Embracing Complexity Politics

I’m cross-posting here so that you can find all of my writing in one place. Please visit the South Seattle Emerald to read the full essay.

As an immigrant from an increasingly oppressive state, make no mistake — I love getting to have elections.

But I sure hate election season.

I used to feel ignorant when pundits confidently dissected policy points. Over time, I grew frustrated as experience showed me that the pundits are often oversimplifying. This year, a new emotion is joining the mix: longing.

What if choosing leaders felt more like the sacred collective experience it could be? Less like patriotic duty and more like a patriotic harvest?

Continue reading at The Emerald

Authenticity

This is one of two essays that I wrote in Charles Mudede’s Writing the City class at the Hugo House in 2018. I was more afraid of making my truths public back then, and didn’t know what to do with it once I’d written it. I’m finally publishing it here, without edits, in late 2021, back-dated to when I first wrote it. This assignment was to write about loss or change in Seattle.

“Our client wants the new building to feel authentic,” one of the developer’s consultants is saying.

“It should really feel like part of the community,” the other consultant affirms.

I glance over at my partner Brian to see if he has any insights to offer. The four of us are nestled inside a Pinterest-ready conference room: rough-sawn wood paneling, rusted steel, red mid-century accents just so.

Several neighborhoods away, interior décor has aged less punctiliously in a cluster of small restaurants run by a refugee generation. Sharing their street is an old warehouse complex; at eye level, one warehouse bears a large white sign, generously sprayed with graffiti. The mind fills in the letters covered by spray paint: “NOTICE OF PROPOSED LAND USE ACTION”.

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Paradise for Productivity

Image of an Amazon Sphere building at night

This is one of two essays that I wrote in Charles Mudede’s Writing the City class at the Hugo House in 2018. I didn’t quite know what to do with it then. I’d submitted it to a few places and they didn’t want it. So, fuck it, I’m publishing it here, without edits, in late 2021, back-dated to when I’d first written it. This assignment was to write about the Spheres—what they will tell us, when they are the only remnants of Seattle in some apocalyptic future, about this city that we live in.

Here’s a term I first learned in landscape architecture school: “effortless fascination”. The rustling of leaves, the babbling of brooks, the fluttering of snowflakes—these things captivate us, lift our minds out of the stresses that otherwise hold our attention. Nature restores us through hypnosis.

I’m thinking about effortless fascination as I take in the still-life composition inside one of the Amazon Spheres. A dazzling canopy of stage lights bathes an inert forest, thick with rustle-free leaves, glued inside a flutter-free snow globe.

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How to encourage collaborative development, organically

I’m cross-posting this older essay here so that you can find all of my writing in one place. Please visit Crosscut to read the full essay.

Neighborhood development is fascinating work. The people who choose to spend their lives making places for people can be motivated by many factors beyond simple financial advancement. Yet planning policy provides only numerical parameters for good behavior, creating a world where a developer’s first task is not to visit a site’s neighbors, but to open an Excel spreadsheet; where an architect begins not with a drawing pen, but with a computer model of zoning envelopes.

The language of our regulatory framework suggests that real estate development is for financial wonks and Microsoft Excel masochists, reflecting a civic dialogue over developer motivations that leaves one important factor out — how individual developers respond, as social creatures, to their neighborhoods and to each other.

Continue reading at Crosscut

In support of inefficiency

I’m cross-posting this older essay here so that you can find all of my writing in one place. Please visit Crosscut to read the full essay.

In discussing the merits of urban growth, we sometimes forget to distinguish between two very different kinds of density: efficient and inefficient density.

Contrary to some expectations, only inefficient density will result in the long-lived, rich cityscape described by urban advocates.

Continue reading at Crosscut