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Thread: Utopia in Coral Gables [Broadband Recommended]

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    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Utopia in Coral Gables [Broadband Recommended]

    CORAL GABLES



    Not far from Coconut Grove is the other spot that every Miami transplant will ask if you visited: Coral Gables.

    Though surrounded by Miami, Coral Gables is a separate municipality, like Beverly Hills in Los Angeles or Brookline in Boston. These places were developed in the early years of the automobile era, and reflect the suburban desire for exclusion (they would say “exclusivity”). Above all, they wished to remain administratively separate from the bigger city of which they were satellites.

    Like Beverly Hills, Coral Gables is an enclave of high style suburban prosperity with a glitzy shopping district that has urban characteristics. It was planned by a developer named George Merrick in the 1920’s. His architectural notions came from Addison Mizner.

    Downtown Coral Gables. It may remind some of Beverly Hills, others of Kansas City’s Country Club District or Cleveland’s Shaker Heights, or yet others of Chestnut Hill (both the one in Philadelphia and the one in Boston). All owe their essential character to the roaring twenties and the curious blend of suburban urbanism that emerged from this early flirtation with the car. All are characterized by a strong underlayment of local businesses mixed with a few chain stores. The center of Coral Gables is called the Miracle Mile:



    In the last decade, Coral Gables has experienced a second spurt of expansion. Behind the largely one- and two-story main street, vast apartment and office buildings have sprung up along with parking structures. They have that bland but competent revivalist look that many associate with such mainstream commercial architects as Robert Stern and Elkus-Manfredi. Don’t know who actually designed the blockbuster; the smaller, foreground buildings are from the Twenties:



    It all looks mighty good.



    * * *

    Now, let me digress for a moment and deliver the mandatory rant about prosperous, mostly white communities (Coral Gables is actually 46.54% Hispanic, 28.72% Cuban, but most of these prosperous Hispanics list themselves as white, and look it). After the rant is delivered, we can get on to issues of design, history and aesthetics. Rant:

    Who the hell do these people think they are, living so comfortably, when a few miles away others are wondering where their rent payment will come from, and when Junior will come home with clear eyes? The government should tax all the bastards in Coral Gables to a reasonable level of income and redistribute their ill-gotten gains to the deserving poor. The most blatant plutocrats (who can easily afford to move) should be evicted from their homes, which should be given to large families of the poor. The oil companies should get out of Iraq, and we should stop supporting the fascist regime in Israel. The president should be impeached, both political parties disbanded, and Ralph Nader elected president—if he promises independence to Puerto Rico, advocacy of Quebec secession, and revokes the passport of the many Coral Gables Cubans who will attempt to travel to their homeland upon Fidel’s death and roll back 45 years of progress in health care and literacy. Other things that must be accomplished before any further investment in Coral Gables include the eradication of AIDS, racism and genocide, the repeal of NAFTA, and the global equality of women. Additionally, we need to stop everything until we achieve justice for the oppressed, an end to domestic violence, legalize pot and same-sex marriage, outlaw handguns, sweat-shop labor, Wal-mart, chain shops, and rebuild the north of England…There is probably a Starbuck’s in Coral Gables and other signs of middle class depravity, including bridal shops, clean sidewalks and boring-looking people, many of them old, fundamentalist and probably bigoted, and there is no graffiti. Life here is phony, boring, materialistic and pretentious, and the people live empty lives of white-knuckle desperation and angst…

    I could go on…but so could you. Back to Coral Gables.

    * * *

    From http://www.georgemerrick.org/Mission.html:

    “George Merrick had two very special abilities. He could dream in great detail of the perfect environment in which to live and he had a talent for making his dreams come true.


    George Merrick, a confident man, the son of a Massachusetts preacher.

    The city of Coral Gables is his legacy. He envisioned the Biltmore Hotel, a great university [the University of Miami], Venetian Pool, a grand City Hall, magnificent country clubs and golf courses, 40 miles of waterways, parks and fountains, notable entranceways and majestic streets.”


    The Biltmore Hotel, world-class luxury, renowned for its golf.




    The golf.




    Majestic streets. Mature tropical landscape.




    Like most other buildings in the residential districts of Coral Gables, the churches have a Spanish cast. Some are pink and some are yellow, and all are stucco.

    * * *

    From http://www.theledger.com/static/top5.../merrick.html:

    George Edgar Merrick grew up loving poetry and romanticizing about "castles in Spain."
    Those inspirations became the driving force behind his efforts to build the first, the best and the most famous suburb in Florida: Coral Gables.

    Born in 1886 in Springdale, Pa., Merrick moved to Miami with his family in 1898.
    He studied at Rollins College in Winter Park. From those studies and trips to Mexico and Central America, Merrick conceived the idea of turning "castles in Spain" into a living community.

    By 1922, Merrick began carving out what he would call a "City Beautiful" on the 3,000 acres of citrus groves and pineland his father, a minister, left him.
    Put simply, Merrick was a real-estate salesman. But he elevated that profession to an art form through the creation of Coral Gables. The town was designed with wide, tree-lined boulevards, expansive swimming pools, glorious arch-ways, delicate bridges and sedate urban golf courses. Merrick's secret was his passionate devotion to aesthetics. He insisted that if the right kind of Spanish red tile could not be found in America, he would import it directly. And he did.

    By 1924, Coral Gables was being called "America's Finest Suburb." Its reputation grew in three years to a national enterprise valued at $100 million.

    The Depression threw the brakes on Merrick's dream town, which never reached the peak of his vision. Merrick continued in real estate until 1940, when he became postmaster of Miami, a position he held until his death at age 55 in 1942.

    To this day, Merrick's home in Coral Gables is maintained as a living museum to the man who dreamed of castles in Spain.
    --- Logan D. Mabe

    * * *

    From the National Geographic Guide to Miami and the Keys:

    “Merrick called his creation the City Beautiful, and it was: with broad streets connecting broad plazas, public amenities such as the gorgeous Venetian Pool…and a fantasy of pools and grottoes…It was a vision of Utopia, it was real, and it lasted, surviving the collapse of the Florida land boom right up to the present day.


    The houses are the true glory of Coral Gables. Built in different variations of the Spanish style, their consistent architectural excellence bespeaks a savvy architectural review board that can distinguish an accomplished design from junk. Obviously they rely on aesthetic judgment, rather than formulas and guidelines; the quality of the architecture testifies to that.

    Merrick would be proud. The trees he planted now arch over his boulevards like great arbors, shading downtown sidewalks in sun-dappled coolness. The turret-topped [downtown] Colonnade building, site of Merrick’s offices, still stands, now part of a stately hotel. The Venetian Pool is as grand as it was the day it opened, and Coral Gables’ houses are still every bit as desirable as then, sought after by buyers who make up the affluent core of the city’s 45,000 residents.


    A Spanish fantasia, extravagant as flamenco. In addition to the over-the-top wooden balcony, there are no fewer than four surface treatments in a small area: crisp, white stucco, ancient weathered stucco from the back alleys of Granada, the ubiquitous Miami coral stone and…ivy! Notice also how these transition into each other in different ways, and the oh-so suave way the coral bench oozes out of the wall. Finally, the tropical climate peppers the whole composition with little patches of green moss. What do you suppose is the curb appeal coefficient plugged into the appraisal for such visual delights?



    Coral Gables’ corporate residents include over 140 of the biggest and most important businesses and financial institutions in South Florida. The 260-acre University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus counts nearly 14,000 students and a facuty of 1500, and has an unusually rich repository of fine art and antiquities at its Lowe Art Museum.


    A fairly modest house, reflecting Merrick’s belief in planning for a broad cross section of the population. Note how close this house is to the garage of its brand new neighbor. Even so, it would fetch an astronomical price by the standards of most communities. Who says design doesn’t make money?



    Mediterranean Revival architecture dominates Coral Gables, but other exotics bloomed here, too. Sloped tile roofs distinguish the Chinese Village on Riviera Drive…The rural residences of 17th-century Dutch South African colonials are re-created at Maya Street…and the tastes of Normandy dress up Le Jeune Road…Italian village life is the theme on Altara Avenue…and on Santa Maria Street, houses in the Colonial Village celebrate our Yankee heritage." (Sorry I don’t have any of this to show you; the sun was goind down all through this photo shoot, and eventually I just ran out of light.)


    A hacienda on a large lot.


    The air conditioner is an unfortunate upgrade.

    * * *

    Coral Gables Statistics and Demographics (US Census 2000)

    Population: 42,249 100.00%
    Area: 12.5 square miles
    Density: 3380 per square mile (about the same as Carmel, California)

    Male 19,734 46.71%
    Female 22,515 53.29%

    Under 5 years 2089 4.94%
    5 to 9 years 2086 4.94%
    10 to 14 years 2018 4.78%
    15 to 19 years 3464 8.2%
    20 to 24 years 3565 8.44%
    25 to 34 years 5799 13.73%
    35 to 44 years 6467 15.31%
    45 to 54 years 5859 13.87%
    55 to 59 years 2449 5.8%
    60 to 64 years 1783 4.22%
    65 to 74 years 3183 7.53%
    75 to 84 years 2544 6.02%
    85 years + 943 2.23%

    Median age (years) 38.1

    18 years and over 34,897 82.6%
    Male 16,093 38.09%
    Female 18,804 44.51%

    21 years and over 31,495 74.55%
    62 years and over 7691 18.2%
    65 years and over 6670 15.79%
    Male 2716 6.43%
    Female 3954 9.36%


    If this house is old, it has been much redone in recent times. It still manages to look good.

    One race 41,599 98.46%
    White 38,798 91.83% (includes most Hispanics)
    Black 1394 3.3%
    American Indian 55 0.13%
    Asian 708 1.68%
    Asian Indian 270 0.64%
    Chinese 194 0.46%
    Filipino 63 0.15%
    Japanese 61 0.14%
    Korean 42 0.1%
    Vietnamese 18 0.04%
    Other Asian 60 0.14%
    Native Hawaiian 15 0.04%
    Guamanian 1 0%
    Samoan 1 0%
    Other Pacific 4 0.01%
    Some other race 629 1.49%
    Two or more race650 3.0 %

    Hispanic (of any race) 19,703 46.64%
    Mexican 482 1.14%
    Puerto Rican 887 2.1%
    Cuban 12,136 28.72%
    Other Hispanic 6198 14.67%
    Not Hispanic 22,546 53.36%
    White alone 20,168 47.74%


    Crisp modern detailing with a slight accent.

    Relationship
    Total Population 42,249 100.00%
    In households 38,739 91.69%
    Householder 16,793 39.75%
    Spouse 8261 19.55%
    Child 9607 22.74%
    Own child under 18 6998 16.56%
    Other relatives 1863 4.41%
    Under 18 272 0.64%
    Nonrelatives 2215 5.24%
    Unmarried partner 685 1.62%
    In group quarters 3510 8. 1%
    Instituntionalized 97 0.23%3
    Noninstitutionalized 3413 8.08%

    Households by Type
    Total Households 16,793 100.0 %
    Family households (families) 10,251 61.04%
    With own children under 18 years 4056 24.15%
    Married-couple family 8261 49.19%
    With own children under 18 years 3311 19.72%
    Female householder, no husband present 1529 9.1%
    With own children under 18 years 615 3.66%
    Non Family households 6542 38.96%
    Householder living alone 5288 31.49%
    Householder 65 years and over 1642 9.78%

    Households with individuals under 18 years 4264 25.39%
    Households with individuals 65 years and over 4809 28.64%

    Average Household size 2.31
    Average family size 2.92


    Seriously pink, this post-modern mish-mash still manages to look good pretty good on its tiny lot, though a bit new money…

    Housing Occupancy
    Total housing units 17,849 100.00%
    Occupied housing units 16,793 94.08%
    Vacant housing units 1056 5.92%
    For seasonal or occasional use 303 1.7%

    Homeowner vacancy rate (percent) 1.5
    Rental vacancy rate (percent) 4.2

    Housing Tenure
    Occupied housing units 16793 100.00%
    Owner-occupied housing units. 11056 65.84%
    Renter-occupied housing units. 5737 34.16%

    Average household size of owner-occupied units 2.56
    Average household size of renter-occupied units 1.83


    …and old money.

    * * *

    Some might say the fools who live here are unaware of their own folly, and have driven real estate values through the roof by the law of supply and demand. The fools?: why, they just thank their lucky stars that they can afford to live in such a nice place (it even reminds some of them of home). And you know what: when the bubble finally bursts, Coral Gables might be one of the few places with its real estate values left standing. Even in the Great Depression there was a market for nice things.

    Though the gridded streets of Coral Gables are continuous with those of Miami, you can tell immediately when you pass out of Coral Gables. The zoning becomes the usual idiotic drivel, and in march the parking lots, the raunch and the junk. Just like the places where almost all of us live. Eighty years after Coral Gables, the Masters of Suburbia have not learned its lessons.
    Last edited by ablarc; 26 Apr 2004 at 10:23 AM.

  2. #2
         
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    What a great informative thread. Coral Gables looks pretty nice. Thanks for taking the time to put this together to share with the forum.

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    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    another thing to add is that C.G. is the home of the infamous University of Miami as part of the Merrick plan.

    glad you saw more than the beach while in the Miami area, and yes there are a few Starbucks in C.G. (per your rant).
    Last edited by H; 30 Apr 2004 at 7:15 AM.

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    Cyburbian thinknik's avatar
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    Thanks for that! I just visited Coral Gables and found it heavenly - stayed at the Biltmore, toured Kampong, Pinecrest Gardens, Miami Beach and the The Judd's home. Very lovely city. Very lovely people.

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    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    Rant pt. II

    [rant]
    It's funny how a lot of Americans confuse language with ethnicity. A lot of people in Philly use the terms "Spanish" and "Puerto Rican" interchangeably . . . and somehow Mexicans, Cubans, Panamanians, and Argentinos are all the same ethnic and cultural group even though their cultures are just as varied (if not more so) than those in Europe. Haha, ask Penélope Cruz

    We don't call Jamaicans and Indians "English" or "white" because we share a tongue.

    I almost married into a Cuban family. My ex's mom once told me:

    "I never considered being Latino before I moved here. You were either blanco, negro, or indio. My mom was indio and my dad was blanco. That's part of the reason my dad didn't get along well with the rest of his family - because he married a poor farm girl."

    Just watch Mexican television for 10 minutes. The hosts and news anchors are always white. The game shows are the most telling - the host is usually a fair skinned blonde and the audience is full of people that the conquistadores might have recognized. It's always been like that. The Spaniards conquered, became the bosses, and later on had a brief period of Italian/German/Irish immigration, most of whom married into other European families. The people in power in Mexico or Central America don't look at all like the people who are washing dishes at your local pub.

    Americans, Argentinos, and Chilenos did a much more thorough job at assimilating and/or exterminating the indigenous populations. The Mayans and Aztecs and Incas, as settled societies, were long used to dealing with "civilization", class stratification, slavery, and brutality. The Spaniards were just different, more brutal rulers. Thus the inidigenous people there were useful to the Spaniards. In places like Panama, Brazil, Argentina, the US, Cuba, etc. the local populations weren't so easily subdued so settlers killed whoever was in their way and imported Africans, Indians, or Chinese for the hard labor.

    BTW - there is a sizeable Chinese-Cuban population along Bergenline in Bergen Co., NJ. At a Japanese restaurant in the area my ex's dad busted our waiter. He said "didn't i see you working at the chinese restaurant yesterday? do you really fool that many people when you speak chinese and english with a Cuban accent?"
    [/rant]
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

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    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    I posted this thread on SSP, where MIIAIIRIIK and streetscaper kindly supplemented it with pictures of their own , including the Dutch South African and Norman villages which I couldn’t get due to nightfall.

























































    Coral Gables was a product of the City Beautiful movement, itself related to the Garden City concept. It shares many characteristics with Forest Hills, Palm Beach, the Country Club District and Shaker Heights.

    One of the traits a successful city was quaintly thought to have by adherents of these movements was beauty, a concept that’s just being rediscovered by those who plan our environment. Its presence in Seaside and attempts to address it at Celebration are hopeful signs. This also explains the success of Providence and failure of similar Worcester in revitalizing their downtowns and consequently their entire economic region. As has recently been noted, Providence woke up its downtown by concentrating on bringing back its beauty. Now it’s a boomtown.

    .

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    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Coral Gables has some interesting design guidelines for building in the "Coral Gables Mediterranean Style." They give incentives including increased FAR, and reduction of required off-street parking.

    Once again, ablarc, great pictures. Thanks.

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    Cyburbian eightiesfan's avatar
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    Very nice photos, makes me miss Miami!
    “Do you think the porter and the cook have no anecdotes, no experiences, no wonders for you? The walls of their minds are scrawled all over with thoughts. They shall one day bring a lantern and read the inscriptions.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

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    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Otis
    Coral Gables has some interesting design guidelines for building in the "Coral Gables Mediterranean Style." They give incentives including increased FAR, and reduction of required off-street parking.
    Do you have access to these? I'd find some excerpts to be interesting reading.

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    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    What is that car doing there? How did it get there? It would appear that it has to drive over the lawn and sidewalk in order to appear there...

    On another note, some interesting photos but nothing especially compelling. I've never found wealthy enclaves very practical, simply because of what and who they shut out.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    I've never found wealthy enclaves very practical, simply because of what and who they shut out.
    Developer Merrick took care to accommodate a spectrum of society; this accounts for some of the diminutive houses you'll find in Coral Gables. But as happens these days with all especially nice places, the rich drove up real estate values until only they could afford to live there.

    If you think about it, almost all really nice neighborhoods and towns in North America have been taken over by the rich; the rest of us have to live in rather more mundane surroundings.

    You'd think we could build our way out of this quandary with a whole bunch of new nice places, but:

    1. Under existing zoning it's impossible to make a delightful place; these all rely on quirks and surprises, unexpected delights and individualistic flashes of brilliance. The delight comes from breaking patterns rather than conforming to them, from being different rather than predictable. The principal conveyors of these delights are peculiarities of massing and siting –precisely the traits that zoning seeks to regulate and standardize.

    No amount of hysterical styling, frantic surface treatment or superfluous gables can mask the banality of a line of McMansions, standing robotically all in a row in a suburban subdivision, each with precisely the same relationship to its property lines; they’re just a formation of storm troopers in motley uniforms. Truth is zoned places can only give us standardized virtue; most of us find that dull. Some of us find it offensive.

    By contrast, Charleston, Forest Hills Gardens, Carmel, Palm Beach, Beacon Hill and Coral Gables abound with quixotic aberrations. This is what makes them beautiful, and because they’re beautiful, they’re all now preserves of the rich, though only Palm Beach was planned from the start with that in mind throughout.

    2. Under prevailing Republican policies, the numbers of the rich are growing, and they're simultaneously getting even richer; almost all wealth-creation in the economy gets kicked directly upstairs. So more and more rich people vie for a constant (actually --because of gentrification-- a modestly increasing) supply of beautiful or stimulating places to live; and the problem's compounded by the fact that many have grown so rich that they can afford multiple homes in numerous beauty spots. So a movie mogul might have pieds-a-terre in Beverly Hills, Charleston, Greenwich Village, St. Croix, Nantucket and St. Tropez, each of which sits vacant most of the year except for housekeepers. Incidentally, only one place on that list was planned as a fairly homogeneous preserve for plutocrats; most were homes to the full spectrum of society until recent times. St. Tropez was actually a (real!) fishing village.

    * * *

    Abrowne, the SUV drives across its lawn to its home port; the owner probably couldn’t get a second curb cut from the planning authorities. The rule is you get…one.

    Rules is rules, dontcha know.
    Last edited by ablarc; 04 Jul 2005 at 10:32 PM.

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    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    In my mind I refer to what you are talking about as the "nooks and crannies" of a place (if we are indeed speaking of the same topic, and not slight variations of the same sort of idea). It's what I find fascinating in cities, as well. The below-grade, ivy-masked courtyard garden below the street-front stairs of a rowhouse, the back-alley square waiting to be discovered off that beaten trail... and so forth. I suppose I haven't seen enough photos of Coral Gables to make up my mind just yet. Most of those photos detailed what appeared as suburban style plot housing, albeit with appreciable vegetation and style.

    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    1. Under existing zoning it's impossible to make a delightful place; these all rely on quirks and surprises, unexpected delights and individualistic flashes of brilliance. The delight comes from breaking patterns rather than conforming to them, from being different rather than predictable. The principal conveyors of these delights are peculiarities of massing and siting –precisely the traits that zoning seeks to regulate and standardize.

    No amount of hysterical styling, frantic surface treatment or superfluous gables can mask the banality of a row of McMansions, standing robotically all in a row in a suburban subdivision, each with precisely the same relationship to its property lines; they’re just a formation of storm troopers in motley uniforms. Truth is zoned places can only give us standardized virtue; most of us find that dull. Some of us find it offensive.
    This is a very cognizant observation that I think you should flesh out and expand on, particularily in respect to what alternatives to zoning are suitable. I think we can both agree that a certain amount of oversight has to be in place, mostly in terms of building code safety (especially fireproofing), but also to avoid - to create a completely ridiculous example - the construction of a chicken waste reduction plant beside an area of chiefly residential occupation. In that scenario, I would argue that no amount of wise design can justify that use.

    I suspect you will advocate the use of a design review panel (or something similar), to which I will return in a moment, but something else might also be necessary - a panel to decide which sorts of things are appropriate. That is, an application would be judged first on its rationale and suitability to the site and surrounding context, and then once past that hurdle, would be passed to a design review.

    If I may return to the idea of that design review panel, I do have a concern. Zoning, being mostly static and not easily changed, does tend to create the same sort of environment nearly regardless of different staff passing through, whereas a design review panel may be subject to occasional wars for control and other garbage of that sort... idealogical battles, with applications caught in the middle. Upon further thought, this "problem" I've just brought up seems silly given that zoning seems to reliably produce garbage.
    Last edited by abrowne; 04 Jul 2005 at 10:26 PM.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    a design review panel may be subject to occasional wars for control and other garbage of that sort... idealogical battles, with applications caught in the middle. Upon further thought, this "problem" I've just brought up seems silly given that zoning seems to reliably produce garbage.
    Lol, it's occasional garbage vs. guaranteed garbage.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    I got into what you might call a "heated debate" with my civil engineer colleagues recently(I didn't want to let it develop too much due to the power imbalance at hand, i.e. I could get fired for being too difficult) about aesthetics in design. Their point was basically that aesthetics are not worth pursuing because people have varying opinions on it. To me that is like saying we should have no government because people disagree on what is the ideal form of government or whom should govern. But where do you even start when talking to people who don't value aesthetics and want you to do just the basics that the ordinances call for? What basic points would you use to illustrate the value of something seemingly superfluous and irrelevant (to them) as beauty? The mere word "beauty" connotes superficiality, pretty faces, beauty contests, makeup, vanity...how do you move beyond that? How do you change the building culture?
    Adrift in a sea of beige

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    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    What Ablarc fails to understand (continuously) is that zoning is not mandated by planners it's mandated by the community through their government. If the community values massive strips of concrete everywhere and no more than 1.5 acres per house, well, them's the rocks.

    The solution isn't to try to mandate prettiness, because people who don't care for that won't stand for it. Rather, the solution is to educate people as to why it's important and then get them to choose it on their own.

    And of course if that's not difficult enough, it doesn't begin to address the megacorps (Home Depot and that other one I won't name, for example) who do everything they can do to ramrod their architectural abortions through hostile city councils using threats and scare tactics. Of course they're doing a lot more to destroy our cities than just put up ugly buildings, but that's a whole different rant.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    What Ablarc fails to understand (continuously) is that zoning is not mandated by planners it's mandated by the community through their government.
    I fail to understand it, Jordan, because in my experience it it’s not true. What you articulate is someone’s theory of how things should be, but I don’t see hard evidence of this in my work.

    I’m currently working on urban design projects in three cities.

    In one city, there’s zoning on my parcel that goes back to the Stone Age. It’s full of the technical formulas that no member of the public could possibly dream up--especially not the public that actually lives in this area. Most folks that live around my development parcel haven’t an iota of interest in planning issues; they’re fully occupied figuring out how to survive the week. My dealings are with the newly-empowered planning department, and this is their oft-spoken mandate to me: “show us something we like and we’ll approve it.” I’ve gleaned that what they like is—hilariously enough—Paris boulevard! I’m not about to give it to them because it won’t fly. But I’m pretty sure I can cook up something that’ll work for both their fantasy and the developer’s bank account.

    In the second city, the zoning’s made up by a staff to the shrewd impulses of a planning czar. The zoning’s being revised wholesale for the better, and shows promise of producing excellent urban results. Because the czar’s powerful (though here there be NIMBYs), I’ve been told that deviation from the freshly made-up rules is possible, if it’s deviation the czar likes and reckons he can get the community committee to sign off on.

    City number 3 has an activist development authority that makes up pretty copious rules for each development parcel. Here too there’s wiggle room, and everything’s negotiable; there’s a lot of community partcicipation during the design process, and afterwards there will be freelance NIMBYs.

    I may have lucked into the three American municipalities where the people don’t determine the zoning, but I kinda doubt it. Do they pay lip-service to the principle of citizen decision-making? You bet. All three cities are well-known.

    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    If the community values massive strips of concrete everywhere and no more than 1.5 acres per house, well, them's the rocks.
    If you mean, jordan, that the City Council passes the zoning, you’re right. But did you ever meet a city councillor who could write a paragraph of zoning? After perusing it for something that might stick in the craw of their constituency, they pass what’s set before them.

    (Similar is the process by which Building Code amendments see the light of day down at the state legislature. Your representatives scan the eye-glazing paragraphs of technical details, and if they find nothing objectionable, they pass it. All kinds of products are made profitably mandatory by this process; I don’t know if the reps lobby the legislators or the technical experts that actually write the texts. [If I did know I’d probably fear for my life.])

    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    The solution isn't to try to mandate prettiness, because people who don't care for that won't stand for it.
    Lol, you can’t mandate prettiness (though most aesthetic regulation are inept attempts to do just that). But you can refrain from obstructing it with rules when it shows signs of coming into being by itself without collateral damage. Incidentally, my work experience tells me people prefer pretty to ugly.

    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    Rather, the solution is to educate people as to why it's important and then get them to choose it on their own.
    Bingo!!

    This forum’s a good beginning.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    My dealings are with the newly-empowered planning department, and this is their oft-spoken mandate to me: “show us something we like and we’ll approve it.” I’ve gleaned that what they like is—hilariously enough—Paris boulevard! I’m not about to give it to them because it won’t fly. But I’m pretty sure I can cook up something that’ll work for both their fantasy and the developer’s bank account.
    Honestly.. if you designed a Paris boulevard, with six stories of density on both sides and no parking, the planning board would approve it without a mob showing up and stringing them up on the oak tree in front of the courthouse? Are people in your town cationic? Do they have drool dripping out of their mouths and pooling o their shirts? Are they lead poisoned? Are they paraplegic?

    In the second city, the zoning’s made up by a staff to the shrewd impulses of a planning czar. The zoning’s being revised wholesale for the better, and shows promise of producing excellent urban results. Because the czar’s powerful (though here there be NIMBYs), I’ve been told that deviation from the freshly made-up rules is possible, if it’s deviation the czar likes and reckons he can get the community committee to sign off on.
    I highlighted the parts of that that are most like how most cities work.


    City number 3 has an activist development authority that makes up pretty copious rules for each development parcel. Here too there’s wiggle room, and everything’s negotiable; there’s a lot of community partcicipation during the design process, and afterwards there will be freelance NIMBYs.
    So what's the problem?

    If you mean, jordan, that the City Council passes the zoning, you’re right. But did you ever meet a city councillor who could write a paragraph of zoning? After perusing it for something that might stick in the craw of their constituency, they pass what’s set before them.
    The City of Chicago recently went through a complete rewrite of the zoning codes. What resulted was something that I think is pretty good. It was written by an enlightened planner with ties to developers. The Aldermen were highly interested because they get a ton of power out of dicking with the zoning. The system was presented to the council as a series of modules. Every one was debated individually before it was put together as a complete bill and passed.

    You could see that the consultant was trying to come up with ways to curb many of the abuses of zoning by the aldermen, like making "prevailing setbacks" that override codified setbacks if an alderman tries to underzone an area. But of course they weren't going to sit on their fannies and let him take away all their fun. He also made things like P-Streets that ban curb cuts and have build-to lines, but then only designated a few areas as P-streets. After that module was presented, the aldermen demanded that a few of the P-Streets be removed. The consultant ended up admitting that the code isn't "new urbanism" (or he used some other jargon term like that) but basically said it was the best he could do given the political environment.

    The new codes doubled the parking requirements. Why? Aldermen made it clear that they were tired of LP Trixies whining to them about having no place to park their Jettas. We had a real grass roots pissing match with the aldermen about that, and then they realized that we were a bigger pain in the ass than the Trixies, who generally don't show up at the meetings, so they "suggested" to the planner that he roll that back.

    My point is, no, the politicos don't write code. But they know that they have the power to change it. And no, most of the public doesn't even know what zoning is, but they do know how to be madder than hell when they find out that they are moving in. And planners may like to do a good job, and may like to get things approved that they like. But they know which end is up.

    This forum’s a good beginning.
    Please.

    Gushing over Frank Gehry and rich enclaves here isn't going to get you anywhere. I disregard them for the same reason I disregard Kunstler. I liked Kunstler until I actually got some practical experience with the Public Process. Once you've been through the trenches once you realize that things are a lot more complicated than that.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    Once you've been through the trenches once you realize that things are a lot more complicated than that.
    Yikes, Jordan, you sound like Rick in Casablanca.

    Aren’t you a little young to be so world-weary already?

    Or will it be: “I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now”?

  19. #19
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    My town has just done a massive overhaul of its zoning systems... rezoned something like 300 properties in the downtown core in one single council vote. Unified OCP intentions from over the years. The changes were all to higher density, including in some areas zero lot lines or very small setbacks, greatly reduced parking per unit requirements. The new OCP is also transforming a former parking lot, Elks Hall, and portable offices for city hall parks & rec department into a park, bandshell, open market, and artist studio space. Half of the objectives have already been met.

    It's not difficult here at all to develop urban infill - splitting larger lots and redeveloping houses is common place. Greenfields development is virtually nonexistant, and agricultural land is left preserved. In the next few years the area will also be seeing the return of row houses.

    I see absolutely no reason to be so critical of zoning, at least in my community. I'd like to see more reform in street design, but the progress so far is encouraging.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    Do you have access to these? I'd find some excerpts to be interesting reading.
    Sorry it took me so long to respond. Try this link:
    http://www.citybeautiful.net/CGWeb/d...edArchRegs.pdf

  21. #21
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    abrowne, the enlightened actions you describe aren't the rule, but fortunately they are becoming more common, and they'll grow commoner still if we push for them in ways that are available to us.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    abrowne, the enlightened actions you describe aren't the rule, but fortunately they are becoming more common, and they'll grow commoner still if we push for them in ways that are available to us.
    You know, I was hoping this thread would die. I am so chomping at the bit to address your rant about "white rich folks". If I took your invitation to "keep you in line" literally, I would have already read you the riot act about everything that is wrong with that view point. But I feel strongly that hounding you constantly and dogging your every step isn't exactly a good example of civilized, respectful behavior.

    Um, I can PM you if you want to hear my thoughts without feeling "wailed on" in public. Or I can post it here if you like. Or you can tell me to drop dead and butt out. I really do not believe in cramming my views down the throats of other folks and I offer my feedback to you on this topic because you seem very commited to finding a means to make real change happen. But I just feel like it really threatens to come across like I am beating you and won't give it a rest and I would rather save it for another time than alienate you with such bad manners.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    I am so chomping at the bit to address your rant about "white rich folks".
    Address away...but watch you don't step in the irony.

    If I took your invitation to "keep you in line" literally, I would have already read you the riot act about everything that is wrong with that view point.
    Sounds suspiciously like you think that's my viewpoint. Could it be I wasn’t sardonic enough?

    I really do not believe in cramming my views down the throats of other folks
    No, that’s fine; people are here for discourse. That always means saying what you think. And furthermore, with emphasis.

    and I offer my feedback to you on this topic because you seem very commited to finding a means to make real change happen.
    That, yes. I get so tired of the defeatism: “If you operate in the real world you’ll discover how hard it is to change things.” Effete.

    News: I operate in the real world (why would anyone think I don't; I get things built), and what I’ve found is that if you stick to your guns, make sense and don’t abandon your beliefs, things work out. I don’t advocate rocking the boat in order to get people into trouble or frustration; I advocate it because I’ve found it works, people out there are ready to get the message, and I want planners to feel empowered (at least those who want an alternative to Suburbia). I want to share the good news I've been blessed to discover:

    “If you think you can or if you think you can’t, you’re right.” –Henry Ford

    …alienate you with such bad manners.
    If that were possible, I’d be long gone. Plenty of bad manners all around, haven’t you noticed?

  24. #24

    Registered
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    Quote Originally posted by ablarc

    Abrowne, the SUV drives across its lawn to its home port; the owner probably couldn’t get a second curb cut from the planning authorities. The rule is you get…one.

    Rules is rules, dontcha know.
    Not sure, in this case, that's a bad rule. A row of mansions, even quaint Coral Gables ones, with their entire front yard paved for driveways is...

  25. #25
    Cyburbian chukky's avatar
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    at least the 4x4 is going offroad.. which is more then can be said for most SUVs!!!

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