Many cities, planners, and politicians express a desire for denser, richer, mixed-use development \u2013 especially
with affordable housing \u2013 but are at a loss to actually make it possible. After more than a decade building
dense, infill projects in Berkeley, CA, I am familiar with the obstacles to such development presented by the
zoning ordinances, planning codes, land-use boards, and other regulatory mechanisms in most cities.
Moses was, of course, one of the first figures in the Old Testament to grapple with planning and development issues. In the face of overwhelming difficulties he sought help from the Divine. The following is a list of Ten Commandments that the Almighty might provide Moses, were he an infill developer today, leading a tribe of New Urbanists into the Promised Land.
1. Increase allowable density.
2. Reduce parking requirements.
3. Reduce open space requirements.
4. Reduce setback requirements.
5. Encourage mixed-use projects, and allow them in areas zoned for commercial-use
7. To avoid unnecessary controversy, begin by designating only one or two areas for high-density housing and locate it close to mass transit, in whatever form that may be.
Dramatically increasing the number of people conducting purposeful activity \u2013 work, study, shopping,
recreation, and socializing \u2013 in any given area is, in my experience, the easiest way to revive a downtown,
improve transit, and encourage development of more affordable housing. This means densities of at least 100
units per acre, which can be achieved with 4- and 5-story buildings \u2013 a height most communities find acceptable
in their downtowns. The multi-story buildings we have built in and around downtown Berkeley have densities
ranging from 150 to 230 units per acre, which on paper may look shockingly high, but which in person are
benign. They look like San Francisco\u2019s North Beach, or Boston\u2019s North End: pleasant neighborhoods, and
tourist attractions to boot (and both with densities over 175 units per acre). What is important is what is
I have found that residents who are quite happy with 5-story European-scale fa\u00e7ades are shocked to learn that these correlate with densities north of 100 to 200 units per acre. (These numbers themselves are misleading, however, for it is rare to ever actually build at the highest level of density over anentire acre.)
Thus, I think cities that want infill development should abandon strict density limits, and set the maximum allowable heights. Berkeley follows such a code, and is one of the few cities in California that is meeting its state requirement for affordable housing, and doing it without city subsidies.
Nothing kills an infill project faster than an artificially high parking requirement. By an \u201cartificial\u201d
requirement, I mean one that is more than necessary to serve the needs of the infill project\u2019sintended residents.
Many of the residents, for example, in my downtown Berkeley projects do not drive, cannot drive, or cannot
afford to drive. A high parking requirement is unnecessary, wasteful, and expensive. Here in urban California
it is very hard to build moderately priced infill housing with a parking requirement of 1 space per unit. It is
impossible to do so with a requirement of 2 spaces per unit. It is impossible to build low-income infill housing
with a parking requirement ofeither 1 space per unitor 2 spaces per unit.2
Happily, the City of Berkeley\u2019s zoning allows great flexibility in its parking requirements, depending on the
project\u2019s unit types, proximity to transit, etc. It has approved projects with as few as .25 spaces per unit, and is
even considering car-free housing projects in its downtown. The net result is a downtown with many more
pedestrians and no increase in cars \u2013 the planners\u2019 dream.
The city also allows great flexibility in providing the parking it does require, and is the first city in the United
States to allow a stacked parking system, with independent, owner-operated access.3The city is also one of the
first to allow in-house car-sharing, another innovative solution to the nagging problem of parking and car
2 This assumes privately financed projects without city subsidies. \u201cLow-income\u201d presumes 50-80% AMI.
3SeePark lift.co m
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