09 January 2009

Scrap Zoning Laws and Legalize Great Places

...What is the single most significant change that can be made in every town and city in America? One that would aid economic development, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, foster healthier lifestyles, reduce dependence on foreign oil, protect open space and wildlife habitats, and reduce wasteful government spending?

Scrapping zoning codes.

...The mix of uses that gives (our favorite places) life are outlawed by zoning in virtually every city and town in all 50 states.

...The quite sensible idea that people shouldn't live next to steel mills was used to justify a system of "zones" to isolate uses that had lived in harmony for centuries. Suddenly, new neighborhoods were segregated by income, and commerce was torn asunder from both customers and workers. Timeless ways of creating great places were ruthlessly outlawed.

This coincided neatly with the rise of the car industry, and the systematic dismantling of America's electric streetcar network...

..."The American Dream" of single-family tracts, shopping centers and business parks owes more to zoning mandates than to market economics. Zoning was imposed on the American landscape by an unholy alliance between Utopians preaching a "modern" way of life and hard-headed businessmen who profited from supplying that new model, including an auto industry steeped in the ideology that "What's good for General Motors is good for America."

...Environmentalists are slowly realizing that, in protection of the environment, cities aren't the problem, they are actually the solution. ...

... what is the DNA of livable communities?

..regulating the form of buildings, since that is what determines the long-neglected public realm of streets and sidewalks. It does that by regulating setbacks, heights and the physical character of buildings.

...some still claim that the real estate meltdown is only a nasty cyclical slump, that's just whistling past the graveyard. The model is broken. Building and financing generic products (class A office; suburban housing tract; grocery-anchored strip center; business park, etc.) through globally marketable securities has become radioactive...

...Scrap zoning. Adopt coding. Legalize the art of making great places that people cherish, that produce economic value, and that leave a lighter environmental footprint on the land.


Wow. Read the whole thing, written by Rick Cole, City Manager of Ventura, CA.

15 comments:

Mark Miller said...

What happened to "thou shalt not dink with the City Charter"?!? This would require a complete rewrite of Article VII, Section 3.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Get a petition together to scrap the entire concept of zoning, and as long as you don't replace it with anything, I'd be delighted to sign it.

After all it wasn't "coding" or "forms" that made cities great in the first place. It was the unfettered freedom of people to build according to their own visions and means. The built environment should evolve according to public demand in the market, not by some Stalinistic command and control bureaucracy.

Paul Wilham said...

I agree we need to rethink zoning and planning especially in historic neighborhoods. The bigger problem related to the sucess of downtown neighnorhoods is a 'bulldoze happy" city government that thinks its better to spend 10 grand of taxpayer money to level 130 yr old homes in the 'hope' that someday a developer will come in and build there, with no review or input form neighborhood affected. The city is planning on bulldozing 4 houses on Bank St, and no one in the city wants to talk about a compromise that might save them and there all people who might be willing to come in and restore them. We need to fix the 'mindset' of city govenrment, but you have to do that before you can deal with zoning.

Quim said...

No need to get out a petition, just vote for Qualls.

Mark Celsor said...

Wow, that bit about generic real estate products is something that I hadn't really thought about before. Speculating on generic demand with out a real vision for the eventual people and businesses seems really toxic.

My wife has a background in urban planning and we moved back to Cincinnati last year to be with family and start our own businesses. It's pretty exciting to see some progressive planning discussions going on back here.

Thanks,
-- Mark

Radarman said...

Please run this post once a week. Have it printed up and dropped from a helicopter. Rent the jumbotron on Fountain Square and run this post five times a day.

Oh, and don't forget Complete Streets.

CityKin said...

Mark;
A city without any "coding" at all might result in a place like Hong Kong, Mexico City or Houston. That might be fine for some people, but the most beautiful cities do have some formal guide at least for the layout of the streets and the private frontage facing the streets.

Mark Miller said...

Noooooooooo!
Not HOUSTON!

I thought street layout was "platting". That's already done in our case, and is a proper role of government. I'm not against the orderliness of a grid to organize things, I just hate forced conformity that overly constrains creativity.

If somebody wants to put a round building on a square lot, let 'em. If somebody else wants to put a putt-putt course in OTR, that's fine too.

Don't put obstacles in people's way unless you absolutely have to.

CityKin said...

I'm closer to your position than you think Mark. But would you be OK with a gas station/bingo hall/ nightclub next door to you in your neighborhood, whether it be round or square?

CityKin said...

And no, I don't want to live in Houston, or a city like it.

Mark Miller said...

Noise & traffic from any of those wouldn't bother me. Stray light from a gas station would though. Separate us with a row of trees, and even that would be OK.

Since 1989 I've been 4 doors down from Busken's main plant (24/7 operation, heavy trucks), LaRosa's, Mulligans, Lemon Grass, and a VERY busy entrance to Rookwood. We like city life, and that's just part of it.

The toughest thing to deal with is that fresh bakery smell seeping in the windows on weekend mornings. Hard sayin' how many inches that's added to my waist.

CityKin said...

I'm totally with you on the "light trespass".

In my view the City should concern itself with the public realm, which is basically the street, sidewalk and to some extend, the facades facing the street/ sidewalk. Light trespass, noise, bad smells and other types of pollution are also issues, but not all of these should fall under the zoning restrictions. Maybe none of them should.

Randy Simes said...

It's certainly an interesting idea, although I'm not sure common thought processes will be ditched in the process. Older towns/cities that we view as being great urban spaces were built that way through necessity based on technology of that time and lifestyles. Today's lifestyles and technology are completely different. So I think it's more about changing lifestyle than it is changing the law (or removing it).

Mark Miller said...

Lets say you wave your magic wand and put the perfect solution in place. How would it address something like this?

CityKin said...

^I love that house. I don't want to stop creativity of that sort at all.

bsherm said...

@mark miller That was and is my favorite house near Hyde Park. I can't think of how you could reasonably stop that, and I hope no one figures a way to.