Much has recently been said, and by so many, about the countless inequities in our society and the underlying systemic racism that led to so many. Is there more to be said? We have a universal and societal problem and we need to keep the conversation going until it is fixed. A sage of the first century said, “We are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it.” (Ethics of the Fathers, 2:21) We must make a start.
I can’t pretend to fully understand the extent that inequities exist throughout our society nor can I, as a white male, fully understand what it is like to be judged and discriminated against because of the color of my skin. Like many of you, I’ve taken the last couple of months to listen, learn, and seek to understand how to make meaningful change.
Call to action
I’m hopeful and encouraged that so many people have taken the time to listen and think inward. Now is the time to think outward and act. In fact, taking action in this regard is part of our AICP Code of Ethics:
“We shall seek social justice by working to expand choice and opportunity for all persons, recognizing a special responsibility to plan for the needs of the disadvantaged and to promote racial and economic integration. We shall urge the alteration of policies, institutions, and decisions that oppose such needs.”
Take the time to understand the implicit biases we have (see toolkits) and — for those of you involved with creating policy — encourage your organization to host a bias training session.
Remember, there’s no action too small to start on this journey, and our efforts should not relate just to our professional lives.
Where and when
For starters, when you hear something that isn’t right, say something. It can be at the dinner table, on a conference call, or any number of places. And, if someone offers you actionable feedback, listen with an open mind.
We all have room to grow, and together we can help shape a better future. We might choose to take action in different ways; however, silence or complacency is not an option for creating change.
So, how do you want to show up for change? What action(s) will you commit to doing? Do you have an accountability buddy or two to make sure you and they follow through?
My immediate and current actions are to write and broadly disseminate this note and to finish reading “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein (bought from a local brick-and-mortar bookstore).
I commit to listen and learn how to make things right — and to act!
Via email from Leslye Corsiglia, SV@Home, June 11, 2020
ON WEDNESDAY, JUNE 17, the Diridon Station Area Advisory Group (SAAG) will reconvene for the first time since January. (Find the agenda and Zoom information here.) All are welcome. The SAAG and the public will have an opportunity to provide feedback on some of the City’s most recent analyses and proposals related to the Diridon Station Area Plan (DSAP), which you can find here.
While these new city analyses only represent the start of the next phase of public input and discussions, the vast majority of staff recommendations align with SV@Home’s Housing Vision.
The General Plan Four-Year Review Task Force Meetings are also restarting, with the first video meeting June 25. Here are the agenda and details of work to date, and virtual access information. Critical policy areas to be discussed include expanding citywide the Task Force’s recommendation to exempt affordable housing developments in Urban Villages from cost-prohibitive ground-floor retail requirements.
By Leila Hakimizadeh, AICP, and John David Beutler, AICP, June 3, 2020
This article presents our professional opinions, not those of our employers.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SAFE, AFFORDABLE HOMES has become even more apparent these last three months. Those without homes cannot safely shelter in place; and overcrowded housing, not dense housing, promotes the spread of disease. Our housing crisis has exacerbated the covid-19 crisis.
We believe desperately-needed new housing can be added if we upgrade zoning and design standards and adopt policies that promote smart density. As planners we should focus on and find ways to protect existing residents, preserve affordable homes, and produce more housing (the three Ps of Assembly Bill 1487). We must rethink regulations and policies that impede the construction of new housing and that contribute to the housing crisis. These nine strategies remove obstacles to new housing by upgrading zoning and design standards and putting policies in place to promote smart density:
1. Allow for a wider range of housing options, and in more locations.
A monoculture of single-family detached housing reduces an area’s potential number and diversity of housing units without increasing neighborhood livability. We must update land use policies to enable a wide range of housing types in addition to single-family and midrise multifamily, (e.g., duplex, triplex, fourplex, live/work units, townhouses, and accessory dwelling units). Often called “missing middle housing,” these types allow the market to increase housing density and diversity with buildings that maintain a similar scale to single family housing. Density doesn’t mean taller, larger, and out of place.
2. Reduce arbitrary setback requirements.
Setbacks are one of the least-considered and yet most-pervasive development controls. The spaces resulting from setbacks, particularly side yard setbacks, are frequently unusable and do nothing for the urban environment. Over one third of a parcel’s developable land can easily be lost to setbacks, forcing sprawl and reducing walkability. We should know what we are trying to achieve with a setback and how much space is required. For instance, since backyard fences are often six to seven feet high, a one-story building at the parcel line does not diminish its neighbor’s light and air more than the neighbor’s own fence.
3. Remove parking minimums.
Eliminating parking minimums will maximize residential development capacity and reduce housing costs. In expensive cities, the $25,000 to $50,000 cost for each off-street parking space makes housing more expensive and the space required for parking reduces space for housing. In many of our denser urban areas, ride-hail apps, car-share, and bikeshare, combined with walking and public transit, have made personal car storage less important. Furthermore, when self-driving cars become a reality, car ownership will precipitously decline. Cities like San Francisco and San Diego are already eliminating parking minimums and the sky is not falling.
4. Relax stepbacks, the so-called daylight requirements.
To mitigate the effects of taller development near existing low-density housing, standards sometimes require stepbacks for the taller building. But a 45-degree daylight requirement can greatly reduce housing capacity, particularly for small parcels in areas with many existing single-family dwellings. This reduction makes affordable housing less feasible and diminishes our ability to accommodate families in need.
5. Loosen open space requirements for projects close to parks and community amenities.
One of the great advantages of cities is shared amenities. Not every cluster of homes has to provide its own school, fire station, or grocery store. And like these and other amenities, open space can be shared and need not be provided on every lot or for every unit. A house across the street from a park should not have to provide the same on-site open space as a house a mile from the nearest park.
6. Define what we mean by neighborhood “character.”
Some policies require that developments be compatible with established neighborhoods, leading those opposed to development to label a proposed building as “out of character.” “Character” in this context has a fraught history. It has been used loosely and unjustly to exclude minorities and those lower on the socio-economic ladder from certain areas. Cities can set maintaining community character as a goal, but they need to define what that “character” is and, thus, what is an acceptable issue to discuss in relation to new development. A model for this is the study of the existing conditions that define neighborhood character in preparation for the adoption of form-based codes (FBCs).
7. Embrace small lots.
Many land use policies encourage lot assembly, yet large-lot development tends to be over-scaled and inwardly focused. Combining lots is even worse for historic districts or neighborhoods with fine-grained building and lot patterns, and affordable housing developers might not have the means to assemble parcels. Walkable cities are dense but built at a human scale, like many older parts of Bay Area cities.
8. Incentivize small units.
Patrick Condon, in his new book, “5 Rules for Tomorrow Cities” (2020), discusses the “collapse of birth-rate” worldwide. As of 2018, the average number of births per woman in the US was 1.73 and declining. Family housing is important, but cities should also provide smaller, less expensive units to match trends in family size and allow more people to enter the housing market. Regulations or policies that cap the number of units (but not the building area) encourage fewer, larger units and discourage smaller, more affordable units.
9. Influence the conversion of outdated malls and big box stores to housing.
Changes in the retail market and potential state-level action (as proposed in SB 1385) will be stimulating the conversion of big box stores, empty parking lots, and outdated shopping malls to housing. Rather than be caught off guard, municipalities can be proactive in creating design standards for this conversion and by enabling horizontal mixed-use development.
Let’s get to work
Even though we are beset by covid-19 and other crises, we must not lose sight of our longest running crisis, a woefully inadequate supply of all kinds of housing. Rather than succumb to the illusion that a particular building style should dominate, we need to provide housing of all types in our urban and suburban areas. We offered nine policy recommendations to help you craft the regulations that will create the better and more inclusive cities we all want.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Leila Hakimizadeh, AICP, is a Planner IV-Supervising Planner with extensive experience in land use and transportation planning, urban design and housing. She is a socially-conscious, passionate, determined change-maker and city builder. Leila utilizes equity, diversity, inclusiveness, sustainability and public health measures to facilitate greater community engagement and create lasting impacts for a diverse population. She uses her consensus-building and analytical skills to address urban planning challenges with creative solutions. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John David Beutler, AICP, has worked as an urban designer at the intersection of urbanism, land use, and transportation for the last 20 years, first at Calthorpe Associates and then Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). John’s work has focused on the importance of human scale and human-centric design in addressing issues of sustainability and equity. He works at scales from the building to the street, neighborhood, city and region. You can reach him at email@example.com
“ ‘Housing is health care,’ explained Abigail Stewart-Kahn, director of the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. Now, the connection was inescapable — people who lacked housing were also outside of the health care system, and during a pandemic, their presence on the streets created a risk for everyone else in the city. ‘What this has shown us all is that everyone’s health is intertwined,’ she said.
“While the number of coronavirus cases and deaths remain low, the full gloom of the coming recession descend into view, and … in the absence of more help from the state and the federal government, or from the region’s billionaires, the Bay Area’s needs simply outmatch its capacity to meet them.
“Margot Kushel, a physician and scholar of homelessness at UCSF, suggested that this was the ‘nightmare scenario’ for inequality in San Francisco: low-income jobs disappear, so more people lose their homes, but because the tech industry keeps doing well, home prices remain high, and housing slips further out of reach for everyone else.
“But I wouldn’t be surprised if we — the people of the Bay Area, our lawmakers, our billionaires and our ordinary, overburdened citizens — end up squandering this moment. Rebuilding a fairer, more livable urban environment will take years of difficult work. It will require sacrifices from the wealthy. It will require a renewed federal interest in addressing the problems of cities. It will require abandoning pie-in-the-sky techno-optimism.
“This isn’t a problem that will be solved by flying cars; it will be solved by better zoning laws, fairer taxes and, when we can make it safe again, more public transportation. We will have to commit ourselves to these and other boring but permanent civic solutions.
“We cannot go back to the way things were. But as the immediate danger of the pandemic recedes, it will be all too easy for many of us to do exactly that.”
A publication of the American Planning Association, California Chapter, Northern Section
Making great communities happen
Nine pathways to much-needed housing
By Leila Hakimizadeh, AICP, and John David Beutler, AICP, June 3, 2020. Desperately-needed new housing can be added if we upgrade zoning and design standards and adopt policies that promote smart density, protect existing residents, and preserve affordable homes.
By Audrey Shiramizu, April 17, 2020. Working and commuting has changed significantly since shelter-in-place became the norm. How and where we work could — and should — look a lot different in the months to come.
By Hanson Hom, AICP, June 7, 2020. This is the third in a series of articles from our past Section Directors. We asked several to write about the differences between planning today and when they were section directors — or to write on any planning subject they wish.
William Lieberman, AICP, Principal Planner at CHS Consulting Group in San Francisco, discusses his 50-year career as a transit planner for public agencies and as a private sector consultant. Interview by Catarina Kidd, AICP, May 11, 2020.
Virtual community engagement: Advancing the vision for the Alum Rock community of San Jose
By Samie Malakiman, Gwen Buckley, Larissa Sanderfer, Nhan Le, Manee Jacobo, May 11, 2020. SJSU graduate students report on their engagement work with the Alum Rock Community in San Jose during the time of COVID-19.
Julia Lave Johnston, President of APA California, announced that the Chapter’s 2020 conference this Fall will be held online. The conference will nevertheless remain an “opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to our organizational values.”
Are congested streets and highways just around the corner?
By Naphtali H. Knox, FAICP, editor, May 9, 2020. Post COVID-19, SF could see a huge spike in vehicular congestion “unless transit systems can resume safe, high throughput operations quickly.” Plus 12 photos of the near total absence of vehicles on Bay Area bridges and SF streets during the Friday afternoon getaway March 27.
Via email from Leslye Corsiglia, SV@Home, June 11, 2020. The SAAG will meet for the first time since January. All are welcome. Take the opportunity to offer feedback on the City’s most recent analyses and proposals related to the Diridon Station Area Plan. The General Plan Four-Year Review Task Force is also restarting, with the first video meeting June 25.
By Marisa Kendall, The Mercury News, May 7, 2020. Ruling ends a years-long battle over massive redevelopment of failed shopping mall in Cupertino. Decisions in two SB 35 cases say cities must apply objective design and planning standards in a very clear way.
By Jeff Davis, Eno Center for Transportation, April 8, 2020. Gas rationing wasn’t rolled out to the whole country until December 1, 1942. But the VMT reductions were obvious as soon as rationing started in the East six months earlier.
By Bruce Schaller, CityLab, May 4, 2020. Americans have always had difficulty with urban density, but in a crisis, we need what cities can provide. (Schaller is the former deputy commissioner of traffic and planning at the New York City Transportation Dept.)
By Adie Tomer and Lara Fishbine, Brookings, May 1, 2020. If leaders encourage telework, alter revenues structures, and retrofit roadways, the nation can emerge from the pandemic with stronger and safer transportation.
By Jeff Davis, Eno Center for Transportation, April 8, 2020
“No one is quite sure how much vehicle miles-traveled (VMT) has decreased [as a result of pandemic stay-at-home orders]. All we have so far are estimates based on anonymized cell phone data and some anecdotal information from toll bridge and turnpike collections. But a drop of at least 40 percent in non-truck VMT would not be surprising.
“[For] some precedent into what happens when government forces a drastic reduction in VMT … the World War II experience in gasoline rationing may provide some interesting parallels.
“WWII gas rationing was never really about saving gasoline. The U.S. had plenty of oil production and refinery capacity as of 1941. The problem was rubber. Natural rubber was (and is to this day) the only way to make high-pressure airplane tires.
“FDR ordered gasoline rationing in the 17 Eastern Seaboard states on May 12, 1942 [as a way to save rubber. But] a blue-ribbon panel [appointed by the president and] headed by Bernard Baruch [reported that] ‘Gas rationing is the only way of saving rubber. Every way of avoiding this method was explored, but it was found to be inescapable. That is why the restriction is to be nationwide. Any localized measure would be unfair and futile.’
“Accordingly, President Roosevelt ordered the gas rationing program extended to the whole country on November 6, 1942, with the effective date later postponed to December 1, 1942.
“But once gas rationing in the East started in mid-May, the results were obvious.
1st Half of May 1942 (vs 1941)
2nd Half of May 1942 (vs 1941)
Nationwide “passenger car VMT in 1943 [showed] a 43 percent reduction from the 1941 peak. VMT started to pick up in 1945 as the war wound down. Truck traffic also dropped, but not so sharply — a 15 percent drop in 1942 followed by another 9 percent drop in 1943.”
The full article presents interesting data, including a considerable bonus effect on safety:
“The drop in VMT, the removal of most single males ages 18-35 from the pool of domestic drivers, and the nationwide 35 mile an hour speed limit imposed by the Office of Defense Transportation in September 1942 all had a marked effect on traffic safety during World War II. Highway fatalities dropped from just over 38,000 in 1941 to around 23,000 per year in 1943 and 1944.”
The following is excerpted from a May 4 blog post on APA Los Angeles by Richard Willson, Ph.D., FAICP, Professor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Cal Poly Pomona
In normal times, I advise planning job seekers to seek the most innovative and well-managed places to work. While that is always a good idea, the perfect job might not be possible now. It is time to consider strategy. Most planners bring a sense of idealism to their chosen profession. Yet now is a time for realism. Your career is a long road that extends far beyond this crisis; there are good ways to keep idealism alive while forging a realistic path. If you have been laid off, or are graduating from planning school, here are some ideas:
Claim the defining characteristics of a planner: a professional who is an adept and innovative problem-solver. Planners’ concerns with comprehensiveness, long-term thinking, and equity offer useful insights across a broad range of fields. Our ability to add reason to decision-making processes extends far beyond traditional planning jobs. Consider a broader range of career paths than the traditional routes.
Network, make cold calls, and do informational interviews remotely. They could yield a job now, but also in a year or two. Even in bad times, employers are interested in having a pool of talent to draw upon. Some employers may be reluctant to take on permanent staff; two part-time contract positions might be enough to get you through until the market improves.
Apply to targeted jobs with thoroughness rather take a scattershot approach to all jobs available. Focus on job recruitments that are less likely to be cancelled (generally, in larger organizations). But even posted recruitments may be put on hold. Don’t take it personally if a particular job doesn’t come through.
Follow the money. While the pandemic does not require rebuilding of infrastructure as do natural disaster and wars, it will require economic development initiatives, new partnerships with public health professionals, increased resiliency planning, and changes in the way in which infrastructure systems are managed and operated. Initiatives by government agencies, the private sector, and foundations may create funding opportunities.
If you take a job that doesn’t have the word ‘planner’ in the title, assess whether this is a temporary move or leads you permanently to other areas of professional practice. If you intend to re-enter the planning profession, develop a game plan for that. Options include continuing education in planning, seeking AICP certification, attending conferences, working on community and grassroots planning issues, and staying involved with APA activities.
Identify and take advantage of elements that distinguish you from other job planning candidates, as is true for your situation. Recent graduates will compete with more experienced, laid-off planning professionals. They can distinguish themselves with their skills: technological savvy (e.g., GIS, big data, social media, etc.) or new methods (e.g., activity-based transportation models, resiliency planning, etc.). They may be willing to work part-time or for less money, and/or willing to relocate. On the other hand, laid-off professionals can gain advantage by emphasizing their maturity, experience, track record in organizations, accomplishments, and political and administrative savvy.
Planners who are fortunate to have stable jobs during this period have an obligation to support the profession, and to help those who are temporarily outside the profession so that they may one day return. This assistance can take the form of mentoring, engagement in APA activities, offering new kinds of part-time work and/or work sharing, and harnessing community-based efforts. The pandemic has made me realize how many things I previously took for granted, including the continuing progress of the profession. Planning is a noble profession; we need to rally round to get through this difficult period.
“Throughout American history, people have been trying to get away from big-city problems of disease, crowding, congestion, high rents, and crime. [But instead of moving] to the countryside, they go right to the city’s edge … to have both the opportunities and amenities of the city … and the safety and peacefulness of rural life.
“When housing in San Francisco or New York or Seattle gets too expensive, people move to very select cities where they hope to combine the $5 latte with the $200,000 townhouse: Austin, then Boise; Portland, then Columbus.
“Before the pandemic, we heard [that] the big ‘superstar’ cities have the most income inequality. They have the most people paying exorbitantly for housing. They have the most traffic congestion. But is that because they are ‘too urban,’ or not urban enough?
“Consider what happens with ‘less urban.’ Los Angeles hoped that a polycentric city, with nodes connected by highways, would marry less density with the convenience of the car. It worked until it filled up. Kotkin conveniently ignores that L.A.’s sprawl utterly failed to outrun the congestion of the urban center.
“Another solution is to sprinkle the population across the many mid-size and smaller cities that dot the American landscape. They are fine places to live and work, but it’s too early to say whether [such] places really offer an escape. Covid-19 cases were, as of May 4, doubling fastest in St. Cloud, Minnesota; Sioux City and Des Moines, Iowa; and Amarillo, Texas.
“The problem isn’t density. Density is the solution: it fosters innovation, creates jobs, manufactures wealth, welcomes diversity, and makes culture blossom. It’s [why] world-class cities across the globe are also the densest. And density is a big part of dealing with the biggest threat to us all — climate change.
“The question is not whether we need cities and density. The question is whether we have the vision, commitment, and fortitude to make our cities equitable, affordable, and sustainable as well as dense, creative, and diverse.”
By Adie Tomer and Lara Fishbine, Brookings, May 1, 2020
Can the country “resume economic activity without bringing back the worst effects of our driving?”
“Using driving data from the pandemic alongside key economic data, it’s clear that the country can jump-start the economy without so many daily traffic jams. [But] employers will need to rethink their telecommuting practices, government officials will need to accelerate adoption of new revenue sources, and entire communities must be willing to redesign their roads for greener and more flexible uses.
“Every metro area in the country experienced a traffic decline of at least 53 percent since the beginning of March. … College towns, large metro areas along the Northeast corridor, and most of coastal California’s metro areas all saw their traffic levels drop by at least 75 percent since March 1. Meanwhile, many medium-sized metro areas in the South, running from Texas through the Carolinas, saw the smallest declines.
“How do we reduce congestion, deliver a safer and greener transportation system, and still bring the economy back to full capacity?
“The process starts with demand management. Many high-information and management industries … could allow staff to work from home more often. Employers who offer more flexible work schedules tend to see more remote work occur. Regional business groups and large national companies should promote more flexible work.
“Transportation departments should … implement the VMT fees (where drivers pay per mile driven) they’ve wanted to initiate for decades.
“COVID-19 has been a wake-up call that we leave too little space for sidewalks, bike lanes, and just about any roadway use besides motor vehicles. But … as long as local streets primarily reserve space for cars, people will want to drive more. If society wants to create more safe space for outdoor activity, promote more biking, and reduce the use of our top source of pollution, then it’s time to refashion streets for more sustainable, safer uses.
“The U.S. spent decades building metro areas to accommodate cars. Once residents can leave their homes again, it’s reasonable to expect many will return to vehicles. But if leaders encouraging telework, altering revenues structures, and retrofitting roadways, the nation can emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with a stronger and safer transportation outlook.”