Can You Be An Environmentalist and a NIMBY?


Rows of townhomes in Ballard
Photo credit: flickr/Bejan, Creative Commons license.
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P-I real estate reporter Aubrey Cohen has been covering land use and housing in and around Seattle for more than a dozen years, and in that time, he's seen plenty of NIMBY-ism. He justifiably criticizes those Seattleites who clamor for density ... in someone else's neighborhood in this excellent op-ed from earlier in the week:

Still, Cohen is wise enough to know that even smart growth isn't the best medicine when it's simply crammed down resident's unwilling throats. The most effective way to fight NIMBY-ism isn't simply to silence the dissenters, but rather, to build urban density that's so livable and appealing that residents want it in their backyards. And although he bemoans the fact that Seattle's developers and city officials haven't yet produced one excellent neighborhood in 15 years, he's hopeful that there are some standout local leaders who are willing to discuss how to do density right:

There's room for a rational discussion of how to accommodate more density in a neighborhood. Roosevelt residents who argue a proposal to allow buildings as tall as 160 feet near a planned light-rail station go too far have credibility because they say they know the station obliges them to accept more density and, in fact, had already proposed increasing heights to 65 feet.
Pike-Pine preservationist Liz Dunn can credibly argue for preserving character buildings by incorporating them into new projects because she's a developer who has done just that.
Many of these issues are coming to a head now, or soon:

* The city has scheduled neighborhood meetings Wednesday and Aug. 3 on a plan to allow backyard cottages citywide.

* The City Council's Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee is discussing the proposed new rules for townhouses and other multifamily developments.

* The city is starting to work with residents on updating neighborhood plans.

So, call yourself an environmentalist? Think we need to grow up, not out? OK, rather than looking for reasons why your neighborhood is not the appropriate place for proposal X or Y, how about coming up with ways in which you think your neighborhood can and should fit more homes?
Maybe, if we all try, we can come up with more dense development that helps save the planet and really does create the kind of neighborhoods others will want to emulate.

The central point here, though, is critical: given all the environmental benefits of compact communities (they slash transportation and construction emissions, cut household power use and enable post-ownership lifestyles, all of which can add up to mean that density is the single best predictor of low greenhouse gas emissions), you can't oppose any reasonable new density and honestly call yourself an environmentalist.

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