May 29, 2017
Conversations about the goodness and badness of new residential development often focuses on physical form like facade texture, parking areas, # of units, and setbacks. Building form and site design are seemingly important. They are an indication of who we think we are or at least who we want to be. For example in San Antonio neighborhood Beacon Hill, the residential design standards require homes to include front porches, to encourage eyes on the street and interaction among neighbors. Interaction, relationships and openness are good.
Sometimes when thinking about proposed developments, I like to put aside building and neighborhood design for a few minutes and imagine the people who might live there in 5 years or 20 years. I'll imagine a very short story of where they came from, what they care about, other people in their lives, and what they might value in the neighborhood. I think most people are good people, so the idea of these people being in my neighborhood is encouraging. Those future neighbors, some of whom aren’t even born yet, deserve just as much as any of us to take part in the neighborhood where we live, even though we got here first, and regardless of most other labels or categories that could be used to describe them. Imagining the human stories takes us out of our own shoes and into the shoes of others, and back from personal aesthetic preference into the realm of widely held values. I think inclusion, diversity, openness, and mutual responsibility are a few.
With these values in mind, I can return to the nitty gritty aspects of imagining building form and housing markets, and take a close look at the proposed draft Beacon Hill NCD Residential Design Standards. I can ask myself will these new regulations that shrink maximum building heights for multifamily development, increase minimum lot widths for multifamily development, and increase required building front setbacks for all new housing limit the number and types of people that can participate in our community more than our current regulations do?
I'm afraid they will do that by limiting housing construction opportunities, and by making some existing multifamily housing non-conforming with city regulations. I'm afraid that they indicate our neighborhood wants to be more exclusive, closed, uniform, and individualist. I don't think anyone wants those things, but that's the story told by the proposed draft Beacon Hill NCD Residential Design Standards.
What are our values? What kinds of development and rules for development will manifest those values over the next couple of decades?