myurbandream: (zeguenerin=ich)
@jasperskywalker on tumblr asked to hear my opinion on the impacts and implications of single-family homes. This is the answer, and it got LONG.


Housing 101: the “single-family home” is generally defined as “a free-standing structure that is meant solely for the residential occupation (no business activities) of a nuclear family (two adults and their children), and that is located on a piece of land also owned by the same people and which has no other structures on it (except a garage/shed).”

The concept of single-family housing is not particularly new, and it isn't inherently evil or anything either. There are plenty of great perks to living in a single-family home, and for many people it is perfectly suited to their lifestyle. *I* live in a suburban single-family home, and as much as I hate some aspects of that, I admit it does have some benefits that I enjoy. So please don’t take my rant here as if I’m saying single-family housing is bad and needs to be bulldozed entirely. That’s not my intent.

However, everything needs to have a balance. The dominance of the single-family home in the modern housing market is historically very new, and that dominance is destroying our cities and our economies, expanding the income gap, dividing us socially, increasing stress and general unhealthy lifestyles, and reinforcing the cycle of poverty in our society. Click here for the rest of my rant. )
myurbandream: (zeguenerin=ich)
For hadanelith, who asked about this weeks ago, sorry for the delay!

I'm going to preface this with a disclaimer: I'm an urbanist, I dislike suburbs for a number of reasons, and land-use zoning is one of the tools of suburbia. Of my two points below, one is intrinsic to the loss of walkable urbanism; the other is only tangentially related. So there's my bias, up front and disclaimed.

I'm gonna skip all the history of land-use zoning, which can basically be summed up with two phrases: "the road to hell is paved with good intentions", and "Not In My Back Yard" aka NIMBY. We'll come back to that last one, though.

My problem with land-use zoning is two-fold: 1) it curtails pedestrian accessibility and is therefore deadly to walkable urbanism. And 2) it lets other people tell you what you can and can't do with your property.

Allow me to elaborate.

Land-use zoning means that you have only one land use on each piece of property. So each property can be an office OR a restaurant OR a house OR a bookshop, etc. That rules out the ability to have mixed-use buildings, where the restaurant and the bookshop are on the ground floor, the office is on the second floor (or next door in the same building), and the apartments are on the third and fourth floors, etc. With zoning, every use is in a different building and, thanks to minimum parking regulations, on a different block as well. That means from your house you have to walk AT LEAST one block to reach the restaurant, the office, or the bookstore - and because the suburbs take this concept to the extreme, it's usually more like six blocks to one of those and another four blocks to the next. In suburbia, similar things are concentrated together, so there are a bunch of houses next to each other, and six blocks away are all the restaurants and offices and bookshops. That doesn't sound so bad.... except that there isn't usually a direct walking/bicycling route to get there, so a 10 minute trip by car is a 25 minute trip by bicycle and a 45 minute walk. Pedestrian traffic dies, the only way to get anywhere is by car, and the people who don't have a car are screwed.

For extra detail, it's generally assumed that a residential density of 15-20 dwelling units per acre is the threshold for walkable urbanism, aka enough foot traffic to support commercial developments just from people walking by. Garden-style apartment buildings average about 18 units per acre. Single family neighborhoods average about 3 homes per acre. That's a huge gap.

Part Two!

Land-use zoning is under the purview of the city/municipality that regulates development in your area. Zoning is generally handled by a planning/development department within the government, and approved by City Council or the equivalent political body. For cities with zoning, those people, whoever they may be, get to pretty much arbitrarily decide what they think any given piece of land ought to be developed as, and then make it basically illegal to do anything else unless you come and ask their permission, and they still have the right to tell you "no" JUST BECAUSE. I have seen property zoned for X that has stood vacant for a decade, because there's no market demand for X, and when the owner tries to have it re-zoned into something that will sell, the city staff have looked me in the face and said they don’t care, they're willing to wait until the market changes so they can get what they want on that property. Meanwhile the owner (my client) is stuck paying property taxes on land they can't sell or develop, just because of the zoning.

That's bullshit.

Coming back now to NIMBY, which drives me up the fucking wall. NIMBY is what happens when people buy a home that backs onto commercial property and then get upset when the restaurant behind their house stays open until 2am playing live music and hosting large parties. What the hell did you think was going to happen, people? And then the neighborhood gets even more upset when the City won't let them build a ten-foot fence between the houses and the restaurant. Property owners think that zoning should protect them from their neighbors by preventing any activity they disapprove of ("Not In My Back Yard"), but at the same time, zoning should not prevent them from doing whatever they want on their own property. You can't have it both ways, people.

Here ends my soapbox.
myurbandream: (zeguenerin=ich)
In which this blogger says exactly what I've been thinking:

"...It’s the ultimate unfairness in the American transportation-funding scheme: we accommodate the every desire of drivers, trying to eliminate any possible inconvenience at massive expense, while transit, pedestrians, and bicyclists have to fight for tiny scraps. Alternative transportation advocates like to frame their requests for more funding in terms of reparations for 60 years of policy that has favored roads, but I’m not sure even that rhetoric captures the true inequity of the situation. We haven’t just favored roads; we’ve built a truly decadent infrastructure system for drivers, while everyone else gets shoved out of the picture." [emphasis from the original]
myurbandream: (sanzo's happiness)
Thinking about the housing industry in the US and how Section 8 has a bad rap, how we handle low-income housing and etc, it often makes me very upset...

...but at least we're not constructing substandard buildings that collapse a decade later and kill a bunch of people, like what happens in India:

That's just depressing.


myurbandream: (Default)

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