In response to the front page story in the Seattle Times today, I sent in this short essay. I doubt they will publish it (I've had better luck with the P-I) but I thought I'd share it here.
Vlad Oustimovich, the architect who called the new townhouses constructed on the “green crescent” in West Seattle, “vanilla and cookie-cutter,” has a better chance of being elected to public office that I; my description of typical Seattle townhouse developments would be more like “soulless, reactionary relics of suburbia that are invading our city.” I’ve been exercising a lot recently, trying to relax and tone down the rhetoric, but in the meantime, I’m directing these words toward the developers that build these monstrosities and attempting to organize people like myself, whom would like a townhouse, but would never set foot in one of these.
Rather than hoping that the Department of Planning and Development will close loopholes that allow micropermitting, passively venting on neighborhood blogs, and wondering why our city council and mayor thought it was a good idea to relax environmental review regulations, I am proposing that potential homebuyers come together and try to build “green” multifamily housing that fits into the existing neighborhoods (or, even better, coexists and challenges the neighborhood to evolve). This idea isn’t new; collectives and cooperatives have been around for a long time and operate on the philosophy that group action as more effective than individual attempts.
I also envision a development as better housing and a social statement. I believe that forming a community in advance could lead to a stronger community post-occupancy. The way that like-minded people come together, out of the blue, on the internet to form virtual communities, is exactly the organizing principle for which I am striving. Ideally, in the real world, the design of the development would continue to encourage interaction between the residents via shared walkways and patios, low fences, and possibly a p-patch garden (fueled by an onsite composting bin) as part of the open space requirement. The intention is a small, practical, and progressive community that functions harmoniously internally and externally (not to be confused with a secluded living-off-the-land utopia). Oh, and this development would be within walking distance of transit and many of the urban amenities to which we city-folk have grown accustomed (grocery store, coffee shops, restaurants, and maybe even a school in a perfect world).
And, as if this reorganization of a single residential development weren’t enough, the next step would be to form a nonprofit organization to help other groups of people with similar interests organize, design, and build their own living spaces.
This may all be impossible; the traditional process of finding a place that one does not like because of its aesthetics, location, price, etc. may be here to stay. However, I prefer Royal Tenenbaum’s approach to life, where one decides to “mix it up” a little. He meant throwing water balloons at cars (which, come to think of it, I support) and hitching free rides on fire engines; I mean trying alternatives that could ultimately lead to more livable and “green” neighborhoods.