I waffled a bit on whether or not to take this assignment but I’m glad I did. The mission, if accepted, was to board a Seattle bus, preferably one facing changes this June, and make a public proclamation addressing exactly that. There are two bus routes that I use regularly which are being cut completely from service, and one of them runs to the UW. I pick up this bus midway through its route from Magnolia, but after investigating the changes, I noticed a potentially significant impact to those who may ride the 31 from the north end of the Magnolia peninsula. Presently the bus crosses Interbay near the Ballard Bridge, but with the proposed cut, riders will have to take an alternate route to the south end of Interbay and make an extra connection to get to the U-District. This route, the 31, was the target for my public address, and the results are in.
After a brief internal debate on the type of approach I wanted to use, I decided on discrete activism and direct questioning using a simple survey. Below are the three questions I posed, as loud as I felt was decent, to the phone-gawkers on the bus asking for a show of hands. The bus was about half full on Tuesday afternoon heading west. I started with a quick introduction and then asked:
- How many of you ride this bus every day? Easily 10 hands.
- Who here rides this bus from north Magnolia? 3 hands.
- And who here knows that this bus is being cut from service this summer? Silence.
Ultimately I think this change in bus service will significantly affect those who rely on getting east from north Magnolia. By adding a connection and a detour, trips will undoubtedly take longer and some riders may be forced into unfortunate situations. Outlying areas may be affected more than others, and I only hope that once knocked off, those riders will get back on the bus.
A-P Hurd’s Economics of Sustainable Real Estate class has taught me many lessons that I am excited to take with me into the real estate industry. However, one lesson that stands out above others is one that A-P did not present. It was a lesson learned by observation, and it was one that was a product of the class being interdisciplinary. Over the course of this class, I’ve realized there is serious distrust with the real estate development industry. Granted, there are examples of developers that have acted in ways that do not warrant trust from the community. But even those developers that are sincerely working to create a better environment for all stakeholders seem to have this shadow over them.
Developers are just in it for the money
I know this is an over simplified version of the argument, but it is essentially the lens through which many people view developers. If a project is presented as providing amenities to a neighborhood (through shops and open space), many people (myself included) are quick to ask about the cost to the community. Others may quickly write it off as something the project was required to have because of city requirements. The developer rarely wears the white hat, and for this reason, there seems to be a contentious relationship between developers and the community most of the time.
Education and Transparency
So how is trust developed? How are contentious relationships turned around? As I’ve thought about this over the quarter, I’ve decided education and transparency is the first step. Real Estate finance is not a simple topic to explain, but Andy Friedman, a guest lector in RE598, was able to present a clear and concise explanation in a less than 30 minutes. The other side of the coin is transparency. Think about the Design Review Process in Seattle. What if there was a forum like this for the community to hear about a neighboring project’s returns or financing structure? I know this sounds a little crazy, but it would offer a level of transparency that many in the community have already applauded when it comes to design. How could feedback be included in this process?! I have no idea, but I think it is an option worth exploring.
In 2002 I became a farmer. I managed fruit orchards in California and at first the experience was overwhelming. But aside from the daily toil, it was the local Farmer’s Market that truly thrust me into the vibrant culture of food connectedness. I picked, packed, and drove the fruit downtown to sell, swap and barter for vegetables, honey, and eggs (even massage!). But locally produced food has value beyond physical health. It is so important in fact that it transcends culture, language, politics and class. It is art, science, and culture. It is the common thread woven through the social fabric of our communities. In order for society to thrive in the face of the large-scale challenges to our environment and economy, suburban farming must be supported. These fringe farms provide the educational and experiential seeds for the insertion of urban farms because ultimately, it is places like The Battery Urban Farm in New York City and the now lost South Central Farm in Los Angeles that will ensure that young people can be better stewards of the land beyond the city.