Planning cities and the way that we comfortably live in them is often a pull between many things. From creating affordable housing for all, enhancing community facilities and amenities, and designing walkable neighborhoods, all aspects of urban design have trade-offs, or do they? While there are many reasons why cities are becoming increasingly more expensive, dense, and less pedestrian-friendly, one of the key drivers behind the increase in unaffordability has to do with the way that outdated zoning codes drive the lack of available housing that they regulate.
Zoning: The Latest Architecture and News
In this week's reprint from the Architect's Newspaper, author Karen Kubey, an urbanist specializing in housing and health questions if the invention of Public Space is "Invented Or Agreed Upon?" Basing her ideas on a book by Mariana Mogilevich, The Invention of Public Space, the article asks if public spaces are a product of negotiation in the city.
This article was originally published on Common Edge.
Dozens of neighborhoods in New York City have been upzoned based on contrived, and even false claims made by the city, which promised more diversity, affordable housing, minimum displacement, and other worthy goals. None of those projections materialized, but this is never acknowledged. Worse, the upzoning created the opposite conditions: less diversity, fewer affordable units, and whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. This, too, is never acknowledged. But the damage is done—and developers are having their way—following the new zoning. Then it’s onto the next neighborhood, with the same approach. Roberta Brandes Gratz explores in her article city planning and city promises in New Tork City, disclosing zoning regulations that lead to the opposite of what they preach.
For nearly a century, the areas of urban sprawl where every single-family home has its own yard, garage, and white picket fence represented the peak of life aspiration. Homeownership and the idea of claiming space away from the hustle and bustle of the city core was once considered the ideal lifestyle and the pinnacle of the American Dream. But as time went on, and socio-economic conditions shifted, cities that were once filled with these single-family homes realized that perhaps these zoning regulations were outdated, and new solutions needed to be created to prevent the current housing crisis from growing even more out of control.
This article was originally published on Common Edge.
Practicing architects live and die by zoning regulations. We begin routine projects by reading ordinances and calling local officials to reassure clients that their desired outcomes will be possible under current land-use laws. If we’re lucky, the project will be built without troublesome variances and hearings before stony-faced zoning boards. Increasingly, however, what seemed straightforward and responsible 15 years ago is today considered controversial enough to merit a public hearing, and perhaps the assistance of high-priced attorneys. Often, the issue is protecting the “rights” of nearby homeowners, who see their property values threatened by any new development.
The hyperreal renderings predicting New York City’s skyline in 2018 are coming to life as the city’s wealth physically manifests into the next generation of skyscrapers. Just like millennials and their ability to kill whole industries singlehandedly, we are still fixated on the supertalls: how tall, how expensive, how record-breaking? Obsession with this typology centers around their excessive, bourgeois nature, but – at least among architects – rarely has much regard for the processes which enable the phenomenon.
Minneapolis will become the first major U.S. city to end single-family home zoning. City Council passed Minneapolis 2040, a plan to permit three-family homes in the city’s residential neighborhoods. This significant zoning change will also allow high-density buildings along transit corridors and abolish parking minimums for all new construction. Hoping to combat high housing costs, segregation and sprawl, the plan is set to become a precedent for cities across the United States.
This article was originally published on CommonEdge as "When Buildings Are Shaped More by Code than by Architects."
Architects are often driven by forces which are stronger than aesthetics or even client whims and desires. To some extent we’re captive to the tools and materials we use, and the legal limitations placed on us as architects. Today a new code definition has changed one type of building in all of the ways architects usually control.
The next time you're cursing the price of a city parking meter, think instead about the high cost of free, off-street parking in terms of the urban environment. Urbanists these days agree that cities are at their best when they are walkable—designed for people instead of cars—but the reasons for the car-centric design of cities in the US are complex. In this video, Will Chilton and Paul Mackie of Mobility Lab describe all the problems inherent with parking in US cities and how it got to be this way: namely, off-street parking requirements, or mandatory parking minimums.
Most people know that US cities are dominated by parking, with roughly 8 parking spots per car throughout the country, but this video will give you all the information you need to win any debate about the impacts of mandatory off-street parking. Describe with confidence why cities love mandatory minimums for developers, extoll the virtues of correctly-priced parking meters, and impress your friends and colleagues with your knowledge of the other ways you pay every day for "free" parking.
Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne has completed a three-semester–long study of Houston’s future, given its current sprawling urban conditions and rapid growth. The project, conducted alongside 21 University of Houston students and faculty members Matt Johnson, Peter Zweig, and Jason Logan, focused on ways of addressing the problems that arise from Houston’s historical lack of zoning in conjunction with the largely unregulated growth of industry and capitalism. These approaches include reinventing the current energy infrastructure, changing real estate and density, and leveraging the lack of zoning to generate new ideas.
Open House New York and the Museum of the City of New York invite you to celebrate the centennial anniversary of New York City's 1916 Zoning Resolution with a citywide scavenger hunt to uncover how the invisible forces of zoning have shaped the city around us, from the dramatic setbacks of Jazz Age skyscrapers to the vast open plazas of mid-century Modernism.
New York City’s notoriously space-hungry real estate market is converting the cantilever – perhaps made most famous in Frank Lloyd Wright’s floating Fallingwater residence of 1935 – from a mere move of architectural acrobatics to a profit-generating design feature. Driven by a “more is more” mantra, developers and architects are using cantilevers to extend the reach of a building, creating unique vistas and extended floor space in a market in which both are priced at sky-high premiums.
New York City's Midtown East will be facing a rezoning in the near future, bringing a dozen office towers into the already crowded neighborhood. To help the Bloomberg Administration address the issues that may arise with this move, the city has hired sustainable real estate development firm, Jonathan Rose Co.; Dutch Urban Planning firm, Gehl Architects; and the global civil engineering firm, Skanska. The different firms will be working to develop the streetscape to be known as the East Midtown Public Realm Vision Plan which is scheduled for release later this year.
Despite the romantic notion about cities that develop organically have a rich diversity of form and function, we cannot overlook the deadly side effects of negligent city planning. As Christopher Hume of the Toronto Star points out, last month's tragic fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas is a grim reminder that planning has a time and place and its ultimate utility resides in the initiative to protect residents and make for healthier communities. The tangle of bureaucracy associated with planning, zoning and land use regulations can give any architect or developer a massive headache. In some cases, the laws are so restricting that diverging from bulk regulations becomes very limiting.
Let’s dump the word “zoning,” as in zoning ordinances that govern how land is developed and how buildings often are designed. Land-use regulation is still needed, but zoning increasingly has become a conceptually inappropriate term, an obsolete characterization of how we plan and shape growth. - Roger K. Lewis
Zoning, just over a century old concept, is already becoming an outdated system by which the government regulates development and growth. Exceptions and loopholes within current zoning legislation prove that city planning is pushing a zoning transformation to reflect the goals and needs of city building today and in the future. To determine how zoning and land use need to change we must first assess the intentions of future city building. Planners and architects, legislators and community activists have already begun establishing guidelines and ordinances that approach the goals of sustainability and liveability. The AIA has established Local Leaders: Healthier Communities through Design and has made a commitment to the Decade of Design: Global Solutions Challenge. NYC has come up with Active Design Guidelines: Promoting Physical Activity and Health in Design and its Zone Green initiative in regards to updating its zoning resolution. Philadelphia has augmented its zoning to include urban farms and community gardens. It is safe to assume that many other cities will follow this precedent.
The bursting of the housing bubble wreaked havoc on cities across the United States causing widespread blight in once-thriving community economies. Foreclosed, abandoned and condemned homes continue to pockmark neighborhoods and communities, adding to the vacant lots of populous but affected cities like Philadelphia. The Mayor's Office of Philadelphia approximates that there are nearly 40,000 vacant lots throughout the city of brotherly love, about 74% of which are privately owned, making them virtually inaccessible to rehabilitation. But the city has a strong drive to amend these conditions. With organizations like DesignPhiladelphia's "Not a Vacant Lot" and the city's Redevelopment Authority, some of this land is being put to good use.