Euclidean Effects on the Built Environment

Euclidean zoning codes have created numerous headaches for public and private planners, developers, property owners, architects, planning officials, contractors, and common community residents for several years now. The non-articulate language of the widely used code often allows a great deal of variability in how a zoning law is interpreted and often results in arguments and frustrations by those who misinterpret the stated meaning. This may be the most minute way in which Euclidean zoning has frustrated our society. Many of the inherent problems of Euclidean zoning are not realized until many years after a zoning decision has been made. Complete devastation and dilapidation of an entire community is often the result. The devastation is related to an environment that lacks the possibility for adaptation – an environment that is full of monotony and lacking diversity.

These apartments and detached single family homes are a product of Euclidean zoning and yesterday's suburbs. Construction occurred in the late 60's and early 70's. Today, this area is home to some of the highest crime rates in Colorado Springs. Image from Bing.com.

When we create monotonous residential subdivisions, apartment complexes and isolated condominium developments that meet the needs of a single consumer in a single price range, the results are very predictable. The occupants are often a homogeneous population of people (same age range, lifestyle choices, etc) who tend to make a mass exodus of the subdivision at the same point in their lives. It is rare in subdivisions created in this manner that a resident moves in and decides that this is the place that he/she is going to live the rest of their life (assisted living and nursing communities excluded of course, however I will address this in a future blog post). The subdivision becomes less desirable over time, unlike a neighborhood that is diverse, and therefore rich with character which increases value with maturity.

When I see new single-use corridors, developments and subdivisions constructed, I often think about how the corridor will look after the luster wears off. I lived in one of the aforementioned single price-point subdivisions in Omaha, Nebraska. This was during a time of a strong economy and real estate market–during what can be referred to as the “Old Economy“. Selling our home was still a difficult task. It wasn’t because the market was bad at the time–in fact it was great. Selling the home was difficult to the high ratio between supply and demand.  Everyone else was trying to sell their home at the same time. We (my family and numerous other families in the subdivision) all reached the point in our lives where we outgrew our “starter home” and were looking for something bigger. Most were looking to move into the next level, or in this case it was the slightly larger home subdivision down the street with the sign out front reading “Homes from the $180’s.”

The point of this blog post is that narrowing the potential for adaptation, flexibility and diversity is not a way to build a resilient community. It is a good strategy for creating a disposable community.

Albert Einstein allegedly defined Insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Fortunately, medication is available for Euclidean insanity. It is often referred to as a form-based code.

See The Euclidean Effects on Transportation Systems for a related post.

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