Forget parks, Seattle needs housing now

Oct 30, 2017, 2:01 PM
An awkward stretch of road was converted into a park in Seattle's Roosevelt's neighborhood. It stands between a cafe and a gas station. (SDOT) Pac-Man Pavement to Park on Capitol Hill. (SDOT) Pavement to Park on Growing Vine Street. (SDOT) A Pavement to Park project on First Hill. (SDOT) A Pavement to Park project on First Hill. (SDOT) A Pavement to Park project in Little Saigon that features images from Vietnamese folklore. (SDOT) A Pavement to Park project in Little Saigon that features images from Vietnamese folklore. (SDOT) A street converted into a park at Rainier Vista in Seattle. (SDOT)

A painted stream flowing through shards of multicolored kryptonite stands between a gas station and coffee shop in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood. It may appear odd to some, but to others in Seattle, it’s a park.

Since 2015, Seattle has been slowly converting odd portions of road like this one in the Roosevelt neighborhood into little parks. The Seattle Department of Transportation has a goal of having four pavement to park projects each year. So far, some have made sense. Others beg the question: Was this necessary? Doesn’t Seattle have other priorities?

RELATED: Seattle should build affordable housing, not developers

Rather than a Pavement to Parks program, Seattle needs a pavement to housing plan.

Let’s take a look at the problem:

Officials have a grab bag of solutions that range from new 24-hour shelters, sanctioned tent encampments, and incentives for developers to create a few affordable units in buildings they construct. As KIRO Radio’s Ron Upshaw recently said, it’s time for the city to step up and make its own affordable housing and not rely on developers.

So here’s an idea: stop converting streets into parks. Convert them into housing and provide them to renters at affordable rates.

Seattle pavement to parks … to homes

Seattle currently has about 11 of these pavement parks. Some streets were oddly shaped, others make you wonder why they ever took them away (along with parking). At the very least, these spaces could be used for tiny homes. At best, they could host small apartment buildings. After all, right now in Seattle, a 130-square-foot room with a toilet passes for a studio … we can do better.

In order for any of that to happen, the Seattle City Council would have to approve a street vacation, which is something sports fans in town are familiar with. It means that the city changes the street’s official use. The city has rules for street vacations. For example, the council could only approve one if it is in the public interest. I’d argue that right now, Seattleites are more interested in homes than painted pavement.

Another rule: Proposed vacations may be approved only when they provide a long-term benefit to the general public. If painting a street is the bar we have to pass, then let the construction begin.

All of the stated criteria for a pavement park — from community involvement to race and social justice — could easily apply to the need for housing. Seattle has 485 parks, with 6,414 acres of park space. What it doesn’t have is enough housing. After all, the current situation has led to plenty of people learning that Seattle’s parks are great places to live.

Author’s note: In regard to above kryptonite reference — yes, there are blue and yellow (gold) forms of kryptonite.

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Forget parks, Seattle needs housing now