clustered development

There has been a lot written about clustered design vs. conventional zoning and house placement, but much of it focuses on suburban lot development, not the large parcels of rural lands.  However, some of the issues are the same and worth taking a look at like the EPA Stormwater paper on clustered development (that speaks to much wider issues than stormwater).

Bear Tooth Ranch site plan with bldg envelopes in red and view corridors shown

More applicable to the situation up on Sunshine Canyon and Fourmile, may be the excellent clustered development plan developed for Bear Tooth Ranch outside of Golden, Colorado.  Each of these lots are 35 acres, but the building envelopes, the area allowed for house construction, within each lot is significantly smaller and clustered with the same of other parcels.  As you can see from the site plan, three or so houses are relatively close to each other but that placement has been very carefully designed such that each house looks away from each other with its own view corridor.  Very careful study of the land, on foot, with great sensitivity and thoughtfulness is required to pull this off successfully.  At Bear Tooth Ranch, the result is very large swaths of open space, much larger than if every house was placed without thought of its neighbors.  I use this example because I think it is quite well executed but also because the situation out there – large, treeless areas, is similar to the post-fire landscape in rural Boulder. No longer are those houses up in Sunshine and Fourmile canyons nestled amongst stands of trees, visually isolated from each other.  Each house will have to look at their neighbors for quite some time unless the placement of the rebuilds is considered and careful.  I am not suggesting some kind of County-imposed zoning but rather a community effort, neighbor to neighbor engaging with each other to benefit each other.  Maybe the cohesiveness that has been formed from this common tragedy can extend for at least a few months more to forge this kind of cooperation.  It certainly is in everyone’s best interest to volunterily work together, like the firefighters did, to retain and engender community.


the best laid plans …

I have always been a bit suspicious of “planning”.  Like most things, when done well you don’t even notice it.  The land is divided and subdivided and the roads and views, spaces and limits are linked in a fine web.  Working in small and graduated scale is the key to avoiding the megamanical terrors of power and control masquerading as planning.

Plan Voisin - in this instance, "planning" by an architect, LeCorbusier


But, to those who would do away with this kind of god-like, patriarchial planning, let me show you what pure, unbound self-interest does:

These colored strips are legal property lots, mining claims staked outside Gold Hill, Colorado.  It might look like Daniel Libeskind’s latest proposal for a museum, but it is rather the purest kind of sign of speculation.  As you can see, they overlap, layer and conflict.  So, while this might make for a really nice composition, it is a nightmare of ownership, access, water rights, etc.

We need planners and their schemes.  We really need smart planners who see the use of the land as an integral part of our culture, environment and laws.  The days of simply drawing lines on surveys, without respect to topography, daylight access, transportation, and people are long over. The legacy of those simply-conceived lines stays with us in the tiny, stranded portions of lots that can be found all over cities and towns.

how about an 9′ wide parallel-parking-garage?

anyone for a 5′ wide by 50′ long house?

(actually that sounds like a pretty interesting challenge)

Daniel Burnham’s “make no small plans” advice is worth noting.  It does take a larger vision and coordination and integration at a very large scale to solve some serious problems and avoid many others.  However, implementation on a small, modest scale is what makes our cities and towns livable and truly sustainable.

So let’s advocate for strengthening that intermediary step of learning from the larger plan as a series of guidelines and principles, but allowing individual users and property owners to create projects that have some flexibility and variety.  Top-down planning tends toward a kind of oppressive totalitarianism and free-market development is selfish chaos.  The balance in the middle is tenuous and in a democratic society it is likely to be pushed and pulled by many hands, first in one direction, then another. Like most things ‘in the middle’, this position has no advocates, no strident champions.

Let’s make bold architecture and visionary plans, but let’s fight for careful and contemplative laws, rules and ordinances, and most importantly, let’s be willing to live with results that are not perfect, but reflect our own imperfect selves.

Radicondoli, Tuscany - planned and not-so-planned for centuries