Upzoning Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods could provide crucial ‘communal space’

Dec 20, 2021, 8:02 AM | Updated: 11:17 am
Seattle single-family zoning...
An apartment complex in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. (MyNorthwest photo)
(MyNorthwest photo)

Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled a proposal last week to allow denser housing near major transit centers across the state’s large cities. But does that go far enough?

Slate writer Henry Grabar — who penned a feature on upzoning in early December — spoke with KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross to detail how cities like Seattle could benefit by reimagining their approach to single-family areas.

Seattle bid to end single-family zoning label designed to ‘reflect reality’

Seattle’s own battle over upzoning revolves around an age-old debate, where those living in areas zoned for single-family homes have traditionally pushed back against attempts to allow apartments in their quiet neighborhoods.

According to Grabar, though, it’s those quiet neighborhoods that could stand to benefit most from denser housing.

“If you look back in a city like Seattle that’s grown a lot recently, you have early examples from the 1920s,” he described. “We have blocks that have houses and small apartment buildings side by side, and it wasn’t the end of the world.”

“There’s an argument to be made that living on a block like that can be a communal space,” Grabar continued. “It can be a place where more residents means more people participating in a block organization, more people contributing at a block party, more kids who are able to play together, in someone’s front yard. Adding people to the block does not have to be viewed automatically as a negative thing on an aesthetic or a community level.”

Grabar also believes there could be a significant benefit to renters as well, given that, currently, they’re “required to live along some of the busiest streets in the city.”

“Everything we know about air pollution and its effects on physical and mental health suggests that these corridors … are extremely unhealthy places to live,” he noted “We have six lanes of traffic moving day and night, and these corridors are also usually freight routes, so you have big trucks going by.”

Seattle and Tacoma weigh changes to single-family zoning

Seattle’s own approach has largely been similar to what Gov. Inslee is proposing, with incoming Mayor Bruce Harrell’s priorities centering on denser housing near transit centers. Moving forward, Grabar hopes cities like Seattle might consider an alternative approach.

“While I understand the logic behind transit-oriented development, the development can still be transit oriented if it’s one or two blocks away from the bus route. You do not need to live above the bus to be in a transit-oriented development,” he pointed out. “And in fact, living above the bus is maybe not a choice for everybody. Perhaps it’s a choice for somebody who values that convenience, but maybe it’s not a choice for somebody who has a young child who gets woken up easily by the noise of a diesel bus, grinding up the hill outside.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Dave Ross on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dave rossTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

Dave's Commentary

Dave Ross

Dave Ross

Ross: Was it a Chinese spy balloon, or luxury space travel prototype?

The defense department says it has been tracking a huge Chinese balloon over Montana
15 hours ago
Dave Ross

Ross: ‘Police used as substitute for properly funding social services’

The reason we keep seeing abuses like the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis. It’s rooted in American culture.
2 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: More millennials need their parents help, but for how much longer

Dave was shocked to hear about the latest statistics from Money.com on the number of millennials being subsidized by their parents.
3 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: Morning people have the ideal lifestyle, it’s just science!

When I took this morning job, there wasn’t much competition. It was basically, "we need someone who can be here at 4:45 a.m.”
4 days ago
tiktok challenge kia...
Dave Ross

Ross: Kia is getting sued for thefts, but why not TikTok?

According to Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison, Hyundai and Kia thefts are so out of control in Seattle that its a public nuisance.
5 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: An odyssey of awe, a leaky ceiling and the power of self-confidence

Three weeks ago, Colleen and I interviewed researcher Dacher Keltner on the subject of Awe – which he defines as follows.
9 days ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Upzoning Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods could provide crucial ‘communal space’