Make it Easier to Build Accessory Dwellings

The following is my letter to city council in support of the resolution sponsored by Council Members Martinez & Riley to lessen the impediments to the construction of “accessory dwelling units,” commonly known as granny flats, garage apartments, carriage houses, and in-law apartments, among others. For additional background on the current code and the resolution, Chris Bradford has provided an excellent overview.

While the adjustment is a fairly minor one, it is an extremely important step in the right direction, and I urge all Austinites to write to council in support of this resolution. Accessory dwellings are the lowest of low-hanging fruit on the path toward abundant housing in our vibrant and growing city. We should make their construction as easy as it possibly can be. Please contact the city council members to express your support.


Cities & Families

The other night I posted a set of tweets questioning the conventional wisdom that cities should prioritize the interests of families and children in policy. Brad called it a “mini blog post,” so I decided to repost it here in its entirety.

I received a couple replies making the political case (largely that parents are over represented at the ballot box), but that’s not really the issue I was trying to get at. That any given group which wields disproportionate political clout tends to get their way is hardly a novel idea. The most incisive response (which I am unfortunately unable to embed) was this:

because it helps support their suburban ideals since 50 years of history tell us kids = suburbs!

I think there might be something to this.

The “but what about the children?” argument is evergreen (and ever specious), and it serves an anti-urban agenda as well as any other. In this case the thought process of the anti-urbanites would go something like this:

  1. Cities should be good for kids.
  2. Urbanism is bad (for kids).
  3. Suburbanism is good (for kids).
  4. Therefore, our cities should attempt to mimic the suburban form.

That is, of course, ridiculous on its face, but if you’re an anti-urbanite trying to justify your agenda, I can see how you might dupe yourself into believing it.


“Green” Sprawl

There’s an interesting piece in The Atlantic Cities this week on a proposed “green” greenfield development in Southern California. The piece focuses on a proposed “I-15 sustainable community,” and the author’s central¬†point is that it’s impossible for this low-density suburban-style housing to be “green” given the proposed location. Since I have some familiarity with the area (my grandparents used to live just across I-15 from the proposed site), I think he’s absolutely right. You really cannot get to anything in the area without driving at least 20 minutes, and that’s with I-15 traffic cruising at 80 mph. Each one of these 1,700 homes is certain to have at least 2 cars, and the increase in VMT will more than offset all the “green” features of the development.

That said, the most important part comes after most readers’ tl;dr line:

It seems to me that the planning office should be encouraging green revitalization and redevelopment within cities and towns, and encouraging the addition of new green features to existing suburbs.

Herein lies the problem. Why are developers proposing “green” sprawl? Because building anything “within cities and towns,” especially in-fill housing in existing neighborhoods, has become effectively illegal in so many jurisdictions. The demand for new housing is still there, and if it can’t be built it in the urban core, it’ll have to be built as sprawl. Once you’re on that path, it makes sense to go “green” since green sells, especially in present-day California.

I doubt the Valley Center Planning Group really needs to do anything at all to “encourage” development in already urbanized areas, they just need to tear down the current barriers. I’m not sure that building the same housing in Escondido would really be “green” either – it’s always struck me as something of a bedroom community for San Diego (30 miles to the south) – but it’s almost certainly better than even more sprawl.


Smart Growth

I was wandering around historic downtown Greenville, TX (rather depressing, but with so much potential) over Labor Day weekend, and stumbled onto this:

Rather cool, and certainly unexpected, but I gotta say I haven’t seen much evidence of the principles being put into practice…