A roundup of some recent planning articles from Planetizen:

Micro-Apartments Proposal Passes San Francisco Board of Supervisors


Don’t call these modern apartments SROs – they go by ‘micro-apartments’, and they just received a significant approval, 375 of them, that is. One more step awaits: Mayor Ed Lee must give his blessing, and he appears rather non-committal.

You would think that with San Francisco’s apartment shortage, housing advocates would jump on the possibility of building modern, if very small apartments that rent for $1,300 to $1,500 when the average studio goes for $2,075. Not so – lots of concerns have been aired in a city where all want more affordable housing. These include fears of gentrification, making larger apartments more expensive, giving “gifts to developers” and preferring “family-size housing”. Key to the approval was placing a cap on the number of 220-square ft. units that can be built.

“Under the legislation, the City Planning Department will analyze the effects of the new units once 325 of them are built”, writes Neal J. Riley.

The measure authorizing the units passed Nov. 20 on a 6-1 vote. “Supervisor John Avalos was the lone vote against the proposal, arguing that the city should be more focused on keeping families from moving.”

“The cap seemed to satisfy skeptics who say that micro-units are not the solution to the city’s housing problem. Supervisor David Campos, who supported the measure, said he visited one of the proposed units and was struck by how expensive rent would be for such a small space.”

“Allowing the construction of these units is one tool to alleviate the pressure that is making vacancies scarce and driving rental prices out of the reach of many who wish to live here”, claimed the measure’s author, Supervisor Scott Weiner.

As for the SRO (single-room-occupancy) moniker (note that two tenants are permitted), it hasn’t been lost on this housing advocate – it just went upscale.

“If they become urban crash pads for high-tech employees, then we fear they could have a gentrifying effect on the neighborhoods as they get built,” said Ted Gullickson, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union.

Another housing advocate was more direct in the City Insider blog.

“This is not the answer San Francisco needs to solve its housing program,” said Andrew Mendez of the Coalition on Homelessness (that claims to support “Affordable Housing For All”). “This type of housing is just a gift to developers,” he charged.

Not so, state the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle, who opined, “We applaud Wiener for figuring out a compromise that will still allow these 375 units to be built, and we urge Mayor Ed Lee to sign this legislation. But we can’t go through this as a city each time the affordable-housing faction starts whining about a promising new policy.” And for those pushing for ‘family-sized housing’, the paper points to census data. “Forty percent-plus of San Franciscans live alone, and demographic trends suggest that the number of one-person households is only going to grow.”

As for the need for lower-priced studios, Design&Trend made that clear. “San Francisco has overcome New York (to) become the city with the most expensive apartment rents. Though there are increasing criticisms concerning the pint-sized apartments, the demand for affordable living in a growing city is apparently inevitable.”

As Planetizen readers know, New York is also experimenting with micro-apartments.

Full Story: S.F. supervisors back micro-apartments

Published on Wednesday, November 21, 2012 in Micro Apartments Approved By SF Board of Supervisors


Parking ‘Surplus’ Poses Problems For Brooklyn


Too much parking and too much transit creates a glut of unneeded parking. Of course, this is by design – that is, zoning design, where Downtown Brooklyn developers are required to accommodate new residents of their new buildings with large garages.

Thomas Kaplan writes about a problem that many auto-dependent cities and suburbs could only dream of having – a glut of parking – auto parking, that is.

“The issue, officials say, lies with the large garages that the developers of new residential buildings have been required by zoning rules to construct. But with 13 subway lines and 15 bus routes in the area, many new residents choose to leave their cars behind, meaning the garages sit half-empty and take up precious space.”

“People are choosing to live in Downtown Brooklyn because of the great access to the public transit network that they find there,” said Tucker Reed, the president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “The last thing we need to be doing is developing more parking.”

The City is listening. On Dec. 3, “a City Council panel is scheduled to consider new zoning regulations that would reduce how many parking spaces must be built with new residential developments in Downtown Brooklyn, and allow developers who already have excess parking to reclaim the unneeded space for other uses. (Because there are so many subway tunnels and other infrastructure in that part of Brooklyn, many of the garages are above ground, making it easier to use the space for something else.)”

However, the lessons learned in Downtown Brooklyn, the “third largest central business district in New York City” according to Wikipedia, may not be applicable elsewhere. Car ownership of residents may be a key indicator as to how much parking to require developers to provide.

“Residents in Downtown Brooklyn are likelier than those in many other neighborhoods to go car-free: 22 percent of households in the neighborhood own cars, according to the Census Bureau, compared with 45 percent for the city over all.

Under current rules, developers of new residential buildings in Downtown Brooklyn must provide parking spaces for at least 40 percent of households. The minimum parking requirement would drop to 20 percent under the new rules, and there would be no requirement to build parking with subsidized housing units, a move that supporters said would reduce the cost of building such units.”

As for the parking needs of other vehicles, the Planning Commission was not receptive to “Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, call for the zoning rules to be adjusted to increase the requirements for providing bicycle parking by 50 percent.”

“The Planning Commission concluded that requiring additional bicycle parking was beyond the scope of the zoning changes that were being considered.”

Thus, when it comes to parking, only vehicles with four wheels and an engine are considered.

Full Story: City Takes Up Zoning Changes to Erase Downtown Brooklyn’s Glut of Parking Spots

Published on Sunday, November 25, 2012 in The New York Times – N.Y. / Region

What’s More Dangerous – Cycling or Watching TV?


As Britain confronts the silent epidemic of inactivity and obesity, Peter Walker examines how the invisible dangers of a sedentary lifestyle are compared to the more publicized risk of injury from activities designed to get people moving.

This week in Britain, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) released a stark report that finds, “almost two-thirds of men and nearly three-quarters of women in England are not sufficiently active to maintain their health, with the results little better for children,” reports Walker. And as a solution to “a national epidemic of inactivity and obesity which now causes as much harm as smoking,” the report’s authors recommend that, “[w]alking and cycling should become the norm for short journeys rather than driving a car.”

While the findings of the report are certainly dire, Walker seems equally astonished by one of the questions asked during the press conference in which the results and recommendations were announced. “One of the first was on cycle safety: had they taken into account the potential perils of riding a bike?” Some, it seems, are more fearful of the solution than the problem itself.

Walker quotes the answer to the question given by Dr Harry Rutter, lead author of the report and an adviser at the National Obesity Observatory: “All activities carry a risk…This focus on the dangers of cycling is something to do with the visibility of them, and the attention it’s given. What we don’t notice is that if you were to spend an hour a day riding a bike rather than being sedentary and driving a car there’s a cost to that sedentary time. It’s silent, it doesn’t get noticed. What we’re talking about here is shifting the balance from that invisible danger of sitting still towards the positive health benefits of cycling.”

“People go on at exhaustive length about the perils of cycling because cycling remains niche,” says Walker. “Sitting around on one’s arse watching EastEnders and eating Pringles is, however, a national pursuit, and not enough people make the connection between that and an impact on health which is, the scientists told us, now on a par with that from smoking.”

Full Story: Which really is more deadly: cycling or sitting down watching TV?

Published on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 in The Guardian


Learning from Barcelona


Planetizen blogger Brent Toderian returns from a recent trip to Barcelona with six ideas every city should steal from the Catalonian capital.

Having just returned from the second Global Smart City Expo/Congress where he was a speaker, Toderian offers some envy worthy photographs from his travels through the city along with a bevy of “steal-able” lessons for urbanists. In his observations and recommendations, Toderian champions holistic city-building, moments of creativity within larger city patterns, room for multi-modal infrastructure, the importance of scale in creating urban rooms, and strategically locating tall buildings.

Says Toderian: “I’ve often remarked that the eight most frustrating words in the English language are ‘we could never do that in our city.’ You may think that Barcelona, like many great European cities, is just too different to teach us anything. Many lessons though, are transferable, scalable, and universal.”

Full Story: 6 Ideas Every City Should Steal From Barcelona

Published on Friday, November 30, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities


The Warner Center Association creates and enhances opportunities and fosters programs for the benefit of Warner Center's business and property owners, and all stakeholders. WCA advocates for pro-business public policies, particularly those affecting land use and business incentives in the Warner Center community.