For the first time (at least in recent history), less than half of all housing units in Seattle are detached single family dwellings. That’s what I found yesterday, squirreled away in the depths of recently-released census data for 2005. Just 49.3 percent of the city’s units are of the traditional house-and-yard variety.
And as far as I can tell, Seattle is the only city in the US Northwest where this is true. (The census numbers are easily available only in a format that makes it difficult to be certain.) Even in density-friendly Portland, fully 60 percent of the city’s housing units are conventional detached single family houses.
I should mention, however, that while Seattle has passed the halfway mark, detached single family houses are still easily the most common form of housing in Seattle. But I was equally surprised to find that 34 percent of all units in Seattle are in a building containing at least 10 units.
It’s interesting, I think, that the city’s image of itself hasn’t necessarily caught up to its new reality (as evidenced by the ritual of sackcloth and ashes still occasionally observed whenever urbanization is the topic). And while Seattle is still far less dense than, say, San Francisco, where only 16 percent of units are detached single family dwellings, I think we in the Emerald City can now officially consider ourselves urban.
UPDATE 4/16/07: Knute Berger, in a Crosscut column yesterday, says he doesn’t like this post. He doesn’t like Sightline’s support for increasing density in certain ways. And San Francisco? Don’t even get him started on San Francisco. Basically, it’s just Berger continuing his pro-sprawl propaganda campaign by rehashing a few half-baked (and thinly supported) notions about how density, affordability, and sprawl interact.
For a more complete history of the disagreement—which doubles as a handy index of the ways that Berger is wrong!—see here, here, here, and here. And some related stuff here, here, here, and here.
I or Clark will post a full response later on.
UPDATE 4/17/07: Berger gets called out by Ryan over at Metroblogging Seattle; also by Will at Horsesass. At Slog, Dan Savage is, um, emphatic about his disagreement with Berger. And then more recently at Slog, Erica C. Barnett delivers the coup de grace.
UPDATE 4/19/07: Michael van Baker takes it to a new level at Seattlest.
When I lived there, the SEA planners were all careful to note the Single Family Residential (SFR) unit numbers vs the Multi Family Residential (MFR) unit numbers, and also the acreage occupied by both (I figure they still talk this way). Knowing these numbers, one can easily see SEA has a lot of single-fam. Thus, can get denser if the market moves that way.
Perhaps Knute will not be happy until Seattle returns to the days when SeaFair was the major event of the whole State of Washington. Every time I read him I am left with puzzlement about the source of his anger, about what he is really saying. He rarely quotes anyone but simply assumes straw-men. His anger seems so free-floating and unfocused and so unrelated to historical reality that it could include anything.Certainly there is much to criticize in every aspect of Seattle governance. But as you suggest, Knute lacks the knowledge or discipline to actually set it forth coherently. Crosscut needs a more perceptive and informed curmudgeon.
Knute brings up one cogent point and that is how do we encourage economically diverse density? As Dan has pointed out in the past these urban areas are becoming high on amenity and pricetag, with nowhere for lower income workers to go except N or S. Ron Sims thoughts on the subject are along the lines of working smarter, not harder. We need to encourage more affordable housing yes, but it will only be a drop in the bucket. I for one don’t believe in any silver bullet solution, but a myriad approach similar to Sims’ good ideas on 49 capital improvements to transportation.Much of this needs to be focused on finding ways to unburden the cost of dense development, which flies in the face of charging developers fees for or forcing them to provide affordable housing – thus making non-affordable housing even more so. It also means taking on Nimby attitudes in Seattle area neighborhoods, streamlining the permiting process, and allowing more flexibility as Seattle has done by approving separate mother-in-law residences. Most importantly it needs political willpower between regional Mayors and the county executive – much of this is politically difficult to pull off. Simply blaming and taxing developers (as punishment for making profits) leads us down the wrong path. Knute is wrong, density is good, but there’s a difference between mouthing the words and making it work.