At its best, Seattle Design Review is a discretionary process reviewing the design of new mixed-use, multifamily, and commercial projects on top of other safety and environmental requirements. It is meant to increase civic participation and produce better built projects to match the human and physical context of our neighborhoods. Sometimes, however, Design Review Board membership can lack a diverse range of voices, perspectives, and lived experiences. We believe that when this happens, decisions are more likely to limit access and even run counter to the City of Seattle’s larger housing goals for housing affordability, walkability, and inclusion. We believe that for Seattle to work for everyone, those shaping our built environment can prioritize quality designs that include as many of neighbors as possible, not exclude them.

Full Design Review decisions flow through eight neighborhood-based Design Review Boards (DRBs); each is comprised of five volunteer members who apply and are appointed to two-year terms by the Mayor and City Council. While some of the Design Review Board positions require related experience (ex: background in design, architecture, business, or housing development), there are also “Local Residential / Community Representative” positions that only require applicants to live in the district and demonstrate a grasp of the issues and concerns of those who live in the district. We believe that Design Review Boards matter because:

  • Public processes should include a diverse range of voices, lived experiences, and perspectives, especially in decision-making roles. Residents, planners, and professional volunteers serving on any of Seattle’s eight Design Review Boards sometimes lack representative diversity yet play a powerful role in the design and ultimate approval of most new multifamily and commercial buildings throughout our city.
  • We believe design should increase access to the amenities, greenspace, jobs, and sustainable transportation our city is proud of, not limit it. Design, above all, is about structuring our environment to improve people’s lives. Design excellence is most valuable when we include our neighbors and increase access to what makes Seattle great.
  • Better built projects and increased civic participation should align with Seattle’s larger goals for an affordable, walkable, accessible, and inclusive city. We see the benefit of community, business, development, and design board members who grasp that the building’s size, shape, materials, and other elements are part of Seattle’s long-term goals, not separate from them.
    • Sometimes, discretionary Design Review Board decisions can greatly increase unpredictability, costs, and time for projects without balancing public benefit. This goes on to increase rents before a multifamily or mixed-use project even breaks ground.

At the release of this statement, there are 15 openings for Seattle Design Review Board positions with applications closing December 31, 2020 (UPDATE: application closing date extended to January 15, 2021). That’s very soon! We encourage a broad range of people to apply to these openings, especially folks who see the connection between project design and diversity, access, and larger City goals. If you, or someone you know, is interested in applying for a DRB, please contact Brady Nordstrom ([email protected])! Brady will connect interested applicants with someone who can answer questions/concerns and provide other useful guidance.

Seattle Design Review: What it Is & Why it Matters

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