Smart Growth Stories: More choice for less cost in Washington state

“We cannot continue as we did in the 50s and 60s and 70s to sprawl out,” says John Hempelmann, one of the founding partners of Seattle-based law firm Cairncross & Hempelmann. “We need real economic opportunity for the development community building in the cities and building close to the transit hubs.”

Founded in 1987, Cairncross & Hempelmann is located in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square District, highlighting its investment in maintaining the city’s distinct character. John Hempelmann is also a member of LOCUS, Smart Growth America’s coalition of real estate developers and investors committed to creating livable, economically vibrant places.

As a lawyer who represents real estate developers, Hempelmann keenly follows market trends in his hometown of Seattle. By helping developers build walkable neighborhoods, Hempelmann is giving consumers more options, allowing them to choose for themselves what kind of development they’d prefer.

“We are now providing an urban walkable option and we’re finding that a lot of people are opting for that choice,” he says. “It allows you to reduce transportation costs and allows you to spend more on housing so there’s an economic value to both the buyer and the seller.”

By providing an urban, walkable alternative to the previously dominant suburban, drivable model, Cairncross & Hempelmann is providing people with greater flexibility and choice in their everyday lives. People now have the option to walk or bike rather than drive, a seemingly small shift that has big consequences for the futures of cities and the suburbs.

“We’re not going to eliminate the suburban model. We’re not going to eliminate drivability to the suburban single-family home,” Hempelmann says. “But we have created the urban, walkable option and it is going to capture a much greater share of future rental and homeownership. That’s a given: it’s happening today and I think it’s going to accelerate.”

Cairncross & Hempelmann’s work is helping families across the Seattle region live in vibrant neighborhoods with transportation choices. For Hempelmann, there’s also a forward-thinking aspect that goes beyond the needs of today’s real estate market.

“I want my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to experience the same great life that I’ve had,” he says. “America is growing and it’s a great place to be… so we’ve got a lot of people to accommodate and we have to do it in a smart way.”

To download the full transcript: [PDF]

Local Leaders Council LOCUS