Matt Yglesias, in a September 12 Slate article, called for a “Race to the Top” for infill. I’m working on a variation of that concept, thought it’s more like “Race to the Edge,” to pay better attention to the edges where new density meets the existing neighborhood. (See more on my project and the August edition of Zoning Practice here).
In researching a project on neighborhood-friendly density and edges, I came across great examples from Canada. There are a couple of interesting aspects of their approach:
- In Canada, cities come right out and call their redevelopment plans “intensification guidelines.” They don’t sugarcoat it with “vibrant” and “thriving,” or hide the fact that density is involved.
- However, they lead the planning effort by character areas. This is really important and something I've heard from my U.S.-based colleagues.
- Second, they have marvelous graphicsthat show the remarkably small amount of land needed for effective corridor/intensification. These graphics are reminiscent of the master plan for the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.
- They invest a lot of attention in tapering, massing and transitions to the neighborhoods.
- In Canada, they are paying special attention to mid-rise buildings and their role. Toronto launched new codes, adopted in 2010, to encourage intensification along their Avenues (translated: crappy arterials) that is compatible with neighborhoods. Here is a presentation on the planning steps. Of course Toronto gets both love (Richard Florida! Jane Jacobs!) and gruff (ugly high rises), but they are getting it done.
Would this work here?
- First – architects and planners will have much to criticize on a formulaic approach to infill. The back side of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor is a textbook case of “architecture-by-stepdown ratio,” and it can be visually jarring.
- Second – mid-rise in Toronto is up to 11 stories, but in smaller cities, the reality is more in the 2-4 story range.
- Finally – I jumped into the “how to do infill” fray because it is not just about architecture. It’s about making and sustaining a great place.
The planning firm Brook McIlroy (www.brookmcilroy.com) has graciously given permission to use these renderings. Check their work out.