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Sunday, July 31, 2016

City Planning and Design Basics

City planning involves a blizzard of issues that make it difficult to see through the storm. In such conditions, a few reference points can provide direction.

Land Use Evaluation

Imagine the real estate property map of any city with each zoning district represented by a transparent color. All property tax-exempt areas are in white. Calculate the area of each zoning district and subtract the tax-exempt areas to find net area per zone. Divide the total real estate tax produced per zone by the gross and net area calculated to find the real estate tax revenue per acre per zone. Next, divide the income tax revenue from each zone by the gross and net land area per zone to find the income tax revenue per acre from each zone. Add all real estate and income tax revenue and divide by the total net and gross acres in the city to find the revenue yield per gross and net acre from all zones. Divide annual revenue from all other municipal sources by a city’s gross and net land area to find other financial yield per gross and net acre. Add all real estate tax revenue, income tax revenue, and other revenue to find total municipal revenue and divide it by a city’s gross and net acres to find a city’s average revenue per gross and net acre.

Finally, divide the city’s total annual expense by its gross and net acres. Compare its gross and net annual revenue per acre to its total annual expense per gross and net acre. The two should be equal, but this does not indicate an adequate quality of life.

Compare the city’s total annual expense per gross and net acre to the gross and net revenue received per zone. The zones that turn up negative are being subsidized by those that turn up positive. The ratio of positive to negative is one indication of stability.

A city is required to maintain a balanced annual budget, but does the population feel the programs and services provided are both needed and adequate? This is a public policy question they are able to answer if the programs and services are submitted to a general election. If the need is there but the service is inadequate, then a city’s revenue per acre is inadequate and additional funds must be found. The data also provides a foundation for additional program request evaluation.

Development Capacity Evaluation

So far, this discussion has addressed land use allocation; but allocation is only half of the issue. A building shelters activity and can be remodeled to serve other activities. I’ve called gross building area per buildable acre development capacity, and it determines the scope of activity that can be sheltered per acre. Shelter capacity and activity per buildable acre determine the revenue produced per acre. In other words, the development capacity introduced combines with the activity permitted to produce public revenue per acre. Every activity has an average yield per acre, but we have not collected the information. We have also not been able to accurately and consistently predict development capacity options for a buildable land area, but activity allocation and development capacity combine to determine the public revenue potential of a buildable acre, and the economic potential of a city’s total area.

When a city can correlate land use activity with development capacity options and revenue potential, it will be in a position to evaluate options and credibly defend planning recommendations.

I’ve written The Science of City Design: Architectural Algorithms for City Planning and Design Leadership to give you the ability to predict development capacity options for any buildable land area because shelter area determines activity capacity and revenue potential. It can be found on and as a Kindle Fire e-book.


If I have made myself clear, a land use plan without development capacity correlation simply separates incompatible activity. It does not ensure economic stability that is a function of a correlated land use and development capacity plan. I have referred to the combination as city design, and there are a number of pre-requisite chapters in the book I mentioned that lead you to the topic. Adequate city design is the physical foundation needed to undertake the blizzard of city planning issues that face us.

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