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Thursday, September 20, 2007

“Condos Don’t Force People to Live in Them.”

posted by on September 20 at 17:12 PM

Eric de Place over at Sightline calls attention to an annoying trend in writing about density: The tendency reporters have to treat dense developments, like condos and apartments, as if they, by their mere existence, force people to live in tiny, crowded spaces. One such example, he writes,

comes from today’s Seattle P-I: “Now, condominiums are building upward, packing people into to what used to be inexpensive property.

Now this is weird. Admittedly, I don’t get out a lot, but I’ve never seen condos roaming the streets, rounding up suburban residents, and stuffing the poor saps into boxes. I’ve always been under the impression that developers build condos in urban neighborhoods because there are lots of people who want to live in them.

A similar usage, de Place writes, is the tendency to as if some outside force is “packing” people together (e.g., “Packing people together creates problems…”). Both usages show contempt for the choice to live in a dense community—as if the people who choose to buy condos instead of single-family houses are subject to some outside force they can’t control. A similar usage, de Place notes, does not exist for those who choose to live in single-family homes.

You rarely hear about ramblers or cape cods “pushing people apart.” Quite the contrary, it’s just assumed that people like me with house-and-yard setups are exercising free will.

Now in fairness to common parlance, let’s also admit that public policies affect housing choice. … But those policies — zoning, lending standards, freeway building, tax policy, and much more — have strongly favored single-family uses that are segregated from businesses and jobs. Still, it is always people who make choices; buildings don’t do that, not even when policies play favorites.

Well put, Eric.

RSS icon Comments


I love condos and have lived in them for years, by choice. I currently life in one on the Eastside. I would love to buy one of the new downtown condos but I am unwilling to pay the price.

Posted by Suz | September 20, 2007 5:16 PM

My "condo" or townhouse has more square feet of useable space (not including the yard) than my prior house did.

My brother's million dollar apartment in NYC would fit in my kitchen.

Posted by Will in Seattle | September 20, 2007 5:27 PM

Wasn't the Stranger just trying to assert that condos caused increases in gay bashing?

Posted by Bill Stickers | September 20, 2007 5:47 PM

I wish one of the new downtown condos would force me to live in it... Escala are you listening?

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | September 20, 2007 5:51 PM

A similar usage, de Place writes, is the tendency to as if some outside force is “packing” people together (e.g., “Packing people together creates problems…”). Both usages show contempt for the choice to live in a dense community—as if the people who choose to buy condos instead of single-family houses are subject to some outside force they can’t control.

I agree that the verbiage above shows contempt, but city types often show a similar contempt for people that choose the suburbs/fence/yard/commute lifestyle... that everyone in places like Monroe and Black Diamond would just love to live in a condo in Belltown, but it's just too expensive and those greedy developers keep building relatively inexpensive housing in the suburbs and people just can't resist.

(I am a city type.)

Posted by JMR | September 20, 2007 6:02 PM

What's a bit off-putting to me, however, is that many of the pro-condo pundits or builders don't actually live in them. They have their reasons, of course. The same reasons everyone else has: a) kids b) wants a garden/workshop c) single-family homes are a better investment d) other reasonable reasons.

Posted by me | September 20, 2007 6:22 PM

mmmmm i'd love it someone forced me to have $300,000 to spare for a city condo. until then, i'm cruelly forced to live in a city apartment. cry cry cry

those poor bastards who are forced to live in single family homes averaging a half million dollars also have my sympathies. it's a real bitch to have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on two cars worthy of your commute.

on second thought, i think i'll save my sympathies and my empathies for people with real problems, instead of people with real inconveniences.

Posted by chuckles | September 20, 2007 6:41 PM

The total lack of understanding as to our region's affordable housing problem always astounds me on these posts.

This idea that everyone in Auburn that has a job in Bellevue, is somehow just making a choice between a $700,000 new Dwelling Company brownstone on Bellevue Way and a $220,000 single family home in Auburn is really astounding.

Posted by jump | September 20, 2007 7:11 PM

Thats the thing. You don't encourage density by building condos. The demand already has to be there. You encourage density by making cities livable, or conversely cheap.

Posted by giffy | September 20, 2007 7:42 PM

Sam Israel, Seattle developer knew how to make money off Seattle Real Estate. He let his buildings run down for years. When he died he left 100 million for a foundation to finance education for Seattle's Jewish children and enhance culture and the environment in Israel.

Mr. Israel gained a reputation as a slum landlord because he refused to repair or improve his buildings, except for the roofs. His attitude was, lease it as it is, you fix it or move out, I don't care.

Now the goyium won't live downtown unless they have a granite toilet bowl to crap in. We could use a few Samuel Israels today.

The Stranger should do a piece on Sam Israel. He's an important Seattle Jew who shaped downtown more than any other man. He had Washington's largest private commercial-property holding.

If the idiot goyium want to pay millions to live in a Belltown shoebox, LET THEM! As long as the profits go to Jewish education in Seattle and to Israel.

Posted by Issur | September 20, 2007 7:50 PM

Goyium? Who the hell spells it that way? It's Goyim.

Oh, and Erica, Sightline is absolutely correct -- but for YOU to take issue with the way the PI writes about density, in light of the inaccurate, uninformed, and biased way you write about fixed-gear cycling, takes a lot of chutzpah.

Posted by tree | September 20, 2007 8:44 PM

Can we get an article on Seattle's apparently booming Jewish Supremacist community?

Posted by where did issur come from | September 20, 2007 9:57 PM

Some free wisdom from an old hipster:

One day, after you've grown up a bit, and one by one your friends start getting pregnant and moving out of their apartments and condos into single family homes in various Seattle neighborhoods, you will suddenly find yourself desparate to follow suit.

Plan accordingly.

Posted by Sean | September 20, 2007 10:05 PM

Condos don't, maybe, but I was totally kidnapped by a townhome.

Posted by Andrew | September 20, 2007 10:38 PM

I once had a studio apartment hit on me in a ladies bathroom in Georgetown.

Posted by Suz | September 20, 2007 11:26 PM

Im convinced Issur is just posing as a Jewish supremacist to make Jews appear wacky and stereotypical.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | September 21, 2007 3:03 AM


A million dollar apartment, huh? Your brother must be really fucking stupid.

Posted by Mr. Poe | September 21, 2007 6:59 AM

What is it with ECB's kidnapping fixation? First she's kidnapped by Metro, hauled off to West Seattle. Now the condo issue is framed as an anthropomorphic kidnapping. Hmm. Kinky.

Posted by oneway | September 21, 2007 6:59 AM

I've lived in apartments a buildings all my life. I don't understand what this big deal is that some people are making about them. More or less, that's part of city life. If you don't like that, you pull up stakes and go live in the suburbs where you can buy a cheap house and commute into the city. It's just what you *do*, fer cryin' out loud.

Posted by Toby | September 21, 2007 7:11 AM

Note on Bellevue Ave @ 16:

I've been skipping his posts for some time. Not really sure what the point is of them.

If he's a troll, time to get a new schtick. It got old after the first day :)

Posted by Sto | September 21, 2007 7:53 AM

Condos don't shoot people. Density does.
(fuzzy morning logic)

Posted by mongo like slog | September 21, 2007 8:46 AM

Of course condos don't force people to live in them, but society does. Renters are often treated as being low class or sub-par because they choose not to buy overpriced property, regardless of it's configuration. You've got a bunch of young people here in Seattle who are feeling the pressure to buy something, ANYTHING, to build up that equity, dammit!! And for many who can't manage over a half a million for a home, a condo is the only solution, even if they will be struggling under the weight of that mortgage to live somewhere while dreaming of something else.
Another thing I'm noticing about condos is that to a certain degree, they're just another trend. This year's dalmation puppy if you will. Yeah, maybe there is a demand for them right now, because people can't afford houses, or because they are being marketed as the cool, hip place to live, but what happens when people tire of living in tiny little boxes with very little access to outside, sharing their very walls with how many other people? Or when they decide they want kids, or pets?
Condos are pretty permanent. What do we do when the demand is for houses again? Create more waste by tearing down perfectly good condos to build them?

Posted by violet | September 21, 2007 9:24 AM

Is there some sort of law that people with kids or pets can't live in condos?

Posted by NaFun | September 21, 2007 10:45 AM


I wouldn't worry about that. No apartments, co-ops, or condos have been torn down in New York. When New Yorkers decide to start a family, they either make do with what they have or move to New Jersey or Long Island. Young newcomers are more than happy to take their place. The same will happen here.

Posted by keshmeshi | September 21, 2007 11:11 AM

Wow, so now if you get tired of living in a condo, you have to move to the suburbs?
Ew. Just ew.
And I have no idea what the laws are regarding kids and pets in condos because I refuse to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to live in an apartment.

Posted by violet | September 21, 2007 2:57 PM

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