Saturday, May 22, 2010

Schwarz in The Atlantic on Gentrification and its Discontents

Benjamin Schwarz has written a fascinating article in The Atlantic called Gentrification and its Discontents: Manhattan never was what we think it was.  The intro:

MICHAEL SORKIN, AN architect and critic, and Sharon Zukin, an urban sociologist, have each written what they describe as books about contemporary New York City—but that’s putting things far too broadly. Zukin’s Naked City does make forays into the white-hot center of hipness, Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, and to rapidly gentrifying Harlem. But the bulk of her book, and all of Sorkin’s Twenty Minutes in Manhattan, is confined to fine-grained observations of the streets and neighborhoods within roughly 20 blocks of their apartments in Greenwich Village—that is, west to the Village’s Meatpacking District and new Gold Coast along West Street, east to the fringes of Alphabet City, north to Union Square, and south to SoHo and Tribeca. This area today is in every sense rarefied, and for most of its history was in crucial ways set apart from the rest of Manhattan, which to some extent leaped beyond it. Still, the precedent for using the Village to draw lessons and issue prescriptions about New York generally, and indeed urban life writ large, was of course sanctified in 1961 by that doughty urban observer and community activist, Jane Jacobs. She largely formed her conclusions in The Death and Life of Great American Cities—the ur-text for contemporary writing about urban life and the most influential American book ever written about cities—by closely reading the neighborhood life around her house on Hudson Street (about six blocks from Sorkin’s apartment and, by my reckoning, about 10 from Zukin’s; it’s all a bit clubby). . . . 

This article asks us to rethink the basic assumption that the urban life Jane Jacobs describes was really a traditional and organic manifestation.  For Jane Jacobs fans like me this is a really intriguing historical argument.  More from the article:

Inevitably, behind cries of decline is a conception, conscious or not, of a time and situation that was better—when the city had a soul. In her invocations of laundries and shoe-repair and hardware stores, Zukin betrays a vague nostalgia, shared by many chronicles of New York (Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, Ric Burns’s documentary New York, Pete Hamill’s memoirs), for the Old Neighborhoods characteristic of what was once an overwhelmingly working-class city. . . . [Noting that the Triangle Shirtwaist fire was only one generation before Jacobs, it] means that even hazy melancholy for the New York of regular Joes with lunch pails returning after a good day’s work to their neighborhoods of kids playing stickball and corner drugstores dispensing egg creams can only evoke scenes pretty much limited to the years of the LaGuardia administration.

Stickball. That cracks me up.  When I lived in Tennessee, I had a friend who loved to insist (with complete knowledge and humor) that because I was from "New York" (well upstate in a suburb of Albany, actually), my childhood must necessarily have been replete with games of stickball in the alley, scampering around with mischievous moppets, stealing apples from the fruit carts, and so on.  But this article's challenge to the Jacobs thesis of urban neighborhood decline is quite serious: 

Thanks to the profound influence that The Death and Life of Great American Cities has exerted, the West Village circa 1960 has come to epitomize—really to be the blueprint for—the urban good life. But in its mix of the new and the left over, in its alchemy of authenticity, grit, seedy glamour, and intellectual and cultural sophistication, this was a neighborhood in a transitional and unsustainable, if golden, moment. Which meant that it was about to lose its soul. 

It's a great article, challenging to many of the assumptions that people have today about the basis for the urban good life, and you really should read the whole thing.  h/t to Matt Berger.

Also, it's worth noting that this article is part of The Atlantic's special report, The Future of the City.  Lots, lots, and lots of interesting stuff there.  Do check it out.  

Matt Festa

May 22, 2010 in New Urbanism, New York, Planning, Politics, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Congress for the New Urbanism 18: Atlanta

Last week Jamie posted about the "Sprawlanta" video, part of the project American Makeover: An Online Film Series about New Urbanism.  "Sprawlanta" won first prize at last year's Congress for the New Urbanism video competition.

This week, the Congress for the New Urbanism meets in SprawlAtlanta for CNU 18, its annual conference.  The description:

Is New Urbanism the prescription for healthier communities? Increasing scientific evidence suggests that community design -- land use, design character, transportation systems, sustainability, and density -- can promote physical activity and lifelong communities; lower the risk of traffic injuries, obesity, heart disease, and hypertension; improve air quality, affordability, social equity, connectivity, mental health and long-term value; increase social connection, sense of community and healthy food access; and reduce crime, violence and contributions to climate change. Organized with assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Congress for the New Urbanism 18, "New Urbanism: Rx for Healthy Places," will present new research and innovative techniques for assessing the health impact of land use, transportation planning, and community design decisions -- from fine grained to mega-regional scales. Share the opportunities and challenges of designing and retrofitting communities that make it easier for people to live healthy lives -- CNU's 18th annual Congress in Atlanta, May 19-22, 2010. Preceding the Congress will be certification training, the NextGen Congress and other partner events May 17-18, 2010. For further information, visit .  

Looks like the program has a very interesting lineup of speakers and events, as usual.  If you can make it to CNU 18, send us a report!  

In other CNU news ("CNUse"? . . . sorry . . .), guess which city will be introducing the newest CNU Full Chapter this weekend?  Houston, we have a Chapter!  Board members Andrew Burleson and David Crossley will be also be speaking in Atlanta.  Congrats to CNU-Houston.  

Matt Festa

May 18, 2010 in Architecture, Conferences, DPZ, Food, Georgia, Houston, New Urbanism, Smart Growth, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 14, 2010


In a funny confluence of events my colleague, Pratt Cassity, sent me a blog by writer Brad Aaron (formerly of Athens, now of NYC) on Streetsblog.  The blog is about an episode of the American Makeover webseries on Atlanta.  The film includes notable Atlantans like Robert Bullard, known as the father of the environmental justice movement and the head of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University, Howard Frumpkin of the CDC, and Charles Brewer, developer of one of Atlanta's rare truly New Urbanist developments, Glenwood Park.  Although the film is ostensibly about Atlanta, it's really about Atlanta's status as the poster child of urban sprawl.  It's funny, short, and pithy, and would be a great introductory piece for students about sprawl and its effects, for good and for ill.

Jamie Baker Roskie

May 14, 2010 in Architecture, Community Design, Density, Development, Georgia, New Urbanism, Pedestrian, Sprawl, Suburbs, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Local Newspaper Editor Learns to Love New Urbanism

Matt Festa alerted me to this piece; apparently he loved his time visiting at UGA so much that he still reads the local paper.  One of the editors of the Athens Banner-Herald recently visited Seaside and decided maybe New Urbanism isn't so bad after all.  The examples we've had of mixed-use development here in Athens have not been very successful - the usual opposition to density and trouble getting appropriate commercial have been bugaboos here.  If Athens were ever to get a development that had the quality of Seaside (although how could you ever replicate the sea views?) folks here might better be able to get behind the concept.

Jamie Baker Roskie

April 9, 2010 in Beaches, Community Design, Development, Georgia, New Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Forum: Land Use in the Unzoned City (@ South Texas)

The South Texas College of Law is pleased to invite the public to what promises to be a very interesting forum called Land Use in the Unzoned City: Regulation, Property Rights, and Smart Growth in Houston's Future.  From the program:

Houston is the only major city in the U.S. without traditional zoning.  What should the government’s role be in regulating land use and development?  How should the law and the land intersect?  Should Houston stay as it is, adopt zoning, or consider Smart Growth principles to reduce sprawl and protect the environment?  Do regulations and policies to promote New Urbanism or transit-oriented development work, and are they right for Houston?  Our panelists will offer their perspectives on the future of land use in Houston and across the U.S.


David Crossley, President & Founder, Houston Tomorrow

Kendall Miller, CEO, Houstonians for Responsible Growth

Prof. Craig Anthony Arnold, University of Louisville & University of Houston (visiting)

Prof. Asmara Tekle, Texas Southern University

Moderator: Prof. Matthew Festa, South Texas College of Law

When:  Tuesday, April 13, 12:00 noon
Where: South Texas College of Law, 1303 San Jacinto, Downtown Houston, Garrett-Townes Auditorium

The event is being hosted by the student Real Estate Law Society, with co-sponsorship from Houston Tomorrow and Houstonians for Responsible Growth.  I'm very much looking forward to it.  If you can be in Houston next Tuesday, we'd love to have you attend (did I mention free lunch?).  Contact me if you have any questions. 

Matt Festa

April 8, 2010 in Community Design, Conferences, Density, Development, Form-Based Codes, Houston, Lectures, Local Government, New Urbanism, Planning, Smart Growth, Smartcode, Sprawl, Transportation, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Everybody Must Get Zoned (in Denver)

We've blogged before about land use legal developments in Denver, particularly about its movement toward a comprehensive reform of its zoning code to a form-based code along the lines of what Miami 21 is doing.  The proposed new ordinance is online here.  Now in the Denver Westword (which appears to be a local alternative weekly) we have this commentary: Everybody must get zoned: Kenny Be looks at Denver's new zoning rules.

The new zoning code is now online and awaits your review. With building restrictions across the city that are all new! The revamped code guarantees that you won't suffer alone, because everybody must get zoned.

The new context-based zoning code completely transforms the planning office into a McZoning service counter. The form-based picture menu clearly shows what can be built and helps the builder/homeowner to select an allowable building (that maintains the existing context of their neighborhood), just by presenting the smiling city planner with an address.

Any Bob Dylan fan like me should be already on board.  But go ahead and check out the link, because the article is focused around the cartoons.  In the first one, the author/artist analogizes the proposed new zoning regime to a fast food counter and the "menu" above looks a lot like the new urbanist Transect.  It also refers to pops and scrapes.

The article pokes fun at the new code and implies some criticism of the form-based code as being overly restrictive and micro-managing of individual property, and too empowering for the bureaucracy.  If I'm correct in interpreting the author and the article as coming from a hipster/progressive perspective, it underlines that some of the tensions in land use policy can't be reduced to "cartoon" versions of typical left-right political or cultural splits.  But for some really good land use cartoons, check out the article.  And listen to some Dylan while you're at it.

Thanks to Megan Currin for the pointer.

Matt Festa

January 20, 2010 in Form-Based Codes, Local Government, New Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Duany's Smart Growth Manual

Duany SmartGrowth manual The Miami Herald has an article/interview about Andres Duany's latest publication, The Smart Growth Manual (Duany, Jeff Speck, & Mike Lydon, McGraw-Hill 2009)From the story:

Want to be green? Dump the cul-de-sac. Ban the mall. Leave the Prius at home. The best thing you can do for the environment is to push for dense, compact, attractive and walkable urban neighborhoods that mix homes, shops and offices, just like we used to.

That, in a sharpened nutshell, is the message delivered by The Smart Growth Manual (McGraw-Hill Professional, $24.95), an intentionally slim, readable, well-illustrated and portable how-to guide co-written by Miami architect, planner and pioneering anti-sprawl combatant Andrés Duany.

The book is a follow-up of sorts to their seminal new urbanist text Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream (Duany, Plater-Zyberk, & Speck 2001).  Of course Miami 21 is highly relevant and gets mentioned in the article.  Aside from the substantive contribution that this book will make, I was particularly interested in this snippet from the Herald piece:

Q: Why do you use `Smart Growth' and not `New Urbanist' in the title? Is there a difference between the two?

A: Smart Growth has always been the more popular title. It's not correct. Smart growth is government-initiated. New Urbanist is market-initiated. Smart Growth is almost entirely New Urbanist propositions but repackaged with a more effective name. But the book is balanced (between the two).

Matt Festa

January 18, 2010 in Architecture, Books, New Urbanism, Planning, Smart Growth | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Can the Polis Live Again?

Josh Martin of the Coastal Conservation League shared with me over the weekend a thought-provoking article by Michael Knox Beran, "Can the Polis Live Again?  The Modern World has Withered Public Space and its Virtues."  For some deep thinking about the nature and definition of public space, check out Beran's article in City Journal (Vol. 19, No. 4), or click here for a link to Beran's full text on City Journal's website.  For structural constitutional law and government aficionados, Beran also offers observations related to the debate between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists in regards to public space.  (NOTE:  Matt Festa posted previously on this topic.  Please click here for a link to his observations.)

A sample is set forth here:

"The American version of the struggle between city-state and nation-state dates back to the 1780s, when the Federalists succeeded in putting the national Constitution in place over the objections of the anti-Federalists. There is little doubt that the Federalists were right. Like Arendt, the anti-Federalists, who sought to preserve the politics of the polis, would have been wiser to point not to the political arrangements of the old public spaces but to their cultural excellence.

It was left to Thomas Jefferson to show that it was possible to preserve the public virtues within a nation-state. To protect civic artistry in a changing America, Jefferson sought to re-create the civic life he had known in his youth. As a college student in colonial Williamsburg, he had been drawn into little communities of sympathetic scholarship that he would always characterize in Athenian terms: “They were truly Attic societies.” It was in communities of this kind, he believed, that men’s civic impulses could flourish as they could not in a larger space."

Special thanks to Josh (and Matt) for sharing this article with us.

Will Cook, Charleston School of Law

December 7, 2009 in New Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Beran on Modern Public Space

City Journal has posted Michael Knox Beran's Can the Polis Live Again? The modern world has withered public space and its virtues.  From the intro:

In 1958, Hannah Arendt published The Human Condition, her book—part panegyric, part lamentation—on what she called “public space.” What she meant by public space wasn’t just the buildings and gathering places that in a good town square or market piazza encourage people to come together. It wasn’t even civic art viewed more broadly, the paintings and poetry Arendt attributed to homo faber, the fabricating soul who translates “intangible” civic ideals into “tangible” civic art. Public space, for Arendt, was also a metaphysical arena in which people realized their individual potential.

Naturally, we're more interested in the buildings and the gathering places!  Most of the article is about Arendt's writing and philosophy rather than land use law per se, but of course the issue of public space--physical and social--is important to land use theory and practice.  See (or "listen to"--is that in the bluebook?), e.g., the latest Smart City podcast on Lurie Gardens as public space in Chicago.  Also, the notion that public space may contribute to individual realization of potential sounds to me to have something in common with the property-law-for-human-flourishing argument (which in turn draws ultimately from Aristotelian analysis) articulated by Gregory Alexander in The Social-Obligation Norm in American Property Law.   

Beran's article concludes with a comparison of Arendt's focus on politics to New Urbanism:

A new generation of civic artists is seeking to revive the old public spaces. “New Urbanist” architects, among them Léon Krier, Andrés Duany, and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, want to restore the town square to its old pride of public place. Their effort is noble, but Arendt showed just how fierce the opposition is.

Matt Festa

December 2, 2009 in Architecture, New Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Ruralism

From time to time I'll be posting guest blogs by Land Use Clinic students related to their clinic projects.  Today's blog is by Emily Stratton, who is a second year law student here at UGA.

    The New Urbanist movement is now fully entrenched in the American landscape.  There are communities all over the country dedicated to reincarnating the feel of a traditional neighborhood with mixed-used development, transit-served town centers and pedestrian-oriented infrastructure.  However, New Urbanist developments typically require, well, some urbanism.   This poses a problem in communities that lie on the edge of metropolitan boundaries, in rural towns where farmland still prevails over parking lots, and greenspace is not a luxury but a necessity.  These rural lands are most at risk for the type of suburban sprawl that New Urbanism was meant to combat, but they don’t have the density required for a large, mixed-use development.
    A new term has been bandied about for the past few years that may be a viable alternative for these rural communities:  New Ruralism, a term I use with hesitation. The basic idea behind the movement is to combine sustainable agricultural with the principles of smart growth, forging an integral connection with the land.  It’s about incorporating farmland into urban planning, preserving rural life, and concentrating growth in designated areas.  You should be able to look out the north window of your house and see a vibrant town center, while out the south window are crops that don’t require chemicals and extensive watering to survive.  Homes are within walking-distance of retail shops and offices, but the paths connecting the two cut through natural landscapes and fields rather than manicured parks or neighborhoods.     
    I use the term “New Ruralism” with trepidation because it has developed starkly different meanings.   Several communities have taken possession of the label without embracing its underlying humbleness; the movement is supposed to be about rebuilding a relationship with the earth.  These communities instead cash in on the current “green” trend by emphasizing an eco-friendliness that includes luxury homes on secluded lots that are connected with roads meant to be driven, not walked.  There is no attempt to create a direct link between people and their food sources, whether through organic community gardens or personal vegetable plots, and modern amenities reign supreme over sustainable living.  The land becomes an accessory, rather than a valued asset to be protected.  Call it what you, there is something to be said for bringing back traditions that built this country:  embracing the land as a friend to be treasured, the source of life for us all, while encouraging healthy growth and development.  And, rather than being a flash-in-the-pan idea, with Andres Duany’s recent seal of approval and promulgation of Agricultural Urbanism, the movement looks like it’s here to stay.

More student posts to follow...along, apparently, with news from the amusement park convention in Las Vegas.  My fellow editors have such interesting hobbies!

UPDATE: Per Matt Festa's comment, there has indeed been some controversy over New Urbanist development in Athens' greenbelt.  A development known as Oak Grove was originally approved as a mixed-use residential/commercial development.  However, as with many New Urbanist projects the retail has been slow in coming.  Also, many Athens residents and leaders were and are critical of this development as being uncontinguous with other residential development and "too far out" in the greenbelt.  The latest issue is over a request to amend the plan for the development to include strip-style commercial development, rather than the mixed-use style originally planned.

Jamie Baker Roskie

November 17, 2009 in Community Design, Density, Development, New Urbanism, Planning, Smart Growth | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 13, 2009

19 Urban Development Types

A post on CoolTown Studios speculates on what the "19 development types" would be if they were focused on new urbanism rather than suburban sprawl:

Thanks to Chris Leinberger, author of the The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream, we know what the rather uninspired, industrial age 19 standard product types are that institutional investors put their money in . . . .

However, what would be the 19 urban development types for the creatives that fuel the knowledge economy? Here’s one look at it, based on a list initially produced by renowned urbanist Andres Duany

Suffice it to say that most of the types theorized here involve lots 'n' lots of mixed use.  I'm a big fan of both Leinberger and Duany for their analysis of land use models and insights.  Interesting stuff.

Matt Festa

November 13, 2009 in Architecture, Development, New Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Small signs of economic recovery

From Las Vegas -

CityCenter is due to open soon.  MSNBC has the following description:

           SoHo with slot machines

Set to open its multi-billion-dollar doors in December, CityCenter is more than just another casino resort. It’s also the largest privately funded construction project in the U.S., a much-touted honorific that, in hindsight, strikes some as more burden than blessing. Conceived before the recession — and almost bankrupted by it — CityCenter is making its debut in a very different world.

And another mixed use development, Tivoli, is renewing construction work after taking time off during the (hopefully) worst of the recession.  While the residential real estate market in Las Vegas has a long way to go toward recovery, this commercial, mixed use construction is a promising sign.

Ngai Pindell

November 13, 2009 in Las Vegas, New Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Climate Change & Land Use

Over the last week or so there has been an debate on the Environmental Law Professors listserv about climate change. John Nolon sent an interesting overview of his latest article on how encouraging more compact land use addresses climate change and a host of other environmental concerns.   Following is the text of that e-mail, posted here with Professor Nolon's permission.

'One of the ways of appealing to the priority environmental concerns of Americans, which do not yet include climate change, is to focus on policies that reduce carbon dioxide through compact, mixed use developments that improve energy efficiency in buildings and reduce driving.  In a forthcoming article in William & Mary Environmental Law & Policy Review, I calculate that doubling the density of future development, as 100 million more Americans join the population in the next three decades, will decrease carbon dioxide emissions by 1.2 Gt/yr compared to housing them at current densities.

"The article suggests that focusing on land use settlement patterns may be one method of reaching the hearts and minds of Americans. Here are two excerpts [footnotes and calculations omitted]:

Much has been made of a recent Gallup poll showing that Americans are not overly concerned about the effects of “global warming.”  …. Instead, the pollution of drinking water is their greatest environmental concern: fifty-nine percent worry “a great deal” about the issue. Fifty-two percent worry a great deal about the pollution of surface waters, fifty-two percent about toxic contamination of soil and water, forty-nine percent over the supply of fresh water, forty-five percent about air pollution,  forty-two percent about the loss of tropical rain forests, thirty-seven percent about species extinction, and only thirty-four percent about global warming.  As the narrative in this section demonstrates, the Land Use Stabilization Wedge, although framed in terms of climate change mitigation, deals directly with most of these concerns.  Analyzing the Gallup poll results reminds us that everything in the environment is connected and that American’s first concerns are those they see first hand.  It is unremarkable that those polled are more concerned about their nearby streams and rivers, their own drinking water, and the air above their communities: all of which are stressed because of the effects of “global warming” and sprawling development patterns, which increase CO2 emissions.  The effects of our current human settlement patterns, other than increasing CO2 emission, include polluted runoff from impervious coverage, ground water and fresh water depletion due to high per household water usage, GHG pollution of the atmosphere, deforestation due to development, and species extinction due to land development, temperature increases, flooding, and drought.

* * *

Illustrative of the type of development that is within the power of municipalities to encourage, and that reduces energy consumption and CO2 emissions, is Hudson Park, which is an enhanced transit oriented development project in Yonkers, New York.  Located next to the main commuter rail station in the downtown, it is designed for and marketed to young professionals, most of whom commute to Manhattan or one of the other New York City boroughs.  Hudson Park occupies 4.362 acres and contains 560 rental apartments, along with 15,000 square feet of commercial and office use.

The density of this development is 128 dwelling units per acre, much more than the 15 dwelling units per acre used for the climate change mitigation calculations above, but somewhat typical of the residential density needed around express-stop transit stations to generate the ridership required to make commuter rail service economically viable.  If we could shift 25 percent of the nation’s next 100 million residents (25 million people or 10 million households) from single-family dwellings on quarter acre lots to developments such as Hudson Park, the corollary benefits to the environment would be dramatic.  To illustrate, such a shift would prevent 876,951 acres of impervious coverage, and achieve annual reductions of 477 billion gallons of stormwater runoff and 394 billion gallons of potable water consumption.

Professor Nolon has written extensively and interestingly about what he terms "local environmental law" and how land use impacts environmental concerns.  I'm looking forward to reading this forthcoming article.

Jamie Baker Roskie

November 5, 2009 in Community Design, Density, Development, Environmental Law, Housing, New Urbanism, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Water | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Next American City on Smart Growth and Miami 21

Speaking of DPZ, and apropos of the discussion here on the blog about Miami 21 (DPZ is the lead consultant), the Next American City magazine has a piece by Mike Lydon on the very recent passage of the new form-based code by the city council:

While everyone from the Sierra Club to the National Association of Realtors believe compact, mixed-use, walkable development is an antidote to suburban sprawl, “smart growth” doesn’t just happen by itself. Indeed it can’t because most existing municipal zoning regulations make walkable urban form exceedingly difficult, if not impossible to implement. Surprisingly, this is often the case in large cities as much as it is in their sprawling suburbs. Therefore, one of the most effective ways to move smart growth from concept to reality, and at a meaningful scale, is to toss out the very zoning regulations that prevent sustainable growth from happening in the first place. Last week, Miami, Florida became the largest city in America to do so.

Miami will really be worth watching.  Lots of other interesting stuff over at Next American City to check out, as well.

Matt Festa

October 31, 2009 in Form-Based Codes, Local Government, New Urbanism, Smart Growth, Smartcode, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Duany on Agricultural Urbanism

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.

Matt Festa

October 31, 2009 in Architecture, Development, Environmental Law, Houston, New Urbanism, Planning, Smart Growth, Smartcode | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Brad Pitt, New Orleans, and "Houses of the Future"

Wayne Curtis has a very interesting article in The Atlantic, called Houses of the Future.  The intro:

Four years after the levee failures, New Orleans is seeing an unexpected boom in architectural experimentation. Small, independent developers are succeeding in getting houses built where the government has failed. And the city's unique challenges—among them environmental impediments, an entrenched culture of leisure, and a casual acquaintance with regulation—are spurring design innovations that may redefine American architecture for a generation.

An interesting assessment, particularly in its suggestion that private development has been working better so far than any comprehensive efforts to rebuild New Orleans.  What does Brad Pitt have to do with all this?

And then, suddenly, amid heroically overgrown lawns, you see a cluster of modern, colorful, and modestly sized homes, looking like a farm where they grow houses for Dwell magazine. These are the fruits to date of Pitt’s other project, Make It Right New Orleans. New Orleanians refer to these homes collectively as “the Brad Pitt Houses,” which gives them the pleasing ring of an ambitious public-housing project from the post–World War II years. But Pitt’s ambitions are not merely utilitarian. He hopes to offer displaced residents affordable, cutting-edge, radically green homes designed by name-brand architects like Thom Mayne and Frank Gehry. And he seems to be succeeding.

Four years after Katrina, the rebuilding of New Orleans is not proceeding the way anyone envisioned, nor with the expected cast of characters. (If I may emphasize: Brad Pitt is the city’s most innovative and ambitious housing developer.)

However, not everyone is on board with Brad Pitt's (architects') designs:

Not everybody is so circumspect. “Oh, it’s all bullshit,” Andres Duany said to me last fall, when I brought up Make It Right. “The high design? That has nothing to do with reality. That’s just architectural self-indulgence.”

Duany has been heavily involved in New Orleans rebuilding since the hurricane, but he advocates both traditional design and traditional methods:

So the central problem, according to Duany: “All the do-goody people attempting to preserve the culture are the same do-gooders who are raising the standards for the building of houses, and are the same do-gooders who are giving people partial mortgages and putting them in debt,” he said. . . .

As an alternative, Duany argues for “opt-out zones” for some of the hardest-hit areas, including the Lower Ninth. Within these zones, residents could rebuild their homes the way the city was originally constructed: by hand, incrementally, and unencumbered by what Duany calls “gold-plated” building regulations or bank requirements.

It's a good article that touches on many land use issues (I just wish The Atlantic had included more pictures in the web version). 

Matt Festa

October 20, 2009 in Affordable Housing, Architecture, Green Building, New Urbanism, Redevelopment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)