Only 10 years ago, Seattle was a completely different vision of urban design and structure than it is today. Needless to say to get where our city at this point in time as far as development and growth is concerned, may not have been possible without as Glaeser would put it, an “autocrat behind you to do things that one would consider unthinkable”. On the other hand, I would argue that passion, curiosity and intellectual rigor don’t really require an “autocrat”, but rather can inspire a city and its residents to follow the vision of a developer regardless. Love it or hate it, Paul Allen’s vision and Jeff Bezos’s ingenuity have given our city new life and direction in terms of development far beyond what anyone who grew up here could have ever imagined. The question really is how do I convince those nimby folks who still refuse to acknowledge how imaginative and beneficial this specific type of growth is for our region? It really goes to the core question how does one really know what great development is when many times the topic alone can be so incredibly contentious? Well I would say just look close at the person or persons behind it, look at their motivations and try to understand their shared vision.
Were it not for the New Seattle as I see it, I would not have even considered moving back to begin with. To witness what has transpired in our city in my opinion is nothing short of spectacular. My exuberance is neither irrational nor short sighted in this regard, and I have grown to have complete confidence in these industry tycoons from our region who I feel genuinely have a strong connection to our region and our best interest as a developing city at heart. The almost surreal yet practical imaginations of these individuals have inspired our city as a whole, and continue to inspire those who both live and work here, and even those who relocate here as part of the vision these folks created. So how does someone overcome their aversion to development like what is taking place in South Lake Union which some urbanologists might consider soulless?
My suggestion is to look closer at the character of the developers themselves, and more importantly their efforts to create a new sense of place and community in Seattle that didn’t previously exist. I understand the sentiments of native Seattleites, and their desire to find connection and pay homage to the past no matter what neighborhood they find themselves walking in. But understand this is a work in progress, and people need to learn to trust the strength and vision of those people who genuinely love this city, have a strong connection to it, and have our genuine best interests at heart.
For those of us who have been through the process of attempting to obtain a MUP for development here in Seattle, we know that while ideas and opinions abound, the sheer amount of time it takes to get through the process is far too lengthy and costly. Developers who need to “think outside the box and meet project targets” at the same time are constrained by the long delays between design review board meetings, and the fact that many times the members of the review board switch positions. This leads to insufficient communication and information passed between the board members and the City of Seattle, along with causing unnecessarily lengthy delays for the developer and architect.
For those projects that are historical in nature, there is even an additional historical board review that takes place with both boards needing the resulting conclusions and suggestions of the other. The enormous amount of frictional cost associated with the delays created by having two separate review boards (property or land taxes, carried interest on the project, and increased developer fees to name a few) accumulates rapidly over the time it takes to permit the project.
My suggestion to eliminate, or at least drastically reduce, the frictional costs of the design review process is a relatively simple one. Combine the two review boards into one, saving the city time and money, and set and keep a weekly recurring design review meeting schedule.
By making these staffing and procedural changes to the size of design review boards and the number of them, direct dialogue with applicants at meetings will undoubtedly increase, and both sides will have a more hands-on approach to assessing the quality and appropriateness of the design, architecture and functionality of the project.
With numerous opportunities for the public to give their input, as well as a minimum of 2 formal public hearings project, getting developments to fruition is far too tedious and costly with the current system….but it doesn’t have to be that way.
When I thought about “money illusion” I realized that many of our own big decisions regarding where to eat are driven by nominal dollar amounts. Those edible decisions as I like to call them, tend to spill over into where we want to live, what rent we would be willing to pay and how much we want to spend on transportation to get to that amazing restaurant we always wanted to try. Recently there was a case in the news about a guy that is suing McDonalds because the price of a combo meal actually was more expensive than buying the items individually. Now clearly this individual has a lot of time on his hands, but really when you think about it, the neighborhoods we go to and live in here in Seattle are mostly desirable according to their dining options, and if you feel like you’re being ripped off no matter what the actual dollar amount is, you will most definitely not eat, live or patronize that establishment or neighborhood. Perhaps the solution is a version of “food control” as comparable to rent control. Free markets would dictate I could technically charge $700 for a Fois Gras Pizza, but should there be a local council willing to immediately take some sort of legal action against this kind of deceptive price gouging, people won’t feel the need to pass by the neighborhood out of principle.
Why would I want to live on Capital Hill? Well because I could hit up Momiji for it’s amazing late night happy hour menu, or Katsu Burger for its overpriced yet delicious Japanese burgers. I may even sit for a fine aged Whiskey at Cannon for the ambiance, all depending on how I’m feeling about what I want to spend on dinner. The bottom line is I don’t feel like I’m getting a raw deal, and I’m getting more than what I paid for. Why would I want to live in Ballard? Not just because the most amazing Mexican restaurants on the West Coast (Gracia and Asaderio Sinaloa) are within a block of each other, but because if I’m feeling like I’m on a budget I’ll just grab a number 14 with extra tendon at Than Brothers right along the way. According to my Animal Spirit therefore I should be moving to Chinatown in the very near future.