Give People a Taste of Good Development

Earlier this week, I suggested that improvement in a city should happen incrementally. Then, a couple of days later, I found this post by Otis White suggesting something similar.

Using a pizza metaphor, White calls his idea “selling change by the slice.” The idea, he argues, is to give people a little taste of what successful change is like so that they’ll be more likely to support more of it in the future:

But an awful lot of bold community changes can be tried out before being fully implemented. And if you’re proposing a big change, that may be the smartest way you can offer it: as a test. Find a place in the city where you can demonstrate the change and its benefits so everyone can see it. If it’s as successful as you expect, you’ll dramatically lower the fear level, and by the time you ask citizens and their leaders to accept the rest (a built-out transit system, a mixed-use development in their neighborhood, a new kind of recycling), it’s less like a leap of faith and more like a hop.

White’s post goes on to suggest some great, viable-sounding solutions for actually getting things done in a community. It’s also worth noting that both White’s concept and the one I mentioned a few days ago are similar to Jane Jacobs’ emphasis on “gradual money” that slowly gets invested in a community. She contrasts that idea with “cataclysmic money” that comes on all at once, causes dramatic change, and is negatively disruptive.

This approach seems perfect for a community like Provo where change — in the form of increased density, infill and development — is needed but often resisted. In fact, since I’ve been writing this blog I’ve been told again and again that people just won’t stand for anything slightly disruptive.

The home on the right is a hypothetical addition that would be built on what is currently a wide street. No community would support wide-scale implementation of this concept, but selling residents on a very limited test run might work.

That’s certainly true to some extent, but I can’t help wondering if one of the problems has been the way issues were historically framed. After all, when sweeping projects are mandated from on high by government or wealthy developers even the most rational person can switch into NIMBY mode.

In any case, I like White’s approach. It’s very similar to the way I envisioned Provo converting over-wide streets into housing, but it could be applied in an array of scenarios to help give all of us a taste of good development.

This project would work, but it’s worth testing so everyone can see how that might happen.

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4 Comments

Filed under community, Development

4 responses to “Give People a Taste of Good Development

  1. Seth

    I just noticed you have been talking about the whole idea of putting houses further into the street for a few weeks now. I can see how you could make new developments with smaller streets but how are you going to get around the problem of blocking road access for houses that are already there. I noticed in the picture you only placed one house into the street that kind of created a bottleneck in the road. Are you suggesting that we only put these houses at corners to allow other houses road access? If so, I don’t quite understand how that will slow traffic on the rest of the road.

    • I’d love to see this idea adopted up and down various streets, which of course would block road access for existing homes. I don’t think that is as big a problem as some people (such as the homeowners themselves) would. I’d do it by creating a single driveway-like access point somewhere along the block with which those homes could drive up to their homes. Ideally, alleyways might be needed, which is something I’ve also advocated for in the past and which is actually working in the Maeser neighborhood, if you’re familiar with that.

      Still, a lot of residents wouldn’t go for it, which is why in the pictures there are only two homes added to the corners. (I’d probably prefer three, but my friend who created the pictures is perhaps more of a pragmatist.) Anyway, I see corner infill as a kind of compromise. And yes, it creates a bottleneck, which is kind of the point and why traffic would be slower. It’s the same idea as putting crossways and stop signs at every corner; for one, it slows cars down at each intersections as they navigate the tighter road. Sure, they’d speed up after exiting the bottle neck, but if the corner infill was repeated they wouldn’t be able to speed up that much before having to slow down again. I’d like to see the idea combine with diagonal parking as well, which would effectively keep the street narrow even where there aren’t new homes. This idea also disrupts the street’s arterial functions, dispersing traffic more evenly through the grid. It’s worth noting that this concepts best attribute, in my opinion, is that it increases density. For me that’s the main reason to do it. But slower traffic (and lower government expenses) are collateral benefits that I think would also materialize.

      • Oh, I also forgot to mention that I’ve seen a few neighborhoods where each home doesn’t have traditional street access. I’ve seen this in Europe, but much closer to home they’re also doing it in Daybreak.

      • I’m excited to see what happens, though. I was just talking to the guy in charge of BRT and though he said there isn’t yet funding, he was optimistic about it’s future. I can’t wait.

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