Op-Ed: San Diego Should Look to Beaches to Increase Density
Efforts to increase density to facilitate increased transit use, carbon emission reduction, and walkable/bike-able neighborhoods have resulted in pitched battles, when projects appear out of scale with surrounding buildings.
San Diego urban planning consultant Howared Blackson proposes a strategy that he believes will lessen, if not eliminate, these growing/changing pains. He recommends that the City look to its beach communities as a model for zoning for all the City's urbanized areas. He writes:
An existing housing model is found in our older, traditional beach neighborhoods that fills our need for the ‘missing middle’ types of housing. This model is essentially a residence or shop with three (3) to five (5) units on each lot that are no more than two (2) to three (3) stories tall. All of these homes and businesses are mixed together every few blocks or so. By allowing every lot in San Diego’s urbanized areas to have up to five (5) units’ by-right, we have the opportunity to solve for our critical housing and infrastructure financing deficiencies without dramatically altering our city’s character. Ultimately, the entire city can enjoy and benefit from our healthy, outdoor lifestyle that this Beach Model provides us.
Blackson proposes that all lots in urbanized areas be allowed 5 units by right. He also proposes "Climate Action Zones" for property within 600 feet of primary intersections. Again, the city should look to it's existing urban fabric as a model—the streetcar neighborhoods of 100 years ago, which commonly included buildings between 4-6 stories. He further suggests the city dust off the nation’s first and best Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) guidelines written by planning guru Peter Calthrope in 1992, which it commissioned but sparingly used. For these zones, he writes:
Data shows that the majority of trips within 600 feet of a transit station are made by transit, bike or foot. These zones would permit mixed-use, up to 7 stories/90 feet tall max, using our TOD guidelines that allow for shared parking ratios with limited Community Plan conformance reviews in order to ensure transition steps to protect neighbors. Rather than waiting to build another Rancho del Rancho on our suburban periphery, these retrofitted intersections will be the focus of new development for the next 15-years.
Blackson call this strategy an "urban acupunctural approach."