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Thursday, September 30, 2010


Land use allocation and building intensity define the extent of sheltered activity within a city. The condition and revenue received from this activity determines its ability to thrive within limits that preserve the environment beyond. Land use and intensity remain isolated however, because land use can be planned but intensity has been an unpredictable response.

Intensity is the gross building area that can be constructed, or is present, per acre of buildable land available. It can be predicted with software entitled “Development Capacity Evaluation”. Each prediction is based on the model chosen and the variables entered, and this permits the user to control the impact of intensity on our quality of life and economic stability. It also makes it possible to forecast anything that is a function of the building area predicted, such as: population, revenue and expense, construction cost, return on investment, traffic generation and much more. With this ability, we can begin the journey toward sustainable city design by coordinating land use allocation with development intensity and revenue capacity. This can produce options that eventually meet: (1) an ecological mandate for habitat preservation that has yet to be written; (2) an environmental mandate for the preservation of a thin film of atmosphere at risk; and (3) an economic mandate to produce adequate revenue from sheltered activities within a limited built environment.

Public acceptance of these mandates will depend on its concept of the struggle taking place. In the case of cities, this struggle attempts to match the revenue received with the expense of its aspirations -- not to mention the limits that must be adopted to preserve its source of its survival.

Under current law, most revenue is a function of land use allocation. Intensity has been a vague perception influenced by building height and separation requirements. The average yield per acre from this allocation is expected to equal or exceed the average expense of operations, maintenance, improvement, and debt service, but it is a struggle. In other words, a city is like a farm; but it cannot easily adjust its crop plan on an annual basis. This means that municipal land use allocation, intensity and condition is critical to its financial future, but this can only be evaluated with improved planning research that crosses traditional boundaries. Until then, cities will struggle to protect health and safety while sacrificing their quality of life to meet expense.

A budget is not a strategy. It is simply a battle to make ends meet. In a similar vein, politics is an endless stream of battles that rarely have an objective greater than the issue in question. Battles are no substitute for strategy, however, which must have a goal. When goals and strategy are defined, battles achieve objectives on the road to victory and issues are skirmishes in the forest. In the case of cities, a goal begins to gain definition when the city is recognized as an artificial farm, since its yield must support life within limits that respect a planet and universe that do not compromise. 

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

The following articles can be read on my blog, Cities and Design, at

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.

1 comment:

  1. I am one working on a way to stop urban expansion, to draw a line in the sand. This would make density a requirement, but without your kind of thinking on the issue, the objective measure of density would define failure as easily as success. Then it occurred to me after reading Janice Benyus. We cannot stop the city without redefining the wilderness as its master, its equal. Janice is the top observer of the natural world, but unlike those who rile against the assault, her summary of its usefulness to human life is as exacting as it is promising to your formula. The natural world runs on sunlight, uses the energy it needs and no more; it fits form to function; recycles everything; rewards cooperation; banks on diversity; demands local expertise; curbs excesses from within; and taps the power of limits. Her book Biomimicry describes each all in detail. If that does not define "intensity" then..., well never mind. Read it and enjoy, if you have add it to your argument.