Saturday, June 13, 2020

Tract 105 in Olympia. Or a story of how the nodes argument of density is racist

Last week I wrote about how on the macro-level, Olympia's neighborhoods are racially segregated along density lines. The more single-family homes in a neighborhood, the higher percentage of white people that live there. And now I've found an example of how adding high-density housing in one neighborhood, and preserving single-family housing in the neighborhood next door, has a predictable impact on racial make-up.

Up until the 2010 Census, Tract 105 on Olympia's westside was one tract. But, since then it has been split into two tracts, 105.10 on the west and 105.20 on the east.


The two new tracts are split by Black Lake Boulevard. They range from the older residential neighborhood on a bluff over Capitol Lake to newer neighborhoods around Capital Medical Center and Yauger Park.

And, their journeys since their 2010 schism show how our current housing policy, especially the "nodes" approach, results in more white, single-family neighborhoods. While our intention hasn't been to create zoning that segregates on racial lines, that is what we've done.

The nodes approach to growth and density argues that we should build extremely high density near Capital Mall, the far Eastside and downtown. Then we won't have to allow for more reasonable increased density in exclusive single-family neighborhoods.

105.20 has been fairly static for the last 10 years in terms of available housing. It includes many older, largely single-family blocks. Before the 1980s, these blocks would have slowly densified as older single-family houses were replaced by duplexes, quadplexes, and small apartment buildings. This was the trend that was stopped forty years ago when we downzoned many near-downtown residential neighborhoods. 

105.10 started the decade as a mostly commercial tract with a mobile home park and a few apartment buildings. Also, several undeveloped green zones. Since then, it has added a couple of new apartment complexes along either side of Capital Mall Boulevard where trees once stood.

A major portion of 105.1 in 2010:



2018:


Both tracts also began the decade in significantly different spots, racially speaking. 105.20 was comprised of just a hair less than 80 percent white people, a lower percentage than a city on the whole. 105.1 started as an extremely white neighborhood, clocking in at almost 94 percent. 

105.1 total105.1 % white105.1 white105.1 nonwhite105.2 total105.2 % white105.2 white105.2 nonwhite
2010144793.99%136087585379.57%46571196
2017188781.40%1536351654785.75%5614933
Change440-12.59%1762646946.18%957-263

Since then, they've gone in completely different directions. 105.1 became strikingly more diverse in seven years, with its white population dropping to 81 percent. 105.2 went in the opposite direction, with its white population growing to almost 86 percent.

It looks even worse for 105.2 when you look at the raw numbers. The total number of non-white people living in 105.2 dropped by over 200 people between 2010 and 2017. At the same time, 150.1 went up by almost the same amount. 

This has all happened as Olympia as a whole has slowly become more diverse, going from 85 percent white in 2000 to 83.6 percent white in 2010 to 82.5 percent white in 2017.

One neighborhood built high-density housing (in a node) and became less white. The other followed the node approach by protect existing single-family homes and became more white.

It is also worth noting, that while 105.2 got whiter in the last decade, it also includes a significantly sized apartment complexes. These are mostly concentrated along Black Lake Boulevard and Evergreen Park Drive. But, if you look back at the block-by-block data available from the 2010 Census, you see a stark racial breakdown even within 105.2.

The blocks zoned single-family are much more likely to be whiter.

From JusticeMap, darker blocks are more white:


From Thurston Geodata, the red are single-family homes:


And further south:


The further you get in the single-family home portions of 105.2, but especially north of 9th Avenue, the more likely blocks are going to be white.

So, if you got this far, it's clear that as we build denser housing outside of single-family neighborhoods (and in an environmental lense, in what used to be a forest), we are also keeping single-family neighborhoods white.

There is no law in Olympia that some neighborhoods are reserved for white people. But, by focussing building higher density housing outside of these exclusive single-family zones, this is what we're doing. This is the current "nodes" strategy, or has some have called it "density done right."

And, this is the intention vs. impact this when we talk about racism (here and here). 

I think it's helpful to quote Rachel Cargle here in her frame on racism:

Recognize that even when your good intentions are truly good, that’s totally meaningless. Try this on for size: when you accidentally step on somebody else’s foot, you do not make your good intentions the focus of the episode. Instead, you check to make sure the other person is OK, you apologize, and you watch where you’re going. You don’t get annoyed with the person you stepped on because you caused her pain or declare that she is too sensitive or defend yourself by explaining that you meant to step to the left of her foot... But I’m a nice person does not cancel out the fact that you’ve silenced, marginalized or used your privilege to further disenfranchise black and brown people, whether you intended to do it or not.

We don't build neighborhoods with racially exclusive covenants (but we did once). There is nothing in our Comprehensive Plan that says it's our intention to build super white neighborhoods. But by not allowing even modest high-density housing throughout our city, we are doing a lot of damage.

Building more affordable housing types (literally anything other than single-family homes) would allow a more diverse population to grow. And, in conclusion, I'm just going to leave this here: being able to live in a walkable, liveable (non-node) neighborhood is good for everyone.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Zoning and race in Olympia, WA

Last November I posted about the history of race and housing in Olympia. I tracked local ordinances to outlaw racial discrimination in housing. I also wrote about some housing developments that have racially-based covenants. 

One of the things I noticed in these racially-restrictive covenants is that they always came with another requirement, that the neighborhood also be exclusively single-family homes. Not every restrictive covenant I found had a racial component, but every one with a racial component also required single-family homes. 

In fact, in Strattford Place near where I live, they put the single-family requirement at the top of the list:


Thankfully, racially restrictive covenants are illegal. But, since the 1930s (when racially restrictive covenants were en vogue in Thurston County) single-family zoning has increased in popularity. 

Over the years, we have created zoning laws that restrict housing to (largely) only one type: single-family homes. I want to back up and reiterate this point. In the past, housing in Olympia was much more diverse. But, in the 1970s and 80s, we downzoned much of the city to outlaw anything that wasn't a single-family home.

So, think about this next phase in three steps:
  • We build much of our city in the most expensive housing type.

  • Single-family homes are the most expensive housing type. Do I need to give you a link to back that up?

  • And, in the Pacific Northwest, income is a proxy for race.
So, what happens when you compare race with housing type in Olympia?

This may seem obvious, but the more single-family homes there are in a neighborhood in Olympia, the whiter that neighborhood is. 

Here is my spreadsheet. I took the date from the American Community Survey, specifically tables B25024 and B02001.

Olympia is a massively white city that is slowly growing more diverse over time. But even as the city grows, the white population is concentrated in largely single-family neighborhoods.

Recently, we have tried to allow for more housing types (like duplexes, quadplexes or small apartment buildings) in white, single-family neighborhoods. Fighting these policies is the same thing as saying you would like to preserve the racial nature of single-family neighborhoods.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Black Lake Way, old Black Lake Road and how history could have been

One of the most interesting, long-term and simmering debates in Olympia, is how several dozen blocks in SW Olympia are connected to the rest of the city.

Southwest Olympia south of Division and east of the mall is an interesting place. Unlike anywhere else in the city, they are unusually cut off from the rest of the city. Other than 9th Avenue and 4th Avenue, there is really no way to access much of the Southwest side neighborhood.

But, like a lot of things you'll read on my blog anymore, it wasn't always that way.

It turns out that the weirdest little street on the westside, Caton Way, which juts northeast from near 9th and Lee street for half a block is actually the last portion of an old county road that had connected the westside with the rest of the county.

Black Lake Way can be seen plainly here in this 1945 plat map:



In the 1937 version of the westside map, Blake Lake Way is the primary route out of west Olympia.


In this era, there is no Black Lake Boulevard further west, Black Lake Way was it.

Fast forward to 1951:


And you can see the map hardening and stretching. The northern portion is renamed Caton Way already, Decatur in the middle and the last stretch is "Old Black Lake Road."

What happens next is pretty clear to figure out. Here is the 1959 USGS topographic map:


In the 1950s, the interstate highway system came to town and reshaped our communities in ways we're still feeling now. Old neighborhoods in Tumwater (not the downtown or main commercial area) were sacrificed to interstate 5, Lacey was given the seed it needed to be transformed from a sleepy rural neighborhood to a suburban city and west Olympia was given its trajectory. 

Whoever made the decision to site the interchange at Mottman (later Black Lake Boulevard) instead of old Blake Lake Road, created the conditions for the westside we have now. At least according to this document, one of the options when they laid out 101 in the 1950s was to connect what had been Black Lake Way to the new highway.  Like an unused limb atrophying, Black Way Way retreated up into the neighborhood, being covered over by new development and becoming the stub of Decatur. When the current Auto Mall neighborhood was platted in the early 1980s, one portion of the old road was reclaimed and named Caton, acknowledging its historic connection to its severed relative less than a mile north.

It certainly didn't help that the development that resulted surrounding the Southwest neighborhood was focussed towards the Blake Lake Boulevard exit and was autofocussed. The 1980 replats of the historically square blocks favored windy, care friendly designs with little thought to connect to the older neighborhoods.

So, what's the bottom line? First thing, I'm pretty bored. If you look at the date stamp of this post, this is maybe week three of the COVID Stay at Home Order. I've got a lot of time on my weekends to read technical reports and download old maps.

Second, people get very excited about protecting their neighborhoods. This isn't breaking news. No one is surprised by me saying NIMBYs are going to NIMBY. People who live up on the Southwest side just don't want to be connected to the rest of the city. 

But, what is interesting to me is that how history really could have played out differently. We could have seen a history where the Auto Mall never happened and West Olympia sprouted a traditional commercial center on the end of Decatur that is now a dead end. Had the decision been made differently in the 1950s to connect Primary State Route 9 (now Highway 101) to west Olympia by the Old Blake Lake Road instead of Mottman (Blake Lake Boulevard), we would have likely seen a different development pattern emerge. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Who was Karen Frazier?

Not Karen Fraser, but Karen Frazier.

Because the name of a street in Southeast Olympia resembles the name of a longtime local politician, I've always wondered who the Karen Frazier (not Fraser) of the street actually was. Who had been well-known or important enough in Olympia decades ago to name a dog-legged street after?

Well, it turns out, no one at all. Karen Frazier never existed.

What the name signifies is the overlapping plans of how housing developments used to be planned and then abandoned. One of the vital steps before building a neighborhood is to subdivide a larger property, plan where the streets are going to go and then name them. This plan is called the plat and is submitted to the local government.

Here is a portion of Squires plat in 1890:


You can barely see the current day Olympia on this map. The current Boulevard Road is identified as "County Road." on the far left-hand side. Also, in addition to (Karen) Frazier, the current Van Epps, Humphrey, and Allen streets were also platted. The rest of the plat was never built and is lost to time. 

Van Epps, Frazier, Ellis were all names of Olympia in those days. So, in this case, Frazier likely refers to either Andrew, Katherin or Washington P. Frazier. 

There is a series of small notations you can find if you look up the Squires plat here, that the county commission officially abandoned this plat in the 1960s.  

So we can see that in the 1890s, there was a Frazier street platted where the north end of Karen Frazier street meets the current 18th Avenue.

So, where did the "Karen" come from? Sixty years after Squires plat was laid out, Kenneth and Allegra Boone laid out "Boone's Addition," overlaying some of the old Squires plat.

Here is Boone's plat in 1950:


In constructing the plat, they joined Karen Avenue with Frazier Street. Eventually, either through an official act or just recognition of common use, the name of both shifted to Karen Frazier Road Southeast.