Petworth: where the development climate is anything but Frosty.

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In a district of rapidly escalating land values, the natural tendency is for extrusion. Buildings start to stretch upward, growing taller and taller to cram value into a patch of land that, even absent an edifice, is worth a lot. Despite the legal limitations to building heights, Washington DC still demonstrates this phenomenon perfectly. It is a …Read more…

The Great Recession and its undead discontents.

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In the immediate years following the housing market’s catastrophic implosion, it was common to find half-finished suburban developments, where a handful of homes splayed out across a tangle of curvilinear streets. In most of these zombie subdivisions, the developer had already installed water/sewer, at least some of the paved roads, streetlights, road signs, maybe even …Read more…

Full skyscrapers, looming over empty streets.

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Those of us who identify as urbanophilic—to which I include myself a great deal of the time—have long bemoaned the lack of density afflicting many of our American urban centers, which impedes these places from achieving not just the level of on-the-street liveliness heralded by Jane Jacobs—the first great autodidact urbanophile—but their basic capacity to …Read more…

If a tree grows in Brooklyn, then Queens can claim an entire garden.

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When a settlement grows suddenly and rapidly, it’s common for the new development to completely overwhelm everything that preceded it: not just for the older settlement to get engulfed in the new, but for it to disappear completely. It’s happening all over the fast-growing areas of the American southwest, particularly states like Texas, where formerly rural …Read more…

Helping downtowns meet demand and save face.

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The façadectomy fan club hasn’t earned a lot of love over the years. Historic preservationists deride it because it cynically assumes that the only true value to a historic structure is the often three-foot-thick façade, while the remaining 99% of the building (not to mention everything that took place within it) is left to the …Read more…

Tossing historic accuracy out the window.

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Don’t let the naysayers sway you. Historic preservation aspirations can harmonize with the private sector. In fact, it’s happening now more than ever, and it’s depending far less on pubic sector intervention than ever before. With increasing frequency, entrepreneurs are mobilizing to salvage buildings or prominent features deemed under threat, either from redevelopment or decay …Read more…

From the highest rooftops, a call to gimme shelter.

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The urbanist blogosphere is chock-full of rants on how new developments compromise pedestrian connectivity—not so much in terms of the final product (where I’m equally guilty of such tirades), but even during the construction process. These days, most mid-sized and large metro areas are gorging on the fruit, born from seeds planted long ago, through …Read more…

Historical memory as a branding strategy.

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For my first blog post in America’s largest city, I introduce a topic that is incredibly small: really nothing more than a label. But it also fits perfectly within its milieu. Strolling down an almost exclusively residential block in the Chelsea neighborhood recently, I came across an apartment building with a huge promotional flag, featuring …Read more…

Rental respites for refugees.

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Imagine a major city where owner-occupied, single-family housing dominates the landscape, more than anywhere else in the country. Complete with garages, chimneys, front yards, back yards, one-and-a-half baths (minimum), and more than a few basements. Virtually all the houses sit on lots of equal size, with nearly identical space between them and the exact same …Read more…