Saturday, October 31, 2009
Andres Duany, of DPZ and CNU fame and generally esteemed as the godfather of new urbansim (and who recently called Brad Pitt's New Orleans architecture "bullshit"), gave a speech to a packed hotel ballroom in Houston last night (sponsored by Houston Tomorrow) on "Agricultural Urbanism."
For about the first half of the lecture Duany spoke "horizontally" about new urbanism, the transect, and smart growth generally, then he focused "vertically" on incorporating agriculture into urban planning. The two most interesting points I took away from Duany's speech were (1) agricultural planning is an integral part of the transect; and (2) developers today are interested in hearing about agricultural urbanism in plans.
Duany argues that while much of the attention given to new urbanist developments focuses on the housing, to be faithful to the transect concept requires a spectrum of land uses, and agriculture is one of the uses that is appropriate in various forms and degrees over different places on that spectrum. Chad has posted about the regulatory obstacles to urban farming. To be honest, though, I had previously presumed that attempting to incorporate agriculture into urban design was for the most part a lifestyle thing, a consumer choice for people interested in doing a little eco-friendly organic gardening around the neighborhood. But Duany makes a persuasive case that planning for agricultural uses "is not an add-on," as he says, but rather is a necessary part of transect-based planning. While agriculture may not be necessary or practical in the urban core, it does not need to be relegated completely to the rural zone either; it can and should be incorporated in varying degrees across the suburban and urban zones of the transect. He notes that the entire concept of the "village"--as distinguished from the town or the city--is historically based on a community's arrangements to grow its own food.
[Relatedly, I found Duany's characterization of the differences between American and European environmentalism to be interesting. American environmentalism, he says, grew out of the fight for national parks and holds the untrammeled wilderness to be the ideal, while European environmentalism has more typically incorporated environmental uses into the human domain.]
To take Jamie's "urban chickens" example, Duany laments that under most zoning laws in the US, you can either have zero chickens or 500,000 chickens (In his recent high profile appearance at the UN, Colonel Sanders presumably lobbied for the latter policy), but almost nowhere can you have two chickens in the yard (except maybe Cleveland). That makes a lot of sense, although my argument would be that the larger problem is not zoning ordinances' failure to include chickens (or agriculture) per se, but rather the restrictive definitions and separations of "residential" use themselves.
At any rate, the natural place of agriculture in different degrees across various points on the transect leads to the second point I described above: the emerging marketability of agricultural urbanism. Duany is cautious about both overregulation generally and overprescription of specific ideas. He believes that new urbanism can work in the marketplace. "The new urbanist argument," he says, is that "we don't ask you to do what's right because it's ethical; we ask you because it works better," which he says can be rephrased as "it sells more real estate." And as far as any uniform requirement for agricultural uses, "anyone who sets up one standard undermines urbanism" because it violates the differentiation of the transect.
Americans will be willing to trade open space for the village ideal, Duany says. He discussed and showed diagrams of several DPZ or affiliated projects that include agricultural urbanism, including Southlands, BC, and Sky, Florida. It seems that one of the most effective tools in these developments is cluster building, which allows for smaller walkable village-like living areas. But the open space preserved by these clusters is not just random farmland, but rather is agricultural space designed to mesh with the living arrangements--there are smaller plots for individual/family gardening, medium-sized tracts for greater local food production, and larger tracts for more typical farming, all designed and placed along the transect for the particular community. Various incentives for growing food and options for trading or reallocating the agricultural space are incorporated.
If Duany is right that agricultural urbanism can work, this implicitly leads to the important question for land use planners and lawyers: if agricultural urbanism is good, what should we do to encourage it? Amend the zoning ordinance to allow it? Or to require it? Or--if it is marketable--leave it to the private sector to design and implement? Duany seemed to imply that plans could incorporate regulatory or development incentives for agrigultural uses. Duany states that the agricultural urbanism as incorporated into the DPZ projects he describes as basically a "module" of the SmartCode that can be modified and applied to fit particular local circumstances.
Peter Brown made an appearance as well. Brown is a Houston city council member, an architect, planning advocate, and one of the leading candidates in this Tuesday's Houston mayoral election. Land use is an important issue in the election, and it will be interesting to see what happens next in the Unzoned City.
It was a fascinating presentation and it was great to have Duany in Houston. For now though, no chickens are allowed in my townhouse (but I guess I could try this).
UPDATE: Duany's presentation is available for download at Houston Tomorrow's summary of the event.