Monday, December 20, 2010

WHERE DOES SUSTAINABILITY BEGIN?

Sustainability begins with instinct and grows to awareness of what is at stake. There are many essential elements of survival, but for me it begins with the land. This essay is about forecasting its capacity to provide shelter in order to preserve the remainder to sustain life. Land supports two worlds and is the platform for city planning, urban design and architecture. If I had chosen another profession I might have debated the choice of land as a point of departure but not its relevance.

From my perspective therefore, sustainability begins with the preservation of land in the garden we have been given. Linnaeus began to organize this garden but overlooked a second world. The built environment was a negligible consideration at the time, but has grown into a competing artificial presence that consumes the land of his work. This is a contest we cannot win in a universe that does not compromise. It is why every acre of land is precious; why we must learn to live within limits; and why we must use each acre wisely within our world as we attempt to shelter growing populations without consuming the face of the planet.

            The consumption of land begins with the concept of property. I won’t even attempt to address this issue except to say that it has been the foundation of perpetual conflict, and that our current legal concepts will either appear anachronistic at some future point in time or become extinct. Adaptation is required and conscious adjustment is not inevitable, but I will leave its legal form for others to debate. My objective is to provide the tools needed to evaluate shelter options within sustainable limits defined by the science of others.

After Apollo 11 most will agree that the Earth is a finite resource protected by a thin film of atmosphere at risk; and that it exists within a universe that has become our definition of infinity. (Visual confirmation that the Earth is round and not infinite was a hard won, but foregone conclusion.) Therefore, the development capacity of land to provide shelter for growing populations becomes an issue of survival, since it is also a source of life that can be consumed. In other words, the built environment competes for land with the natural environment and survival hangs in the balance.

            Land is used by four divisions within the built environment. The Shelter Division is served by the Movement, Open Space and Life Support Divisions. The relationship between building mass, pavement and open space within the buildable area of the Shelter Division is called intensity, which can be magnified by the surrounding intensity of its supporting divisions. Shelter intensity is expressed as the gross building area constructed per acre of buildable land available. Shelter capacity is found when gross building area is multiplied by the population anticipated per 1,000 square feet of building area forecast. The activities sheltered by building intensity combine to establish the social and economic characteristics of urban form.

Intensity options can be predicted with Development Capacity Evaluation software (DCE) based on the forecast model chosen and the values entered in its design specification template, and hundreds can be forecast in the time it takes to sketch one. The evaluation of these predictions can help us learn to use each acre wisely, since I've pointed out that economic potential is a function of the social activity within building intensity; but overdevelopment represents a threat to our health, safety and welfare.

There has been no adequate definition of “overdevelopment”, so the debate has wandered in a forest of detail and emotional confrontation that has only led to annexation, sprawl and blight. Debate has been limited by the language available, and DCE has been written to expand this vocabulary with accurate predictions of building capacity options. This may improve our ability to shelter growing populations within sustainable limits.

The average yield from a buildable acre must at least equal a city’s operating, maintenance, improvement and debt service expense per acre to avoid deferred services and deterioration. Acres must also be preserved for agriculture. The land beyond this built environment suffers our presence at its discretion, and the atmosphere protects us all from a universe of forces we cannot begin to comprehend. This is the ultimate definition of “unstable” and we tamper with its balance using the concept of “property” as justification. These forces do not recognize ownership however. They respond to land use and expect us to recognize and respect the gift we have been given by learning to live within limits based on an understanding of intensity and context.

Intensity and context combine to create neighborhoods, districts, cities and regions. When the equations of intensity embedded in DCE software are linked to the mapping power of geographical information systems (GIS), the three-dimensional potential of urban form will emerge as options expressed in a visual and descriptive language. This can lead us toward life within limits that protect the health, safety and welfare of two worlds that now compete for survival in a competition that is no contest.

Intensity options represent context parameters. If we must learn to live within limits, then both intensity parameters and context design are critical to our health, safety and welfare. Within all divisions of the built environment, context is the form, function, appearance and arrangement of building mass, pavement and open space within the intensity parameters established. The most prominent attempts to establish context parameters have been land use and right-of-way regulations, but their lack of ability to forecast intensity and correlate socio- economic benefit has produced a sprawling attempt to return to the farm.

Context is mute testimony to a great number of tactical design decisions made to achieve strategic leadership objectives. Strategy and tactics are lost without a goal, however. In this case, victory will be defined by shelter within symbiotic limits that protect the survival of all life on Earth with dignity. This is a worthy purpose for our continued presence if we can accept our stewardship responsibilities.

Author Note: Portions of this article were excerpted and edited from the second edition of my book, Land Development Calculations, and its attached forecasting software, Development Capacity Evaluation, v2.0 published by The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2010. The book can be found on Amazon.com.

The following articles can be read on my blog, Cities and Design, at http://wmhosack.blogspot.com/:

1)             "Replacing Density" discusses its leadership weakness and intensity alternative,
2)             "The Limits of Shelter Capacity" provides expanded detail regarding intensity,
3)             “The City is a Farm” discusses the relationship of intensity to economic development,
4)             "The Disorganized Zoning Ordinance" outlines the legislative confusion that impedes leadership progress,
5)             “Examining Architecture” takes a closer look at a piece of the city design puzzle,
6)             “The Variance Trap” illustrates development regulation weakness with a residential forecast model from the Development Capacity Evaluation (DCE) software collection,
7)             “City Design with Space” discusses the overlooked role of project open space with a non-residential forecast model from the DCE collection,
8)             “The Core of Our Built Environment” identifies the nucleus of development capacity
9)             “Ponzi Schemes and Land Use Plans” offers an alternative to annexation and sprawl.
10)         “Where Does Sustainability Begin?” discusses the importance of land in a competition between our natural and built environments.
11)         “Economic Development Is Missing a Strategy” discusses the intelligence and strategic planning required to identify economic development objectives on the road to a sustainable future.

These articles have been deleted from my blog but are available upon request:

1)             The Concept of City Design” includes an overview and suggested research agenda,
2)             “Politics and Planning” is an argument in support of the effort, and
3)             “Context Measurement” outlines a suggested research yardstick.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

PONZI SCHEMES and LAND USE PLANS

            Ponzi schemes consume until their appetite exceeds the resources available. Land use plans begin with limits but succumb to Ponzi when revenue drops in relation to expense, since they have little concept of the resources implied by levels of shelter capacity, economic activity and context quality. They are driven by random market forces that can produce profit without yield. Budgets tighten and land use plans rely on annexation for new revenue and little expense, but time increases maintenance cost and expense begins to exceed revenue. Blight enters the core while annexation expands to add new revenue as the city walks a tightrope without a sense of balance. The result is chaos called sprawl driven by a failure to quantify the relationship of activity and yield to intensity and context in order to produce physical, social and economic stability.

Within a city, the average annual yield per acre from a land use activity group indicates its contribution to the city’s average annual expense per acre, but cities will continue to annex land for activities that may reduce their economic potential until these group contributions can be defined and forecast. Annexation has allowed us to avoid accumulating this knowledge; but the result is a Ponzi scheme that consumes increasing amounts of land to honor past commitments. Unfortunately, the average yield per acre from this effort often proves inadequate as decline increases and annexation expands to compensate. This consumes a nation’s agricultural base and threatens our common ecology of survival.

Sprawl is old news to city planners, but the problem begins with a lack of knowledge. We do not know how to balance land use activities and development capacity (intensity) to achieve economic stability and context benefit within city limits. City planning began with a focus on the protection of public health; the separation of hazard; and the reduction of intensity. It is still not prepared to address economic stability and has permitted parking lots to be considered open space in an effort to reduce intensity and improve context benefit.

We have separated buildings with building codes and setbacks, while separating incompatible land use activities with master plans and zoning codes. Separation has led to sprawl, however. Land has been available in abundance to compensate for revenue deficiencies as we fled from the intensity of central cities, but encircled first ring suburbs have been the first to discover the weakness of a sprawl-based economy. When the land runs out, the suburb’s ability to add land for additional revenue runs out as well; and redevelopment is deferred until blight can no longer be ignored, but may remain intractable. This has taught cities to protect their annexation corridors or share this fate, since they lack the tools and knowledge to plan for economic stability and context benefit within land use limits. This can place our entire planet at risk if continued indefinitely.

From a planning standpoint, separation begins with the relationship of our built environment to its natural host, since each must be protected from the other for mutual survival. If you agree, this should lead city planning and design to consider separation from several new perspectives. If the built environment is to exist within limits while sheltering growing populations, we can no longer rely on minimum land use and building separation standards to lead the way. We need the ability to forecast the physical, social and economic implications of development capacity (intensity). Forecasting can be pursued with Development Capacity Evaluation software, but we must still rely on intuition and experience to evaluate its predictions. Improvement will require intensity and context research before intuition can be converted to knowledge equal to the emerging threat we pose to ourselves.

The combination of shelter, movement, open space and life support within a city is called urban form. The activities sheltered within the buildings of urban form are separated and served by its movement, open space and life support divisions; and the composition determines its economic potential. It also defines its quality of life. In other words, urban form has physical, social and economic characteristics that affect the health, safety and welfare of its population. Containing this composition within limits to protect our natural, agricultural and resource environments requires knowledge of development intensity, shelter capacity, land use separation, revenue yield, and return on investment that does not exist; and tools that have only recently arrived.

I have noted in previous articles that development capacity is the gross building area that can be constructed per acre of buildable land available. It can be predicted based on values entered in the design specification template of a forecast model, and models are chosen from a library of options. (See “City Design with Space”) The activities sheltered by intensity determine the income and revenue generated per acre. The open space remaining defines the place created and its contribution to the fabric of city experience. We have not been able to accurately forecast the spectrum of these development capacity (intensity) options in a reasonable amount of time, and this has limited our ability to correlate the shelter capacity of land with its social and economic implications. This means that development capacity (intensity) has physical, social and economic implications that we have not begun to measure and evaluate. We have observed the appearance and influence of context, but there are measurable intensity components that set the stage. When entered in a forecast model, they are the forces that can convert chaos to opportunity. Context adds form, function and appearance to intensity components that affect our health, safety and welfare. Component values define the parameters of physical, social and economic solutions. The implications are profound, because intensity options and averages are leadership tools. They will determine our ability to address population growth and economic stability with context solutions of benefit and respect for our irreplaceable partners.

Limits are anathema to Ponzi schemes but essential to a natural partner who suffers our presence at its discretion. They also preserve an agricultural partner that can only retreat when not protected by informed and convincing physical, social and economic arguments.

            Ponzi schemes allow us to put off hard decisions until the day of reckoning inevitably arrives. Some have been formed with the best of intentions on a foundation of inadequate anticipation. Anticipation emerges from knowledge built on intuition. In the military, knowledge is called “intelligence”, intuition is called “strategy”, action is called “tactics” and success means survival. The effort requires leadership that has many partners. In our case, city planning also needs many partners to meet the assault from land conversion, since intelligence is lacking, strategy is unreliable, and tactics have failed to reach objectives; but success will be measured in the same unforgiving military terms.

            In our time, adaptation has been called innovation; but when successful, both quickly become habits that are hard to break. The concept of land as a commodity that can be conquered, lost, bought, sold or consumed is a habit that began before time. Our only innovation has been to expand permitted participation. I can’t imagine a more difficult habit to break, unless its war; but land is not a commodity. It’s a mute power whose life depends on a universe of forces we once considered gods, and these forces will subtly adapt the land to intrusion without compromise if we do not adapt to the awareness that life is limited by a responsibility that Ponzi has never accepted.

            The Earth was visually confirmed as round on July 20, 1969 by Apollo 11. Mapping had been based on that assumption for quite some time. Our advances in mapping and geography may again lead the way in adapting to our planet, when combined with development capacity evaluation; but this is another article for another time.
 
Author Note: The following articles can be read on my blog, Cities and Design, at http://wmhosack.blogspot.com/:

1)             "Replacing Density" discusses its leadership weakness and intensity alternative,
2)             "The Limits of Shelter Capacity" provides expanded detail regarding intensity,
3)             “The City is a Farm” discusses the relationship of intensity to economic development,
4)             "The Disorganized Zoning Ordinance" outlines the legislative confusion that impedes leadership progress,
5)             “Examining Architecture” takes a closer look at a piece of the city design puzzle,
6)             “The Variance Trap” illustrates development regulation weakness with a residential forecast model from the Development Capacity Evaluation (DCE) software collection,
7)             “City Design with Space” discusses the overlooked role of project open space with a non-residential forecast model from the DCE collection,
8)             “The Core of Our Built Environment” identifies the nucleus of development capacity
9)             “Ponzi Schemes and Land Use Plans” offers an alternative to annexation and sprawl.
10)         “Where Does Sustainability Begin?” discusses the importance of land in a competition between our natural and built environments.
11)         “Economic Development Is Missing a Strategy” discusses the intelligence and strategic planning required to identify economic development objectives on the road to a sustainable future.

These articles have been deleted from my blog but are available upon request:

1)             The Concept of City Design” includes an overview and suggested research agenda,
2)             “Politics and Planning” is an argument in support of the effort, and
3)             “Context Measurement” outlines a suggested research yardstick.

Monday, November 29, 2010

CITY DESIGN WITH SPACE


            Design with space depends on the concept of core area development capacity and its relationship to the off-setting project open space provided. (Core area is the land remaining for building mass and parking after all other demands are subtracted from a gross land area of any size. If parking is not required, or placed underground, the entire core area is available for building mass that is often referred to as building height and area.)

            Table 1 explains the distillation of core area. Public rights-of-way and improved or paved easements, if present, are first subtracted from a gross land area. (If this is a forecast the area subtracted would be an estimated percentage of the gross land area.) The net land area remaining is further reduced to buildable land area by subtracting all unbuildable areas such as, but not limited to, ravines, marshes, ponds, and unstable soil, if present. Buildable area is reduced to core area by subtracting the open space present or planned in addition to miscellaneous pavement, driveways and loading areas. (If this is a forecast, the areas subtracted would be estimated percentages of the buildable land defined.) The core area that remains is available for building mass; and parking, if required. (Parking is only open space in the minds of those who wish to increase intensity.) When reviewing Table 1, keep in mind that the areas mentioned can represent those of one project, or the sum of many areas within a larger plan.
After core area is identified, it becomes possible to forecast gross building area potential based on the forecast model chosen and the design specification values entered. This potential has been called development capacity, and the square feet of gross building area present or predicted per buildable acre has been called intensity. Intensity can be calculated per gross or net acre; but when large unbuildable areas are involved, these statistics distort the intensity that people experience within the buildable area.

The choice of a development capacity forecast model is influenced by the land use category involved, but this is a simple choice among residential, non-residential or mixed-use alternatives. A non-residential choice would lead to Table 2. A series of decisions in Table 2 leads to a forecast model. The first decision involves the parking system contemplated. This leads to a choice among the parking design options available within the system chosen. From this point, the path leads to one of two forecast models. The choice depends on the information given. Gross building area predictions are based on a given gross land area. Gross land area predictions are based on a given gross building area objective. The given areas can be of any size and do not need to be restricted to one project.



For instance, if the CG1L forecast model is chosen in Table 2, Table 3 illustrates values that can be entered in its design specification template to forecast the core area of a given gross land area. Additional values are entered to calculate the development capacity of this core area in the GBA column and the intensity of this capacity in the SFAC column. Any change in the values entered alters the forecast. If the open space percentage is increased from 30% for instance, core area shrinks along with gross building area capacity, or design specification values must be adjusted to maintain the same capacity. If open space is decreased, the core area increases along with its gross building area potential unless other specification values are also modified.




It should be apparent that open space is a major design specification value that affects the amount of core land area available within our built environment. When combined with other design specification values, it determines the scope of activity and population that can be sheltered within any specified area. Context refinement adds form, function and appearance to intensity decisions that lead to the places we create.

Building height can be increased within a core area, parking requirements can be eliminated and open space can be reduced in the buildable area to increase core area intensity, but these options can be used to extremes that prompted original efforts to protect the public health, safety and welfare.  When these options are exhausted, the only way to increase core area development capacity is to buy more land. This is the dilemma we face on a planet of limited resources and expanding population. Open space must be protected beyond the artificial environment we build to ensure the survival of life on the planet, but it must be protected within the places we build to relieve intensity. The specifications required remain to be determined, but common sense should tell us that open space is essential to our quality of life and agricultural capacity, while also part of an ecology of survival we threaten with unlimited consumption.

Footpaths document our first explorations of space, but the land discovered is simply an island in a sea protected by a thin film of atmosphere at risk. Improved movement systems expanded our control. Shelter was built and life support systems were extended. As a result, land was converted from its natural function to an artificial domain we call the built environment. In my lifetime this domain has expanded to serve growing populations while inner cities have been abandoned to escape intensity. This has produced sprawl without economic stability that continues to threaten its source of survival.

Sprawl tells me that we have not learned to design with space as we construct the four divisions of our built environment. We use too much or too little and mistakes are reflected in blight, social alienation, economic instability and psychological distress. We have all seen horrendous relationships among shelter, movement, open space and life support structures within cities. We consider open space a void to be “improved” and resistance is considered “taking”. Sprawl continues as we struggle to recognize natural realities that face our abstract world with a power we cannot dominate without consequences.

It is becoming apparent that we must adapt to life within limits since the space beyond cannot be consumed indefinitely. It also means that we must adapt our concept of agriculture to resist urban sprawl; to adapt open space requirements within cities to offset excessive intensity; and to recognize that life within limits will require the redevelopment of blight rather than the abandonment of central cities. This does not mean that economic penalties can be imposed on those saddled with the mistakes of our past, but that our abstract financial concepts must adapt to recognize the goal, which is design with space that protects the survival, patterns and dignity of all life on the planet.

We have much to learn about the space that must be protected beyond our cities and the space we must preserve within, since shelter and movement options can respond to population growth with overwhelming intensity. We are now coming to realize, however, that low intensity cannot serve population growth without threatening the health, safety and welfare of the planet.

Learning to shelter the activities of expanding populations within geographical limits will require a thorough understanding of intensity and context design. Anything less will continue our consumption of a planet that cannot speak, but who reacts without compromise. It is we who must learn its language, since it has no need to explain that we are not a gift. It is the gift and we are expected to take responsibility. Forecasting our development capacity options within sustainable limits is a step in this direction.


Author Note: Land Development Calculations has been written to assist many professions who wish to build the knowledge required to design with space. It forecasts development capacity in relation to the land consumed. This unlocks the ability to forecast anything that is a function of the gross building area predicted such as, but not limited to, construction budget, population capacity, traffic generation, return on investment and yield per acre (for comparison to a city’s average annual operating expense per acre).
The following articles can be read on my blog, Cities and Design, at http://wmhosack.blogspot.com/:

1)             "Replacing Density" discusses its leadership weakness and intensity alternative,
2)             "The Limits of Shelter Capacity" provides expanded detail regarding intensity,
3)             “The City is a Farm” discusses the relationship of intensity to economic development,
4)             "The Disorganized Zoning Ordinance" outlines the legislative confusion that impedes leadership progress,
5)             “Examining Architecture” takes a closer look at a piece of the city design puzzle,
6)             “The Variance Trap” illustrates development regulation weakness with a residential forecast model from the Development Capacity Evaluation (DCE) software collection,
7)             “City Design with Space” discusses the overlooked role of project open space with a non-residential forecast model from the DCE collection,
8)             “The Core of Our Built Environment” identifies the nucleus of development capacity
9)             “Ponzi Schemes and Land Use Plans” offers an alternative to annexation and sprawl.
10)         “Where Does Sustainability Begin?” discusses the importance of land in a competition between our natural and built environments.
11)         “Economic Development Is Missing a Strategy” discusses the intelligence and strategic planning required to identify economic development objectives on the road to a sustainable future.

These articles have been deleted from my blog but are available upon request:

1)             The Concept of City Design” includes an overview and suggested research agenda,
2)             “Politics and Planning” is an argument in support of the effort, and
3)             “Context Measurement” outlines a suggested research yardstick.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

THE VARIANCE TRAP

           
            A zoning variance is intended to mitigate the hardship of general regulations applied to a unique circumstance, but often represents a lack of confidence in the regulation itself. In many cases there is good reason, because specific requirements are often uncoordinated attempts to achieve poorly defined goals. The following is a brief sketch of the confusion that surrounds our attempts to reach goals with density, parking and building height regulations.

            I began my career listening to discussions of permitted residential densities, heights, and required parking.  I started wondering if anyone understood the combined impact of these requirements, especially when additional regulations, such as landscape require­ments within a parking lot, were being considered.  I quickly realized that no one could accurately forecast implications, and all of us relied on intuition and claims of experience.

            As an example, a density of 80 dwelling units per acre was permitted along with a building height of 15 stories and a parking requirement of 1.5 spaces per dwelling unit.  When a developer attempted to design within these parameters using a grade parking lot, he couldn't come close to 80 dwelling units per acre. This encouraged him to pave every potential square foot in an attempt to reach his authorized density, and this began my search for a way to define realistic expectations based upon a thorough understanding of design fundamentals.

            Table 1 explains the point using a forecast model from the Development Capacity Evaluation software collection. This model is designed to address residential, grade parking lot design solutions with the parking lot around, but not under, the building.  It has two primary panels entitled, “Design Specification” and “Planning Forecast”. A land area of 5 acres is given and Arrow 1 points to the permitted density. Arrow 8 points to the number of dwelling units implied by this density. Arrow 3 points to the parking requirement and Arrow 2 points to the land area estimate per parking space. (The area shown implies that very little internal parking lot landscape is planned.) Arrow 4 indicates that 80% of the gross building area will remain for habitable space. (This means that 20% of the gross building area is estimated for wall thickness, circulation, mechanical areas, etc.) Arrow 5 points to the average dwelling unit area planned based on the dwelling unit mix specified. (This is a critical forecasting value that is rarely considered.) Arrow 6 points to a minimal open space provision of 10% and Arrow 7 points to a more desirable value of 40%. However, column FLR in the Planning Forecast Panel is zero throughout, indicating that the density and design specification is not feasible, nor is the dwelling unit target of 400.

            Table 2 forecasts development implications for a density of 50 when all other specification values remain constant. Arrow 8 points to a reduced target of 250 dwelling units. A 10.2 story building is required and only 10% open space can be provided since 15% requires a 16.4 story building and only 15 floors are permitted. This design specification can easily produce a profitable building in an undesirable context when design with space is dominated by the demand for building capacity.

            Table 3 forecasts the development implications of the density 33.43 when all other specification values remain constant. Arrow 8 points to a reduced target of 167 dwelling units that could be constructed on 15 floors with 40% open space, but why build 15 floors when you can create the same number of dwelling units on 2.5 floors with 10% open space and less expense? (You could also build 250 dwelling units with 10.2 floors (round to 10 or 11) and 10% open space as noted in Table 2.) The answer depends on the intensity and context desired within an urban design district of a city design plan.
           

            Note in Table 3 that the parking lot area PLA is constant because the density objective of 33.43 does not change, but that the open space S increases from 0.5 to 2.0 acres as building height FLR increases from 2.5 to 15 floors and building footprint BCA decreases. Changing any value entered in the design specification panel of Table 3 would produce a new forecast for evaluation. This should indicate the spectrum of intensity options available to any project, not to mention the increase in options that occurs when a forecast model representing another design category is selected for comparison.

            Unfortunately, a developer who expects a 400 dwelling unit return from a land purchase may first attempt to modify his design specification values when only reaching 167, or 42% of his goal. He may then seek variances to the values required when he still can’t reach the level of expectation encouraged by the density regulation involved, and appointed regulators with diverse backgrounds may feel relief is warranted because of the disparity. This is not in anyone’s interest when the places created and the land consumed occurs by chance mistaken for leadership.

            If 40% open space was part of a pedestrian circulation plan however, the 10% option in Table 3 would not meet the urban design criteria established and a variance would clearly contradict the goal.

            The development capacity of land is a function of the zoning regulations adopted. Setbacks, densities, building height and parking requirements represent our first attempts to combat fire hazard with building codes and separation; physical and mental health hazard with density regulation and building height limits; and traffic hazard with parking requirements. Open space has been a left-over often reduced with variance approvals and rarely addressed as a specific requirement in zoning ordinances. Its existence by chance is threatened by variance, but its reduction is a hazard that increases intensity and alters context. Specific requirements will raise the issue of “taking”, but space is a design fundamental and an essential ingredient that defines intensity by off-setting building mass and pavement. The lack of space is no less a hazard than the lack of light, air and ventilation since physical and psychological health issues are interrelated. City design with space and intensity can clearly define the goals required, and development capacity evaluation can expose the implications of varying from the plan.



Author Note: Portions of this article were excerpted and edited from the second edition of my book, Land Development Calculations, and its attached forecasting software, Development Capacity Evaluation, v2.0 published by The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2010. The book can be found on Amazon.com.

The following articles can be read on my blog, Cities and Design, at http://wmhosack.blogspot.com/:

1)             "Replacing Density" discusses its leadership weakness and intensity alternative,
2)             "The Limits of Shelter Capacity" provides expanded detail regarding intensity,
3)             “The City is a Farm” discusses the relationship of intensity to economic development,
4)             "The Disorganized Zoning Ordinance" outlines the legislative confusion that impedes leadership progress,
5)             “Examining Architecture” takes a closer look at a piece of the city design puzzle,
6)             “The Variance Trap” illustrates development regulation weakness with a residential forecast model from the Development Capacity Evaluation (DCE) software collection,
7)             “City Design with Space” discusses the overlooked role of project open space with a non-residential forecast model from the DCE collection,
8)             “The Core of Our Built Environment” identifies the nucleus of development capacity
9)             “Ponzi Schemes and Land Use Plans” offers an alternative to annexation and sprawl.
10)         “Where Does Sustainability Begin?” discusses the importance of land in a competition between our natural and built environments.
11)         “Economic Development Is Missing a Strategy” discusses the intelligence and strategic planning required to identify economic development objectives on the road to a sustainable future.

These articles have been deleted from my blog but are available upon request:

1)             The Concept of City Design” includes an overview and suggested research agenda,
2)             “Politics and Planning” is an argument in support of the effort, and
3)             “Context Measurement” outlines a suggested research yardstick.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Examining Architecture: Part 1

PLEASE SEE MY LATEST BOOK. The Science of City Design: Architectural Algorithms for City Planning and Design Leadership. The book offers a universal language to correlate the work of many isolated disciplines concerned with one issue: The provision of shelter for the activities of growing populations with a limited Built Domain that protects their quality and source of life - The Natural Domain. It is available from Amazon.com in both e-book and paperback.


Architecture and design will matter when they lead rather than follow. This will occur when they recognize their public responsibility to decipher intensity and shelter populations within limits. Anything less will eventually consume the land and its life support systems with population growth, speculation and sprawl.

Architecture is often referred to as fine art because appearance is evaluated with opinion. As a consequence, the process of leadership, management, and action that leads to the construction of shelter is considered an artistic exercise. This has made it difficult to gain popular support and build knowledge from talent across generations. In reality, the architectural process defines building mass and pavement that is offset by project open space to produce intensity. The whole is then sculpted to produce the appearance and context of projects. Each effort aggregates over time to form the context of neighborhoods, districts, cities, and regions. The small scale of an architectural project within cities has limited the perception of its relevance to the general welfare; but it has a unique ability to contribute if it begins to evaluate the intensity it creates.

The intensity of building mass and pavement within cities is a function of the open space retained. Open space moderates intensity and creates the pattern we call urban form. This form has also been called “fabric” because it is densely or loosely woven based on the open space present. In other words, architecture includes design with space. The amount provided determines intensity and sets the stage for context, but open space has often been sacrificed to increase building area and return on investment. Project open space accumulates to serve the public interest however, and transcends private speculation. This is another reason why design matters, since it will define the survival of life with dignity.

The preceding argument suggests that open space is a priority that determines the intensity of place, and that our goal is smart intensity and smart shelter within symbiotic city limits. It will be challenged, but public benefit has always encountered private opposition. Our present building codes and zoning codes stand as mute testimony to the struggle. They symbolize the conflict over land use patterns and tenements in the 19th and 20th centuries. These were eventually recognized as unsafe, unhealthy and a threat to the general welfare; but not without opposition. In our time, we cannot wait for proof that we have consumed the open space (land) required for survival within and beyond cities. If you agree, the goal above becomes essential for the shelter of expanding populations and their activities. Appearance will reflect the progress made. Until then, architects will design sprawl to serve an investor or lose a client.

It might be helpful to review the architectural process in terms that can be understood beyond the profession, since this is where city plans become urban form -- and where the public health, safety and welfare is affected by the intensity of design with space. This is becoming a critical issue, since the growth of populations must be sheltered by acceptable intensity within symbiotic limits.


Everyone should note that intensity is simply a means to an end in Table 1. It has been undefined and overlooked as a separate topic. Intensity, however, sets the stage for all subsequent decisions and is at the heart of city planning, city design, architecture and landscape architecture. It is a fundamental decision that influences the context of projects, the fabric of neighborhoods and the form of cities. When growth limits are considered, intensity options will determine the capacity, variety and quality of life provided within this artificial world. The land that remains will determine the scope of support available.

Intensity  
(The following has been repeated from "The Limits of Shelter Capacity")

Density was our first attempt to define intensity and context; but the effort has produced an unreliable approximation, uncertain leadership, and a legacy that must be improved before we can consistently repeat success within limits that protect our planet’s ability to function and feed its population. (See “Replacing Density” in my blog.)

            The development capacity of land and the intensity constructed affects our quality of life. The ability to predict shelter capacity and measure intensity has been limited by rules of thumb and trial and error exercises at the drawing board, but improving these abilities will help us shelter an increasing population within sustainable limits under desirable circumstances.

We have always realized that shelter (architecture) is essential, but it has taken centuries to recognize that the public health, safety, and welfare are directly affected by the nature of its construction (building codes) and the relationship of its activities (master plans, zoning codes). A glimpse from the Moon however, has revealed that shelter is on a ship sailing through an infinite sea; and common sense tells us we cannot consume the ship nor exceed its capacity. In the case of shelter, capacity is a function of intensity that is molded by design to produce context. Context can improve our quality of life; but leadership is needed to build the knowledge required, since excessive intensity is a threat we call overdevelopment.

Shelter intensity is the relationship of building mass and pavement to open space within and among project areas. Development cover is a component of intensity that includes building cover, parking cover and miscellaneous pavement. The on-site relationship between quantities of development cover and open space produce various degrees of two-dimensional “balance”. When building height is added to building cover it produces three-dimensional building mass. When mass is combined with pavement and off-set by open space, various degrees of intensity are produced. When intensity is combined along a street or within an area, neighborhood intensity emerges. Architecture and landscape architecture convert intensity to context with design. Intensity, however, is the foundation for context within neighborhoods, districts, cities, and regions. Unfortunately, it has not been measured with a consistent yardstick. The lack of an effective measurement system has made it difficult to define acceptable intensity levels, and to predict the shelter capacity that will be produced. This is now feasible, however, for all surface parking and structure parking design concepts, including the “no parking” option; and this potential can be used to measure / evaluate existing context and forecast future options.

            The pie charts in Figure 1 demonstrate the forecasting ability of an intensity equation. The equation applies to one design concept noted as CG1 in Table 1. The charts show that the shelter capacity of this concept increases when parking increases, building height increases, and building footprint decreases. The open space allocation and parking requirement remain constant to illustrate this relationship. Since the charts are not three dimensional, you’ll have to imagine the black wedge increasing in height as its footprint grows smaller. The charts are abstract site plans that represent snapshots of increasing capacity, but do not reveal that the rate of increase for this design concept declines rapidly above five floors. This is shown in Figure 2.

            In practical terms, the pie charts illustrate the relationship between development cover, building height, and open space for one set of variables shown in the upper left-hand corner. Each component within the variable set has an extensive range of possibilities, and the mathematical models that use these variables can produce an unlimited number of design options in response to changes in these values. Four of these options are illustrated by the pie charts in Figure 1, and relate to the CG1 design concept listed. Until the intensity variables of existing context are measured, however, desirable context will remain a matter of opinion based on intuition that is heavily influenced by appearance and return on investment.


            Figure 1 implies that CG1 intensity increases when parking and building height increase and open space remains constant. This is the hypothesis of a designer at the moment however, and remains to be proven. It is a question at the heart of our sustainable future however, since intensity affects our ability to shelter growing populations within sustainable limits. When intensity can be consistently and precisely forecast, the professions that understand its context implications will assume political relevance and leadership potential; since this knowledge will be needed to prescribe the variety required to shelter growing populations within symbiotic limits that do not sacrifice context quality. This is why design matters on every piece of land we transfer from its natural home to the world of our built environment, and the need became obvious on July 20, 1969 when we first saw the Earth as it sailed through infinity protected by a thin film of atmosphere at risk. If we had looked closer, we would have seen ourselves beneath the clouds expanding shelter and paving the face of a natural gift we must not consume. This is a challenge of the highest order. It questions our right to convert land without considering the natural consequences, since these forces tolerate our presence without disclosing the limits of their patience.

City Design

The allocation of land use and intensity is the foundation of a city’s economic stability and quality of life. (See The City is a Farm) Land use is the province of city planning however, and intensity is a function of the architecture constructed. City design must consider both, since the allocation of land use and the construction of intensity is an interrelated symbiotic issue with economic implications. We have no choice. We must produce context and compatibility within limits that yield economic stability and ensure symbiotic harmony.

Intensity is simply the relationship between building mass, pavement, and open space within any project, district, city, or region. The magnitude of intensity is a function of the building mass and pavement constructed in relation to the amount of open space remaining within the buildable land available. The composition that evolves contributes to the “fabric” of a city. This fabric is either densely or loosely woven based on the open space provided. The elements of intensity are the raw material for context. They can be measured, forecast, evaluated, and prescribed to protect our quality of life from the stress of overdevelopment -- while more efficiently using the land to shelter populations and activities within limits that serve our common goal.

When values are assigned to the elements of a design specification template within a forecast model, the intensity predicted is similar within projects of different area and appearance; since these values do not dictate details such as landscape features or building arrangement, separation, shape, function, style, appearance, and construction. In other words, element values represent intensity options. Unfortunately, their implications have not been defined by a research and measurement process, but only this can convert intuition and experience to recorded knowledge.

In the future, leadership may choose among land use and design specification values to define preferred intensity options. These options will then be explored with more detailed context design definition at the drawing board. Decisions will be converted to a strategy that is expressed with contract documents. Construction will complete the process by converting documents to the shelter, intensity, context and appearance envisioned; but it will all begin with the measurement and evaluation of existing values that are the DNA of intensity.

Intensity choices represent leadership decisions that outline the development capacity, economic stability, and social impact that will be produced. The sprawl of a city’s urban form will begin adjusting to the shape, function, and appearance of a symbiotic future when we begin to understand these relationships and the implications of our intensity options; since they determine how we live within cities and preserve our planet beyond.

The need for leadership is based on the argument that the space provided within cities offsets intensity and is a key to our quality of life; while the land preserved beyond determines agricultural capacity and the survival of all life on the planet. The shelter, movement, open space and life support divisions of a city therefore, must be contained within limits defined by the science of others. The objective is to shelter activities and populations within these limits, while ensuring that the intensity and context constructed contributes to the preservation of all life with dignity.

Shelter Classification

            It has become apparent to many that our common goal depends on the balance we strike between the natural world of our planet and the artificial world of our built environment. Thomas Jefferson would have called this a self-evident truth if he had received satellite images and photographs from Apollo 11 in addition to the notes from Lewis and Clark. We cannot begin to think about balance however, until we understand the potential capacity of land to shelter populations within context parameters that protect their quality of life.

            Shelter capacity is a function of the design concept and specification values involved. When these values are considered separately the result is ineffective leadership, since they interact to produce intensity. This interaction can be predicted by equations embedded within forecast models tailored to each design concept classification. Fortunately, the concepts are limited even though appearance has made them appear infinite. Table 1 illustrates the design classification system that begins a short journey to a forecast model. The remainder of the journey depends on whether the gross land area or the gross building area objective is given.

Intensity Equation

            The key to an intensity equation is the concept of “core area” when gross land area is given. Net area is found by subtracting rights-of-way and public easements from gross area. Buildable area is found by subtracting all unbuildable open space areas such as ponds, ravines and marshes from the net area. Core area is found by subtracting project open space and miscellaneous pavement percentage estimates from the buildable area. This leaves the core land area available for building cover and parking cover.

An intensity equation relates to a design concept and defines the gross building area GBA that can be produced within a core area based on the specification values entered. Intensity is calculated by dividing the buildable acres defined into the GBA forecast. In other words, intensity equals the gross building area produced per acre of buildable land consumed, and is a statistic equal to the design leadership needed. If gross acres and net acres were used, rather than buildable acres, these statistics would indicate the intensity of the total composition but distort the values required for design leadership.

Intensity options are produced by changing specification values in a design concept forecasting model, or by changing design concepts, and hundreds can be produced in the time it would take to sketch one. The intensity choices selected for context design evaluation are defined by stating the design concept and specification values chosen. A final decision defines the objective for further definition by architecture and landscape architecture.

The CG1 design concept and CG1L forecast model balance parking cover and building cover relationships within the core area of a given gross land area based on the values entered. Parking spaces within a core area determine the gross building area that can be supported, and increasing building height reduces the land required for building cover. This leaves more core area for parking. Since parking spaces determine the gross building area that can be supported, maximum development capacity is a function of the ideal relationship between parking cover and building cover within the core development area based on the number of floors contemplated and other design specification values entered.

For example, when land area is given, the optimum relationship between parking cover, PCA, and building cover, BCA, within the core area, CORE, of a CG1 design concept is a function of the core mass divided by a capacity coefficient. The core mass is simply a function of the core area available (CORE) multiplied by the number of building floors (f) contemplated. The capacity coefficient is a function of the building floors (f) and parking specifications involved (s and a). This equation is derived in Chapter 21 of Land Development Calculations, second edition. It is repeated here and embedded in the CG1L forecast model of the Development Capacity Evaluation software attached to the book.

A Design Principle

            When the CG1L equation is plotted in Figure 2, it reveals a design principle that can be expressed in the following terms:

When a CG1 design concept is considered, the rate of increase in development capacity declines at an accelerating rate as the number of building floors increase

Figure 2 illustrates this principle and clearly shows the dramatically decreasing rate of increase in gross building area, or development capacity, as building height pushes above five floors. It is based on a 30% project open space provision and is a very popular suburban design concept, but the choice involves a relatively inefficient use of the land. If a larger building on the same land area were desired, based on the same design concept; a larger core area would be required. The increase however, would come at the expense of project open space and/or other specification values. The efficiency profile in Figure 2 would show the same rapidly decreasing rate of increase in development capacity, but start at a higher point on the Y-axis. In fact, any change to design specification values will alter the intensity and context created, but the relationships remain constant and the implications remain a matter of opinion.




Figure 2 confirms the intuition of many designers and converts this intuition to knowledge. The context implications of design specifications and intensity options remain to be explored; but there is another point to be made. Figure 2 demonstrates that planning and design issues can be expressed in mathematical terms. This has the power to persuade in a political environment that cannot be avoided. It also improves our ability to collaborate with the science of others; since the land our planet can donate to shelter, and the development capacity of this land, is becoming an issue of survival. The answers we find will be reflected in the architecture of our solutions, the context they occupy, and the city design we create with the four divisions of our built environment.

Conclusion

The efficient use of land is a function of the generic design concept chosen, but efficiency does not preserve open space within or beyond cities; and context is left to chance until open space is specified. Shelter capacity is a function of the core area remaining. In the end, it is all about design with space. The space required to preserve the natural world, the space required for agriculture, and the space required to relieve intensity within the artificial world of our presence. The open space, movement, and life support systems of a city exist to serve the activities sheltered by architecture. As the population grows, the intensity required may come at the expense of open space. It may be reduced as a domain within the built environment, reduced as a component of project areas, or converted from its home in the natural world. In any event, lack of open space preservation will alter our relationship to both our natural partner and the context of our built environment. This has profound implications and we must be able to measure, classify, and forecast the capacity of cities within symbiotic limits before we can lead these competing worlds toward our common goal.

Open space is unique. It is an opposing world of ecology that has become an environmental battlefield, a domain within our built environment, and a component of project design. It must be separated and preserved to protect our future while also included within the built environment to mitigate intensity. This involves city design decisions we have not begun to explore in the detail required, since land use allocation and intensity decisions not only affect our quality of life and symbiotic future, but the economic stability of cities and nations as well. This will challenge our ability to adapt until we acknowledge that we are guests on the land of our planet -- and abuse threatens survival on this unstable boat in an infinite sea.

            The urban form of a city indicates its fabric of intensity and shelter capacity. Land use allocation and regulation are almost invisible, but determine the scope of activities sheltered and the revenue received to support shared services. Social activity occupies capacity and often multiplies intensity. Economic stability is a function of land use activity and intensity allocation. The collective impact of these physical, social and economic characteristics adds a psychological dimension. This reaction will indicate our progress in protecting the health, safety, and welfare of expanding populations within sustainable limits. The planet’s reaction will determine our progress toward a common goal that cannot be ignored.

Author Note: The following articles can be read on my blog, Cities and Design, at http://wmhosack.blogspot.com/:

1)             "Replacing Density" discusses its leadership weakness and intensity alternative,
2)             "The Limits of Shelter Capacity" provides expanded detail regarding intensity,
3)             “The City is a Farm” discusses the relationship of intensity to economic development,
4)             "The Disorganized Zoning Ordinance" outlines the legislative confusion that impedes leadership progress,
5)             “Examining Architecture” takes a closer look at a piece of the city design puzzle,
6)             “The Variance Trap” illustrates development regulation weakness with a residential forecast model from the Development Capacity Evaluation (DCE) software collection,
7)             “City Design with Space” discusses the overlooked role of project open space with a non-residential forecast model from the DCE collection,
8)             “The Core of Our Built Environment” identifies the nucleus of development capacity
9)             “Ponzi Schemes and Land Use Plans” offers an alternative to annexation and sprawl.
10)         “Where Does Sustainability Begin?” discusses the importance of land in a competition between our natural and built environments.
11)         “Economic Development Is Missing a Strategy” discusses the intelligence and strategic planning required to identify economic development objectives on the road to a sustainable future.

These articles have been deleted from my blog but are available upon request:

1)             The Concept of City Design” includes an overview and suggested research agenda,
2)             “Politics and Planning” is an argument in support of the effort, and
3)             “Context Measurement” outlines a suggested research yardstick.