Yesterday I wrote that Provo could use more row houses, but I made a point to say that I’m not advocating aesthetic regulations. My feeling is that while a lack of aesthetic regulations can produce a lot of ugly buildings, it also allows for the creativity and diversity that are essential for a vibrant city. And in the end, a strong market should get rid of undesirable buildings over the long term.
Here’s an example of why I don’t want aesthetic regulation:
The pictures above show that old and new architecture can coexist. In fact, really great neighborhoods are usually filled with this sort of thing. Provo doesn’t have a lot of cool modern buildings, but even “historic” homes in the city cover a surprisingly wide time span; at least at one point we were trying to build an architecturally diverse city.
Another good example of this is Barcelona, which mandates how structures use space but not the exact look of the facades.
But if we start rolling out aesthetic rules this can’t happen. Instead, we’ll end up with a bunch of pointlessly nostalgic, lesser buildings.
I didn’t always have this opinion of aesthetic regulation. In the not too distant past I wished we had some way of preventing the kind of buildings that proliferated in Provo in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
But as I started to critically consider the idea of forcing buildings to look quaint I began to change my mind. In the end there’s a lot to lose by only allowing a knockoff version of the past.
The solution, as I indicated yesterday, is spatial regulation. This is a concept that broadly falls under the umbrella of “form-based code.” The idea is that builders have to work with certain setbacks or heights or sidwalk sizes or whatever, for example, but can work creatively within those confines.