The City of Seattle is ready for the challenges of a growing economy while ensuring the city remains a great place to live, writes Mayor Ed Murray.
SEATTLE is growing. We are the nation’s third-fastest growing city. Over the next 20 years, 120,000 more people are going to live here.
We are beyond the debate about whether we should have growth — it’s already happening. Instead, we must devote our energies to how we shape that growth.
Families across our city remain concerned about whether they will be able to afford rising rents, whether they will be able to get where they need to go and if their kids will have access to quality education. To address these concerns, we must be smart and forward-looking.
Seattle is a progressive city. While we cherish our history, we have always been unafraid to innovate and experiment with new ideas. We will need that kind of innovation if we are to meet our current challenges.
The Seattle Times recently editorialized that Seattle is not adequately planning for the future [“Amazon angst: Prepare instead for next giant,” Opinion, Aug. 9]. The Times unfairly claimed that the city is spending “heavily on amenities benefiting a few instead of infrastructure, parks and services to absorb growth and make it a more positive experience for the whole city.” The Times went on to argue that we should become more like Bellevue or Redmond in our approach to managing traffic and limiting growth.
Since taking office, I have been carefully laying the groundwork to accommodate growth. We are doing that by pursuing progressive reforms and investments across key areas — parks, preschool, housing, transit and transportation. All of these investments will help ensure Seattle remains a great place to live.
To protect livability, we must offset density with more parks and recreational spaces. That is why we proposed — and the voters supported — the creation of a Seattle Park District to provide dedicated funding to better maintain our current green spaces and to add parks across the city.
As Seattle grows, our educational system must also improve, particularly with respect to lower-income kids and children of color. Already, we are taking action to give our kids the best chance of success. Last year, voters passed a historic quality-preschool plan that will ensure all of Seattle’s school kids enter kindergarten ready to learn. The first of these new Seattle pre-K classes will start this fall.
As more people move here, housing affordability has emerged as a significant challenge. That’s why the City Council and I convened the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Committee to formulate a citizen-driven, transparent set of recommendations to address housing affordability.
Through an inclusive process, housing advocates and developers, labor and business, neighborhood leaders and urbanists came together to find meaningful solutions: doubling the Seattle Housing Levy, strengthening tenant protections, enacting new programs to preserve affordable housing and a truly historic “grand bargain” that would require developers to build or fund new affordable housing in projects throughout Seattle. These recommendations would create thousands of new affordable units in the next decade.
It’s true that our region is behind the curve when it comes to mass transit; we are currently coping with infrastructure designed for the 1950s. That’s why we are working to increase transit and make our existing infrastructure work for everyone. For starters, we’ve taken a more holistic approach to our city’s disparate transportation plans. Doing this will help us prioritize infrastructure investments and make our system better for all modes, including cars, bikes, transit, pedestrians and freight.
We are accelerating work to synchronize traffic signals along major arterials. Thanks to voters, Seattle residents are seeing the largest expansion of bus service in Metro’s history.
We also are months away from opening light rail to Capitol Hill and the University District, which will carry 13,000 more trips per day. Next year, we will ask voters to approve expansion of light rail to West Seattle and Ballard. Boosting transit and making roads function more efficiently is the best way to reduce congestion. We know it works. As the number of jobs downtown has grown by 26,000 since 2010, transit ridership is at an all-time high while individual car trips have remained essentially flat.
We must be strategic with these historic investments. That’s why I’m creating a new office of Planning and Community Development to integrate all of our priorities and to better coordinate how we grow and invest. It will take our planning efforts and look at them through a lens of race, social justice and economic equity for all Seattle communities.
So no, we are not sitting on our hands. Nor are we trying to stop growth or become more suburban. Rather, we are making bold, needed investments to keep Seattle a great place to live, work and play.