Urban Planning

Upcoming Absurdity

I was listening to the UCLA housing voice podcast where they talked about “evil developers” and they briefly mentioned this sort of alternative to the current system that is used. I understand that the way I described it in the title is basically just what zoning already is, but I think what they were really talking about was where right now, a developer does the market research and comes up with an idea of what to do with a plot of land and then takes it to the city where it would then be cut down and modified to fit whatever the land is zoned for. The alternative they described is where essentially the planners do the market research and decide what will happen with a given plot of land. For example, they decide there is a serious need for housing and so on this given plot of land there needs to be this many units with such and such parameters, and they then hand that off to a developer (and an architect) to figure out how to meet that criteria for the land that was set by the city and they then go off and build it.

So, my question and what I want to discuss is, why the heck don’t we do this? It makes a lot of sense to me in the way I’ve heard it described and how I’ve imagined it in my head. That method would essentially eliminate the need for lengthy approval processes and requests for zoning variance because the developer already has a pretty firm idea of what they can build and they know it will be approved. It would democratize the development of communities further because city planners are the ones deciding (in a way) how much housing stock or whatever gets built and where, the planners are beholden to politicians and the politicians are beholden to the voters. This seems like a method for development and building that could rapidly accelerate the production of housing stock. The onus would still be on the developer and the architect to figure out how to build what the city wants and how to make a profit off of it, but they wouldn’t have to waste time figuring out what makes sense to build and how they’re gonna get the city to approve it. This is of course assuming that the city planners are accurate in their assessment of what makes the most sense to build on a given plot of land, both financially and in the broader context of the needs of the city.

At the very least, this could work as a supplement to the current system, perhaps a way for public housing to start getting built again? Maybe that was already the way that public housing got built, idk.

I’m talking about this in a North American context where this obviously doesn’t seem to happen. Is there precedent for this? Where in the world is there a comparable system, and has it worked?

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