Development that Empowers – Designing Density in Seattle for the Next 100 Years

May 02, 2017

The Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows Program is designed to spark new thinking through unconventional, interdisciplinary collaboration and to engage a broad audience in a research topic within the rubric of sustainability. We pair Runstad Center graduate students with emerging industry thought leaders and College of Built Environments faculty for a year-long program of research and international field study.  Recently our 2016-17 Runstad Fellows returned from visiting Sydney and Melbourne, Australia where they were researching the affects of growth on these fine cities.

Seattle’s growth creates prosperity for many, increasing the supply of new office and housing, keeping and attracting companies and their talent in the Seattle area, further stimulating our economy. However, our growth has also brought unintended consequences, including increasing cost of living, strain on transit infrastructure, displacement particularly of vulnerable populations, and resistance to growth itself. This is revealing that our growth may not ultimately be sustainable. Without new models of development, we run the risk of mirroring San Francisco, Manhattan and other cities which struggle with issues of equity despite their success. We define equity as:

1. Affordability – cost of housing and everyday needs including food and services
2. Livability – access to transportation, job opportunities, open space, factors of health and wellness
3. Social inclusion – displacement, cultural diasporas, and participation in long-term wealth creation

We know from various fields of research, as well as our own experiences, that socioeconomic diversity increases overall health, creativity and productivity of cities, including quality of education, economic growth and prosperity, and health and wellness for everyone. For these reasons alone, as well as the ethics of displacement and gentrification, new development models are worth exploring.

While the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan is focused on equitable city growth for the next 20 years, we will focus on informing patterns for the next 100 years. As inspiration, we have traveled to Sydney and Melbourne to study recent development projects, policies and research, and organizations worth learning from and potentially emulating in Seattle. Our focus included the entire process of development and urbanism from top-down policy to community activism. We looked at the physical stuff like built works as well as processes like community engagement strategies and temporary events which may influence how people understand what it means to grow as a city.