time...not exactly prime bicycle commuting territory.

One of these days, I'm going to attach a seismograph to my motorcycle as I commute in to work to quantify the deferred maintenance along my little stretch of this fine city.

Most of our regional wealth is controlled by a few dozens of individuals and families, all of who punch way above their weight in local affairs. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. When oligarchs get together and act, they can accomplish highly beneficial things for everyone. Just ask Chattanooga.

This is one of the many paradoxes of Seattle's urban culture: an uncompromising dependence on participatory process combined with establishment string-pullers working in smoke-filled rooms (now smoke-free within 25 feet of any opening!). But in Seattle, the oligarchs haven't stepped up to the plate except where it serves their own very narrow interests, and even then have no shared vision of the future. Paul Allen is more than happy to inflate his ego and pocketbook with public subsidies for a couple of highly dubious enterprises. Bill and Melinda Gates wiped out a skate park to provide a home for their third-world money funnel. But beyond that, noblesse oblige in Seattle's urban arena has been conspicuously lacking.

How's that for biting the hand?

All of which is partly a way of saying that Seattle suffers to some extent from an ongoing power vacuum in municipal government and a debased sense of community values. We have all the alienation and isolation of modern American urban life, combined with the distinct provinciality and arrogance of outlook characteristic of small-town life. We want Seattle to stay in 1960 or 1970 or 1980 or whenever forever, and all this newfangled stuff just wrecks what makes us special. Plus, it's our city and we don't think it's broke, so we ain't got no desire to fix it.

Nobody said we had to be consistent.

Does the Shoe Really Fit?
Despite my inflammatory and long-winded critique, the fact is that Seattle is not only a great place to live, but has the potential to be a true world-class city. I know our local and regional advocates claim that's already the case, but it's not. We have a good reputation for many things, but the reality doesn't really match up to the hype.

Perhaps that's the primary motivation for this weblog and the vehemence of my little screed. I know how great this city can be, and have suffered through decades of disappointment as Seattle has failed to really fulfill that potential. From the CAP Initiative forward, we seem bound and determined to cut off our collective nose to spite our face. Those of you who are involved in Seattle urbanism, land use, and/or the design of the built environment probably see quite a bit of truth in the funhouse mirror I've so unflatteringly held up to our city. We can change, and the things we have to change aren't really all that huge in the grand schema. We're just so used to dealing with these things that we often forget it doesn't have to be this way.

In some small way, I hope to help change that. Maybe you do too.

Welcome to Seattle Urbanism!

Welcome to Seattle Urbanism. If you're here, that probably means you have an abiding interest in the quality of Seattle's urban environment, such as it is ... or at the very least, a bone to pick with something you think has gone wrong with the form or development of our city.

At Seattle Urbanism, we:
  1. love the city of Seattle and want to see it flourish as the world-class city it has the potential to be (but isn't, quite yet, despite our pretensions),
  2. provide an outsider's perspective framed from insider information and expertise,
  3. will always call it like we see it, wherever that leads us,
  4. try to be smart, informative, erudite, entertaining, and funny ... as the material allows.
We've also got a few inherent biases here, and feel that it's always best to make biases explicit. I've also long been a fan of the "we believe" series on NPR. There are several other weblogs and sites that cover urban topics as they relate to Seattle. This one isn't like the others in a few important ways you should be aware of up front. That way, you can't say you didn't know it was a snake when you picked it up.
  • we believe that cities are among the greatest human achievements, and are best conceived as organic, self-organizing structures which reify social relationships and behaviors,
  • we believe that incentives matter ... a lot ... and economics cannot be ignored in the pursuit of ideals, nor changed by wishful thinking and creative accounting,
  • we deny the efficacy and validity of 'social engineering' through design and planning: that urban and architectural design are not capable of controlling human behavior, merely facilitating or hindering it,
  • we believe that, while land use regulation and codes can prevent some of the worst designs, it is not capable of enforcing good design,
  • we therefore prefer minimalist, catalytic, organic, and cooperative approaches to urban development as a default,
  • we don't believe in half-measures,
  • we are adamantly opposed to mediocrity in all forms,
  • we believe that the worst threat to the vitality and health of a city is the unraveling of trust,
  • we believe that you can judge intent better by watching what people do than what they say,
  • we are not part of Seattle's regnant political orthodoxy, and probably don't agree with you on any political stance you care to name, but don't think that's an impediment to implementing better urban strategies for this city we share,
  • we believe that a city's environment and infrastructure must provide security, social context, and opportunity,
  • we believe that the "Seattle Process" is a disaster, and is symptomatic of a larger problem,
  • we believe that arguing on the Internet without first clarifying and agreeing on first principles and fundamental goals is as pointless as wrestling with a pig: you both get dirty, and the pig likes it.
Finally, we've got a few administrative rules we expect participants to honor as we move forward:
  1. All perspectives are welcome.
  2. Argumentative fallacies and emotional invective will not be tolerated.
  3. Posts must at least tangentially relate to urbanism and design in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.
  4. Comments must relate to the topic of the post in which they are made.
  5. The weblog moderators are in charge and their decisions are final.
This move has been in the works from some time now. Speaking personally for a moment as weblog creator, I've been writing on design and urbanism topics for many years in other places. I've also been embroiled in Seattle's neighborhood planning process, served half a decade on the Seattle Design Review Board for Area 7 (Capitol Hill & the surrounding area), and been deeply involved in the current rewrite of the multi-family zoning code currently under review by the City Council. And, of course, I'm also a professional designer of buildings and urban spaces. I've spent twenty years thinking about Seattle Urbanism and how to make it better.

It was high time those thoughts got collected in one place. I look forward to hearing what others think of them, and listening for other voices to join in. If you would like to write for this weblog, please let me know.