Monday, February 8, 2010

Zoning Defeats Human Scale

An article by Neil Takemoto explains very clearly why our cities and towns are not providing the kinds of environment that scale to human patterns of use and habitation.

"Human-scaled, creative development isn't getting built because most of the money in real estate comes from institutional investors that prefer predictable, large scale projects like subdivisions and strip malls..."

It's an uphill battle against the current system of financing projects, along with the zoning and public policy issues implemented with layers of regulation, that make the small projects difficult to realize. Takemoto's argument, that a different delivery system for providing these structures and places is needed, leaves open the question of just how this can be accomplished. With the evolving metrics of sustainability and energy design becoming more demanding, and an essentially built-out urban fabric in the USA, the response to this issue will require a creative way of accounting for rebuilding and preserving good existing structures and revitalizing degraded environments.

The big conservancy organizations come to mind, as well as the grant-finding smaller organizations, which would allow for reclaiming land and environments for regenerative design rather than ever-larger structures. Restoring the natural cycles and ecologies as part of a rehabilitation project means that the owners are not forever paying for large energy costs or water supplies. Public policy is turning towards funding for projects of this kind because that's how people want to live. It's beginning to look like people in western cultures are also willing to scale back their demands for oversize housing and consumption, which is key to the success of this approach.

Other kinds of approaches to decision-making and funding for creative urban projects is via corporate philanthropy, such as the City Forward site by IBM, and its associated Smarter Planet Blog. Again, this is about developing a collaborative system to invent new ways of addressing urban issues, funded in new ways.