“Goldilocks density”: not too low, not too high, efficient and better people habitat

Harlem Brownstones, in Manhattan, New YorkFrom Guardian writer Lloyd Alter: “In New York, sleek new towers for the tenth of the 1% are rising through previously sacrosanct height limits.  Critic Michael Kimmelman sums up the problem in one sentence: ‘Exceptional height should be earned, not bought.’

“Battles are raging over height limits and urban density, all on the basis of two premises: 1) that building all these towers will increase the supply of housing and therefore reduce its costs; 2) that increasing density is the green, sustainable thing to do and that towers are the best way to do it.

“I am not sure that either is true.  I am also a heritage activist, not because I particularly love old buildings, but because there is so much to learn from them and from the neighbourhoods and cities that were designed before cars or electricity or thermostats, and were built at surprisingly high urban densities.

“There is no question that high urban densities are important, but the question is how high, and in what form.  There is what I have called the Goldilocks density: dense enough to support vibrant main streets with retail and services for local needs, but not too high that people can’t take the stairs in a pinch.  Dense enough to build a sense of community, but not so dense as to have everyone slip into anonymity.”

“At the Goldilocks density, streets are a joy to walk; sun can penetrate to street level and the ground floors are often filled with cafes that spill out onto the street, where one can sit without being blown away, as often happens around towers.  Yet the buildings can accommodate a lot of people: traditional Parisian districts house up to 26,000 people per sq km; Barcelona’s Eixample district clocks in at an extraordinary 36,000.

“At the Goldilocks density, construction is a lot cheaper and the buildings a lot more efficient.  Building to the Goldilocks density is also more resilient: it’s easier to get in and out of your flat when the power goes out when you live on the fourth floor than when you live on the 40th.  There is lots of room in our cities to do this.”  Full article here.  (Photo credit: Alamy.)

Headline (and article) impossible to improve: “Atlanta not world-class city”, and how to fix

news_opinion1-1_13-magFrom Creative Loafing writer Matt Garbett: “There’s nothing like living in a ‘world-class’ city.  And by some accounts, Atlantans do.  Attend any ground breaking or ribbon cutting or read a politico’s press release and you are sure to come across the phrase.

“But we need to stop referring to Atlanta as a ‘world-class’ city. Our focus on this meaningless phrase and the ‘iconic‘, ‘transformative‘, and ‘catalytic’ projects that we hope will thrust us into some elite group distracts us from — and often runs roughshod over — the smaller, necessary, and more rewarding local projects that create vibrant neighborhoods, the true lifeblood of any world-class city.

“The problem isn’t that we want to be ‘world-class.’  The problem is that we aren’t taking the necessary steps to achieve it.  The best way to do so is by promoting more walkable blocks on a human-scale street grid; emphasizing slow, incremental, sustainable growth for vibrant neighborhoods; and actively discouraging automobile use through our street design and building codes.  Instead we stress the standalone ‘world-class’ project without regard to its relationship to the neighborhood and overall city.

“None of this is to say that Atlanta is not a very good city.  I love living here.  There is an electricity in so many of the people working to make the city better in small increments, whether it’s the folks behind the Beltline Lantern Parade, gloATL, Living Walls, or other organizations.  Their targeted, place-making projects focus on community, not on bravado.

“So, please, strive to be a ‘world-class’ city, but stop worrying about where the next tourist will go.  Rather, focus on the small things, following best practices, being a role model for incremental and sustainable growth.  Consider selling off such large chunks of land in small, newly platted, individual parcels, and letting an area grow organically, not at the whim and design of one developer.  These projects may last longer than a political cycle, but the benefits to the city are tremendous.”  Full post here.

Lima, Peru narrow apt bldg has 4 units, contemporary style, daylight in every room

532ce77cc07a803a0700009a_mq-project-oscar-malaspina-rodrigo-apolaya-rosa-aguirre_2_-_frederick_cooper-530x806From architects Oscar Malaspina, Rodrigo Apolaya, and Rosa Aguirre via Arch Daily “The city of Lima is experiencing a real estate boom.  In the past two years, approximately 40,000 dwellings have been sold.  The speed of these changes and the high demand for social housing has resulted in projects that focus more on profitability than improving people’s lives through the re-imagination and quality of the spaces.

“The MQ project, a 4-apartment building in a 8 m wide and 20 m long parcel, explores these ideas and takes on the challenge of promoting a sense of community within the building.  The main strategy was the articulation of a series of open spaces and rooms along a main corridor that serves as a space itself.  This pattern allows both the expansion of visual perception through diagonals across open spaces, and the presence of natural light and ventilation in every room of the project.

“The facade of the building tries to be clear in defining the two functions that are represented.  In the area of the flats we have proposed a thick facade that brings enough depth to host window boxes in the outside.  In the area of the vertical circulation, we entirely close it and play with the cast grid during the construction process.”  Full post with many images here.

“Blighted” incremental development without parking generates 41% more property tax

Brainerd371_1From Strong Towns writer Charles Marohn: “The Taco John’s versus the ‘old and blighted’ story is one of the most compelling that we share in our Curbside Chat. Here you have two blocks that are identical in every way, except one: the pattern of development.”

“The old and blighted block is a remnant of the incremental, historical development pattern. It represents one of the first increments of growth that cities experienced on their periphery; a small investment in a pop up box. This is the cheapest, credible investment that someone could have made in a commercial property here in my hometown back in 1920. In their comprehensive plan, the city has indicated that this block is a redevelopment opportunity that would, to use their language, ultimately become ‘auto oriented’.

Old Brainerd

“This is exactly what happened two blocks away, which used to look like the ‘old and blighted’ block but now contains a new Taco John’s.  Definitely auto-oriented with a large off-street parking lot, two drive through lanes, a large sign and a setback/orientation consistent with highway development.

Brainerd Taco Johns

“In this case, that run down block that the city and others would like to see replaced is actually 41% more valuable than the brand new Taco John’s.  In a property tax system like we have here in Brainerd, that means the city gets 41% more taxes from the old and blighted block than it is getting from the exact same sized block with the brand new drive through restaurant.

“And that assumes the drive through restaurant holds its value.  Let’s examine that assumption.  There are eleven properties on the ‘old and blighted’ block.  In the three years since we last looked, five of them have lost value while six of them have increased in value.  The net is a $32,000 decline, which is a 3% loss from the starting value.  Given the market conditions, that’s a pretty stable block.

“That stability is in sharp contrast to what has happened at the Taco John’s. In that same period of time, it has lost $184,700 in value, a full 23%.”  Full post here, and really just read every Strong Towns post ever.

Chico, CA small-scale infill residential breaks from sprawl, sets new pattern, makes money

corner-statementFrom Better Cities & Towns writer Robert Steuteville: “A 22-unit apartment complex of four small buildings was finished in May of 2014 in Chico, CA, completing the traditional neighborhood development Doe Mill, begun in 2000.  The complex, designed by Anderson/Kim and developed by Greenline Partners, does certain things well despite its location on a car-oriented thoroughfare.

– It is small scale.  The scale allows the buildings to be integrated with townhouses, single-family houses, and courtyard buildings that make up the rest of Doe Mill.

– Due to their small size, these buildings are easier to finance and simpler to build than many larger multifamily buildings.

– Rather than backing off of the higher-speed road in front, the units make an architectural statement.

– Rather than contributing to the sprawling character of this area, these buildings help to set a new pattern.

– The project made money.  ‘All 22 units have been leased at rents about 15 percent above the pro forma,’ Anderson notes.”

Full article here.

Mid-rise mixed-use: ULI global award to Cincinnati building: 11-story, historic, no parking

gae7_351From Urban Land writer Daniel Lobo: “The 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati is a contemporary art museum, 156-room boutique hotel, restaurant, spa, and rooftop bar in the heart of downtown Cincinnati.  The first full-service hotel to open in downtown Cincinnati in 28 years, 21c restored the historic 11-story Metropole building, preserving its original architectural character and complementing it with contemporary art and design.

“Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Metropole building opened in 1912 as the grand Metropole Hotel, and in 1971 it was converted to federally subsidized apartments.  In 2009, a local nonprofit development organization, Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), acquired the building for the purpose of revitalization, provided counseled relocation services to remaining tenants, and helped facilitate subsequent purchase by 21c.”  Full article here.  Developer: 21c Museum Hotels.  Design architect: Deborah Berke Partners.  Architect of record: Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel.

Miami buzzing about parking exeption to help small buildings, additions, urban neighborhoods

Screen-Shot-2014-04-29-at-3.46.20-PM[Re-blogged from Miami Urbanist writer Felipe Azenha]  Minimum parking requirements are killing good urban development in Miami.  Luckily, there has been a push to eliminate parking requirements for small urban buildings (<10,000 sq ft) in recent months.  This is a good first step in the right direction if Miami really aspires to become a walkable and less autocentric city.

Minimum parking requirements perpetuate more automobile use and it also makes housing less affordable since the cost of building and maintaining required parking is passed on to renters and buyers.  Two weeks ago Zillow released a housing report that cited Miami as the 2nd most expensive city for renters.  The average Miami resident spends 43.2% of their income on rent.

Combine expensive housing with lack of public transit and minimum parking requirements that only serve to perpetuate the use of the automobile; its no wonder why Miami is one of the most expensive car dominated cities in the US.

Eliminating parking requirements would do the following things:

1) Allows small developers to choose how many parking spaces are needed based on what fits and what buyers or tenants want.
2) Replaces parking with denser development that generates more property and sales tax for the county and city.
3) Allows small property owners to keep their property and develop themselves.
4) Levels the playing field for small Miami property owners.
5) Allows for the creation of more walkable and denser urban neighborhoods.

Below are the details for the reduced parking requirements that are being sought for small urban buildings.  This is currently being advocated for at the commission level, so stay tuned for the resolution.

The proposed text for T4, T5, and T6 is underlined below.  The non-underlined text already exists in Miami 21, a TOD/transit corridor parking reduction that does not apply within 500 ft of single-family/duplex areas (T3).  The proposed text does not change that, it does not apply within 500 feet of T3.  Above is a map of where the proposed text would apply: orange areas around rail stations, purple areas along transit corridors, but not yellow areas within 500 ft of T3.

“Parking ratio may be reduced within 1/2 mile radius of TOD or within 1/4 mile radius of a Transit Corridor by thirty percent (30%) by process of Waiver, or by one hundred percent (100%) for any Structure that has a Floor Area of ten thousand (10,000) square feet or less, except when site is within 500 feet of T3.”

Let’s hope City of Miami Commissioners can come to their senses and eliminate parking requirements entirely, not just for small urban buildings.

Miami: Don Shoup, godfather of scientific study of parking, speaks on Monday 4/21 at 8 AM at MCAD

Shoup FlyerDonald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking and distinguished professor of urban planning at UCLA, will give a talk on Monday, April 21 from 8 to 10 AM at AIA’s Miami Center for Architecture & Design, 100 NE 1 Ave, Miami, FL 33132.  Shoup is the godfather of the scientific study of parking, and has spoken widely about the benefits of eliminating required parking for mobility and urbanism.  Shoup writes: “This doesn’t mean, however, that developers won’t provide off-street parking. It simply means that urban planners won’t tell developers exactly how many parking spaces they must provide before they can get a building permit. Developers will provide the parking spaces they think buyers demand.”  Continental breakfast will be served.  Supported by the Knight Foundation, AIA Miami, APA Gold Coast Section, and Townhouse Center.  Capacity is limited, register now and tell your friends!

ULI Small-Scale Development program continues with annual conference March 24-25 in Austin

Heid_FullFrom ULI vice president David Mulvihill: “Jim Heid and I am very pleased to announce that the 2014 edition of the
Executive Small Scale Development program is being held this year in Austin, TX on March 24-25.  We hope you can join us in Austin, one of the country’s coolest towns and hottest markets where small developers and edgy projects are helping reshape the landscape.

“You will hear case studies from around the country about how other small firms are reworking inner suburban assets into lively third places; creatively using temporary buildings to brand place and test markets; or re-thinking how projects are organized and financed.  Specific skill trainings in marketing and finance will also be provided as part of the program curriculum.”

From the event website: “Join other entrepreneurial developers who are focused on infill and smaller-scale projects for this unique ULI program.”  Register here.

Knight grants Duany $600k for “Lean Urbanism: Making Small Possible” national campaign

TownhouseCenter.org has received more than 75,000 views since the summer of 2010!  Thank you very much, readers.  And don’t miss the free Lean Urbanism webinar registration at the bottom of this post.

From Miami Herald writer Andres Viglucci: “Miami planner Andres Duany learned how to subvert the rules when he mapped out Seaside.  Now, armed with a $600,000 Knight Foundation grant, he’s taking aim at the rising tide of bureaucracy and red tape that he says prevent young builders and entrepreneurs from starting small-bore development enterprises to energize neighborhoods.  He’s calling this Lean Urbanism.

“‘To get a building built is fantastically complicated.  The codes are rigamarole.  There is no way you can figure them out yourself.  So everything is left to big corporations and big developers,’ Duany said.  The idea behind the three-year grant is to develop and disseminate strategies and tools to work around overly restrictive rules, and lower the entry bar for Millenials and immigrants in particular, he said.

“The Miami-based Knight Foundation sees Lean Urbanism as a key piece in its strategy for fostering an entrepreneurial ‘ecosystem’ in its hometown and elsewhere.  The first year of the grant program, which will be run by Duany’s nonprofit, the Little Havana-based Center for Applied Transect Studies, will be dedicated to research and development of strategies, said Carol Coletta, the foundation’s vice president for community and national initiatives.  The second year will see the launch of pilot projects.  The third year will be focused on rolling out the toolbox and publicizing the projects nationally.

“Miami is ripe for the strategy, Duany said.  Overly restrictive regulations have stymied small-scale efforts to revitalize poor neighborhoods like West Coconut Grove and Little Havana even as big developers have dominated the city’s downtown revival.”  Full article here.

Coletta added in a separate Knight Blog post: “Getting more people into city-building is fundamental to making communities that work for the 21st century.  It is all about making small possible in our communities.  Duany especially worries that bloated regulation on building and development is burdening a younger generation of urbanists and immigrants with so much expense that it makes small, incremental growth impossible.”  Full post here.

Coletta and Duany will host a live webinar, “Lean Urbanism: Building Successful Cities,” on Tuesday, March 4, from noon to 1 p.m. ET.  Register here.

Building urban neighborhoods by promoting their fundamental building block: small, adaptable buildings.

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