Is there hope for the future of new housing in Seattle? (I think so)
This post originally appeared in KUOW’s Today So Far newsletter on June 23, 2022.
We better stretch first for today’s newsletter. Take a deep breath. I know it’s going to ruffle some feathers. Because Let’s talk about one of the most tense topics in Seattle: housing!
Architecture and development are a lot like art. Some people look at a building and are pleased, even impressed. Then you have people like me who look at a lot of new buildings in Seattle and say, “I don’t get it. It actually hurts to look at it. And how much does it cost? Why?!”
Take my old neighborhood, the Roosevelt area of Seattle. New light rail station: impressive. Bars, cafes, burritos, burgers, all amazing. New construction – meh. I imagine that at some point someone had to look at nearby Roosevelt High School and the beautiful neighboring homes and say, “That building is so beautiful and stately and historic…these homes are so quaint and charming…there’s a good vibe going on… let’s build the opposite of that.”
This is just the opinion of a newsletter writer with no background in architecture. I’ve made no secret of my perspective on modern Seattle development, which I think is inspired by a scruffy pile of shoe boxes, decorated with discarded paint from a bargain bin. But there are also plenty of people who say that Seattle desperately needs such housing, no matter what it looks like. And they are right.
That’s why I’m hopeful after hearing about a new crop of architecture students in Seattle with fresh ideas. They recently presented some novel plans and designs at the University of Washington, to a host of local decision makers, as Joshua McNichols reports.
Take student Azita Footohi, for example, who explained her idea to KUOW: to replace some of Seattle’s single-family homes with multi-dwelling units that don’t overhang. Footohi’s design looks like a normal house.
“The idea of doing that was to integrate more into the neighborhood and… presumably the response from the neighbors would be a little bit better,” Footohi told KUOW.
Student Lara Tedrow had a similar idea. Her layout has eight units in a building that looks like any old house next door. Other students balanced compromises, like giving up backyards. Others considered the aging population of the city and aimed to avoid displacing them. Add that and the new Seattle could look a lot like the old Seattle we already love.
These ideas come at a time when Seattle is updating its comprehensive plan, which has a lot to do with the growth of the city. It also has a lot to do with Seattle’s affordability. Because even if we can get the housing we need in the city, will it be affordable?
As a reporter, I’ve always had a hard time getting readers familiar with topics like zoning codes and comprehensive plans. But it is this information that will dramatically influence your daily life for years to come. Also, I will tell you that people will have heated fights over these details. That’s the stage where Seattle tries to find “intermediate housing.”
Here’s the thing: Many of the homes listed above are not legal to build in Seattle. The city is scheduled to reach a population of 1 million in less than 15 years. At least 152,000 more homes will be needed to cover all these people. Which goes back to the premise of today’s newsletter: how can we get more housing in Seattle that people like?
I highly recommend you listen to KUOW’s Joshua McNichols as he provides some insights on a recent episode of Soundside. If nothing else, it’s an excellent introduction to the local debates to come.
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AS SEEN ON KUOW
Author and University of Washington creative writing professor Shawn Wong is helping military veterans “tell their story” and break their silence. Along with actor Tom Skerritt, he helps run a writing workshop near JBLM. (Bill Radke/KUOW)
DID YOU KNOW?
Do you smell like a rat? In Seattle, you probably do. We have plenty of them and Orkin has the data to prove it.
The pest control company added up all the rodent services it provided in the largest cities in the United States to determine the cities with the most rats. Seattle comes in at no. 11, which is pretty high up on the list. The Emerald City actually moved up one place in the annual rankings, according to the most recent assessment. Orkin really thinks the city rodents have a good time ahead of them. More people are returning to cities in the wake of the pandemic spikes, and we bring a lot of food with us, some of which ends up being their food. It’s a good reminder to keep your home sparkling clean.
And because you’re curious, Chicago is the rattiest city in the United States. If you don’t like rats, then Tampa is your city.
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