Tag Archives: urban

“Hometown Democracy” in Florida

 

By Dom Nozzi

September 10, 2004

In 2004, there was a voter referendum proposed in Florida called “Hometown Democracy.” It was an effort to substantially increase the use of direct democracy over representative democracy (due largely to many Florida residents feeling as if their elected officials were not listening).

This is my take on this constitutional amendment to go to direct democracy…

In general, I am quite uncomfortable with the idea. In some ways, the amendment would be an obstacle to the “re-use of vacant/abandoned lands” efforts that have become an important issue, because citizens would have a high likelihood of voting against nearly all proposals to intensify a land use designation on a property — and such “upzoning” is often needed to make it viable to re-use abandoned lands.

It also strikes me that the direct democracy folks are an extreme form of NIMBYism (the Hogtown Greenway Bike/Pedestrian Path Debacle is a good, infamous example of the dangers of direct democracy in Gainesville). While I am sympathetic to the thought that nearly all upzonings in the past have delivered us bad development (auto-oriented national chains and big box retailers and huge asphalt parking lagoons), and that it would therefore be handy to have citizens be able to trump weak-kneed politicians who so often cave in to Supercenters and Drive-Throughs (etc.) by reversing a zoning or land use decision, it seems to me that this is a sledgehammer rule that would lead to a lot of unfortunate, unintended consequences.

Indeed, in so many places (including Gainesville), if we were to lock in the status quo by having NIMBY citizens always voting against upzonings, we’d be locking ourselves into a dispersed, suburban, auto-oriented downward spiral that we are in today. Often, we need to have selected properties upzoned from residential to non-residential so that we can have a more walkable, compact community that is vibrant, sociable, and less dominated by excessive car travel. But it would seem that with direct democracy, about 99 percent of all such upzonings would be voted down.

It strikes me that the crucial change we need is to revamp the land development codes for places like Gainesville so that in-town developments deliver us walkable, pleasant, friendly projects that don’t overwhelm neighborhoods with big roads, big traffic, big noise pollution, and big light pollution. In other words, requiring that development build in a neighborhood-friendly, traditional manner.

The key to a better future does not lie in stopping all growth and development. The key is stopping auto-oriented development, rapid land consumption at the periphery, and BIG roads. We desperately need well-designed, walkable, in-town development.

Gainesville’s land development regulations require project design that delivers suburban, auto-oriented development everywhere. In my opinion, we must move away from that destructive, one-size-fits-all approach that says everyone should live the suburban lifestyle. Some of us should have the option of living a walkable urban lifestyle or even a rural lifestyle. The Gainesville code largely says we have only one choice: suburban.

I say we should revise our codes so that we set up at least 3 lifestyle zones, with accompanying regulations. Urban Zone gets compact, walkable design regulations, Suburban Zone gets big setbacks and other car-oriented dimensions. The Rural Zone gets small village cluster and farm/woodland regulations. That way, citizens will increasingly urban-to-rural-transect-Duany-Plater-Zyberk-smbe accepting of new development projects in their neighborhoods. They will hopefully live in their lifestyle zone of choice, and will eventually find that the 3-tiered development code results in new projects that promote their lifestyle. The nearly universal desire to fear the next proposed development in the neighborhood (no matter what it might be) can transform to that happy time in our decades ago past when we actually looked forward to the new development proposal.

As Padriac Steinschneider once said, the opposite of bad development is good development, not no development.

However, I might be sympathetic to the idea if it were somehow restricted to unincorporated areas remote from cities where we don’t want any development.

 

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Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

A Vision for Designing a Community

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 16, 2006

A Work in Progress

Because it is a matter of fairness and political viability, it is essential that we design for at least three community components: Urban, Suburban and Rural/Preservation.

The following are the examples of components, principles and assumptions for each of the three zones.

The overall objective for the community is equity, quality of life and sustainability.

As an aside, I recognize that the Suburban Zone is not sustainable. It is provided for because America is so overwhelmingly suburban that to not provide for it is politically unsustainable.

Urban

Principles: Sociability, equity, sustainability, supremacy of a quality public realm, compactness, mixed-use, walkability, sense of community, civic pride.

Streets. Low design speed, relatively narrow travel lanes. Maximum size is 2 lanes (major streets have turn pockets.) Roundabouts acceptable. Bulb-outs to increase landscape area, reduce car speeds and pedestrian crossing distance. Turning lanes are either not used or extremely rare. Relatively small dimensions for turning radii, sight triangle. Straight, rectilinear trajectory.Catania Italy walkable

Alleys. Common.

Congestion. Not considered a problem, in part because the Urban Zone is rich in features that allow relatively easy evasion of congestion. Indeed, congestion is seen as an ally to reduce regional air pollution, reduce fuel consumption, reduce car speeds, reduce low-value car trips, promote infill and higher-density residential, promote mixed use, promote compactness, promote trip dispersal.

Congestion fees. Electronic system. Used to recover costs (air pollution, noise, danger, public realm degradation, water pollution, etc.) imposed by motorists entering the Urban Zone. Revenues dedicated to Urban Zone public realm improvements. Revenue, by law, cannot be allocated to road capacity increases.

Signal Light Synchronization. Strongly discouraged, but if employed, timing is based on bus and bicyclist speed (15-20 mph).

Street lights. Structure is no taller than 20 feet — preferably less. Full-spectrum lighting is required.

Lot sizes. Relatively small.

Block size. Relatively small. No more than 200 feet long on a side.

Sidewalks. Required on both sides of street, due to high number of utilitarian and sociability walking trips. Rectilinear and parallel to streets, buildings. Curvilinear alignment not allowed.

Street connectivity. Maximized. High level of trip dispersal in the street network.

Parking.  On-street parking emphasized. Parking is market-priced. Off-street parking, when necessary, is relatively modest and on the side or rear of buildings. Off-street parking is never located at the street corner of a lot at an intersection.

Transit. High frequency and convenient access from residences and shops to stops.

Service vehicles. Fire trucks, delivery trucks and buses are relatively small.

Landscaping. Hardscape much more common than greenscape. Rectilinear rather than curvilinear placement of vegetation.

Street trees. Formally aligned large canopy trees forming street enclosing envelope. Trees are of same species along individual streets.

Land Development Regulations. Form-based (emphasis is on building location and design) rather than use-based. Promoting a quality public realm for pedestrians is the imperative.

Building setbacks. Little or none.

Accessory dwelling units (“granny flats”), home occupations, bed & breakfasts. Expressly allowed.

Drive-throughs, retailers over 30,000 sf of first floor area, parking lots as a primary use. Prohibited.

Maximum building height. 5 stories.

Housing types. Mixed.

Garages. Recessed.

Signs. Relatively small, unlit, subdued.

Building entrance. Faces street.

Land uses. Housing mixed with neighborhood-scaled retail, office, light industrial.

Neighborhood incomes. Mixed

Residential density maximum. No maximum. Market-driven.

Travel choice. Maximized. All forms of travel are provided for.

Schools. Exempt from requirements for outdoor ball fields.

Stormwater management. Relatively low concern for inconvenience flooding means that stormwater basins are relatively small in size. Basins are not placed in front or at the street corner of a lot at an intersection.

Interaction with others. Sociability, connection, interaction.

Public Realm. Aggressive efforts to maximize quality. Regular cleaning.

Suburban

Principles: Separation, privacy, equity, supremacy of private realm, landscaping to simulate nature, large open spaces and large parks, ease of free-flowing travel by car.

Streets. Moderate design speed. Maximum size is 4 lanes. Roundabouts acceptable. Turning lanes are common. Relatively large dimensions for turning radii, sight triangle. Tend to have curvilinear trajectory.huge turn radius for road

Alleys. Rare or non-existent.

Congestion. Considered a serious problem, in part because the Suburban Zone provide very few features that allow evasion of congestion. Congestion fees are therefore important.

Congestion fees. Electronic system. Used to discourage low-value car trips, retain free-flow conditions on at least one lane for emergency access. Revenues dedicated to capacity increases. Signal Light Synchronization. If employed, timing is based on motorist speed (35-45 mph).

Street lights. Structure is 30 feet (or whatever the existing suburban design standard happens to be).

Block size. Variable.

Sidewalks. Optional, due to high percentage of walking trips being recreational. Tend to be curvilinear.

Street connectivity. De-emphasized. Cul-de-sacs common. All neighborhood streets feed into sparse network of major streets.

Parking.  Off-street parking emphasized. Parking is free. Parking can be in front of buildings.

Transit. Low frequency (or no service) and poor access from residences and shops to stops.

Service vehicles. Fire trucks, delivery trucks and buses are relatively large.

Landscaping. Greenscape much more common than hardscape. Curvilinear alignment is most common.

Street trees. Few street trees. Clustered trees of variable sizes and species.

Land Development Regulations. Use-based rather than form-based. Separation of uses and provision for car travel are the imperatives.

Building setbacks. Relatively generous (existing suburban setback requirements).

Accessory dwelling units (“granny flats”), home occupations, bed & breakfasts. Discouraged or prohibited.

Drive-throughs, retailers over 30,000 sf of first floor area, parking lots as a primary use. Allowed.

Maximum building height. 5 stories.

Housing types. Mixed.

Garages. Protruding.

Signs. Relatively large, often lit and animated (due to higher speeds and larger setbacks).

Building entrance. Tend to faces rear parking.

Land uses. Strictly segregated, single-use areas. Areas are either all residential, all commercial, or all industrial.

Neighborhood incomes. Mixed

Residential density maximum. Relatively low maximum (existing suburban setback requirements).

Travel choice. Relatively little. Nearly all forms of travel must be by car.

Schools. Existing conventional standards.

Stormwater management. Relatively high concern for inconvenience flooding means that stormwater basins are relatively large in size. Basins are irregular in shape and incorporate native landscape.

Interaction with others. High levels of privacy, separation.

Public Realm. Relatively unimportant. Emphasis is on generous landscaping, setbacks.

Rural/Preservation

Principles: Extreme levels of separation and privacy, equity, farmlands, environmental preservation, small and compact villages, large open spaces and large parks, ease of free-flowing travel by car.

rural landscape

rural landscape

Streets. ?

Alleys. ?

Congestion. ?

Congestion fees. ?

Signal Light Synchronization. ??

Street lights. ??

Lot sizes. ??

Block size. ??

Sidewalks. Rare. When used, tend to be on only one side of road??

Street connectivity. ??

Parking.  ??

Transit. ??

Service vehicles. ??

Landscaping. ??

Street trees. ??

Land Development Regulations. ??

Building setbacks. ??

Accessory dwelling units (“granny flats”), home occupations, bed & breakfasts. Expressly allowed.

Drive-throughs, retailers over 30,000 sf of first floor area, parking lots as a primary use. Allowed.

Maximum building height. ??

Housing types. Mixed.

Building entrance. ??

Garages. ??

Land uses. Housing mixed with neighborhood-scaled retail, office, light industrial.

Neighborhood incomes. Mixed

Residential density maximum. ??

Travel choice. ??

Schools. ??

Stormwater management. ??

Interaction with others. High levels of privacy, separation.

Public Realm. ??

 

 

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One Size Does Not Fit All

 

By Dom Nozzi

September 15, 2014

As the debate in Boulder Colorado is fought over development, density, neighborhood compatibility, and future vision, I keep thinking about the important truism in urban design:

One size does not fit all.

In the Sunday, September 14th Daily Camera, Mayor Matt Appelbaum indirectly made this point when he was quoted as saying that “There is not going to be a consensus.”

Precisely.

There will ALWAYS be a large number of folks in Boulder who passionately advocate for and desire to live in compact, walkable neighborhoods. There will ALWAYS be a large number of folks who desire more dispersed, drivable suburban neighborhoods. And there will ALWAYS be a large number who want an isolated, rural lifestyle.

How do we meet these three different lifestyle needs?

For over a century, most communities — including Boulder — have unfairly believed that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to community design. And land development regulations too often reflect this unfairness.

No, what is needed is not to find an impossible “consensus” amongst those seeking differing lifestyle paths (a recipe for a dumbed down, lowest common denominator plan). In my opinion, one huge solution is for Boulder to adopt what is called a Rural to Urban Transect Sandy Sorlien“Smart Code.” A Smart Code includes an “urban-to-rural transect,” where land development regulations are calibrated so that a quality urban lifestyle is achieved in the areas designated as compact and walkable, where another set of regulations are calibrated to achieve a quality suburban lifestyle, and a third set of regulations is adopted to achieve a quality rural lifestyle.

The transect concept asks this question: What elements are immersive in the habitat we are working in—be it Charleston or the Everglades? For example, the transect instructs that a sidewalk is immersive in Charleston, and a “transect violation” when within the Everglades. Conversely, a 200-acre marsh is immersive in the Everglades and a transect violation in Charleston. In other words, something is immersive if it promotes the quality of the habitat being designed. It is a violation if it harms the quality of the habitat being designed.

And frankly, this is where some of the conflict and impatience comes between those who are currently the loudest: many Better Boulder advocates and many with PLAN-Boulder County. A good number of PLAN-Boulder advocates don’t seem to have a conception of a transect or immersiveness. To such advocates, it is always a good idea to incorporate more nature, larger setbacks, and lower density everywhere—which fails to acknowledge that a 200-acre marsh in the middle of an in-town urban neighborhood harms the quality of a walkable Charleston. Natural features are not always immersive in all locations (it took me a while to realize that, since I came from an environmental academic background).

Conversely, many Better Boulder advocates are guilty of not taking proper care of sensitive ecosystems in projects they support. That more density, or taller buildings, or smaller setbacks are always appropriate in all locations. But it is also true that a many environmental scientists are guilty of not taking proper care of urbanism in their advocacy. Both advocacy positions (urban or suburban) can harm the other if not applied where it belongs.

Let the city be a city and let nature be nature. It goes both ways.

It has been accurately stated many times in Boulder that there is very little coherent “vision” for Boulder’s future in its Comprehensive Plan or its land development regulations. This is certainly true for Boulder’s largely conventional land development regulations, which utterly lack any vision. Instead, the regulations only tell us what we DO NOT want. The result, as we see, is unpredictable, often random, often unloved development — development that is certainly worrisome and opposed by many neighborhood groups.

A Smart Code effectively addresses this lack of vision, as well as the equitable need to provide lifestyle and housing options for the full range of community desires — from compact to rural. It does this by not only adopting a code that varies as it moves from urban to suburban to rural, but also by incorporating a “Form-Based Coding” system, which is in stark contrast to the conventional zoning used in much of Boulder. Instead of the conventional, use-based codes that are found in most all of Boulder — a code that is mostly concerned about what happens inside of buildings, only tells us negatively about what is not allowed, and strives to avoid any mixing of housing with retail, services, or offices — a Smart Code with form-based coding reduces the excessive concern about what is inside a building (by separating uses from each other with such regulations, the use-based conventional zoning makes it much harder for Boulder to achieve crucial transportation objectives).

A form-based Smart Code also provides us with a predictable, neighborhood-supported, positive vision for future development in neighborhoods. And that predictability and neighborhood buy-in is not only a wonderful way to reduce opposition to development, but is also a great way to ensure economic health (predictability is very important for business). Our regulations can show developers the building appearance and location on the property that the community and neighborhood desires in a given part of the “transect,” rather than the conventional use-based zoning, that only tells us what NOT to do.

In my opinion, Boulder should use this highly contentious debate over future development as an opportunity to call for the development of a form-based Smart Code — either in targeted locations such as what has already been done in North Boulder, or citywide. This code should be developed in a “charrette” process (intense, community- or neighborhood-based design workshop facilitated by trained professional urban designers). A charrette is an excellent way to provide community design education to citizens, as well as to achieve a great deal of citizen/neighborhood buy-in (because citizens end up making many of the design decisions).

The North Boulder Sub-Area Plan and the Holiday neighborhood within that location (prepared by Dover-Kohl consultants in the mid-90s) represents an excellent local model for a form-based Smart Code that has delivered popular, quality development. I understand that the plan and regulations remain popular after almost 20 years of adoption of that plan and its Smart Code.

 

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