We’ve been reading the Economist Magazine for over 25 years. It was, in the 1990s, a newspaper with classical liberal pretensions and is now merely liberal. Albeit, ideas expressed in the Economist are often incorporated into social, economic and political schemes to change the world. Last year they pointed out the high cost of zoning and planning thereby conferring legitimacy on the work done over many years by lesser lights. This last week’s edition brought us another article that I thought worth publicizing.
It seems that several suburbs in Florida are allowing developers to build high rise apartment buildings. Associated businesses and transportation facilities are attracted to follow the population concentrations. This model resembles what I observed in Houston. The main hospital where I worked was adjacent on the one side to the museum district, and on the other to the Montrose neighborhood with older single patrician homes and the world headquarters for Gay men. The hospital where I worked was 9 floors high and was next to a row of 15-20 story high rise apartments. The chaos resulting from the lack of planning (Houston has twice rejected zoning) worked just fine. I could walk to a supermarket (Fiesta, I alone spoke unaccented English), restuarants, my Fleabag Motel, all the time distracted and entertained by the startling variety of buildings and lifestyles.
Kenntwood’s Planning and Zoning’s main accomplishments are mediocrity. I know of only one architecturally interesting building, the Octogon on E. Paris. These commissions stifle experiment and innovation. Kentwood and many of the surrounding towns represent bureaucratic sclerosis. No developer dares or needs to shake things up.
The article introduces a radical departure from the constipated vision in which we stagnate as do all of the other boring New Urbanism towns in the upper Midwest. High rises and the associated support would distinguish us from the humdrum. Kentwood would soon sprout skyscrapers (presumably on the South Division wasteland) by just allowing builders to do whatever they wish . The ground rules should be changed so that city planning would restrict itself to building the infrastructures (water, sewage, other utilities) for skyscrapers and mega-developments. The wildcatters attracted in the resulting gold rush will certainly include the big bucks and wild imaginations that it takes to build self contained city center(s). Building from scratch would not be hindered by the needs to adjust to associated historic districts or political interests. Rather, as it is developed on basically raw land, it would evolve into and merge with 21st century environs of work at home, of self driving cars, of internet shopping and entertainment.
And we could castrate or even dispense with Zoning and Planning.