That’s what mossback Knute Berger argues in his latest Seattle Weekly column.
As near as I can decipher his rantings, Berger thinks that density and gentrification in Seattle are tantamount to becoming a police state in the model of Singapore. Also, houses in the city are unaffordable. And, oh yeah, the University Village is—gasp—basically just a tony shopping mall.
Really, it’s hard to know where to begin.
According to Berger, increasing Seattle’s density is functionally equivalent to gentrification, which in turn implies Singapore-style law and order:
Proponents argue that the [neo-Victorian] laws work, the streets are safe, and that such rules are necessary for dealing with high urban density. As Seattle floats atop a real-estate bubble that increasingly makes the city affordable mostly to the affluent, we can probably look forward to more laws intended to make the whole town more like Singapore (recycle or else!). That is part of the price of urban gentrification, the signs of which are everywhere.
It’s precisely these sorts of hysterics that make it hard for me to take anti-density arguments seriously.
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Leaving aside the notion that gentrification may actually be a good thing for a city, it’s not at all clear why increasing density would imply gentrification or Singapore-style law and order. It doesn’t in, say, Vancouver or San Francisco.
Affordable housing is, I think, a legitimate concern. (Incidentally, that’s why Berger’s repeated lionization of the suburban Eastside in this column is so puzzling. Housing prices there are higher than in the city, so Berger’s affordable housing spleen should presumably be vented there.)
I’ll hazard one guess why Seattle’s prices are a little lower: density. It’s easy to bemoan the high prices in once anemic neighborhoods like Madrona and Mount Baker, but it seems to me that the best remedy for high demand and high prices is, well, more supply. The only (slim) hope of keeping Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods even moderately affordable is to create an array of other housing choices.
I could go on and on about this week’s column. Speaking as a mossback myself (though younger than Berger), I too often miss the "old Seattle," a quiet and unpretentious place with a character all its own. But time does not stop and cities are by nature dynamic. I wish Berger would quit gnashing his teeth and start using his column more constructively—perhaps finding ways to preserve the best features of the old place while we’re trying to build something even better.
(Okay, okay, one last jab: Berger’s flippant Singapore-bashing is awfully ill-informed. While Singapore is not a good model for liberal Western democracies, it’s impossible to understand the place without reference to its geopolitical context and history. That is to say, it’s a damn sight better than anything else in southeast Asia. Oppression comes in many guises and Singapore has managed to avoid the oppressive evils of poverty, race-riots, and Islamic fundamentalism that are even now wracking its nearest neighbors. The price of Singapore’s freedom is government by a rather benign one-party psuedo-democracy that has built a prosperous and peaceful nation on the foundations of education, multiculturalism, and free trade. That and Singaporeans are denied their inalienable rights to litter and vandalize. The horror.)