Looking back on Land Use as Service

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I can’t believe it’s the fourth quarter of the year already. As usual the year is flying by. It’s a little startling to realize I have just two and a half months left as chair of the Council’s Committee on the Built Environment – COBE, perhaps known to normal people as the land use committee.

During my four-year tenure as chair, I’ve met and spoken with city planners, low-income housing residents, architects, environmental activists, developers, community group planners, advocates for the homeless, regional planners, homeowners, renters, property managers, historians, futurists, attorneys, representatives of religious institutions, archeologists, people with an interest in transit-based development and people who would prefer to see Seattle stay the way it was in 1970 (or 1980, or 1990, or 2000).

There isn’t anyone in the city whose life isn’t touched by land use decisions in one way or another. That’s what I’ve loved about the thorny, no-clear-right-answer decisions we’ve faced. Each one has presented compelling, competing arguments for how we grow and change as a city on the micro and macro level. It’s been fascinating committee work and not always comfortable. The policies and planning required to keep Seattle sustainable, livable, and still recognizably Seattle requires concentration, flexibility, foresight, an appetite for risk, and a thick skin for everyone involved. I think I might have just medium-thick skin, by the way.

When I re-upped for the land use committee chair position at the start of 2010, I made it my goal to focus on land use as a service, as a means to an end. Zoning alone doesn’t make a great community. People make the community. Zoning – and great ideas about what to do with it – shapes the spaces we use in our life. Here are some of the ways I wanted land use to serve the greater good of our city:

  • Support great neighborhoods with healthy business districts, affordable housing, and great gathering places
  • Support historic preservation and cultural assets
  • Support better living spaces with greater friendliness and visual appeal
  • Support more efficient buildings and greater sustainability
  • Support neighborhood safety
  • Support economic success and the creation of jobs

As we proceed through the end of the year, I’ll use this space from time to time to evaluate how we did in COBE at meeting these goals. I look forward to hearing how you think we did.