Let’s pretend it’s 2030 in Seattle. Our dearly departed viaduct is gone and our waterfront’s looking fresh. The Northgate and Lynnwood light rail stations are done, and our region’s population is 4.6 million strong.
If you could transport yourself to your perfect version of that Future Seattle today, what would you see? And what would Seattle look like if our city’s outspoken voices on housing could shape it how they wanted? We asked several of ‘em, and they had a lot to say.
If you haven’t thought that far ahead, you’re not alone. But several housing leaders are already dreaming up ways to get Seattle where they think it needs to go, from a bunch of different perspectives…
- Boting Zhang, urban planner for the city and founder of The Bramble Project, which hopes to reshape our conversations about urban development
- Shaun Scott, Seattle historian, writer, and city council candidate for District 4 in Northeast Seattle
- Charles Fadem, interior design associate and host of the Design Goggles housing podcast
- Sarajane Siegfriedt, retired Lake City resident and member of the Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability and Equity neighborhood group
- Vincent Martinez, chief operations officer at Architecture 2030, a building sustainability group
The one thing everyone agreed on: By 2030, Seattle is gonna need more housing. How to get there is a different question.
Here’s how each of them imagined our city if they woke up in their ideal version of Seattle 2030.
What are the biggest changes we’d see?
- Stronger community relationships. Boting says her perfect Seattle is more about the ways we act and treat each other. “[I hope] that we would become a people-oriented society, not a thing-oriented society,” she says. “We’d stop pretending that we’re actually freaking out about housing, but about belonging.”
- More density. “Everywhere in Seattle would look how Eastlake looks: It would be denser, there’d be even more street activity, and there’d be more small business storefronts,” says Shaun, who’s running to represent Northeast Seattle. “It’d be a place where there are a multitude of multi-family housing stacked on and next to each other. Wouldn’t need to drive long distance to get to work or school because there’d be housing closer to [both].”
- Sharing our homes. Sarajane, speaking on behalf of herself and not her organization, says she’d like to see it become easier to convert single-family homes into in-law apartments by getting rid of permit fees and giving tax incentives to homeowners. She says building these apartments would help seniors like her living on fixed incomes keep their homes so they can “age in place” while creating more housing to “accommodate people of all income levels without destroying single-family neighborhoods.”
- Greener buildings. In his vision for 2030, Vincent says Seattle would’ve stopped making new buildings using natural gas and built ones that can run efficiently on local hydropower, which would reduce utility bills. He’d also like to see the city using greener building materials, like concrete that stores carbon.
- Better access. Charles wants our rail system to expand so locals could easily commute to work “and not have to live right next to it.” He says he also wants to see a project called Lid I-5, which would cover part of the interstate and add developable land back to the city while reducing air pollution. “If you look at it optimistically, the chance to have more green and walking spaces to get across the city would make a huge impact on housing,” he says.
How would transit have changed?
- We’d think about it differently. “As it is now, our transit priorities are stood on their head,” Shaun says. “People use transit for special occasions and cars for everyday travel, but that should be [flipped]. That’s not an individual problem. … It’s a structural issue where the city hasn’t for dozens of years been providing transit options in the form of rail or increased bus service. A lot of time, people are left with no choice.”
- Efficient, cross-town commutes. Sarajane would like Seattle to stay connected through a web of regular buses and trains that travel to all corners of the city, including big transit stations. Right now, she says, local transit is “all focused on downtown. When you’re retired, you start to notice that because you’re not going downtown.”
- It’d actually bring us closer together. Boting says she’s for expanding public transportation as long as it’s not pushing people out of Seattle. “I have a hard time separating transit from the market reaction of gentrification and displacement,” she said.
- We’d be connected by rail. “Public transportation is the great equalizer,” Charles said. “The opportunity we have is to use modern technology and have a clear sense of what [the future of transportation] will be.”
How has zoning changed?
- “Single-family housing is beautiful, but it’s not practical anymore,” Charles says. “I think we have to shed the identity that Seattle’s identity is our single-family housing. It says more about our identity to welcome density because it’s a greener way to build and more egalitarian.”
- “So much of the clamor around zoning is that neighborhoods feel like they haven’t been consulted and [upzones] are being foisted upon them,” Shaun says. In addition to having made the areas where apartments are already allowed much more dense, Shaun says he’d like to see Seattle leaders talking with communities through improvement districts, which could help encourage homeowners to choose to change their area’s zoning rules in exchange for a tax credit.
We take it slow.
- “I object to the mindless, one-size-fits-all approach to upzoning,” says Sarajane, who’d prefer to see zoning change on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis. The city shouldn’t be ignoring the way many Seattleites want to be living, she says.
- “You have to have the ability to build in communication with the community around you,” Boting says. “Zoning is such a blunt instrument. The zoning wars we have now are based on our lack of faith in our ability to build something better together.”
» Want to read more about how the city’s planning to “upzone” parts of 27 Seattle neighborhoods? Check out our zoning explainer here.