Seattle residents live in all kinds of “deserts” — food deserts, child care deserts, job deserts, and affordable housing deserts. These so-called deserts are why many households have to make so many car trips just to meet their basic needs. Puget Sound Regional Council estimated that the average household in our region made almost 10 trips per day in 2017. That’s a lot of money at the gas station, and it also creates lots of pollution and traffic jams.
So why do we live in these deserts that demand so many car trips? It’s primarily because our land use code requires it. City law dictates that vast areas of the city are a “mono-culture” of single family housing, where most households are stranded far from the places they need to go to meet their basic needs. This results in economic hardship, as many families are required to own cars whether they can afford them or not.
What if our neighborhoods had a richer diversity of land use that allowed residents to walk or bike to access most of their daily needs? This approach to land use, sometimes called the “15 Minute Community,” is gaining traction everywhere from Paris to Detroit. The Seattle City council is considering a land use amendment that would loosen restrictions on child care center throughout the city. (If you want to support that, the Council’s Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, July 22, or simply write Council Member Dan Strauss and Legislative Assistant Noah An.) And just to our north, Vancouver BC is studying how to establish more “corner stores” throughout that city to combat the food desert problem.
Rezoning our city on 15 minute community principles would also be an economic boon for our neighborhoods, as new opportunities become possible. And in our struggle through the pandemic and its economic devastation, we will need an economic shot in the arm. The case for rebuilding local economies has never been greater, and the 15 minute community concept is a key part of the plan for building a green local economy..
It’s time reimagine our residential areas as places where the residents can walk or bike to most of their essential needs; where community is fostered because everyone walks and bikes; where the air is cleaner and the residents healthier and safer; where our neighborhoods are rich with economic opportunity; and, ultimately, where our communities can become more resilient and cohesive. The process starts with the City allowing our communities to meet more of their needs locally.