Un-arrested Development

In researching a recent post, I stumbled across a document titled, “Transit Oriented Development that’s Healthy, Green & Just: Ensuring Transit Investment in Seattle’s Rainier Valley Builds Communities Where All Families Thrive,” by Puget Sound Sage. It is a well-organized approach to considering the effects of Transit Oriented Development in a specific community, and worth the read if you have the time:

http://pugetsoundsage.org//downloads/TOD%20that%20is%20Healthy,%20Green%20and%20Just.pdf

Strangely enough, this piece on transit made me think mostly about development in affordable housing and the effect it often has on communities. Can organizing facts and data about the value of existing neighborhoods help us develop housing more ethically? I refuse to believe that we cannot retain and improve quality of living while allowing for growth in the affordable housing market. How can we increase the availability of affordable places to live without compromising the character of a “great” neighborhood? In a similar-yet-distant line of thought, how do we avoid gentrification in assumingly “not-so-great” neighborhoods with a strong identity?

Net growth in development is as valuable as net improvement in the urban environment. Unfortunately, the factors that make life better in communities, specifically for its existing members, are often over looked.   We need more metrics for increases in the quality-of-life for city dwellers if we want to balance gains with growth. Measures of housing market quality need to be available in the discussion of quantity.

Making room for more can easily decrease quality, but only if you don’t have any measure of quality. This is how neighborhoods that people love are “destroyed” by the addition of new housing. Likewise, making room for a specific population with buying power can displace individuals with less economic means when the qualities of that existing neighborhood aren’t measured.

Fortunately the sort of neighborhood change I’m talking about is incremental in dense environments, giving us a lot of control over them working within design and planning professions. The following is a brief list of metrics that should be quantified, qualified and pursued to help us do our jobs better:

  • Diversity– economic, racial, religious, social
  • Safety
  • Building/open space carbon footprint
  • Ease of transport… i.e. the “walk score”
  • Estimated lifecycle of building/open spaces
  • Food security and independence

The major takeaway here is that neighborhood deterioration/gentrification is not inevitable in urban infill projects—it represents a failure to find value in traditionally less marketable aspects of development which currently lack measure.

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