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Old Posted May 14, 2018, 3:21 AM
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ardecila ardecila is offline
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: the city o'wind
Posts: 13,920
Originally Posted by 10023 View Post
Personally, for a development like this, I think people should be much more concerned with the urban form and pedestrian environment than the height of the tallest tower. There are several 1,000 foot proposals in Chicago at this very moment. But fine grained urbanism on a massive scale with a blank canvas is the harder thing to achieve.
This will not be fine-grained. Best case scenario is that it succeeds as a transit-oriented office destination like Canary Wharf on a smaller scale, with high-quality architecture and public spaces. Fine-grained can't really be achieved these days.. it cuts against everything we know about economies of scale. I've thought about this, and I feel like it's not possible under the current dynamic of city government and developer.

First, a fine-grained neighborhood has a grid of small blocks or an otherwise tight, connective pattern of streets. A street grid has lots of total street length, most of which will be lightly-used by design. Back in the 1800s when a street was just a strip of dirt devoid of buildings, it wasn't a big deal to put in a street grid - it was a loss of developable land, but improved the value of all the subdivided parcels by ensuring access. Today, when a large parcel has new streets platted, city governments require not just a "strip of dirt devoid of buildings", but new roadbed, curbs, sidewalks, sewers, water mains, fire hydrants, street lighting, and trees. In a downtown development, add in duct banks for underground power and telecommunications. All that stuff is very expensive.

The city, of course, expects the developer to pay for all of this, which means we can't use the model from the 1800s, where one landowner subdivides the land into parcels and plots "imaginary" streets with no physical infrastructure, then sells the subdivided parcels to a patchwork quilt of different builders. That's how we got "fine-grained urbanism" back then. However, under that scenario, the city had to pick up the tab for all the above-ground and below-ground infrastructure that comprised "the street", as those systems were refined and became demanded by taxpayers.

Today, though, we expect our governments to keep taxes low and extract as much as possible from developers, so it's not surprising when those developers choose site plans that minimize costly new streets and propose a series of large buildings that can be built efficiently over time, in sync with economic cycles, that nevertheless deliver the maximum financial returns possible given the constraints of the site.

With that being said - there are still some opportunities for fine-grained urbanism under the current paradigm. Certainly most of the city has fine-grained already baked in, since the land is already platted, but for large sites, I actually really like townhouse developments (rowhouses), as done in Chicago at least. Townhouses by design are compact, so the scale of the development is automatically fine-grained, and all the public spaces and circulation spaces in a townhouse development are private, so they don't have to built to the costly city standards. The inherent efficiencies of a townhouse project also make them friendly to developer proformas when larger midrise buildings are not allowed by community input/zoning. Controversial opinion maybe, but Willow Court in Bucktown is one of my favorite large-scale developments in the city.
la forme d'une ville change plus vite, hélas! que le coeur d'un mortel...

Last edited by ardecila; May 14, 2018 at 3:31 AM.
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