Livability Solutions

From Competing to Collaborative Planning: Seattle, WA

August 2013


City of Seattle



In 1994, the City of Seattle adopted an Urban Villages Strategy to guide city-wide planning and policy work. The Strategy was successful in its goal of encouraging walkable mixed use neighborhoods, but it was not transit-oriented. In 2010, the Seattle Planning Commission proposed the creation of Transit Communities which encompassed a 10-minute walk shed around designated stations on the region's frequent transit network (LRT and BRT). Most of the proposed Transit Community boundaries aligned with Urban Village boundaries; however, where they did not, the Transit Community threatened to up-zone single family residential neighborhoods.

The City of Seattle's Department of Planning and Development sought technical assistance from Livability Solutions to help reconcile its Urban Villages plan with the new Transit Community typology, and to align that typology with the Puget Sound Regional Council's TOD typology. All stakeholders -- the City, Puget Sound Regional Council, King County Transit, Sound Transit, community development finance institutions, and residents -- sought a unified TOD policy framework that would promote equitable and sustainable development.

The City of Seattle, Department of Planning and Development, in collaboration with Project for Public Spaces and Livability Solutions' designated technical assistance providers (Center for Neighborhood Technology and Reconnecting America), designated the following objectives for the technical assistance:

  1. Building partnerships, both internally and externally, to raise awareness and build support for the adoption of a citywide Transit Communities policy in both the Comprehensive Plan and the Land Use Code.
  2. Leveraging Reconnecting America (RA)/Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) data and national expertise to support productive dialogue with communities about the future of city, neighborhoods, Urban Villages and Transit Communities.
  3. Helping planners integrate data and plans that have already been created for Seattle's communities, including plans RA/CNT have been involved in such as the Puget Sound Regional Council's typology.
  4. Improving the City's messaging about vibrant sustainable equitable transit communities.
  5. Organizing and sharing data, metrics and information to integrate land use and transit.
  6. Advancing strategies for the development of affordable housing near transit.


Prior to the workshop CNT conducted a webinar on using the National TOD Database. As part of the webinar CNT identified stations within the region's system that differed in community demographics, housing types and transportation characters to show the TOD Database and Housing+Transportation Index.

Two days were devoted to on-site technical assistance. The workshop organizers started the visit with a tour of key transit-oriented districts to provide Reconnecting America with a context for the meetings that followed. That afternoon RA hosted a workshop for City staff to consider how to support TOD goals and outcomes. Reconnecting America also explored how the current and proposed TOD typologies could be reconciled.

For the second day, the City and RA hosted a workshop with a regional group of TOD stakeholders. The purpose of the workshop was to identify and resolve potential barriers to TOD. As part of the workshop RA outlined the roles and responsibilities of each agency and, using case studies from other regions, modeled how complex TOD projects could be implemented. For each of these topics, RA facilitated a discussion about priority opportunities to implement TOD in the region.


For the first time, staff and elected officials discussed transitioning completely from the older growth model typology (Urban Villages) to the new model (Transit Communities).

As of early 2017, the City continues to follow an Urban Village strategy first defined in 1994's Comprehensive Plan. While the new Comprehensive Plan (Seattle 2035) does not include the Transit Community type, the Urban Village types have been updated to include performance measures for transit