Community Post

Rules of City Living

So you may have heard that people are freaking out at the concept of allowing (not requiring) higher density around mass-transit stations. There’s plenty of other smart people who have covered the issue in great detail, but the overall conversation has reminded me of something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time.

We live in a city, and a pretty good one as cities go. There’s certain things that go along with living in the city, and I’ve tried to boil them down to a list of things that are fair and not fair to expect.

You have a right to:

  1. Live in the city, which is culturally, demographically, and environmentally different than suburbs and towns.
  2. Easily walk or bike anywhere in the city, including for short distances to take care of things in your daily life such as food, drink, basic goods, and entertainment
  3. Be within useable distance of rapid transit that will quickly get you to your job and back, and to other popular destinations in the city
  4. Be safe in your person and property, regardless of whether you live in a nice or not-quite-yet-nice part of town.
  5. Take advantage of the cultural and entertainment options that a city provides, including live music, theater, art, and tasty dining.
  6. See a lot of changes, because living, thriving cities will always be changing.
  7. Be accommodating of new people who want to move to the city and take advantage of all the things you enjoy about it.  This will mean that the city will get more crowded.
  8. An affordable place to live.  Note that affordable will increasingly mean small.
  9. Pay more taxes in a city in order to pay for services that keep you safe, that keep you moving, that keep your kids educated, and that give a hand up to your less fortunate neighbors.
  10. A generous amount of free public space where you and your neighbors can go and enjoy the outdoors


If you live in a city, you DO NOT have a right to:

  1. Demand that any part of the city will forever retain the look, feel, or amount of space that you find in the suburbs.
  2. Implement laws and regulations that stifle the life of the city in an effort to try and keep it the same as when you first moved here.
  3. Close the walls of the city and prevent other people from moving in and enjoying it with you. New people bring new ideas, new opportunities, new business, and new culture to you.  This is a good thing, so make room for them.
  4. A large house or a substantial yard. Those will always be expensive and increasingly rare in a city.
  5. Restrict other people’s transit options to slow, crowded buses.
  6. Travel in a car at speeds above 30mph or without stops through any part of the city.  Note that this means it will take an increasingly long time to drive anywhere.
  7. Free parking anywhere, including the spot on the street in front of your house.  You also do not have the right to insist that someone else build a garage to preserve your easy access to on-street parking.
  8. A guarantee of a view or to full sunlight onto your property throughout the year.
  9. The peace and quiet of a farm, the forest, or other places that aren’t cities.  Living cities make noise.  Get used to it.
  10. Endlessly complain about how great things were before [insert new group here] moved in


Cities are great, but they’re not for everyone. Things will change whether you like it or not. Enjoy it, and let’s figure out smart ways to accommodate growth around here. Transit stations are the right place to start.

The discussion will continue next Wednesday at Langston Hughes.

0 thoughts on “Rules of City Living

  1. Scott, you sound frustrated, but I understand. I moved to the city because I love the city (this city!), its amenities, and its variety of people and experiences, even with the “pain” of density. Unfortunately, there are probably those who would say safety is another non-right in a densely populated area. I think, though, it can be achieved when the urbanites actually embrace their urban situation, the noise and diversity and all, get to know their fellow willing neighbors, and commit to an unwillingness to deal with Bu!!$#it in their ‘hood.

  2. I hope no one is infringing on your rights and making you feel unwelcome? Do you like your neighborhood and neighbors?

    Scott, I’m not sure what happened that caused you to frame an argument as though someone is infringing on other people’s (your) rights. Sometimes I agree with John Fox, at other times I don’t. But, I don’t believe he is trying to infringe on my rights even when I don’t agree with him. I would have to pay more close attention to all sides of this discussion and look at the impact before expressing an opinion. Are your comments mainly addressing this issue or are you otherwise down on your neighbors? Generally, I would be interested in hearing and reading your thoughts, but this article made me sad in its accusatory tones toward anyone who might disagree with you on any one item. Truly, I am sorry if you have felt in anyway unwelcome (that is if you identify as someone newer to the area). Where would you most like to live in Seattle? I believe that much of the neighborhood old and new appreciate the service of the CD news.

    Some things change and some don’t. Isn’t everything a matter of balance? Sometimes change is progress and sometimes, not.

    Some greenery, natural light and space is essential for the health of any individual. Most of the homes especially in this area are very modest in size compared to the McMansions of the burbs. Gardens are good for the environment and a healthful activity for the gardener. In this area when was the last time you encountered someone expecting lots and yards anywhere near the size of the ones in the burbs? There may be areas in Seattle where this is not true, but smaller lots and homes have been the rule here for some time.

    Since there are many more people in a city I’m not sure that taxes do need to be much higher than in other areas. To be honest, as a child of Rural Electric Association in South Eastern Colorado, I can tell you that services are more expensive to deliver per capita in remote and sparsely populated areas.

    How many exactly complaints or snubs have you received? I am asking this as often people blow a bad experience out of proportion. I am hoping is the case here and that in reality you are generally treated well by the community. While there will be some change, remember the great cities do value their history and character. No building is Seattle is really that old in comparison to much of the world or even the East Coast.

    I am hoping that good discussions can lead to balanced decisions and good cheer among neighbors.

  3. This wasn’t a rant about my personal experience (which has been very good in the 12+ years I’ve been here). I in no way feel snubbed or unwelcome.

    My comments about welcoming new people were to address the slice of anti-density folks who think that growth and development should be frozen and the city put into stasis. People like Seattle and want to move here, so we need to find ways to increase density and give them a place to live without kicking someone else out. Making room for them around mass transit stations is the logical place for that, so that they can hopefully live without creating proportionally more traffic, pollution, etc.

    I’m not a developer and only own a small house, so I don’t feel like any of my personal property rights have been infringed upon. But I do think that density brings us benefits that aren’t always included in the discussions about it. We talk a lot about wanting stronger business districts on Union or Cherry or Jackson. More people and more density will make that happen naturally! People bring demand and create a market for things that we can all benefit from.

    Right now the whole debate about development is very quantitative, always focusing on units and size and number of floors. I think the whole thing should be switched around to one that is focused on aesthetics. We need to give the design review process teeth that will weed out some of the ugly buildings we’ve been seeing. Then we can get density but also get buildings that complement and enhance their surroundings.

  4. Thanks for the post, Scott.

    I don’t read this as a rant or accusatory or complaining about being snubbed. Simply, as he says (and as I feel too) frustration with anti-density folks who want to freeze the city as it is. We’ve seen it before, with Charlie Chong complaining about West Seattle being designated as an urban village, or the CAP initiative being passed in the 80’s as a reaction to the Columbia Tower being perceived as being too tall (which, unfortunately, led to the fat, squat monoliths that now fill Belltown). People don’t want tall buildings and they don’t want more traffic. That’s city living, folks! Get used to it! And what’s more, we HAVE to do it in order to increase transit use, decrease auto use, etc.

  5. In the comment sections of the P-I and Times, there are regulars who seem to be able to extrapolate nearly every article into meaning higher taxes for them. They whine incessantly about how much everything costs and how they’re sure their precious tax dollars are being wasted the minute they leave their tightly clutched little fists.

    Shut. The. Hell. Up. Look around you for five minutes…you live in a city that is head and shoulders above so many others because of how tax money is allocated and used. Do you honestly think Seattle would be a better place to live if you never had to pay another tax? I don’t have kids and never will, yet I’m happy to pay for schools and places for kids to have fun…someday they will grow up and be someone useful to me: a dentist, a pilot, a bus driver, etc. Whether they came from my body or not, they are still mine, too, in the end.

    Try living in Houston for awhile, or better yet, Detroit. A hell-on-earth place with a pathetic tax base that sinks further and further down every year. And then maybe all your bitching and moaning will finally, mercifully stop.

  6. above 30 mph? many folks go way beyond this limit and so do I. I think it really depends on the street and traffic conditions

  7. While I agree with many of your points, don’t assume that those opposed to the HB1490 don’t want density, are opposed to mass transit or stopping sprawl, or to want to stop growth. Because if you do, you are missing the point.

    Seattle will grow. In fact, we are slated to add residents faster than our Mayor is adding chins. 300,000 plus in the next 30-40 years if the Mayor, the PSRC and the developers get their way. That’s almost doubling the population. The question is what is the best way to make that happen.

    As to hugeasscity or slog covering the issue right, I don’t think so. In fact Dan and Erica don’t answer the questions raised by those who oppose the one-size-fits-all, state-capital-mandated, ill-conceived-density-targets found in the bill. Even the Mayor is opposed – hard to believe.

    Is that much growth GOING to happen – yes. Can we handle that growth – absolutely – if it is done in the right way (if not, the growth will not happen in the city(s) as desired, but will happen in the ever-widening exurbs). But do I think that Futurewise and the Low Income Housing Association know what they are doing, or even are qualified to set statewide TOD policy – no.

  8. Exactly! Try living in San Francisco where the taxes are practically confiscatory. And what do you get? a traffic choked city, that is dirty, and expensive. Seattle is run pretty well. I feel I see tax dollars at work. For example, new libraries, parks, public works, etc.

  9. Thanks Scott for your comments. I have been saying some of the same things for ahwile. I term these people the “Keep Seattle Small” crowd. There are several sub-groups, but they temd to be people who want to keep Seattle the way it was in the 80’s or before: A quaint, cheap, small, quirky, little city. Wouldn’t that be nice! I am sure there are people in NYC that miss the days when it was smaller, and you can get an apartment for $200 a month. The Keep Seattle small crowd seems to be made up of a few coalitions. Yes, there are the Charlie Chong types and others who like it just the way it WAS and want to do everything to make Seattle exclusive and keep people out. The reality folks is that people will still find a way in, those people just make it more expensive. Another great example is a few months ago, KUOW, had a call in program asking the question about Seattle’s future. Someone called in complaining about how “impersonal” everything was getting. She cited all the higher density buildings being developed and stereotypes their inhabitants as “corporate drones” who do not add any value to the neighborhood. She of course had to wax on about the good old days when everyone was in a single family home and everyone knew each other, and shared, and sang together, etc-all that Mayberry, USA stuff. Her solution: she proposed banning further condo and townhome development. I practically threw the radio out the window in rage! That is the Keep Seattle Small crowd run amok! This Utopianist further went on to insist that Seattle create a cap on growth-otherwise, she said, “Things will get out of control”. Maybe for HER! Sorry one cannot rent a big, spacious apartment in Capitol Hill with a view of the mountains and ample parking for $250 a month. I am happy to report that prior to moving to the CD, I lived in one of those Stalinistic condo buildings in Queen Anne. I even in fact got to know some of my fellow corporate drone neighbors and even met a few in the fascistic townhomes behind me :). People need to get a grip. The final “Keep Seattle Small” consituency are the elitists who want density and all the good things of a city, but “Not in my back yard”. They LOVE the idea of a city and density, and “diversity” but they want their little neighborhood to be like the suburbs. They seem to be the elitists that mandate density but make sure it wont happen anywhere near them. That way they keep their property prices HIGH, keep their parking ample, keep their yards big, etc. Essentially turn their neighborhood into a little hamlet where they can strategically lobby and control control public works projects that affect them, and make it so expensive that only people like them can afford to live there-thus maintaining the “charachter” of the neighborhood. They like “diversity” as long as they can control it. They make life difficult and expensive for everyone else so they can have it their way forever.

  10. Lame story. in America, you have the ‘right’ to want, dream, or try to do all of the 10 things you listed as VERBOTTEN. Quit telling people how to think or act. IMHO, You’ll get more people on your side by stressing the pro’s of your vision of the city, and leave the elitist i-know-best out of it.