Saturday, December 7, 2013

Incremental Urbanism is the Key to California's Future

Incremental Urbanism in Washington DC
(Source: Wikipedia)

I am a big proponent of Incremental Urbanism, which is the creation of great places on a lot-by-lot basis, by dozens or hundreds of land owners and developers over time. Many of our favorite historic cities were built this way, and they still work very well today.

I just wrote a blog post for the California Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism. As you may know, CNU is famous for large, beautiful, walkable, master-planned projects. Things have changed, though, and these opportunities are dwindling in California. I believe that California's new frontier is on small, non-contiguous infill sites within our existing towns, cities, and metropolitan areas. Can we pivot and master this new realm? I propose that it is essential that we do, and in my CNU-CA blog post I explore how it can be done. Check it out here.


  1. Great points about the dwindling amount of large plots of land suitable for major transit-friendly, mixed-use developments. This applies to many large metro areas across the U.S. I second your point about certainty being more important than flexibility if cities want high-quality development outcomes. And I’m in full agreement on removing the minimum parking requirements. The suggestions to reduce other development restrictions (height requirements, on-site open space, and minimum lot sizes) are also great suggestions. Simply reducing or eliminating these barriers, without actually promoting or incentivizing incremental urbanism, has vast potential to add to the urban vitality of existing communities.

    One area I would add is along the approach of Ellen Dunham-Jones’ Retrofitting Suburbia. There are plenty of redevelopment opportunities coming on line in the next few decades in the 5-10 mile ring of many large metro areas…the 1960s and 1970s suburban strip centers that are well past their useful life. And many of these areas are accessible by transit and are large enough to support a wide range of uses. This is along the lines of the “transportation corridors” you mention.

    But in the end, I agree that incremental urbanism is a huge, largely untapped, opportunity for major cities. And this approach yields the best results over time, because true urbanism is always fine-grained, not mono-scale.

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