Previous generations of Seattleites made some choices that are costing us big time today.
They covered most of the city’s residential land (more than 24,000 acres) with zoning that prohibits anything except single family, detached houses on lots of 5,000 square feet or larger.
In the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s this may not have seemed like a problem. The suburbs looked to be where the number of jobs was increasing and young people wanted to live. Most everyone assumed the Earth was resilient enough to handle “Sunday drives” as a recreational activity.
Today we know we must decrease carbon emissions to avoid a global crisis. Seattle has become a center of opportunity to get jobs with higher wages and better benefits than most anywhere. And there is renewed enthusiasm for living in center cities.
So decades of downzones that made familiar elements of Seattle’s older neighborhoods like corner stores, duplexes, and homes on small lots illegal on thousands of acres of land is taking its toll.
It’s making it hard for Individuals and families who can’t afford a detached house on a big piece of land or small businesses or arts organizations who can’t pay a premium for space on major streets to have a place here.
When people live far from their jobs or can’t walk to a local business, it leads to needless miles driven our planet can’t bear.
And because of disparities in income and wealth, zoning that makes homes more expensive by mandating that one home bear the cost of a large piece of expensive urban land has a disparate impact on African-Americans, recent immigrants, and everyone with less rather than more income and wealth.
We can change this by freeing land currently locked up in single-family, large lot zoning citywide for multi-family homes like duplexes, stacked flats, cottage and row houses, and allowing “corner store” commercial and cultural space.
This is why we need to step up and #RezoneSeattle now.
To learn more:
The Sightline Institute has documented nearly a century of “downzoning Seattle” here.
Zoning that prohibits multi-family homes and requires large lot sizes is called “exclusionary zoning”– learn why here.
Seattle’s comprehensive plan tallies up zoning by what’s been built on lots on page 421 in the Land Use appendix here: 18,818 is built “Single Family” versus 3,159 built “Multifamily.” Because of downzoning, some of those multi-family homes would be illegal to build (or rebuild) today. This analysis of a 2015 city zoned capacity document finds 24,699 acres zoned single family.
Seattle’s current definition of single family zoning is here.
About the header photos:
These photos are examples from Wallingford and Tangletown of what can’t be built today as a result of downzoning. From left to right: corner commercial with apartments above; homes on lots as small as 2,500 square feet; and a grandfathered duplex and row house in what’s now single-family only zoning.