Want to reduce the energy used by buildings? Make cities denser.

Want to reduce the energy used by buildings? Make cities denser.

For many years, urbanists have been singing the praises of urban density. Done well, density can increase economic output, increase per capita productivity, increase disposable income (by reducing heating, cooling, and transportation costs), and improve physical and mental health. Compact, walkable cities - or walkable areas within cities - are delightful.

Density is a critical tool to reduce energy usage and combat climate change. Urbanists and environmentalists should be working together on development of cities and density. The study also highlights why one cannot be and environmentalist and anti-density at the same time - they are contrary to each other.  

"Density gets you slightly more reduction in building energy use than efficiency does, if you do it right.

If you do both, you get the best result:

For the high urban density and advanced efficiency scenario combination, the annual building energy use for heating and cooling first plateaus around 2030 and then decreases after 2040, settling just below 45 [exajoules] in 2050."

These 6 Cities Are Smarter Than Portland About Housing

These 6 Cities Are Smarter Than Portland About Housing

In Portland, housing costs are like the weather: Everybody complains, but nobody does anything about it. Nearly a year ago, Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly entered City Hall on platforms promising to tackle Portland's affordable housing shortage. Soon, the City Council will wade into its latest plan.

Montreal is a great example of how cities can have low to mid density throughout all neighborhoods to increase affordability for everyone. The city is the second most populated in Canada yet all neighborhoods remain diverse by race and income. San Antonio could learn from Montreal with policy on housing and development. 

"Montreal is a city of low-rise apartment buildings. They're much cheaper to build than high-rise apartments. You can build it fast, and you can build it cheap."

Montreal is now the second-most densely populated large city in Canada. And average monthly rent last year in the city of Montreal was $658 U.S., according to the latest Canadian census data."

The Great American Single-Family Home Problem - NYT Article

The Great American Single-Family Home Problem

Even with a flurry of legislation, economists are skeptical that California can dent home prices anytime soon. Housing takes years to build. And five of the new housing bills included a union-backed measure that requires developers to pay prevailing wages on certain projects, something that critics say will increase the cost of construction.

If we really want to keep up with growth and housing demand, we need to build more housing in single-family neighborhoods; otherwise most of the single-family neighborhoods will out of reach for most. 

We need duplexes, triplexes and smaller apartment buildings to be built in all neighborhoods throughout San Antonio. These are the type of homes where many younger families get their start, and enough of them are not being built. 

One of the comments in the comments section of the article:

"Cloudy - Glad to see the article featured a planning debate in Berkeley, aka the People’s Republic of Berkeley, where the Christmas decorations on Telegraph Avenue used to include a banner with a tinsel hammer and sickle. But the dirty little secret being hidden here is racism disguised as environmentalism. Liberals will talk your ear off about equality, about how much they gave to Hillary Clinton, on and on, until you start talking about housing density. Which they are all for. They love Jane Jacobs. They want to see dense housing. In San Francisco, or Oakland. Or even better, Los Angeles. But change the large lot zoning in the hills? Or even the single family zoning in the flats? Oh, hahaha, that’s a completely different matter. Why, if you were to tear down these bungalows (mostly interwar and not architecturally notable) and build apartments, you KNOW what kind of people would move in, don’t you? They SAY it will be for college students and seniors, but we all know the truth, don’t we, nudge nudge wink wink? But of course that is never openly stated. It’s all the environment. Why, people would drive cars! (just like the white residents do) And there would be smelly noisy public transit. And it would all lead to global warming. Or climate change. Or felling redwoods, or something. Not racism at all. Of Course. Not."

My Seattle experience changed how I thought about prioritizing building density.

Anonymous SANE member blog post.

November 17, 2017


I have lived in Seattle off and on for most of my life, beginning in the late 70s. I've seen it change, I've voted for the mass transit fixes that never get done (until it became a crisis), and I've seen the older homes in single family neighborhoods be bought, torn down and committed to denser uses.

Admittedly, this is very jarring for someone who has nostalgia for the way things were. The last time I lived there, I wasn't sure how I felt about seeing the single-family homes taken down and replaced. At the same time, I was being pinched by rising rent and home prices, because there was an insufficient supply of housing to meet the demand.

Most of the dramatic changes in neighborhoods happened in the areas that were traditionally working class and communities of color. The most effective opposition to density came from the high income "decent people" who lived in the nicest neighborhoods. They were always the loudest to object to mass transit coming through their neighborhoods. They were always loudest to object to rezoning (upzoning). They always had some excuse. At the end of the day, they were the ones who ended up benefiting the most, because their property values skyrocketed, and they got to keep their views of the water and the mountains and downtown, etc. Meanwhile, the rest of the real estate is being sold to the highest bidder, whether or not it is really even a habitable home. The main problem with anti-gentrification advocacy is that it fails to address the problem of property owners selling the property at an inflated value. Once someone is willing to pay $300,000 for a shack, there is nothing that you can do to prevent the rest of the properties around it from being sold for that same price or more.

That is what really bothers me about what I see here. The City of San Antonio is trying its best to responsibly plan for population growth. The city planners can see what is coming 20 years down the line. Some homeowners want to keep things the way they are (for myriad reasons), even if it means preventing the recycling of land for better uses. Sometimes this means defending the continued existence of substandard housing, claiming that it is at least affordable housing. This is just crazy. They are actually creating gentrification by doing that, not preventing it. 

I feel that there are good intentioned people who believe that "saving their neighborhood" will actually preserve the area the way that they remember it. But this is a pipe dream. Once someone will pay $300,000 for a 3/2 that is falling apart in Beacon Hill, no one is going to accept less. If you have lived there for 40 years, nothing will prevent the city from raising your taxes. The only way to stabilize prices is to make many, many more units of housing available. Then there will be enough housing to satisfy demand.

On the other hand, there are people with other agendas - mainly their own greed. They bought in these neighborhoods when they were dirt-cheap. Some fixed up their homes, others just let them be. Both groups will see a huge increase in their property values without them having had to make any investment or effort to merit their profit. Do they want to have to compete at resale time with a new housing unit? No. They want to keep new housing out, so that they can sell high without having to lift a finger to actually improve their own property. 

I've seen this happen before, and it is sad. Should I really care? As a homeowner who bought relatively recently - no, it is against my economic interest to keep housing prices low - I should try and maximize my own profit. But this attitude negatively affects the rest of the community, especially the young families who are looking to buy homes closer to downtown.

The HBO miniseries "Show Me a Hero” exactly describes this attitude and the fear that it generates among the "decent folk" of a middle class community.

https://www.hbo.com/show-me-a-hero

Who has voting power in San Antonio?

Who Votes For Mayor? | San Antonio

New York City Oklahoma City Palm Beach County Zone 4 Palm Beach County Zone 6 Philadelphia Phoenix Portland San Antonio San Diego San Francisco San Jose Seattle St. Paul State College Tallahassee Washington, DC Wichita

Who turns out to vote and who has voting power in the City of San Antonio translates into who turns out to neighborhood associations and has power in the decision-making around neighborhoods and growth. There is a stark under-representation of the 18-34 year old age group.

voting power.png
voeter turnout.png

San Antonio sees sharper rise in housing rental prices than Texas, nation

San Antonio sees sharper rise in housing rental prices than Texas, nation

San Antonio's monthly housing rents are rising at a sharper rate than the state's or the nation's - and the city's housing market is attracting a bigger share of renters than in years past, U.S. Census Bureau data being released today show.

Article shows SA needs more multi-family renter housing to keep up with the rising demand of renters and to subdue rising rents!

Why are renters so under-represented in decision-making in San Antonio?

SA+Renters.png

SANE letter to Council and Mayor on Rezone CCR

Council

PO Box 839966

San Antonio, TX 78283

RE: District 1 Council Consideration Request from September 28, 2017. Request for large area rezoning of properties

Dear Council:

Rezoning can improve San Antonians’ quality of life if it leads to inclusiveness for all incomes within all neighborhoods and more density to support rapid transit and walkability. There needs to be a clear rezoning process guided by distinct goals and intended outcomes.  

However, the rationale and goals provided in the September 28th CCR for initiating rezoning are vague and different from those provided in recent District one community meetings. There are opportunities to improve the City’s zoning map throughout San Antonio, including the ones you have chosen, however the goals laid out for the CCR are not focused enough to lead to successful outcomes. 

Downzoning properties zoned as multifamily (MF-33/RM-4) to single family zoning in neighborhoods where there is a mix of single family and multifamily dwellings is one of the stated goals proposed at District one community meetings and in neighborhood newsletters. The CCR omitted that goal, hopefully due to Council and staff realizing the probable long-term negative impacts of downzoning on diversity, housing affordability and choice, and equity. Just as redlining was a racial exclusionary tool, single-family zoning is a socioeconomic exclusionary tool; as a City, we should not be going backwards with policy and decision-making that lead to further segregation and exclusion. 

We have heard the District one office state that preserving existing low-cost homes, the so called ‘naturally occurring affordable housing’, is a prescription to affordability. However, this prescription is destined to fail because it doesn’t treat the underlying disease: a shortage of housing.

Below are District one’s vague suggestions for the rezones for District one neighborhoods and our response:

1.  & 3. Areas of Monte Vista, Beacon Hill, and Alta Vista. The CCR does not state the goals of the rezone for this area. With communication Council staff has had with the community and community newsletters, it is assumed that downzoning of multi-family zoning to single-family zoning is likely. This seems to be a reactionary response from a couple of proposed or completed multi-family developments in these areas that a vocal minority of residents/homeowners opposed. Downzoning would be detrimental to our City, and lead to less equity and access to opportunity for all, as these are neighborhoods that have seen steeply rising single-family home prices from a high demand of those that want to live there and a low supply of housing. Currently on Zillow, the lowest priced single-family home in Monte Vista is $350K, but most homes range from $500K to $2.9 Million. How will downzoning multi-family zoned properties to single-family zoned properties help with affordability and access to these neighborhoods?

There are substantial opportunities to upzone single-family zoned parcels that currently have multifamily use within these neighborhoods. We recommend upzoning these parcels so the City does not lose the multi-family uses to single-family homes. 

2. Areas in the Northern portion of River Rd. The CCR does not state the rezone goals for this area. If it is to change the general industrial to commercial, we suggest considering changing it from general industrial to mixed-use zoning with limited parking to support walkability, transit, and housing affordability. Currently, the commercial and general industrial zoning borders multi-family zoning, so mixed-use may be appropriate here. If the goal is to downzone multi-family to single-family, we are opposed to this.

4. Portion of the West End Hope in Action area. This area is a part of the SA Tomorrow subplan, Westside Neighborhood Plan. The Westside subplan will make land use recommendations for the planning area, and they have a thorough public participation process that includes an advisory committee, focus groups, interviews, and several community meetings. It seems more appropriate for any zoning changes to come after the Westside Neighborhood Plan is complete, so the zoning changes can reflect the land use recommendations in the plan.  

Again, the CCR does not state the rezone goal for this area, but it is our understanding that the goal is to change industrial zoning to commercial zoning. We recommend you carefully consider existing industrial (in the vicinity of I-10) zoning’s role in maintaining opportunity to living wage jobs that don’t require an advanced degree. Also consider rezoning industrial zoning on Zarzamora to mixed-use instead of commercial to support walkability, housing affordability, and transit, as the Zarzmaora corridor is slated for rapid transit and the VIA Primo bus line.

The City needs to consider the design of the neighborhood as a compact unit or village inside of the greater city, which is the original, historic design that these neighborhoods contemplated. The older neighborhoods favored mixed-use and middle housing (4-plexes to 8-plexes). A vocal minority wants to radically reshape the land use pattern, not us. Make them defend the suburbanization of these neighborhoods.
Some of the issues raised in this letter respond to District one Council office statements about the intentions for rezoning that were not included in the CCR.  We look forward to actively participating in a rezoning process that has clearly stated goals, no predetermined outcomes, and an underlying value for inclusiveness and equity. We hope the process also engages a diverse set of demographics and includes renters.

Sincerely,

18 Members of San Antonio Neighborhoods for Everyone (SANE)

Share the road - no parking, idling, or driving in the bike lanes!

June 4, 2017

Cars have taken over in San Antonio neighborhoods. So much so that drivers seem to assume ownership of the entire road. One of the biggest abuses I see in San Antonio is a number of cars parked in protected bike lanes, in every area of the city. Cars also assume that it is ok to drive in bike lines. As if riding your bike on a San Antonio street isn’t dangerous enough with distracted, aggressive drivers. (Photos below were taken near Woodlawn Ave and Zarzamora St - Westside of SA - May 31, 2017)

Bike lanes are meant to make distinctions between people driving, walking and bicycling. They are meant to keep people biking safe, away from a 3,000 lb frame of steel coming at you at 30-40 miles per hour (neighborhood speed limits in San Antonio are notoriously high).

Parked cars in bike lanes force people biking into the road with vehicles traveling at a high speed, which is a huge safety issue. I don’t even need to explain why it’s unsafe with vehicles driving in bike lanes.

When a city states that it wants to support multi-modal transportation and infrastructure options, they need to prioritize pedestrians and disabled persons first, bikes and transit next, and cars last. This makes for a safer and more efficient/green transportation plan. If you actually prioritize pedestrians, cyclists and transit, you end up with fewer cars on the road and more livable, viable communities. You end up with less pedestrian and cyclist deaths and injuries by auto.

 Minneapolis has taken steps to prioritize people walking and biking over cars. Above photo was from their transportation plan.

Minneapolis has taken steps to prioritize people walking and biking over cars. Above photo was from their transportation plan.

Allowing autos to park in bike lanes sends a message – cars are more of a priority and the safety of people biking doesn’t matter. Small changes with city policy could make our city safer for cyclists – don’t allow parking and driving in the bike lanes, enforce and ticket those who violate this rule. Chicago is one example – they made a citywide regulation that does not allow cars to park, idle or drive in bike lanes and they frequently educate the public on this rule. 

Please – share the road!

Displacement: The Gnawing Injustice at the Heart of Housing Crises; What can we actually do about it?

Author: Dan Bertolet

http://www.sightline.org/2016/08/10/displacement-the-gnawing-injustice-at-the-heart-of-housing-crises/

This article lays out the best evidence on displacement in Seattle—the different types, rates, and causes—and assesses strategies for protecting our communities from it. Unfortunately and perhaps surprisingly, what common sense counsels on this issue—to stop demolition of old buildings and preserve them as low-rent apartments, for example—turns out to backfire in a sequence of unintended consequences.

"Snob zoning" is racial segregation by another name

By Elizabeth Winkler

September 25

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/09/25/snob-zoning-is-racial-housing-segregation-by-another-name/?utm_term=.9f45b3a3e225

Across the country, American communities employ “snob zoning” policies that forbid builders from constructing apartment buildings or impose minimum residential lot requirements. They are often presented as driven by concerns that building smaller units could change the character of a community. Some ordinances even exclude modest single-family homes in the name of preserving a neighborhood’s “aesthetic uniformity.” Such rules effectively impose a price floor for the cost of housing, making it impossible for people who live below a certain means to afford them, a recent report by the Century Foundation explains.

Researchers calculate the healthiest city density

Researchers Calculate the Healthiest City Density

BY KELSEY E. THOMAS | OCTOBER 11, 2017

(click above to read the article, or click here to see the actual research study that shows populations that live in dense urban, walkable environments have less obesity and health related issues than populations that live in sprawling, suburban developments)

"New research finds that city dwellers are actually healthier — and happier — than their suburban counterparts, much of it due to the large amounts of walking, as well as other spontaneous physical and social activities, that can be done in an urban setting. 

In areas of denser suburban sprawl (about 18 homes per hectare), driving is often the best or only option to get around, leading to higher rates of obesity and lower rates of exercise. Those in more spread out suburban areas with plenty of open spaces and parks were healthier than their more tightly packed (and, generally, less wealthy) suburban counterparts, but still lagged behind dense inner cities in terms of health and exercise.

The study’s findings reinforce Jane Jacob’s famous idea that the safest streets — and those with the most socially engaged residents — are an active “sidewalk ballet,” filled with a steady flow of pedestrians and “eyes on the street.” Researchers in Philadelphiaand Italy have put Jacob’s theory to the test, and found it to be spot on.

Of course, density on its own doesn’t make for automatically healthy residents. An analysis released earlier this year pinpointed nine factors — including affordable housingaccess to healthy food and paid sick leave — that contribute to a healthy city."

We are all nimbys...sometimes

"We have chosen, over and over, to limit and constrain development. And that has, everywhere, the predictable effect of driving up housing costs. If we built enough housing, we would still need subsidized housing for many people, but market prices would be low enough that most people could afford them. But we’ve chosen not to. And the reason we give for that choice, more than any other, is that we are trying to preserve or improve the character of our communities."

SANE Letter on District 1 IDZ and Multi-family CCRs sent to Council and Mayor

August 27, 2017

Roberto C. Trevino
Councilman
P.O. Box 839966

San Antonio, Texas 78283


RE: COUNCIL CONSIDERATION REQUEST 1) INFILL DEVELOPMENT ZONE (IDZ) (Apr
12, 2017), AND 2) MULTIFAMILY ZONING DESIGNATIONS MF/RM ZONES (Aug 21, 2017)

Dear Councilman Trevino:
San Antonio Neighborhoods for Everyone (SANE) is a coalition that supports building a city where all neighborhoods are welcome and open to everyone - young and old, rich and poor, renter and homeowner, healthy and frail, citizen and immigrant, migrant and lifelong resident.


We are writing regarding the priorities you have articulated through CCR’s in recent months. They seem to represent a narrow set of interests, and the way they contradict each other relays that they are not written based on principles or a coherent vision for the future. We want you to know that we will support you and stand by you if you choose to take a principled and coherent approach to development regulation and housing policy that actually reflects Council’s commitment to equity and inclusiveness. However these CCR’s appear random and reactive, and will lead us toward less equity.


Since April 2017, you have submitted two CCR’s (4/12/17 IDZ & 8/22/17 MF/RM Zones) that appear to lead the city towards limiting housing choice and housing affordability for future generations, and you have not led or signed onto any CCR bringing the Housing Commission’s Affordable Housing Policy Recommendations to consideration by the Council. Why does your agenda appear to be focused on helping existing homeowners achieve the most predictable and profitable returns on their home investments, while allowing affordable housing policy recommendations to languish?

The IDZ CCR states that the designation allows for too much guesswork and does not encourage developers to design for community compatibility, and the density increase, lack of parking and visual concern ‘stresses neighborhoods’. What stresses neighborhoods is lack of density and diverse housing types, too much parking, and setbacks that value parking over walkability. On the other hand, the MF33/RM4 CCR states that the development review processes in these base zones does not come with the “benefits” provided by the process required for IDZ rezoning. So which is the problem, too much
discretion, or not enough?

The IDZ was introduced in order to help inner-city areas compete with areas on the fringe of our city that are less expensive for developers to build on, but cost the city much more to service. The IDZ is directed at buildings and sites that are vacant and underutilized by the current development community. The IDZ has helped much in this regard. If anything, the IDZ has not gone far enough. We are in support of the IDZ review, if the goal is to expand its reach even further, reducing the costs of dense, walkable infill development to expand affordability in the face of our rapid population growth.

The UDC’s stated purpose for RM 4 begins: These districts provide areas for medium to high-density residential uses where adequate public facilities and services exist with capacity to serve development…In any case, the fundamental purpose of RM-4 and MF-33 zones is to allow more housing for more people to live in, and to designate places where it can be built without being subjected to discretionary (costly) approval processes.


We urge you to consider how changes to the IDZ, MF-33, and RM-4 standards and approval processes will increase the cost of housing construction, limiting affordability, diversity and inclusion over the longterm Housing is where people live and will live for generations. Why do your priorities focus on limiting its construction and density? Changes to the IDZ could also provide tools for a vocal minority of neighborhood residents to kill projects they don’t like based on personal bias, projects that would benefit our inner-city neighborhoods and city as a whole.

We ask you to broaden your agenda to fight for income desegregation and mixed-income housing in all neighborhoods of the city, and instead of mostly catering to voting homeowners that tend to have the time and resources to demand attention, be proactive to learn from and build relationships with marginalized communities that may be affected by these policy changes. Given the priorities you have articulated through these CCR’s, your and your Council colleagues recent statements about elevating equity in City policy seem insincere.

Public debate and council consideration of community issues is part of healthy local democracies. As you request council’s consideration of IDZ, MF-33, and RM-4 zoning issues brought forward by the homeowning constituents, please expand the discussion by successfully championing a CCR for Council to consider the Housing Commission’s Affordable Housing Policy Recommendations.

Thank you for considering our concerns.
Sincerely,

The answer to housing affordability? High density affordable housing.

July 11, 2017.

Dawn Hanson (note: I do not approve of the title Rivard Report gave to my commentary)

https://therivardreport.com/the-answer-to-income-segregation-high-density-affordable-housing/

Housing policy is a major contributor to income segregation. While no longer legal, practices such as redlining and blocking minority groups from purchasing or renting homes in neighborhoods have contributed to such economic divides. In 1968, almost 50 years ago, San Antonio’s 78207 zip code was featured in Hunger in America, a documentary highlighting the disparities of poverty on the Westside in comparison to other areas of the city.

Today, 78207 continues to be a place of inequities with 40.7% of its population living below the poverty line.  In 2015, the Distressed Communities Index named San Antonio one of the most inequitable cities for income segregation. Today, as it was 50 years ago, housing is at the heart of the segregation problem in San Antonio.

This problem occurs again in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, where proposed redevelopment standards restrict building heights and lot sizes. These standards reduce builders’ ability to construct affordable housing developments due to arguments that new developments don’t fit “within character of the neighborhood.” As a result, there will not be as many places to live as there need to be. The result is forced segregation through exclusionary practices that ultimately hinder lower-income residents’ economic mobility and resiliency. These types of exclusionary land-use policies could be fostering segregation.

 Peanut lofts, San Antonio

Peanut lofts, San Antonio

According to the Sightline Institute’s series, Legalizing Inexpensive Housing, it is these very exclusionary zoning practices – restrictive lot sizes, building heights, and density limits – that inflate housing costs, increase homelessness, and exacerbate racial and economic segregation. Lopsided housing policy and NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) attitudes perpetuate hyper-segregation by limiting housing diversity. The lack of housing diversity skews the housing market, undercuts the local economy, segregates educational opportunities, and undermines where lower income families can ultimately live.

This was observed in the study “Do Strict Land Use Regulations Make Metropolitan Areas More Segregated by Income?” by Michael Lens and Paavo Monkkonen. The authors point to inclusionary practices in city policy as a solution to desegregation by incomes, such as incentivizing new construction of higher density developments to consist of a certain percentage of affordable units to low and moderate incomes. Additionally, they note that consistent data collection and analysis on local housing land use policies should be used to desegregate areas by income. This is pertinent today, as the city implements its SA Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan and seeks community input.

Even Congress attempts to address the growing problem of economic segregation, in part with the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, which offers developers tax rebates for putting affordable housing in more affluent neighborhoods to help break the cycle of poverty.  However, according to a 2012 San Antonio Express-News report, most of the affordable housing developed in Texas under the program ended up in poor neighborhoods, exacerbating the problem. This is because, most times, more empowered neighborhood endorse exclusionary practices.

This issue of where tax credits are appropriated showed up in a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case of the Inclusive Community Project vs. Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. It was argued that where Texas was incentivizing affordable housing developments had a disparate impact on segregation by race and income. In a 5-4 decision, Justice Kennedy wrote “… these unlawful practices include…housing restrictions that function unfairly to exclude minorities [and lower income families] from certain neighborhoods…they exist in local laws that say residences must be built on minimum lots size…[in] requirements that keep out denser row homes or multi-family buildings…”

Now, more than ever, with a bold new mayor and City Council members, the issue of housing types and where they are placed is vitally important. More than 1.2 million additional people, a combination of growing families and migration, are expected to live in San Antonio by 2040. Basic economics of supply and demand explain why more density plus affordability incentives can help temper the rise of home prices and dissipate the income segregation that plagues San Antonio. Allowing neighborhood conservation districts to make across-the-board limits on lot sizes and building heights only fuels San Antonio’s current and historic segregation.

In 2012, Char Miller, former Trinity University professor and author of Deep in the Heart of San Antonio: Land and Life in South Texas, commented that he thought San Antonio was further past this, noting that the disparity between the wealthy Northside of town and the impoverished Westside dates to the 1930s.

“It’s a remarkable reflection of the enduring power of race, class and income to define American life,” he said. “That it continues is a little surprising and a little depressing.”

Our values are reflected in our development.

May 29, 2017

Anonymous Blogger

inclusive community.jpg

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?

San Antonians fear revitalization with urban infill, what is there to fear?

May 28, 2017

Dawn Hanson

Do you care about the environment? Do you believe we need to curb climate change? Do you believe that home prices are becoming too high? Do you want less traffic? If you answered yes to any of these, then you must support density and infill and stop opposing multi-family developments in your backyard.

San Antonio is growing, quickly. In fact, the Rivard Report recently wrote an article stating San Antonio gained more new residents last year than any other populous city in Texas.

San Antonians, particularly those North of downtown, love to oppose new development projects that contain more than 4 units; in other words, multi-family housing. They argue that the developments are ‘out of character’ to the neighborhood or don’t preserve the culture. They think the developments will harbor thugs, sex, drugs and rock and roll. They rush to get their neighborhoods zoned as historic districts to prevent multi-family developments from encroaching on their space. They say the project will cause parking issues. They try to impose strict design and code standards to restrict the types of developments that can occur. They basically use every trick in the book to prevent density.

The root of lack of affordable housing options is a severe housing supply-demand mismatch. For decades, San Antonio has limited growth through density with archaic zoning codes that promote single-family housing or low-density housing. This has resulted in an unforgivable amount of suburban sprawl and sky rocketing home prices. Now, when I discuss affordable housing, I am not just meaning housing for impoverished people. Yes, they matter, too. But, affordability is an issue even for middle class people, especially middle class younger (age 25-40) people. You can’t be pro-affordable housing and anti-density. The two don’t fit together. The only thing that will drive home prices down is an increased supply of housing. Increasing density is the only way we can get an increased supply of housing in livable areas of the city that is affordable to middle incomes.

This anti-development movement forces government to approve inefficient developments that don’t fit within the comprehensive city plans and promotes more sprawl, which ultimately harms the environment. This means more wetlands are developed into concrete pads, more trees are cut down, and more roads and highways are built to places that were once preserved. You cannot be an environmentalist and anti-density. The two don’t fit together. Opposing developments that promote density leads to freeways choked with cars, increase in greenhouse gas emissions, increase in the rape of the land for oil, and destruction of farmland and green space through sprawling development. Climate change requires more than just eating organic, installing solar and buying a car with good gas mileage. It requires density with development, less suburban sprawl, and city development that supports rapid transit to get more cars off the road.

Want fewer cars on the road, less traffic? Then density is required. Studies have shown to support rapid transit or light rail, you need about 30 people per acre around stations, and more robust rail systems need 45 to 60 people per acre around stations (Sept 2011 Urban Densities and Transit: Multi-dimensional Perspective by R. Cervero and E. Guerra). Light rail reduces pollution, reduces congestion, enhances property values, and strengthens downtowns. It’s also an easy, affordable alternative transportation option to your car. But, if you want it, you need to support density. More transit also equals fewer cars per household, which ultimately puts less strain on the number of parking spaces necessary in a neighborhood.

I want to make sure to mention that I notice renters are left out of the conversation when neighborhoods push back to planning commission and city council regarding developers proposing projects of higher density. Below is a map from policymap.com that highlights occupied housing in neighborhoods in or near downtown are made up of 57% of renters. They need a voice, too. They are the future of the city, too. I bet they value affordable rents. Guess what? Affordable rents need density.

 Population growth SA from 2010 to 2015

Population growth SA from 2010 to 2015

San Antonio has grown from 790,000 people in 1991 to over 1.4 million in 2010. Where did that growth go? OUT! The picture (photo by NASA) below represents the destruction of green space with San Antonio sprawl over two decades. Do you want to stop this madness?

 NASA image of San Antonio sprawl/growth from 1991 to 2010

NASA image of San Antonio sprawl/growth from 1991 to 2010

Dense development can be done tastefully and with the neighborhood look and feel in mind. It can be done with lots of trees and greenery, shared community space and added bike and pedestrian infrastructure. The City of San Antonio needs to update its archaic zoning code to allow for more density in neighborhoods (all neighborhoods) and honor the process and outcome of the SA Tomorrow planning process. Dense development can improve neighborhoods and cities - more people means more shops, cafes, restaurants and good transportation options. And, more tax revenue for schools and parks!

 Tastefully done medium density development in Seattle, WA

Tastefully done medium density development in Seattle, WA