The 2015 ULI Young Leaders Group tackle the politics of opposing density

The organization leads a workshop to engage naysayers toward providing the Mayor’s office with insights that will enable a more achievable density.

Tackling the difficult conversation
More than 1,000 people are moving to Seattle each week.  And yet, despite skyrocketing costs of housing, two-thirds of our city’s land area remains zoned Single Family.  Our intense topography and geographic constraints like waterways and protected viewsheds make the developable area smaller still.  All of this makes for fast rising prices and an intense debate on how we as a city should address the issue of increasing population growth.  In 2015 Mayor Murray’s Housing and Livability Agenda initiative leaked that it was considering eliminating all Single Family zoning and that ratchetted up the volume of the debate, catalyzing a strong resistance to growth-oriented policies and creative development concepts like micro-housing.  Meanwhile affordability suffers as do more vulnerable populations who to face displacement from rising rents or new construction.  The challenge for Seattle has evolved past how to enable good and fair density, but rather do we even negotiate a solution with ourselves at all.  That same year, 2015, the Seattle chapter of Urban Land Institute (ULI) Young Leaders Group (YLG) decided to explore this topic head-on with a live charrette-style event, toward providing the Mayor’s office with a set of insights into how it might broker progress.

Seattle’s challenge has devolved from designing policy for sustainable growth and positive density into a conflict mediation challenge between the various constituents who either oppose or growth as a threat to what they have or feel cast aside by it altogether.

The event gathered policy wonks, city agency representatives, developers and designers, in a series of fast, user-based exercises to identify the core issues stymieing growth for Seattle’s neighborhoods. While open to the public, the workshop invited targeted individuals to ensure we had at least 25% of attendees being vocal, anti-density representatives along with an equal amount of pro-density folk from the public and private sector.  The strategy for this workshop was one-part conflict mediation and one-part design charrette, distilling insights into how Seattle might create policy to allow for its ambitious growth without alienating the strong single-family constituents and anti-growth interests toward creating progress.  Recommendations included creative solutions to tackle parking demand like zero-parking-leases, alternative forms of micro-housing, and strong support for fundamentals like public transit.

FIX’s Role
The ULI Young Leaders Group hired FIX to guide the team through a series of visioning sessions, design, and then collaboratively facilitate their event. YLG will be issuing their recommendations to the Mayor later this year.