“Words on the Street” highlights the best writing on urbanism we’ve encountered this week. Post tips at @NewUrbs.
Loneliness, Urban Design, and Form-Based Codes | Steve Price, CNU Public Square
Humans are social, yet this primary fact of life is oddly absent as a core consideration in modern urban development regulations. To ignore the social needs of our species is to lose sight of one of the most positive drivers for shaping sustainable urban form. Providing for the satisfactions of community counters sprawl. Yet conventional land-use zoning disperses people and strips social life from the landscape. This is where form-based codes come in. They are the tool par excellence for guiding development in a socially sensitive way, configuring buildings and streets to enliven social life.
A remarkable and growing body of literature in contemporary social research is telling us that healthy, well functioning communities need face-to-face meeting, interaction, and communication among their members, something that electronic “social media” cannot replace. And it requires high quality physical space.
America’s Hunger for Luxury Housing May Finally Be Satiated | Jeff Spross, The Week
Around 5,100 new apartments will be listed for rent in San Francisco in 2016, which is the biggest annual number in 26 years; Manhattan will feature 5,675 new units. And 2017 will probably blow 2016 out of the water, with projections showing San Francisco gaining around 7,000 more units, and New York getting 14,000 new units. In fact, back in July, 2016 already looked set to meet or break apartment construction records in the major markets across the country. …
Much of this booming construction is in the super high-end market — it’s telling that the “low-end” market in Manhattan is considered to be all housing under $2 million. And it looks like the population that could afford to buy or rent those sorts of luxury units is dwindling: The number of highly paid tech jobs in San Francisco is down from a peak earlier this year, and it’s mid-pay jobs in hospitality and health care that are seeing the biggest gains in New York City.
Top-Down, Bottom-Up Urban Design | Elizabeth Greenspan, New Yorker
“[W]hat we need to do is think of the city as a more open system, which accumulates complexity, and in which those complexities have to be worked with, rather than simplified.” Take school buildings. In many cities, schools might be “built into factories, or into back rooms of housing settlements. And rather than see that there’s something wrong about that—this is what I mean about the break with the spirit of Corbusier—we should be working with making that kind of school better,” he said. [Richard] Sennett and his colleagues argue for city plans defined by flexibility, rather than by right and wrong answers.
An Uncredentialed Woman: The Unlikely Life of Jane Jacobs | Howard Husock, City Journal
Robert Kanigel’s Eyes on the Street is the first full-length biography of Jacobs, a woman without a college degree who became one of the most influential urban thinkers of the twentieth century. Kanigel deftly links Jacobs’s life experiences to the development of her original ideas. Born Jane Butzner in 1916 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Jacobs wrote for a living, and not always for glamorous New York publications. She began her journalism career as an intern at the Scranton Republican and then contributed to Iron Age, a trade publication at which she learned the nuts and bolts of the metals industry. She learned, for instance, that non-ferrous metals were vital to modern life and how the markets for them worked. She worked briefly as a financial writer for Hearst and wrote an extended feature about Manhattan’s fur district for Vogue and another for Harper’s Bazaar about the crabbing culture on Maryland’s Tangier Island. She was, in other words, soaking up the details of how business, culture, and the urban environment worked together when done right—the very combinations she’d go on to celebrate in her breakthrough masterpiece, 1961’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
New York, San Francisco, and the Real Rental Crisis | Jordan Fraade, Washington Post
Economists have traditionally defined “rent-burdened” households as those that pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent. The “severely rent-burdened” pay more than half. In all but two of the 11 largest metro areas in the United States, the share of low-income households that suffer from severe rent burden increased from 2006 to 2014, according to a March report by New York University’s Furman Center. Since 2008, rent burden has also become far more common among middle-class households, the combined result of stagnant incomes and declining rental vacancy. Pundits and demographers often hold up cities like Atlanta, Philadelphia and Chicago as reasonably priced alternatives to pricey coastal hubs. But these “second-tier” cities are hardly immune from their own affordability problems. By 2014, a majority of all renter households in eight of the 11 largest U.S. cities, including all three listed above, qualified as rent-burdened.
This post was supported by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.