I was chatting with a very intelligent friend of mine a couple of days ago. This question – realistically and logistically, how does Seattle not turn into the next San Francisco? – has been on my mind for the last few weeks, so I asked him. What can we practically do as a city so this doesn’t happen? His answer astonished me; he said that as a city, we should be generating more and more ideas through hackathons or incubators to make this scenario not become a reality.
I was speechless and let-down.
If this friend of mine, who I value and respect an incredible amount, has built several companies, and is likewise incredibly well-respected in the Seattle business community, thinks that the solution to this scenario is to generate more ideas, where is there possibly hope to get anything done?
To me, this mindset of MORE (more ideas, more innovation, more whatever) is largely the problem with our current business culture. We are so obsessed with innovation and creating new solutions that we sometimes don’t take the time to look back and gain perspective. I think that oftentimes it’s a question of ease and excitement – much of the time, looking back and gathering data to solve a current reality can be more difficult (and way the hell less exciting) than brainstorming/whiteboarding/staying up all night/drinking coffee/pitching the next great NEW idea. The latter sounds way sexier, and that’s why our culture demands it. Take a look at Fast Company magazine if you want more examples.
I think we already have all of the answers to the above question if we look back and review. Obviously I don’t have all of them now, but I’m determined to get there. Here’s where I am now.
Developers don’t get to monopolize.
South Lake Union has two developers. In the entire neighborhood. In contrast, Pioneer Square currently has 76+ developers (and counting). A simple walk through each neighborhood will give you a picture of the difference between them, and why having more developers in a neighborhood means more character, more regulation, and a larger footprint of the actual people that live in that neighborhood.
Okay – so this is a real statistic. Could we potentially use this statistic as a policy? For example, the City of Seattle creates a policy that says: there has to be more than five developers per (insert square footage) in a given neighborhood.
Exceptions are bound to happen. That’s life. You know what’s smart? Planning for them.
I was at a Pioneer Square Preservation Board meeting recently and learned that Impact Hub’s blade signs were originally an exception to the general rules for signage in the neighborhood, because they are too big. However, due to this exception, our landlord was given the choice: install the blades and take a reduced signage package, or don’t install the blades and hang more signage in other areas of the building.
Exceptions to policies will always occur, so creating alternate policies that forecast all possible scenarios before a developer comes in with a new proposal is key.
Putting your money where your mouth is.
Awhile ago, an article came out that touched on coworking as a new trend in millenial living. No surprise there. The coworking section solely featured the new WeWork – a gorgeous, private office-ruled space in South Lake Union run by a great Seattle lady. Not a big deal, right? It wasn’t until I read the bio of the author, Carolyn Adolph. Then I was irked. Part of her bio reads: She is interested in the forces that affect the fortunes of Seattle-area employers and how those employers are transforming life as we know it.
There are over twenty coworking spaces in Seattle, and most of them are locally owned and run. The revenue that is being generated at these spaces goes right back into the Seattle economy. Carolyn describes herself as a supporter of the forces that grow local Seattle businesses, and yet she decides to feature a non-Seattle business in her article, a business that can realistically be described as a corporation, a business where the revenue generated at this location goes right back to WeWork’s NYC headquarters.
Provide incentives to customers for buying local. Make it sexy. Provide marketing training for local businesses on how to market ‘local’ as a huge incentive for why customers want to buy from them. Seattle Good Business Network (an Impact Hub member!) does this already.
This is why companies like Impact Hub member Community Sourced Capital are so awesome. They allow a general consumer to invest in local companies that make products they love – literally allowing us to put our money where our mouth is.
We are lucky to have solid examples of cities that have gone through the process of expansion and gentrification before us; we need to take into account their experience into our own city planning.