Unbeknown to many, most Connecticut zoning (and that of many other states) designates people of color to segregated areas. For that reason, zoning won the moniker, exclusionary zoning. Although there’s no mention of race or color in zoning regulations, clever dimensional requirements, put together in the 1950s, achieve exclusion.

Minimum lot size, off street parking, separated uses, and outlawing multifamily quietly conspire to drive costs beyond the reach of people of color. The cleverness explains why the exclusionary structure survives to this day without anyone’s notice — regulated or regulators.

Another unintended consequence of exclusionary zoning is that it also segregates all people from each another. Diffused settlement patterns and car-dependency made necessary by separated uses conspire to break down neighborhood cohesion. Zoning creates a nation of suspicious strangers.

Some municipal leaders begin to demand affordability and to address social issues with “inclusionary overlays.” But efforts are unlikely to succeed. That’s because the underlying chassis, exclusionary zoning, aims to exclude affordability and dismiss social issues. The inescapable contradiction is too obvious to ignore.

Jamelle Bouie writes in the New York Times,

“One of the largest obstacles to building new affordable housing, or housing period, is the web of exclusionary restrictions and stringent requirements that add up to onerous burdens on new housing development…  When cities force builders to go through a byzantine approval process for any new development, they raise the price of housing.”

There is no way to overlay any program on top of the current situation and its glaring inequities.  The whole system needs to be rewritten, as outlined in this report linked below.

A group of New Haveners took advantage of the COVID “recess” to thoroughly examine the inescapable contradiction and to explore avenues to uncuff intractable conditions. Although the report focuses on New Haven, its percepts can apply to any city.

The report is comprehensive. It outlines an approach aimed to balance municipal budgets, to provide housing that’s affordable without subsidies, to pursue complete neighborhood place-making with enough density to support businesses that supply a full complement of goods and services, including jobs, needed on a daily basis within easy walking distance. It also describes how to deputize small local developers, builders, and lenders to build neighborhood place-making, to keep investment money within the community, to rebuild social integration to combat social unrest, to group-think challenges facing us, such as climate change, and to furnish production and innovation as catalysts for anchoring new neighborhoods.

Here’s an overview of what these new concepts are and what they are not:

  1. They advocate a return to neighborhood revitalization and construction.
  2. They are against development of big box apartment buildings forming gated communities prohibiting neighborhood access.
  3. They are against municipal subsidies and tax giveaways which significantly impact all taxpayers.
  4. They are for walkability to all one’s needs and against car-dependency.
  5. They are for “fat cutting” Lean Urbanism and against corpulent conventional development.
  6. They are against regulations that make it impossible to build economically, particularly so-called affordable housing. Procedures and regulations make Affordable Housing average ±$600,000/unit.
  7. They are for eliminating regulations that prevent building “housing that’s affordable,” at a fraction the cost of affordable housing.
  8. They are for “unleashing the swarm” of people wanting to make their cities better places to live, held back by indecipherable procedures and regulatory barriers.
  9. They are for ordinary local people enabled to build affordable multifamily buildings with an apartment for themselves and other affordable apartments to cover expenses for the building owner.
  10. In conclusion, they outline details of a demonstration project on Wall Street in New Haven, which promises affordable construction with rents in the range of what HUD identifies as ±30-40% AMI, well below affordable housing rents in big box projects.

An Economic Comparison Between Lean Development and Conventional Development

Both projects below include mixed-use of residential and commercial. The Lean Development project also includes micro-manufacturing, innovation labs (jobs), public streets and footpaths, and a pocket park.

The development costs. What’s the difference?

Stark visual contrast between conventional and lean development

Cities need to flip the platform from risking the future to satisfy the present to one of investing in the present to benefit the future. All ventures start with one step forward. There’s no time like the present to take first steps.

Here’s a link to their report proposing Lean Urbanism to address urban woes. The New Haven group hopes to have an open discussion, to respond to questions, and to consider contributing ideas to make it better.

Robert Orr is the owner of Robert Orr and Associates, an architectural and town-planning firm based in New Haven.

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