Founded in 1990 to support the implementation of the newly passed Washington State Growth Management Act — a series of state laws requiring cities and counties to develop strategies for managing their population growth — Futurewise strives to prevent suburban “sprawl” – i.e., the expansion of suburbs on the periphery of Washington State’s major cities. In pursuit of this goal, the organization is dedicated to: (a) “preventing the conversion of wildlife habitat, open space, farmland, and working forests to subdivisions and development,” and (b) “directing most [new population] growth” into already “existing cities.” To make those cities maximally attractive to people who are trying to decide where they wish to reside, Futurewise pushes for the allocation of public funds to a wide range of projects that will improve the “livability, housing, transportation, social justice, environmental justice, and environmental quality” of Washington’s “urbanized areas.”
Futurewise’s campaign to pack as many people as possible into densely populated cities – while restricting the growth of surrounding suburbs – is part of a leftist political strategy known as regionalism. As author Stanley Kurtz explains, the goal of this strategy “is quite literally to abolish the suburbs” by providing incentives for middle-class white people – who are statistically more likely than nonwhites to vote Republican rather than Democrat – to take up residence in cities where their own (pro-Republican) voting patterns will be neutralized by the vast Democratic majorities that already exist there. One means of creating such an incentive is to place limits on business development and home construction in and around the suburbs; another is to impose various taxes, fees, and regulations – ostensibly to address environmental concerns about carbon emissions and “climate change” – on automobile ownership and on road and bridge usage, thereby making it prohibitively expensive for people to settle in the suburbs and commute to jobs in the cities. A related tactic seeks to shift the political composition of the suburbs from majority-Republican to majority-Democrat, by mandating that they fulfill certain quotas for the construction of low-income-housing earmarked for poor nonwhites (from inner cities) who vote overwhelmingly Democrat. Research on population density has found that there is an average tipping point at which municipalities tend to shift politically from Republican to Democrat: roughly 810 people per square mile. Above that, two-thirds of metropolitan-area counties elect Democrats to Congress; below it, two-thirds elect Republicans. Thus, by encouraging people to live in densely populated, geographically constrained communities, Futurewise helps to promote the election of left-wing political candidates.
To advance the foregoing objectives, Futurewise administers three major programs:
(1) The Water, Fish, & Wildlife program works to make Washington’s coastal ecosystem “more resilient and adaptable to climate change,” which, by Futurewise’s telling, is a potentially catastrophic phenomenon caused by greenhouse-gas emissions associated with human industrial activity. For example, this Futurewise program supports “Don’t Drip & Drive,” a project that is funded by the Washington Department of Ecology and aims to educate drivers about the importance of checking their vehicles for oil leaks that could pollute the Puget Sound watershed.
(2) The Farms & Forests program warns that in light of the “very real threat” that “climate change” poses to “our nation’s food sources,” it is vital to “protect our state’s farmlands and farm economy” from “residential, commercial and industrial” development.
(3) The Livable Communities program seeks to leverage the use of taxpayer dollars to finance projects designed to increase the likelihood “that people will desire to live in [Washington’s] urbanized areas.” Toward that end, the program pressures cities across the state to “increase [taxpayer-funded] affordable housing for moderate- and low-income residents, and to require and promote a wide range of [taxpayer-funded] community amenities (such as parks, walkable green streets, increased tree canopy, schools, access to healthy food, community gathering places, etc.).” Among the more noteworthy projects of the Livable Communities program:
- The Transit for All project advocates for the publicly funded expansion of light rail in the Puget Sound Region “as a means to increasing urban density near transit, widening the availability of affordable housing, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
- The Seattle Health & Equity Assessment project aims to advance “policy solutions” that will create “an equitable city” wherein “all residents can afford safe, quality [publicly subsidized] housing, have access to stable jobs with [government-mandated] living wages, live and work in a healthy environment, depend on a reliable [publicly funded] transportation system, enjoy easy access to [publicly funded] parks and recreation, and … learn in a [public] school system which gives all residents the tools they need to thrive.”
- The Seattle for Everyone project strives to “build an equitable, prosperous, thriving, and inclusive Seattle” via: (a) the use of real-estate excise taxes to fund the creation of “affordable housing”; (b) a tax exemption on multifamily projects that agree to set aside 20% of their dwellings as affordable-housing units; and (c) a 15-year tax exemption for property owners who set aside one-fourth of their buildings for low-income tenants.
- The Climate Challenges Atlas – compiled by Futurewise in 2016 – contains “information, stories and a series of ‘equity’ maps that outline the impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations in Seattle” – e.g., air-quality indicators specific to various sections of the city. The Atlas also examines the respective levels of access to healthcare facilities, public transit, and “green spaces” in different sections of the city – and it advances a number of policy recommendations designed to address whatever inequalities may exist in those regards.
Further Reading: “Framework for the Future” (Futurewise.org); “Burn Down the Suburbs?” (by Stanley Kurtz, 8-1-2012); Synopses of Futurewise Projects: “Water, Fish, & Wildlife,” “Don’t Drip & Drive,” “Farms & Forests,” “Livable Communities,” “Transit for All,” “Seattle Health & Equity Assessment,” “Seattle for Everyone,” “Climate Challenges Atlas.“