Exemplary small mixed-use urban project proposed for Miami, earns praises from Riley

4510 NE 2 AveI try to write about built projects only.  For every great small urban project that is proposed, there are 100 reasons why it might not get built.  I prefer to spend my time writing about all the reasons that such projects should be built. But a project was brought to my attention by the legendary and gracious Terry Riley, and it is so promising that I cannot stay quiet.  It is proposed for Miami at 4510 NW 2 Ave.  The site is small, 150 ft wide and 112 ft deep, and zoned T4, which permits zero side setbacks, 3 stories, and 36 units per acre.

The project, designed by Kobi Karp Architecture, is proposed to include 9,585 sq ft of ground-floor retail divided into 4 bays with 15+ ft ceilings.  The project would also include 12 residential units on floors 2 and 3, each with 9+ ft ceilings.  The facade is proposed to be a mix of natural elements: stone, metal, and glass.  According to Mr. Riley: "The proposed design would be a very handsome addition to the commercial buildings that are part of the neighborhood."

And Mr. Riley goes on to make a larger point: "There are few too developers who are concentrating their efforts on smaller infill buildings, the type of buildings that build strong neighborhoods, encourage street life, and favor pedestrian traffic."  Keep an eye out for this project, and let us hope that it represents an emerging trend!

Coral Gables Museum presents exhibit of new small building designs, FREE opening 9/5

AllBuildingsFrom the Coral Gables Museum website: "All Buildings Great & Small is an exhibit of new building designs for a better city. Exhibited works include drawings and models of new building prototypes for Coral Gables and Wynwood, and of the existing buildings that inspired them.  In contrast to the prevailing landscape of large towers and suburban subdivisions, these works examine how to update the building types that made up Dade County's early urban areas: small and adaptable. "The works are selected from seven semester-long courses taught earlier this year at FIU's Department of Architecture to more than 100 students, under the direction of department chair Jason Chandler in collaboration with Townhouse Center and supported by Knight Foundation.  Each student documented an existing building in Coral Gables, Wynwood, or the Design District, and designed a new small, adaptable prototype.

"The course and exhibit are part of a broader initiative in Miami-Dade County and nationwide to promote fine-grain urbanism, a pattern of development that produces neighborhoods that are more vibrant and equitable.  Groups such as the Urban Land Institute's Small-Scale Developers Forums, the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Green Lab, and the Project for Lean Urbanism suggest that a great building is one that is small."  Full post here.

The exhibit will open with a reception on Friday 9/5 from 6 to 9 PM (free).  There will also be an exhibit tour with its curators on Sunday 8/31 at 1 PM (with museum admission), and a walking tour of downtown Coral Gables small buildings on Saturday 10/4 at 11 AM ($10).  The exhibit will run until 10/26.

Company helps investment in portfolio of small neighborhood buildings by even smaller investors

ib84cQE.NXnUFrom Bloomberg writer Jonathan LaMantia on the subject of CityShares: "Investors who pledge at least $100,000 to one of the program’s neighborhood-focused funds become partial owners of a group of buildings and share in the rental income.

"'One of the things we learned from talking to investors was a lot of people thought about value creation through the evolution of a neighborhood,' [founder Seth] Weissman, 31, said in an interview at a Harlem coffee shop.  Buildings will be renovated, with a focus on cost-saving upgrades such as converting old oil furnaces to gas, Weissman said.

"Weissman said he chose neighborhoods for the funds based on amenities renters look for, including easy access to transportation and job centers.  Bedford Stuyvesant and Harlem, in particular, are distinguished by their blocks of 19th-century brownstones and a sense of community that’s hard to replicate, he said.

"'In Bed-Stuy, you walk around and, people will be tending to their planters and you’ll look up and a cornice will be missing,' Weissman said.  'Clearly the building needs major work.  They may not have the resources to make those larger investments but they care.  They do what they can.  They say hello.'

"CityShares investors must be accredited under U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules, meaning they made at least $200,000 in each of the past two years or have a net worth of at least $1 million.  That’s more restrictive than crowdfunding, in which large amounts of money are raised through small contributions.  Weissman said his program also differs from such websites as Realty Mogul and Fundrise in that those companies distribute pledges to property managers and developers, while CityShares will buy and manage buildings directly. 

"Participants will collect quarterly dividends from leasing income and in about a decade should see the benefits of price gains as the properties are sold, Weissman said.  The goal for the first fund is an annual return of at least 12 percent over a seven- to 10-year timeline, the majority of which will come from rents, he said. 

"CityShares is the only way for property investors 'to get exposure to that appreciation and rental income outside of buying an apartment or buying a brownstone on their own,' Weissman said.  That’s 'a big check. It’s not a $100,000 or $200,000 check.'  The median sale price of a multiresidence townhouse in Brooklyn was $1.1 million in the second quarter, according to a report by the Corcoran Group.

"The program will offer participants advantages over buying shares of a real estate investment trust, including access to rent rolls, payment histories and other data on the funds’ buildings, Weissman said."  Full article here.


"Goldilocks density": not too low, not too high, efficient and better people habitat

Harlem Brownstones, in Manhattan, New YorkFrom Guardian writer Lloyd Alter: "In New York, sleek new towers for the tenth of the 1% are rising through previously sacrosanct height limits.  Critic Michael Kimmelman sums up the problem in one sentence: 'Exceptional height should be earned, not bought.' "Battles are raging over height limits and urban density, all on the basis of two premises: 1) that building all these towers will increase the supply of housing and therefore reduce its costs; 2) that increasing density is the green, sustainable thing to do and that towers are the best way to do it.

"I am not sure that either is true.  I am also a heritage activist, not because I particularly love old buildings, but because there is so much to learn from them and from the neighbourhoods and cities that were designed before cars or electricity or thermostats, and were built at surprisingly high urban densities.

"There is no question that high urban densities are important, but the question is how high, and in what form.  There is what I have called the Goldilocks density: dense enough to support vibrant main streets with retail and services for local needs, but not too high that people can't take the stairs in a pinch.  Dense enough to build a sense of community, but not so dense as to have everyone slip into anonymity."

"At the Goldilocks density, streets are a joy to walk; sun can penetrate to street level and the ground floors are often filled with cafes that spill out onto the street, where one can sit without being blown away, as often happens around towers.  Yet the buildings can accommodate a lot of people: traditional Parisian districts house up to 26,000 people per sq km; Barcelona's Eixample district clocks in at an extraordinary 36,000.

"At the Goldilocks density, construction is a lot cheaper and the buildings a lot more efficient.  Building to the Goldilocks density is also more resilient: it's easier to get in and out of your flat when the power goes out when you live on the fourth floor than when you live on the 40th.  There is lots of room in our cities to do this."  Full article here.  (Photo credit: Alamy.)

Headline (and article) impossible to improve: "Atlanta not world-class city", and how to fix

news_opinion1-1_13-magFrom Creative Loafing writer Matt Garbett: "There's nothing like living in a 'world-class' city.  And by some accounts, Atlantans do.  Attend any ground breaking or ribbon cutting or read a politico's press release and you are sure to come across the phrase. "But we need to stop referring to Atlanta as a 'world-class' city. Our focus on this meaningless phrase and the 'iconic', 'transformative', and 'catalytic' projects that we hope will thrust us into some elite group distracts us from — and often runs roughshod over — the smaller, necessary, and more rewarding local projects that create vibrant neighborhoods, the true lifeblood of any world-class city.

"The problem isn't that we want to be 'world-class.'  The problem is that we aren't taking the necessary steps to achieve it.  The best way to do so is by promoting more walkable blocks on a human-scale street grid; emphasizing slow, incremental, sustainable growth for vibrant neighborhoods; and actively discouraging automobile use through our street design and building codes.  Instead we stress the standalone 'world-class' project without regard to its relationship to the neighborhood and overall city.

"None of this is to say that Atlanta is not a very good city.  I love living here.  There is an electricity in so many of the people working to make the city better in small increments, whether it's the folks behind the Beltline Lantern Parade, gloATL, Living Walls, or other organizations.  Their targeted, place-making projects focus on community, not on bravado.

"So, please, strive to be a 'world-class' city, but stop worrying about where the next tourist will go.  Rather, focus on the small things, following best practices, being a role model for incremental and sustainable growth.  Consider selling off such large chunks of land in small, newly platted, individual parcels, and letting an area grow organically, not at the whim and design of one developer.  These projects may last longer than a political cycle, but the benefits to the city are tremendous."  Full post here.

Lima, Peru narrow apt bldg has 4 units, contemporary style, daylight in every room

532ce77cc07a803a0700009a_mq-project-oscar-malaspina-rodrigo-apolaya-rosa-aguirre_2_-_frederick_cooper-530x806From architects Oscar Malaspina, Rodrigo Apolaya, and Rosa Aguirre via Arch Daily "The city of Lima is experiencing a real estate boom.  In the past two years, approximately 40,000 dwellings have been sold.  The speed of these changes and the high demand for social housing has resulted in projects that focus more on profitability than improving people’s lives through the re-imagination and quality of the spaces. "The MQ project, a 4-apartment building in a 8 m wide and 20 m long parcel, explores these ideas and takes on the challenge of promoting a sense of community within the building.  The main strategy was the articulation of a series of open spaces and rooms along a main corridor that serves as a space itself.  This pattern allows both the expansion of visual perception through diagonals across open spaces, and the presence of natural light and ventilation in every room of the project.

"The facade of the building tries to be clear in defining the two functions that are represented.  In the area of the flats we have proposed a thick facade that brings enough depth to host window boxes in the outside.  In the area of the vertical circulation, we entirely close it and play with the cast grid during the construction process."  Full post with many images here.

"Blighted" incremental development without parking generates 41% more property tax

Brainerd371_1From Strong Towns writer Charles Marohn: "The Taco John’s versus the 'old and blighted' story is one of the most compelling that we share in our Curbside Chat. Here you have two blocks that are identical in every way, except one: the pattern of development." "The old and blighted block is a remnant of the incremental, historical development pattern. It represents one of the first increments of growth that cities experienced on their periphery; a small investment in a pop up box. This is the cheapest, credible investment that someone could have made in a commercial property here in my hometown back in 1920. In their comprehensive plan, the city has indicated that this block is a redevelopment opportunity that would, to use their language, ultimately become 'auto oriented'.

Old Brainerd

"This is exactly what happened two blocks away, which used to look like the 'old and blighted' block but now contains a new Taco John’s.  Definitely auto-oriented with a large off-street parking lot, two drive through lanes, a large sign and a setback/orientation consistent with highway development.

Brainerd Taco Johns

"In this case, that run down block that the city and others would like to see replaced is actually 41% more valuable than the brand new Taco John’s.  In a property tax system like we have here in Brainerd, that means the city gets 41% more taxes from the old and blighted block than it is getting from the exact same sized block with the brand new drive through restaurant.

"And that assumes the drive through restaurant holds its value.  Let’s examine that assumption.  There are eleven properties on the 'old and blighted' block.  In the three years since we last looked, five of them have lost value while six of them have increased in value.  The net is a $32,000 decline, which is a 3% loss from the starting value.  Given the market conditions, that’s a pretty stable block.

"That stability is in sharp contrast to what has happened at the Taco John’s. In that same period of time, it has lost $184,700 in value, a full 23%."  Full post here, and really just read every Strong Towns post ever.

Chico, CA small-scale infill residential breaks from sprawl, sets new pattern, makes money

corner-statementFrom Better Cities & Towns writer Robert Steuteville: "A 22-unit apartment complex of four small buildings was finished in May of 2014 in Chico, CA, completing the traditional neighborhood development Doe Mill, begun in 2000.  The complex, designed by Anderson/Kim and developed by Greenline Partners, does certain things well despite its location on a car-oriented thoroughfare. -- It is small scale.  The scale allows the buildings to be integrated with townhouses, single-family houses, and courtyard buildings that make up the rest of Doe Mill.

-- Due to their small size, these buildings are easier to finance and simpler to build than many larger multifamily buildings.

-- Rather than backing off of the higher-speed road in front, the units make an architectural statement.

-- Rather than contributing to the sprawling character of this area, these buildings help to set a new pattern.

-- The project made money.  'All 22 units have been leased at rents about 15 percent above the pro forma,' Anderson notes."

Full article here.

Mid-rise mixed-use: ULI global award to Cincinnati building: 11-story, historic, no parking

gae7_351From Urban Land writer Daniel Lobo: "The 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati is a contemporary art museum, 156-room boutique hotel, restaurant, spa, and rooftop bar in the heart of downtown Cincinnati.  The first full-service hotel to open in downtown Cincinnati in 28 years, 21c restored the historic 11-story Metropole building, preserving its original architectural character and complementing it with contemporary art and design. "Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Metropole building opened in 1912 as the grand Metropole Hotel, and in 1971 it was converted to federally subsidized apartments.  In 2009, a local nonprofit development organization, Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), acquired the building for the purpose of revitalization, provided counseled relocation services to remaining tenants, and helped facilitate subsequent purchase by 21c."  Full article here.  Developer: 21c Museum Hotels.  Design architect: Deborah Berke Partners.  Architect of record: Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel.

Miami buzzing about parking exeption to help small buildings, additions, urban neighborhoods

Screen-Shot-2014-04-29-at-3.46.20-PM[Re-blogged from Miami Urbanist writer Felipe Azenha]  Minimum parking requirements are killing good urban development in Miami.  Luckily, there has been a push to eliminate parking requirements for small urban buildings (<10,000 sq ft) in recent months.  This is a good first step in the right direction if Miami really aspires to become a walkable and less autocentric city. Minimum parking requirements perpetuate more automobile use and it also makes housing less affordable since the cost of building and maintaining required parking is passed on to renters and buyers.  Two weeks ago Zillow released a housing report that cited Miami as the 2nd most expensive city for renters.  The average Miami resident spends 43.2% of their income on rent.

Combine expensive housing with lack of public transit and minimum parking requirements that only serve to perpetuate the use of the automobile; its no wonder why Miami is one of the most expensive car dominated cities in the US.

Eliminating parking requirements would do the following things:

1) Allows small developers to choose how many parking spaces are needed based on what fits and what buyers or tenants want. 2) Replaces parking with denser development that generates more property and sales tax for the county and city. 3) Allows small property owners to keep their property and develop themselves. 4) Levels the playing field for small Miami property owners. 5) Allows for the creation of more walkable and denser urban neighborhoods.

Below are the details for the reduced parking requirements that are being sought for small urban buildings.  This is currently being advocated for at the commission level, so stay tuned for the resolution.

The proposed text for T4, T5, and T6 is underlined below.  The non-underlined text already exists in Miami 21, a TOD/transit corridor parking reduction that does not apply within 500 ft of single-family/duplex areas (T3).  The proposed text does not change that, it does not apply within 500 feet of T3.  Above is a map of where the proposed text would apply: orange areas around rail stations, purple areas along transit corridors, but not yellow areas within 500 ft of T3.

“Parking ratio may be reduced within 1/2 mile radius of TOD or within 1/4 mile radius of a Transit Corridor by thirty percent (30%) by process of Waiver, or by one hundred percent (100%) for any Structure that has a Floor Area of ten thousand (10,000) square feet or less, except when site is within 500 feet of T3.”

Let’s hope City of Miami Commissioners can come to their senses and eliminate parking requirements entirely, not just for small urban buildings.

Miami: Don Shoup, godfather of scientific study of parking, speaks on Monday 4/21 at 8 AM at MCAD

Shoup FlyerDonald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking and distinguished professor of urban planning at UCLA, will give a talk on Monday, April 21 from 8 to 10 AM at AIA's Miami Center for Architecture & Design, 100 NE 1 Ave, Miami, FL 33132.  Shoup is the godfather of the scientific study of parking, and has spoken widely about the benefits of eliminating required parking for mobility and urbanism.  Shoup writes: "This doesn’t mean, however, that developers won’t provide off-street parking. It simply means that urban planners won’t tell developers exactly how many parking spaces they must provide before they can get a building permit. Developers will provide the parking spaces they think buyers demand."  Continental breakfast will be served.  Supported by the Knight Foundation, AIA Miami, APA Gold Coast Section, and Townhouse Center.  Capacity is limited, register now and tell your friends!

ULI Small-Scale Development program continues with annual conference March 24-25 in Austin

Heid_FullFrom ULI vice president David Mulvihill: "Jim Heid and I am very pleased to announce that the 2014 edition of theExecutive Small Scale Development program is being held this year in Austin, TX on March 24-25.  We hope you can join us in Austin, one of the country’s coolest towns and hottest markets where small developers and edgy projects are helping reshape the landscape.

"You will hear case studies from around the country about how other small firms are reworking inner suburban assets into lively third places; creatively using temporary buildings to brand place and test markets; or re-thinking how projects are organized and financed.  Specific skill trainings in marketing and finance will also be provided as part of the program curriculum."

From the event website: "Join other entrepreneurial developers who are focused on infill and smaller-scale projects for this unique ULI program."  Register here.

Knight grants Duany $600k for "Lean Urbanism: Making Small Possible" national campaign

TownhouseCenter.org has received more than 75,000 views since the summer of 2010!  Thank you very much, readers.  And don't miss the free Lean Urbanism webinar registration at the bottom of this post. From Miami Herald writer Andres Viglucci: "Miami planner Andres Duany learned how to subvert the rules when he mapped out Seaside.  Now, armed with a $600,000 Knight Foundation grant, he's taking aim at the rising tide of bureaucracy and red tape that he says prevent young builders and entrepreneurs from starting small-bore development enterprises to energize neighborhoods.  He's calling this Lean Urbanism.

"'To get a building built is fantastically complicated.  The codes are rigamarole.  There is no way you can figure them out yourself.  So everything is left to big corporations and big developers,' Duany said.  The idea behind the three-year grant is to develop and disseminate strategies and tools to work around overly restrictive rules, and lower the entry bar for Millenials and immigrants in particular, he said.

"The Miami-based Knight Foundation sees Lean Urbanism as a key piece in its strategy for fostering an entrepreneurial 'ecosystem' in its hometown and elsewhere.  The first year of the grant program, which will be run by Duany’s nonprofit, the Little Havana-based Center for Applied Transect Studies, will be dedicated to research and development of strategies, said Carol Coletta, the foundation’s vice president for community and national initiatives.  The second year will see the launch of pilot projects.  The third year will be focused on rolling out the toolbox and publicizing the projects nationally.

"Miami is ripe for the strategy, Duany said.  Overly restrictive regulations have stymied small-scale efforts to revitalize poor neighborhoods like West Coconut Grove and Little Havana even as big developers have dominated the city’s downtown revival."  Full article here.

Coletta added in a separate Knight Blog post: "Getting more people into city-building is fundamental to making communities that work for the 21st century.  It is all about making small possible in our communities.  Duany especially worries that bloated regulation on building and development is burdening a younger generation of urbanists and immigrants with so much expense that it makes small, incremental growth impossible."  Full post here.

Coletta and Duany will host a live webinar, “Lean Urbanism: Building Successful Cities,” on Tuesday, March 4, from noon to 1 p.m. ET.  Register here.

FIU architecture course expanding to teach more students to design better neighborhoods

ipad, dis, doorgirl, basel, miami[Re-blogged from Knight BlogAndrew Frey is executive director of Townhouse Center, a not-for-profit that promotes fine-grain urban neighborhoods. Below, he writes about a studio course in architecture at Florida International University, produced in collaboration with Townhouse Center, that is receiving $60,000 in new support from Knight Foundation. Photo credit: Bas Fisher Invitational Make a list of your three favorite urban neighborhoods in the world, complete neighborhoods with residents, jobs and stores. Maybe Little Havana in Miami, the North End in Boston and the West Village in New York. Maybe the historic centers of Savannah, Ga., Cartagena, Colombia, and Penang, Malayasia. Now in your favorite neighborhoods, picture the buildings they are made of: most likely many small buildings, each low- or mid-rise, and mixed-use.

Compared to your three favorites, every urban neighborhood in Miami deserves to be just as remarkable in its own way. Focusing on key steps can dramatically increase the probability of greatness, for example, most vibrant urban neighborhoods are made of many small mixed-use buildings, not large towers. Unfortunately, few of these small buildings have been built in Miami in recent decades, and the development community is out of practice: developers, architects, contractors, etc.

To help Miami build great urban neighborhoods, one of the key steps is that the next generation of architects relearn how to design small mixed-use buildings. Knight Foundation support made such a course possible at the FIU Department of Architecture in the spring semester of 2013, and the results were encouraging, enough so that the foundation recently extended its support for an additional two years: the current semester and spring semester of 2015.

Directed by Department of Architecture Chair Jason Chandler in collaboration with Townhouse Center, the course leads each student through documenting an existing small mixed-use building in Miami, visiting Savannah for a long weekend to study and draw urban prototype buildings different from Miami, and, for the remainder of the semester, designing a new small mixed-use building. The best student work is curated into an exhibit and book (paperback or free e-book).

Knight Foundation’s new support will also give us more capacity. The course will expand from 75 students to 125, and add an additional day in Savannah. The Department of Architecture is also requiring the course for all first-year master’s degree students, demonstrating FIU’s commitment to building great urban neighborhoods in Miami. After three years, the course will have trained more than 300 young architects for the challenges and opportunities of small mixed-use buildings.

The course builds on other collaborations between the Knight Foundation and Townhouse Center to promote better urban neighborhoods in Miami, such as the South Florida’s Best Block photo competition and the Hi-Res Miami free building plans. Best Block, presented with the Miami Herald and WLRN, generated broad community debate about what makes a great urban block.  Hi-Res Miami is award-winning Interface Studio Architects’ design for the typical small site in Miami, which anyone can download and share.

Why is it important to promote fine-grain urban neighborhoods? Convenience and economic opportunity are part of it, but it also helps people develop deeper attachments to their cities. Charles Montgomery writes in “Happy City” that people feel happier and more engaged on crowded, messy blocks than they do near large buildings with blank facades. And Richard Sennett writes that “The Holy Grail” is to build “mixed-use environments in order that the inhabitants develop a more complex understanding of one another.” Any way you say it, it’s a formula for successful communities.

Frey is also a development manager at CC Residential, a developer of luxury rental apartment communities.  

NTHP Green Lab report will "show data that small buildings play critical role in local economy"

140109_blog_photo_pgl-h-stFrom PreservationNation writers Mike Powe and Jeana Wiser: "When you picture the heart of a thriving city, what image comes to mind?  You might picture a New York avenue, lined with spectacular, towering skyscrapers.  A better image?  Look to the neighborhoods just beyond the shadows of downtown’s corporate and condo towers, in the modest (yet bustling!) blocks of older, smaller buildings. "Just as skyscrapers have their advocates, they also have their critics.  Just last week, Treehugger’s Lloyd Alter presented a strong counterargument against growing cities into the clouds, suggesting that new towers often serve as inefficient, expensive homes that often succumb to issues of vacancy.

"Richard Florida has also suggested that skyscrapers often mute the 'spontaneous encounters that provide cities with so much of their social, intellectual, and commercial energy'.  Meanwhile, Tim Halbur, communications director for the Congress for the New Urbanism, points out that while skyscrapers may boost a city’s supply of rentable space, they also pull life away from the street.

"As Jane Jacobs argued more than fifty years ago, smaller buildings are tremendously valuable places for small, local businesses, and they set the stage for Jacobs' 'ballet of the good city sidewalk'.  Human-scaled neighborhoods reward walkers with interesting window displays and a variety of small businesses to consider (see the work of Jan Gehl for more information).  Small-scale blocks have diverse spaces that see incredible intensity of use throughout the workday and into weeknights and weekends.

"This spring, the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab will release a report that builds upon extensive city mapping and analysis to demonstrate the important role that smaller buildings and mixed-vintage commercial corridors play in fostering vibrant communities.  We will show, with data, just how right Jane Jacobs was: Older, smaller buildings and diverse urban fabric play a critical role in supporting robust local economies, distinctive local businesses, and unforgettable places where people connect and unwind."  Full post here.

Seven50 Florida Plan includes "How Can Small Buildings Help Large-Scale Planning?"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5yrQVpW2v0 Yesterday the final Seven50 Southeast Florida Prosperity Plan was presented, read it on the website: "[Seven50 is] a framework that provides the seven counties of southeast Florida the ability to focus on major issues that go beyond city limits, county lines, state limits and national borders.  These issues include: economic development, transportation, education, food supply, energy, leadership, climate resilience and more."  The plan includes Guest Essays including one from Townhouse Center, reproduced below.

"Seven50 is a regional plan, a big plan.  The most vibrant urban neighborhoods, like Boston’s North End or New York’s West Village or Miami’s Little Havana, are made of many small buildings.  What do big plans and small buildings have to do with each other?  Plenty!

"A regional plan can help small buildings by recommending certain policies.  For example, to reduce development pressure on natural and agricultural areas, a regional plan might recommend that local governments directly create incentives or remove obstacles to building on small urban vacant lots, which are often plentiful but seen as costly or inefficient.

"Or another example, less direct but equally significant: to make passenger rail more financially sustainable, a regional plan might recommend that local governments stop requiring that new buildings include off-street parking.  This policy also helps small buildings because parking requirements disproportionately burden small properties.

"Conversely, small buildings can help a regional plan achieve its goals.  Small buildings add up to urban neighborhoods that are dense and mixed-use, which support walking, biking, car sharing, and mass transit.  These neighborhoods promote public health and use water and sewer infrastructure more efficiently.  Neighborhoods made of many small buildings (as opposed to a few big ones) help spread the wealth created by revitalization.

"In fact, small buildings aren’t just helpful, they are necessary for some of the highest goals of a regional plan.  What are your ideas for how Seven50 can help small buildings?"

Philadelphia rowhouses: new designs and construction show other cities what is possible

2From GreenSource writer David Sokol: "As it experiences its first population growth in decades, Philadelphia is undergoing another wave of rowhouse construction. Contextual yet decidedly modern compositions are filling the gaps and derelict spaces between the city's existing rowhouses. "'The rowhouse typology is very much relevant and alive today, although the essence of it has evolved over time,' says architect Louis Chang, whose firm, Fishtank PHL, has completed approximately 25 rowhouse units since its inception in 2009.

"A survey of finished and upcoming developments illustrates how the current incarnation of this building type includes all points in the income spectrum.  Last year, the Philadelphia Housing Authority opened the new Norris Apartments, a 51-unit mixed-income project that qualifies as the authority's first LEED-certified project.  Other projects target higher-end consumers, including the modularly constructed rental North 28 and the green-roofed, geothermally heated Weccacoe Flats.  The Icehouse earned LEED Platinum and Gold ratings for its first phase with a scheme by Continuum Architecture.

"'Rowhouses are a great place to test innovations, especially in order to achieve optimum building performance', Chang says, pointing to Fishtank's custom rainscreen on its Red House project as an example.  Philadelphia is 'a remarkable lab', agrees Interface Studio Architects (ISA) founder Brian Phillips.  ISA's recent series of LEED-certified houses in the subsidized Sheridan Street project for Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha is further evidence of the rowhouse as a medium for experimenting with a green agenda.

"ISA's longstanding collaboration with the local developer Postgreen translates its affordable right-sizing of urban homes to the private sector.  ISA created 100K House, prototype designs that aim for the namesake construction price by limiting geometry to the simplest forms, cladding the plain boxes in only one material, and embracing the square footages of the average American house of yore.  Since the first two 100Ks were completed in early 2009, Postgreen has built many more versions.

"'Philly is a city of modest incomes.  Making super-green infill houses takes fundamental advantage of site conditions but also puts money in people's pockets', Phillips says.

"Tim McDonald, who, with his brother Patrick, founded the firm Onion Flats in 1997, expands upon these fundamental advantages. 'The row just makes sense on so many levels: spatial and energy efficiency; affordability; our interest in dense, walkable urban communities; simplicity in construction.  We also love the challenge that these thin slices of urban space offer us as architects.'

"The company also uses sustainable rowhouses to refine its maverick approach to project delivery.  Two recently completed three-unit projects, the subsidized Belfield Townhomes and the first phase of a private development called the Stables, are fabricated by a patent-pending modular construction system and achieve net zero capability.

"Scalability is what catapults an interesting local phenomenon to the national stage.  Success in the City of Brotherly Love promises to lower the barriers to creative green housing everywhere."  Full article here.

America Saves! Preservation Green Lab's Retrofit Project [for small buildings] Takes Shape

SOTW_banner_12-18-13From Preservation Nation writers Ric Cochrane and Jeana Wiser: "Small businesses are the backbones of communities throughout the country, exemplified by the countless individual stories and creative passions that together make Main Streets unique.  Although places are as different as people, one thing remains true anywhere you look: Small businesses and Main Streets are underserved and often overlooked when compared to large chains and strip-mall suburbs. "The Preservation Green Lab, a department of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, believes that specific attention paid to the opportunity that exists in small buildings, home to Main Street businesses, may help level the playing field.

"In a 2013 report, 'Realizing the Energy Efficiency Potential of Small Buildings', the Green Lab quantified the energy and cost savings readily available to Main Street businesses.  The report focused on the primary challenges to delivering energy efficiency to the so-called hard-to-reach (HTR) small buildings sector, and also strategies to help realize energy efficiency.

"Since the release of the Small Buildings report, the Green Lab has developed a national model for delivering energy efficiency to Main Street small businesses and buildings.  The project, called America Saves!, received a $2 million Department of Energy matching award in July 2013 and has since received additional support for regional pilots in target markets.

"The ultimate objective of America Saves! is to use energy retrofits to increase the profitability of Main Street businesses and the capacity of Main Street organizations.  For the first time, small businesses and small buildings are the focus of national energy efficiency efforts and resources.  This is good news for Main Street."

"The America Saves! model will be tested in a select number of demonstration communities ahead of the 2014 National Main Street Conference in Detroit [on May 18-20]."  Full article here.

Halbur: skyscraper can "meet the street", but more often 2-6 stories fit together into community

From Planetizen writer Tim Halbur: "Alissa Walker wrote a piece in Gizmodo with the headline 'Tall is Good: How a Lack of Building Up is Keeping Our Cities Down'.  I agree, of course, that well-designed density creates a host of benefits, connecting people socially and economically, improving health, reducing energy use and pollution, etc. "But whether skyscrapers are the one true solution for most American cities is still a matter of debate. The great architect Leon Krier, who influenced many New Urbanists, writes passionately in the recently released 2nd Edition of the Charter of the New Urbanism book that buildings should have 'an unsurpassable maximum of five floors - in short, to walkable building heights'.  James Howard Kunstler argues that skyscrapers will quickly become irreperable relics when peak oil and climate change transform our environment.

"As Alissa points out, most of our negative impressions of tall buildings are fueled by media depictions of dystopias and a history of sticking poor people in "towers in the park", but that doesn't mean that skyscrapers can't be built that effectively meet the street.  But I feel like an overemphasis on height is misplaced.  New York is an anomaly - should Kansas City be focusing entirely on skyscrapers?  And Alissa's Los Angeles (where I also live), which has blocks and blocks of poorly-used, undervalued buildings and land - shouldn't we be fixing the streetscapes and populating those 3-6 story structures before shooting new skyscrapers up?

"There are a lot of ways to structure a building envelope to house a significant number of people and a mix of uses without going up, up, up.  What I think we really need are developers, architects and planners willing to embrace the on-the-ground conditions, build to meet the street in a lively and interactive manner that supports neighborhood commerce and social settings, and adds housing in inventive ways that support the needs of families of all sizes and income levels.  More often the result would be a building with variety of levels, from 2-6 stories, that fit together into a community."  Full post here.