Category Archives: Uncategorized

DC’s Rowhouse Neighborhoods

Nice to have a well-spoken and transparent planning department. Here, the DC Office of Planning discusses the “pop-up” rowhouse renovations we are seeing and their impact on available housing stock for families in the city.

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The Zoning Commission (ZC) and Office of Planning (OP) have heard concerns voiced by residents about two issues impacting the District’s residential rowhouse neighborhoods – conversions of rowhouses to multi-family buildings, and additions to existing buildings, often called “pop ups” or “pop-outs”. The rowhouse areas are generally zoned R-4, which the Zoning Code defines as “those areas now developed primarily with row dwellings, but within which there have been a substantial number of conversions of the dwellings into dwellings for two (2) or more families.” In the R-4 or residential flat zone district, two dwelling units are permitted as a matter of right, although the R-4 zone is unique in that it also includes a provision that allows for the conversion, within set limits, of existing buildings into multi-family units. Even so, the Zoning Code goes on to state that “the R-4 District shall not be an apartment house district…

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APA 2014: Another Reminder Why We Do This

It is time for the APA conference once again. As I have written previously (and more eloquently than this quick blog scribble), each time I attend this conference it is worth asking the value of convening in person. I don’t automatically sign up every year; I could get CE credits with local events back in Washington, DC, or even via online webinars. And I am not currently involved in any committees or leadership, so I would not necessarily be missed if I chose not to be here.

And there are a number of challenges associated with attending, especially for the younger members of our profession. Taking four days away from our jobs is tough. It’s expensive. Our employers* may or may not pay for the trip and the registration fee. The only places that can accommodate 5,000+ people are quite anti-urban hotels and convention centers (this is the most flattering angle I could manage of the typical presentation room).

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The Georgia World Congress Center. All that’s missing is you.

But I’m in Atlanta, and glad again I made the decision to attend.

For this year, my focus is on paying it forward, to the students and other folks that are just entering their time as planners. I have been fortunate enough to have a number of people serve as mentors and informal guides to me. This was crucial as I applied to grad school and got it funded, assembled a strategy for job searching, reassessed my strengths and jumped to new positions, and so on. None of us made it to successful points in our careers alone, and that’s why I want to return the favor. APA has been helpfully set up a more formal mentoring program that matches us with students (and I encourage you to participate next year) seeking this kind of help. I will be meeting with two folks on that program.

Regardless of the reason, enjoy your time in Atlanta and the interactions that being present together allow.

* Disclaimer: my employer is not paying for me to be here this time, so I feel the challenge directly.

The Walkable Suburb: A Primer

I just wrapped up a four-day trip to Miami. To be perfectly accurate, the little and lovely suburb of Miami Lakes, which is a few miles northwest of the city proper.

Miami Lakes started as a master-planned community and has since spread west of the Palmetto Expressway to include lots of neighborhoods with conventional tract housing, and the corresponding parks, schools, and roads. My hosts’ home is in the original portion of the town, near the traditionally planned center.

The “town center”* of Miami Lakes has been completely built out over some years (I don’t know how many), so in theory it is an excellent place to complete your daily routine by walking. Which we as planners tend to smugly tell people should be desirable, and in theory it is.  And we have strong evidence that walkable neighborhoods also correlate with higher property values.  In the case of Miami Lakes, there are two banks, a grocery store, police station, two churches, several restaurants, medical offices and a pharmacy, a multiplex, and a few more tiny businesses I’m forgetting in a fairly compact center, all within less than a quarter-mile square. Hundreds of detached houses and apartments are arranged in concentric circles around that, and there is unusually good sidewalk coverage for a community in Florida. And the weather was pretty darn nice throughout my visit.

Yet almost no one was walking, and most people here never walk from home to nearby destinations on foot. Why?

Miami Lakes has the same issue that most master-planned developments like this suffer from: they are of course much too small to contain the job sites and schools that their residents need, and it’s not as though all of my hosts’ family and social circles lives in the same bubble. Being connected to the rest of the area is a necessity. Thus it isn’t practical to live there without a car, and when the rest of the city around you is car-dependent, so are you. The older folks that can’t drive are largely dependent on others to drive them, save the occasional walk out to the Publix.

My impression from several visits there? The folks that live in Miami Lakes and similar master-planned centers like the proximity of all the stuff, but because it comes with parking and most folks own cars anyway, walking just doesn’t occur as an option. All in all they still drive very short distances compared to neighbors in the newer neighborhoods to the west, so the master planning wasn’t for naught. But the differences from places that are organically walkable are clear: the presence of transit, fewer parking spaces and fewer car owners, a greater density of all needs (especially schools and job sites) to make “alternative” transportation the best choice.

* I have to admit I hate that term. And my company was founded by a guy that built “town centers” for a living.

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Happy New Year from Plannerthon

Happy New Year from Plannerthon

Improving the communities where we live is what planning is all about. I spend a lot of my time, both in the day job and outside of it, honing best practices in planning and trying to improve them. I look forward to another year of sharing thoughts about how we can best do that, and hope you will continue to engage with me here.

Pictured: the entrance to the Dwan Light Sanctuary at the United World College-USA, Montezuma, New Mexico

After 15 weeks, a check-in on my Twitter experiment

As I mentioned in my last post, I set out at the end of the summer to attempt a new focus for my Twitter account. I liked the idea overall, but I altered it in two ways. First, I didn’t exclusively post about the three focal cities. There is far too much news of all types and content from across the country and beyond that I wanted to and did tweet about. So some of the tweeting that only scratched the surface of a place or an issue remains on my account, as it probably always will.  But I feel I supplemented that effectively with content on the three places I wanted to learn more about.

plannerthon on ABQSecond, and most importantly, I chose to keep the experiment running much longer than originally anticipated. There was one important reason for the latter decision: there’s a lot to learn and a lot to read and broadcast about even one major city, let alone three. So I spent the end of the summer and into the fall finding and sharing content about Albuquerque, Detroit, and Seattle.

plannerthon on DTWAnd I’ve learned a great deal, fulfilling one of my original objectives. I read about primary candidates for Albuquerque City Council. I followed the ups and downs of the General Motors boardroom as the company divested itself of the federal government’s “bailout” rescue funds, then named its first female CEO, then announced significant investments in existing plants all within two weeks. More closely related to Detroiters’ everyday life, I discovered how some of the most challenged neighborhoods, including Brightmoor, are leveraging philanthropic money to help attract new residents. I learned how many mega-developments can be supported by a strong (possibly overheated) real estate market like Seattle.

plannerthon on SEAThere’s a great deal more to be learned, too. While I haven’t yet found a large number of tweeters in those respective cities, I’ll continue looking.

For now, I’m choosing to move on. Starting in January, I will choose my next three geographic foci and continue the experiment. And while much of my approach will be the same as the first round, I also plan to approach this somewhat differently. I intend to find more locals in those places to interact with and ask questions of, and I hope to delve more deeply into the demographics, the infrastructure needs, and the governance of these places.

I hope you will continue to follow along.

Trying something new with Twitter

I’ve been on Twitter for over three years, and I love it. As you can probably tell, it gets more of my attention than my blog. That said, the advantage of having a blog at hand is that I can use it for the occasional longer thought. Welcome to a longer thought.

Twitter is easy to keep up with, true. It requires very little in the way of content production, and since every other user is limited by the same 140-character ceiling per tweet, it’s more or less a level playing field. And I’ve e-met lots of new and interesting people in the course of tweeting, some of whom became IRL acquaintances. The intensity of the social aspect of Twitter has always been great, and I hope for that to continue.

The issue with my tweeting is that I’ve developed a scattershot approach to Twitter. Everything I post can progress from material skimmed to content drafted to tweet scheduled in a few seconds. I at least proofread, but that is usually about it. I can’t be an expert in everything, and at this point I’m not really delving deeply into any of the content I post, regardless of how interesting or uplifting or concerning I find it.

In response, I’m going to spend the next few weeks narrowing my focus to a few topics. I want to try only tweeting about a few of the many cities that I usually cover, and get a bit of a deeper understanding and context of what’s happening in those places. The content on each place will be denoted by a short hashtag, usually the three-letter airport code serving that metro.

For the first two weeks, I’m choosing:

  • Albuquerque (#ABQ)
  • Seattle (#SEA)
  • Detroit (#DTW)

Follow along, and offer your feedback on how you feel it’s going. Better than the prior approach? Want more detail? Want detail on something else? I hope you’ll comment here or reply to me over there.

Experiment begins today!

2012 in review for Plannerthon

I have to admit the infographic-style “review” of the year in this blog, prepared by WordPress and excerpted below, is interesting. I don’t use this blog on an everyday basis, but I enjoy having it when I have thoughts, photos, or events to write about and share on the web.

If you’re still reading, stay tuned; I’ll be back at various points in 2013 to share more.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.