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Thread: What to do when dense sf becomes sprawl?

  1. #1

    What to do when dense sf becomes sprawl?

    I've been wondering for a while... What do we do when dense single family housing becomes sprawl?

    In most American cities, housing like this:
    http://i150.photobucket.com/albums/s...banhousing.png
    Isn't sprawling and if repeated around the city, would dramatically slow/stop the sprawl of the city.

    However, what do we do when single-family housing like that turns into sprawl like this:
    http://i42.photobucket.com/albums/e3...us/QF93/36.jpg

  2. #2
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    I say if it is all on public utilities, and the vacancy rate for the city isn't out of control, than it must just be the natural progression of the area. Some people may disagree with me, though.

  3. #3
    I guess I should have clarified... How do we stop the sprawl when the dense areas become sprawl? What do we do?

  4. #4
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    But to your actual question, single family even at a very high density is pretty limiting, unless you've got rowhouse scales like in Philadelphia or Baltimore.

    And extensive transit, especially transit separated from regular traffic. Busses sharing the same roads as normal auto traffic are generally useless.

    I think it is going to happen, but there should be higher locational costs than currently exist. But since most employment centers are in equally sprawling, auto-oriented locations, they kind of go hand-in-hand.

    It really deal with sprawl, one needs to deal with residential and commercial/office/industrial development in the same breathe. Nothing exists in a vaccuum.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by HeartlandCityBoy View post
    I guess I should have clarified... How do we stop the sprawl when the dense areas become sprawl? What do we do?
    I think planners in places like S. Florida and L.A.have struggled with this for some time. The scenario is really about the demand of single-family residential living, and its predominance as a land development paradigm. Factors driving it are certainly market demands, but zoning often mimics the desires of the development community and exacerbates the situation.

    The most frustrating thing for me (and other planners in such places I believe) is seeing the density and having to think "what if". What if, for instance, there was a regional transit network in place? What if land use was better planned so that employment centers and commercial services were more easily accessible and didn't require trips on clogged highways? What if we could actually preserve some open space corridors?

    In booming markets developers are often willing to build at higher densities. I'd argue that a great challenge facing planners in these places is determining how to leverage this into better development outcomes. However, ultimately there really is no design solution that that mitigate the environmental costs of unbridled growth.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    In my view the problem isn't "sprawl" so much as monotony.

    Today we have Floodplain regulation that actually preserves greenspace for us, and introduces a pleasing variety to the human environment. I think if the second view you showed had some greenbelt or waterway in it, it would not seem so bad. The trees in the first view are lost in the second view.

    The though of driving thru block after block of grid-like streets to get somewhere every day must result in some sort of mental illness!

    I remember driving thru block after block of the same two and three story brownstone buildings with no visual or park-like relief for miles to get to downtown NYC was maddening. I couldn't wait to get through the area. It leads to speeding.

    So, what can planners do? I think PUD overlays are good in that developers could come back to the city with a plan to cluster some housing and open up some landscaped recreation areas (providing detention ponds, etc.) in exchange for some increased density in portions of the development. - and yes, tear down some of the old and functionally or economically obsolescent units.

    Encourage PUD's by sponsoring a design competition. Give a monetary prize, a plaque or certificate and some public recognition. It may stimulate interest in improving old settled areas - and make the public aware that things could be better - that's one of your opportunities as a Planner.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I didn't see sprawl in either of those pictures. A grid on utilities is planned growth IMHO.

  8. #8
    The thing though, is that you cannot have cities that are encompassing late-hundreds to thousands of square miles. There has to be a point where outward growth stops.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    What are you looking to accomplish? Stopping growth? Making those sprawling areas more sustainable/walkable/transit-friendly? Preserving open space? Combinations of those goals?

  10. #10
    Stopping outward growth, while encouraging more infill, urban growth.

    Preserving open space, and preserving at least 90% of the land in most states.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by HeartlandCityBoy View post
    Stopping outward growth, while encouraging more infill, urban growth.

    Preserving open space, and preserving at least 90% of the land in most states.

    Ok, then the answer to your question is simple from a planning perspective, but still difficult politically.

    Take the picture that you have there - it looks to be almost entirely single family homes on a grid. Take a major east-west (or north-south, doesn't really matter) road, and change the zoning to mixed-use, with a mix of high-density (say, 40+ units per acre) and medium density (20 units per acre). That will get you a good mix of 4-12 story apartment/condo buildings. Widen the road to six lanes, with the middle two as a transitway (BRT or LRT, doesn't matter).

    Ensure that the approval process and enivronmental reviews are fairly easy and cheap. Simultaneously, change the zoning on land at the fringe to disallow development - or if you want to use the market - simply implement some fees that make it so building there raises the costs significantly. This should bring costs into balance between infill and greenland development (or even slightly tip the balance toward infill). People will respond to the market - if a 1500 sqft house on a 1/4 acre lot on the fringe is suddenly the same price as a 1200 sqft loft in the midst of shops and restaurants on a transit line to their job, a real choice is presented for buyers - and you'd be surprised at how many will decide that "space and a yard" isn't all that they want.

    Now, politically, I don't know. It depends on the location that this is happening. Where I'm at, we simply need more housing of all types, so you can pretty much build anything anywhere and it will sell. Infill sells quicker than fringe housing, but both sell quickly.

  12. #12
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    Ridgeman

    Traditional zoning creates the mega blocks of monolithic boredom, I think! Stormwater systems get buried, any topography or slopes get re-graded to 2%, natural ecosystems are bullied into submission and we move in to live. Even the former groves or orchards are ground into dust but yet the place is named "Granny Smith Estates."

    But if the question was what can we do, perhaps we could re-read McHarg's Design with Nature and formulate a plan------------

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by CJC View post
    if a 1500 sqft house on a 1/4 acre lot on the fringe is suddenly the same price as a 1200 sqft loft in the midst of shops and restaurants on a transit line to their job, a real choice is presented for buyers - and you'd be surprised at how many will decide that "space and a yard" isn't all that they want.
    I think the "real choice" statement is a big issue. In most towns, cities, metropolitan areas, people don't have a real choice - most housing is either detached single-family or cheaply constructed apartment buildings. Quality rowhouses, lofts, etc, aren't being built at nearly a pace to keep up with the rate of growth of households.

    As a planner, I'd submit that this is, as CJC hints, in no small part the fault of planners - or at least of zoning. If you look at an area where detached single-family homes stretch from here to the moon, you'll probably find that the zoning doesn't allow anything but those. Additionally, the process for building a detached single-family home is usually staggeringly easier than the process for building a block of townhomes. We use zoning and other regulations to make it illegal to build dense, mixed-use developments in most locations, then wonder why we have miles and miles of single-family homes.

    Yes, the market does include demand for detached single-family homes - but how many of us have ever had developers fighting against us to win the right to develop less densely? How many of us have ever seen an application from a variance from our maximum lot sizes, or seen requests from a developer to downzone their land?

    I have little doubt that most communities would see denser development than what they're currently getting if they threw out their zoning ordinances. Not that I'm advocating throwing out zoning ordinances entirely - there are legitimate public welfare concerns that may be regulated - but we as planners cannot believe that development patterns are the result of a free market.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by monkeyflower View post
    ...but we as planners cannot believe that development patterns are the result of a free market.
    This is what I was hinting at, though I certainly don't think planners are to blame for it (at least not most of the time). I'm in the private sector, but I don't know any public sector planner in this area that has worked on putting these restrictions into place - and more often it's exactly the opposite. It's the old, simple rule - Change is hard.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Land cost has a lot to do with dense residential sprawl. As less land becomes available, prices go up. These higher prices require a more dense development to "make the numbers work" for the developer.

    I know I have an opposite opinion to HeartLand on how we can combat sprawl, BUT I personally do not think, under our existing framework of land rights and land use laws in the Unites States, that we can say, I am sorry but you cannot build anything on your land when there is no constraint on the property that prohibits you from doing so. We can manage it, but we cannot prohibit it. Call me a bad planner or a sell-out or whatever, but I would would rather work to uphold freedoms and rights than be in a regime that inhibits peoples ability to live and profit.
    Satellite City Enabler

  16. #16
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Plan-it View post
    I know I have an opposite opinion to HeartLand on how we can combat sprawl, BUT I personally do not think, under our existing framework of land rights and land use laws in the Unites States, that we can say, I am sorry but you cannot build anything on your land when there is no constraint on the property that prohibits you from doing so. We can manage it, but we cannot prohibit it. Call me a bad planner or a sell-out or whatever, but I would would rather work to uphold freedoms and rights than be in a regime that inhibits peoples ability to live and profit.
    We do this all of the time in already built areas. The general consensus now is that it's infringing on property rights to limit greenland from development, but it's completely acceptable to limit/restrict/prohibit development in other areas. A farmer has more rights to develop his land than a factory owner?

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CJC View post
    We do this all of the time in already built areas. The general consensus now is that it's infringing on property rights to limit greenland from development, but it's completely acceptable to limit/restrict/prohibit development in other areas. A farmer has more rights to develop his land than a factory owner?
    Even in areas with UGBs there are provisions for minor developments on the "preserve" properties. It is very different when you are talking about limiting development rather than prohibiting development.
    Satellite City Enabler

  18. #18
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Plan-it View post
    Even in areas with UGBs there are provisions for minor developments on the "preserve" properties. It is very different when you are talking about limiting development rather than prohibiting development.
    I was talking about how it is currently acceptable to limit development on vast stretches of completely vacant commercial or industrial space, but it is somehow construed as "taking away land rights" from a farmer who wants to sell property to be developed for another use. Farmland is a type of development - it may not need that many buildings, but it is still developed land.

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