Former City Councilmember Peter Steinbreuck presented his study of Seattle’s growth, including its 20-year-old “urban village” strategy and found that the strategy is working, but the growth is uneven and poorly tracked.
Seattle’s 20-year-old “urban village” strategy for growth is mostly working as intended, a new report by former Seattle City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck says.
Roughly 75 percent of the city’s residential and employment growth has occurred in neighborhoods designated as urban villages, the Seattle Sustainable Neighborhoods Assessment Project report says.
But the distribution of that growth has not been even from one urban village to the next, and city officials have failed to properly track how Seattle’s most dynamic neighborhoods are changing, says the city-commissioned report, which Steinbrueck presented to an audience of about 200 people Wednesday evening at City Hall.
“The report probably raises more questions than it answers,” Steinbrueck said in an interview Thursday.
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“But a big take-away is the current lack of accountability in terms of goal-setting, measuring and reporting to the public,” he said, noting that his team of researchers had trouble getting detailed data from the city.
Steinbrueck, a consultant after leaving the council in 2007, received a no-bid contract to prepare the report last year when Mayor Ed Murray’s office asked the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to find work for him.
Though Steinbrueck had handed Murray a key endorsement in the 2013 mayoral race after finishing third in the primary election, Murray said the $98,000 contract was not political payback.
The contract called for Steinbrueck’s firm to help DPD assess sustainability in Seattle neighborhoods since 1994, when the city adopted its current Comprehensive Plan, including the urban- village strategy.
“The report tells a positive story about the city’s 20-year urban village strategy,” said Murray spokesman Jason Kelly in a statement Thursday, adding: “There is room for improvement.
“Some of these areas have grown quicker than others,” he said. “And growth … must be accompanied by investments in transportation, parks and other services.”
The city will use the report as it rewrites the Comprehensive Plan this year, he said.
The report was ready last September, but Steinbrueck held onto it for months because the mayor and other officials wanted to be briefed on it, he said.
The researchers analyzed 10 of the city’s 32 urban villages by looking at 22 “indicators,” such as bus ridership.
• Ballard has seen a steady increase in the frequency of children born underweight — one measure of overall public health — while Rainier Beach and downtown have maintained higher frequencies than other urban villages.
• Tree-canopy coverage has increased in many urban villages but remains lower in urban villages than in the city generally.
• Bus ridership, measured as average weekday boardings per person per acre, has increased in most urban villages but not in Eastlake and downtown.
• Rainier Beach and University District renters are feeling the housing-affordability crunch. More than 37 percent of Rainier Beach households and 24 percent of U District households spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent.
• Ballard and downtown have grown faster than other urban villages, such as North Beacon Hill.
• Rainier Beach and West Seattle Junction have received significant city investments in infrastructure. Other urban villages appear to have received fewer.
Introducing Steinbrueck and the report Wednesday night, Deputy Mayor of Operations Kate Joncas called the report “groundbreaking research.”
But at least one audience member left City Hall unimpressed.
Owen Pickford, who runs a Seattle-based urban-policy blog and organization called The Urbanist, was disappointed that Steinbrueck didn’t highlight housing affordability during his presentation and didn’t consider light-rail as part of the report.
“I found it frustrating,” Pickford said. “We really think those are two of the most critical services and circumstances as to whether a city is successful.”
“It honestly seemed like sort of a ‘rah rah’ moment, saying that we’re having success and not talking about some of the biggest problems the city has had,” he added.
Some in Pickford’s circle question whether Seattle should stick with the urban-village strategy, he said, because it protects neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes from further development.
Steinbrueck’s work didn’t include a performance review of Seattle’s zoning scheme.