Posts by joshua sloan
To keep up with emerging ideas, highlight especially important works, and provide diverse views on issues in planning and design, I will be highlighting some of my past and current readings over the next year.
To begin, Iâ€™d like to feature a pair of books from one of the best authors in architecture and urban studies: Witold Rybczynski. Two of his books contrast the extremes of development: Last Harvest (2007) and City Life (1995). (For now, I will forgo his wonderful biography of Frederick Law Olmsted, A Clearing in the Distance, and his latest, Makeshift Metropolis.)
The subtitle of Last Harvest is a summary of its theme: â€śHow a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America from George Washington to the Builders of the Twenty-first Century, and Why We Live in Houses Anywayâ€ť. It covers a lot of ground in 300 pages, but, itâ€™s a fast, pleasant, informative read. My only real gripe is the lack of illustrations and maps.
The narrative of Last Harvest is not linear â€“ it weaves history into a story about the development of New Daleville in Londonderry Township in Chester County, PA. While focusing on creating a â€śnew urbanistâ€ť suburb from a cornfield and the various decisions and perspectives of the developer, the municipal representative, citizens, and designers, Rybczynski provides an overview of several precedents and important general factors of such development. These include a brief history of:
- Unwinâ€™s seminal work, Town Planning in Practice;
- Zoning history;
- Real estate transactions by the first settlers;
- Kentlands (here in Montgomery County);
- Sprawl and suburbanization, which Rybczynski describes under the heading of â€śscatterationâ€ť;
- Housing patterns and typologies; and
- Consumer preferences and lifestyles.
The bulk of the book, believe it or not, focuses on the minutiae of the meetings, proposals, redesigns, meetings, pricing and marketing concerns, compromises, and more meetings required to obtain the support and, ultimately, the approvals to create New Daleville. Itâ€™s a fascinating â€“ really, I promise â€“ description that will sound familiar to those who are active in zoning and planning discussions in Montgomery County, but it provides a view into many aspects of the process that arenâ€™t typically seen. This is an important contribution to the understanding of the whole picture of land development, zoning decisions, and planning that should allow us all to come to the table with a wider perspective.
New Daleville was ultimately built out by Ryan Homes with homes ranging from the low to high $200,000s. Alas, if you really like this style of home (and lifestyle), it is sold out â€“ models such as the Savoy, the Melville, and the Austin (most named after authors â€¦ not sure where the Savoy came from) apparently lived up to the developerâ€™s description, â€śReminiscent of old-time neighborhoods, this lovely neo-traditional community has a central boulevard lined with picket fences leading you into tree-lined streets and alley ways. The lush landscape is laced with bench-lined paths and winding walkways to pocket parks and recreation areas where neighbors and friends can gather and have fun.â€ť Of course, there is not a store or office within walking distanceâ€¦.
A complete contrast to this history is provided in City Life. Here, Rybczynski sets out to analyze why our cities developed into the form(s) they did. Specifically, why arenâ€™t our cities like European cities?
More, next post.
Excerpts from David Korten’s “Living Buildings, Living Economies, and a Living Future” from Yes! online, May 18, 2011:
“Integrating multi-purpose buildings into a larger multi-building neighborhood or district system adds opportunities to develop public green spaces, community gardens, edible landscaping, and small-scale poultry and livestock production, as well as natural wetlands and living machine water purification to continuously recycle nutrients, water, and energy.
Integrative projects also create opportunities to balance the utility loads of businesses, which generally have greater energy needs during the day, and residences, which have greater needs during nonbusiness hours. Bringing residences, employment, shopping, and recreation together in close proximity minimizes transportation requirements and facilitates the sharing of autos, bicycles, appliances, and tools, and community connections to mass transit, bike trails, and other transportation alternatives.
The living economies movement seeks to displace this failed economic system with a planetary system of resilient, self-reliant local economies comprised of human-scale, locally-owned enterprises that use local resources to meet local needs in cooperative alignment with the structure and dynamics of local ecosystems.”
Quick thoughts on Korten’s essay as it relates to our County:
The question we are facing locally is what parameters to establish allowing these kinds of systems to flourish (if anything like this is our goal).Â It would seem that many objectives need to be balanced against each other for the benefit of the larger community. Â For example, density in some areas versus growth limits in others; height on some sites if solar access is maintained for vegetated cover and open space on others; compact development with a flexible integration of uses to allow greater net permeable area within and around development.
More abstractly, we need to think about the general framework before applying untenable parameters on the specific; performance measures versus inflexible standards that are typically derived from acceptable lowest common denominators.Â Less process for projects that hit performance measures.Â More process as a trade-off for bending the rules to fit a site, community, or program better.Â Yes? No?
2011 NCPC Speaker Series
|When:||Tuesday, June 7, 2011
6:30 â€“ 8:00 PM
|Where:||KoubekÂ Auditorium – Crough Center for Architectural Studies
School of Architecture and Planning
Catholic University of America
As a city filled with historic structures and landmarks, architectural preservation in the nationâ€™s capital receives a lot of attention. Yet, as Washington continues to evolve, there exists a growing need for new development and a desire for more modern and inventive architecture. Making sure the two can successfully co-exist is the responsibility of the agencies involved in the planning and design review process. Join a panel of distinguished design and planning experts as they explore how Washington D.C. can welcome new innovative design into its urban fabric and preserve its architectural heritage.
This event is being held in partnership with Catholic University School of Architecture and Planning and AIA DC. Attendance is free and open to the public. RSVP is encouraged.
The ongoing Lego (R) exhibit, Towering Ambition, at the National Building Museum has some very cool models of famous buildings, but also provides a play area for kids and families.
Rather than focus on cool buildings, like the exhibit, these prompts ask budding designers to think about places beyond the bounds of an individual building, to think like a town planner (and a rather progressive one at that).
I think their next exhibit should be reproductions of great plazas, parks, and streets!
Passing along an article and video from LA on a precious resource: Cuidela.
Parking is one of the single-most controversial aspects of development splitting generally along the lines of “we don’t require enough” versus “we require too much”. Parking management is an issue that affects congestion, pollution, pedestrian comfort & safety, potential for open space and green areas, business revitalization feasibility, and many other topics.Â With so many factors being effected, it’s probable that no model we develop will make everyone (or maybe anyone) completely happy.Â But it is our task to try.
As many know, the parking ratios we apply to commercial uses have not been updated for decades. And our shared-use model is still based on maximum demand. With this in mind, the County’s DOT and MNCPPC were directed to work with a consultant to examine our existing practices and develop new ideas for establishing parking ratios in our mixed-use/commercial zones. Their report was developed over several months and presented to the Planning Board, County Council committees, the Zoning Advisory Panel (which advises the Planning Department on the ongoing zoning ordinance rewrite), and numerous stakeholder groups of citizens, property owners, developers, bike/transit advocates, and agencies.
The study was focused on Division 59-E (parking requirements) and Chapter 60 (parking lot district [PLD] regulations) of the County Code and our consultant, Nelson/Nygaard, was tasked with several objectives including to:
- Update the PLD program;
- Assess current PLD performance;
- Identify opportunities for PLD improvement;
- Assess interaction between 59-E and 60;
- Update current 59-E requirements;
- Promote shared parking;
- Support local business;
- Increase flexibility; and
- Make standards clearer and more predictable.
A large amount of the initial phase of the study was focused on analysis of our code, best practices in other jurisdictions, and professional models. Some of the more innovative practices included:
- No minimum parking requirements such as Ann Arbor, MI (Public Parking & TDM Strategies Plan);
- Flexible parking pricing such as in San Francisco (SF Park);
- Broad use of employee transit benefits and assurance that parking revenues target local transportation-related investments such as Boulder, CO (Parking Best Practices Review);
- Targeting parking revenues to streetscape improvements to increase pedestrian comfort and safety such as Pasadena, CA (summary at walkablestreets.com); and
- Obtaining shared parking in private development such as Arlington, VA (Columbia Pike Parking Strategy).
Also, the latest industry models from the Urban Land Institute and Institute of Transportation Engineers were studied and compared side-by-side with the benchmark peers, best practice codes, policy-based models, and density-based models.Â (See the Appendices of the Report for more details.)
After a thorough analysis of the existing code, data on local usage and revenue, and the practices outlined above, a model was drafted.Â Part 2 will lay out the basics of this model.
Post Script: My vote is for public art integrated into every garage….
Adaptive reuse of existing buildings for agriculture: Plant Chicago – vertical farming and industrial reuse.
Take a quick look at their philosophy in 2 minutes.
Don’t think we’d have any 40-story buildings, but what if we used less and converted … i don’t know … some of our numerous self-storage facilities to vertical farms?
A couple years ago, the EPA published a very concise, well-conceived, and practical guide for municipalities to turn smart-growth principles into regulations. Titled “Essential Smart Growth Fixes for Urban and Suburban Zoning Codes“,the publication outlines 11 “fixes”:
- Allow or Require Mixed-Use Zones
- Use Urban Dimensions in Urban Places
- Rein in and Reform the Use of Planned Unit Developments
- Fix Parking Requirements [more on this in an upcoming blog]
- Increase Density and Intensity in Centers
- Modernize Street Standards
- Enact Standards to Foster Walkable Places
- Designate and Support Preferred Growth Areas and Development Sites
- Use Green Infrastructure to Manage Stormwater
- Adopt Smart Annexation Policies
- Encourage Appropriate Development Densities on The Edge
Of course, as partners with HUD and DOT in the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, one would think these principles would guide any development of EPA facilities.Â Sadly, this is not the case.Â As reported in the NY Times and elsewhere, the EPA is moving its Region 7 headquarters out of downtown Kansas City to a suburb.
The defense: money.Â The problem with the defense: savings now is not a long term solution and will typically cost more in the long term.Â Productivity, morale, health, commuting times, and numerous other issues are not considered in this kind of balance sheet.Â The aforementioned publication, itself, points out the numerous benefits for employers and employees when smart growth principles are used to maintain more walkable environments for businesses and residents.Â Sigh, if only the community had enacted zoning that promoted smart growth, they may have thwarted the move and made the EPA practice what it preaches.
Based on a lecture presenting ICMAâ€™s recent report, â€śPutting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communitiesâ€ť, the first part of this synopsis summarized the general goals, scope, challenges, and policy principles for a â€śsmart growthâ€ť approach to rural community development. Numerous links to various resources are provided therein. The second part of this synopsis will outline more detailed strategies for rural communities based on smart growth principles.
Strategies to Accomplish Goal 1: Economic Support of Working Lands and Conservation Areas
Ensure viability of a resource economy:
- Assess taxes based on current use, rather than at its highest market value;
- Provide tax credits for conservation;
- Enact right-to-farm policies;
- Advocate renewable energy development;
- Allow value-added farm and forest product processing; and
- Explore ecosystem services markets (buy and sell habitat/carbon/water quality credits).
Cultivate economic development reliant on rural landscape conservation:
- Purchase development rights;
- Create effective conservation easement program;
- Encourage fee simple acquisition of conservation areas for development elsewhere; and
- Develop agritourism and ecotourism models.
Promote rural products and urban-rural links:
- Develop direct marketing campaigns;
- Encourage local product purchasing by governmental agencies; and
- Promote â€śbuy-localâ€ť campaigns.
Link preservation strategies to neighborhoods:
- Encourage the transfer of development rights;
- Create priority funding areas;
- Zone for agricultural uses; and
- Encourage rural home clustering.
Strategies to Accomplish Goal 2: Investing in Assets to Make Rural Towns Thrive
Invest funds in existing places:
- Enact a fix-it-first policy;
- Encourage historic preservation and main street development approach;
- Market parks and natural resources as destinations;
- Target investment in streets and streetscapes; and
- Focus new development to compact, defined areas.
Encourage private sector investment:
- Provide infill development incentives;
- Establish rules that do not impede infill;
- Create a â€średevelopment readinessâ€ť certification for targeted infill areas; and
- Split tax rates by building value and land value.
Build on existing investments:
- Encourage (and allow) adaptive reuse; and
- Rehabilitate public buildings for new uses as growth occurs.
Foster economic development in downtown areas:
- Assess strengths and weaknesses of existing business environment in each community; and
- Create a local business-recognition program.
Strategies to Accomplish Goal 3: Creating New Stable, Sustainable Neighborhoods and Communities
Update strategic policies to accommodate new growth through compact and contiguous development:
- Create place-specific visions for each area;
- Define the places worth preserving;
- Designate growth areas;
- Plan and invest in infrastructure grid and multi-modal transportation systems; and
- Ensure distinctive local character.
Reform policies to encourage compact, walkable, mixed-use places:
- Align policy with vision;
- Focus rules on pedestrian access and circulation;
- Plan park and open space networks;
- Create traditional neighborhood development patterns;
- Explore form-based code options;
- Encourage context-sensitive design;
- Develop green street design parameters; and
- Encourage low-impact development.
Reward developments that use smart growth and green building approaches:
- Create recognition programs; and
- Require/incentivize green building techniques.
While this list is very comprehensive, our County already actively employs and promotes many of these strategies (rural zoning, conservation easements, transfer of development rights, building lot terminations). A major stumbling block, however, is typically encountered when we look at the other side of the rural preservation coin: where and how to focus growth to preserve our rural open spaces. There are many trade-offs that we must make, but unless we simply allow the tax base to erode and our infrastructure to crumble, growth must be accommodated somewhere. And it can be done sensitively and appropriately. Continuing policies that appease some, by keeping growth to the edges â€“ further spreading our suburban footprint – with inefficient, unsustainable greenfield development, will only cause greater infrastructure and environmental burdens on later generations. These strategies need to be applied throughout our zoning, building, environmental, transportation, tax, and associated regulations.
Post Script: A great set of resources on policy integration for sustainable communities can be found at the Partnership for Sustainable Communities.