I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a young, hopeful person who has decided to run for city council. This candidate has focused on issues of inclusion and equity as cornerstone principles. While I fully support these principles in the abstract, I want to know immediately what specific policies would be rolled out to promote these goals. I treasure these opportunities to change minds and dismantle perceptions and expectations. It also gives me a chance to work through theories bouncing around in my head in real time as well.
Affordable housing is now and will continue to be an exceedingly important and challenging need for cities across the nation, and Atlanta is no exception. More and more people are looking to live closer to where they work, live, learn, and play. We have a very limited amount of land that qualifies as walkable urban, and not even all of that has access to MARTA rail. This scarce resource is rapidly becoming more expensive as a large and growing number of people compete for the limited amount of available housing. The Beltline is sparking further demand, speculation, hope, and price appreciation as single-family homes and commercial properties become more desirable within this hoped-for walkability.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Boyd Baker from the Good Gracious Show to talk about making better, more connected neighborhoods. My goal is to break down how transportation choices, zoning, parking, and other “under-the-hood” things have an outsized impact on how we live our lives, and the happiness we derive from them. Click here to listen to the conversation.
The Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market was featured on the cover of the March-April issue of Retrofit Magazine! The issue features a great article by Retrofit staff writer Christina Koch that describes many of the challenges faced and overcome over the course of the project. As a firm with strong New Orleans roots, we at KWA are very proud of our role in making the Jazz Market a reality.
Urban redevelopment is our bread and butter at KWA, and we’ve come to understand that attempting to renovate a building built 50-100 years ago is full of challenges. Zoning requirements based on suburban development – but applied to urban areas as well – place tough restrictions and requirements on land use, parking requirements, and setbacks. Financing small mixed-use projects can be challenging even to those with deep pockets due to unanticipated obstacles. And if you manage to make it through all those hoops, our current building codes throw up a range of additional hurdles. We often see folks manage to overcome a range of challenges only to get bogged down in figuring out how to meet new building code requirements without breaking their budget. As we’ve navigated these obstacles ourselves we’ve developed a clear understanding of what to expect and how to best get through or around a lot of these issues. We recently put together a roadmap to help folks work through the code hurdles for a typical, two-story main street type building. Follow the link below to find the downloadable presentation file.
I had the pleasure of attending one of the City of Atlanta Zoning outreach meetings this past Tuesday. It really was a pleasure, and very encouraging to see the various political faces in the room, both elected officials and community volunteers. This is generally the happy time of outreach, when big ideas are discussed in broad brush strokes. This type of outreach is critical, but it does not guarantee that things won’t devolve into a complete turf war when it comes time to talk details about things like parking or specific locations on the zoning map.
We spend a lot of time talking about the specifics of placemaking – parking regulations, zoning ordinances, code clauses – but these are all pieces of a bigger picture. We find that before diving into the details, it is critical to understand the macro concepts behind placemaking. If you’re interested in creating great urban places, grab some popcorn (or a turkey sandwich) and take a look the videos below, the first of which are from our friends at Strong Towns, who do an excellent job of summing up these big ideas behind successful placemaking endeavors.
The City of Atlanta has engaged consultants to tackle a re-writing of our zoning ordinance. This is a highly political process for any city. Most current zoning ordinances are a combination of good intentions producing bad outcomes for most places, and Atlanta’s ordinance is no exception. It is important to think about positive examples of places that we love, and work backwards to allow those places to be legally built without special hurdles. It is also important to be aware that there are a range of these seemingly innocent under the hood items that result in bad outcomes for our neighborhoods. In an effort of transparency and sharing information, we’ve put together this blog post to outline our current thinking on a range of issues. This will be somewhat policy heavy, so you’ve been warned.
In a profile published last week by Curbed Atlanta, KWA’s Eric Kronberg discussed where he got his start as a designer, his thoughts on the creation of enjoyable urban spaces, and how he sees Atlanta’s urban evolution. Great read for anyone concerned about Atlanta’s design future, adaptive reuse architecture, or the development of walkable, bikeable, affordable and enjoyable urban spaces. You can find the article on the Curbed Atlanta site here.
Over the weekend Eric Kronberg sat down with Jeff Davis, host of 1160 AM’s Atlanta’s Business, to discuss how parking regulations effect endeavors in placemaking by making it more difficult to foster walkability, bikeability, and affordability. For those who didn’t hear the original broadcast, the interview is available here.
In a recent post, we referenced Richard Willson’s book Parking Reform Made Easy, specifically the second chapter, “Case against Minimum Parking Requirements.” We have yet to find a more complete summary of the detrimental effects of legally-mandated parking, an issue that we and many other architects and planners believe is central to the pursuit of creating more enjoyable and sustainable urban environments. Willson and Island Press were kind enough to grant us permission to share this chapter, in the hopes that access to these ideas might increase understanding of how parking requirements undermine nearly every positive aspect of urban space. We encourage you to read Willson’s book in its entirety; it can be found at http://www.islandpress.org/parking-reform-made-easy.
We talk about parking a lot, which is a bit weird for architects. Most visitors to this blog would expect to find posts about awesome curtain wall design, or maybe some cool cantilevered something or other. If we were focused on bright, shiny objects, that might make sense; however, we care more about helping to strengthen communities and neighborhoods—and intelligent parking is key to a functional community. Honestly, we don’t see a lot of communities that suffer from a lack of abundance of bright, shiny objects. What we do notice is a range of old and underutilized buildings, crappy parking lots, poor streetscape design resulting from past road widenings, and bad infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists. We respond by designing resourceful, often gritty buildings that engage the street and add to the value of the community. We view each project as a chance to repair the damaged link between people and the urban environment they build for themselves.
When meeting with new clients, we are often asked what the first step is in our design process. We are typically called on to investigate repurposing old buildings in urban environments. For the vast majority of these projects, our initial task is a baseline site study. This study is an examination of a site to determine several key items: how much space is required for streetscape (sidewalks, street trees, street furniture), how much parking can fit, and how the building engages the site and street.
In case you missed it…
Check out a video of Eric’s presentation on Placemaking v. Parking, given at CNU’s T3 Event on April 16th.
For more information check out our series on Placemaking v. Parking.
As an office based in Atlanta, we’ve often daydreamed about what we could build, if only we weren’t so preoccupied with parking requirements. Recently, work in New Orleans gave us the opportunity, to reflect on the nature of parking in Atlanta. The New Orleans Jazz Market is the conversion of an historic 11,000 SF urban market into a purpose-built Jazz performance hall. Originally built in 1849 as a market, the building went through a major renovation at the turn of the last century. It was eventually sold to private owners after World War II, who proceeded to overhaul the facades in a gauche 1960s style. In 2013, when we were brought on to convert the building. It stood as an empty, beaten down, blighted building, most recently serving as a retail store. The newly renovated building now serves as a cultural anchor for the neighborhood.
There are significant differences in the built environment of our neighborhoods planned before World War II, and those developed after. Before the war, and the Great Depression, neighborhoods were designed to focus on walkability — sidewalks, smaller streets, and on-street parking were the norm. After the war, planners were confronted with the twin challenges of the increasingly prevalent automobile, and new zoning ordinances which eschewed earlier priorities and had a significant negative impact on the quality of walkable communities. Today, there has been a shift in desires and priorities towards redeveloping more historic neighborhoods. Still, zoning requirements have a tremendous impact on the viability and adaptability of these neighborhoods.
Current zoning takes the approach of requiring each landowner to provide enough parking within their parcel to satisfy the parking needs of any buildings on that land. Every parcel must be self-sufficient. Zoning mandated parking requirements, often poorly conceived, are like a cancer in otherwise healthy neighborhoods. Parking occupies a significant amount of space, increases development costs, and kills walkability by forcing buildings, separated by parking lots, to be spread across greater areas. The more distance between important neighborhood destinations, the less walkable the neighborhood becomes. This trend forces more people to drive, setting in motion the self-sustaining cycle of off street parking.
As a firm that solves redevelopment challenges on a daily basis, we have had time to reflect on one of the repeated biggest redevelopment hurdles we face in Atlanta- on site parking requirements. What’s the big deal with requiring parking you may ask? Everything. Our goal for Atlanta is to have it be chock full of thriving, walkable, car-optional neighborhoods ideally connected by some form of transit- bike, light rail, MARTA, or bus. The single biggest roadblock we encounter when aiming to make this happen is a very simple and insidious zoning requirement that says every site should provide adequate parking for its use on its own property. Here is the thing, if you want to have a vibrant, walkable neighborhood center, it needs to have significantly less parking provided than zoning currently requires, there has to be some form of shared parking, and in some places, that shared parking should have some cost based upon the market demand.