Just a few Town Center thoughts on this windy Monday...
The more I think about it, the more I realize how wrong it was for us to expect to create a detailed 30-year master plan. I've often said I prefer a values-based vision plan rather than a detailed development plan -- a key philosophical disagreement among citizens -- and think it bears repeating, especially now.
Think about the traffic study. Its findings provide a foundation for all sorts of short-sighted ideas about Town Center's future. And that is as it should be, because how can we expect a traffic study conducted in 2006 based on 2006 assumptions to be relevant 20 or 30 years from now? We don't even know if we'll be driving cars in a few decades.
Rather than envisioning our future, we're predicting it based on current development practices and what we see around us. This type of thinking can and should guide us as we plan for five- to ten-year time frames, but it dooms us if our planning horizon is as distant as the one we're talking about for Town Center.
I've explained some of this in the past, but the discussion on that post centered on affordable housing. So, in light of my leaving the house for the evening shortly, here is what I had to say back in October:
Trying to plan in detail the next 30 years of development for Town Center is full of pitfalls, not to mention the fact that such an exercise completely devalues the preferences of future Columbians. Instead of deciding on every last detail now, we should focus on the short term specifics and keep the long term discussion focused on guiding principles.One other thing to remember is that there was no detailed plan for Columbia when it was proposed (the famous model of Town Center doesn't count, as if it did, our downtown would look considerably different). There was not a specific limit on the number of units, nor was there a traffic study constraining what could and could not be accomplished. There were, however, specific minimums and maximums on the amount of land that could be used for residential (apartments, single-family homes), commercial, industrial and open space. So, there were constraints but within them also considerable flexibility.
The real-world manifestation of this idea is to create a visionary, overarching 30-year plan and develop a series of shorter-term, detailed oriented plans with, say, five- or ten-year time frames to implement this vision.
These shorter plans can house our limits, or, in my preferred scenario, they would include incentives and benchmarks to gauge our progress in meeting the longer-term goals -- like affordable housing, environmental quality, transit and infrastructure improvements. So, instead of prescribing the exact number of units to be built within each period, the plans could create a framework where the intensity of development is linked (within a reasonable extent) to the quality of development and the quality of amenities we receive. To make it fair for everyone, these incentives and benchmarks must carry the force of law.
Reward good behavior and good development with more density. Punish failure to meet stated benchmarks with density reductions. In short, create a market for quality development that actually captures the externalities -- both good and bad -- of growth and ascribes financial value to that which previously lacked it.
(I know. This is a cheap way to get new content up. But, as I said, I didn't think the discussion back then was as lively as it should be for this topic, which is at the heart of many of the disagreements about Town Center.)