Last week we had an extended conversation without much resolution about the need for and location of new growth. The conversation emerged out of comments about the revised Trackside proposal, which has scaled down from six to four stories, but continues to generate neighborhood concern.
To infuse some new thoughts into the discussion, I was reading an op-ed this weekend which talks about the increasing congestion and traffic at intersections.
The writer acknowledges the need for development but describes the downside of doing it wrong. They write: “Now Davis needs development and affordable housing, but we also need to recognize that just adding more development will not add to our quality of life, but could detract from it instead.”
“Density isn’t the issue,” they write. “It’s where it is placed that determines whether it is a positive addition to the health of a community or an incremental lessening of its quality of life.”
They come out against Sterling: “The proposed Sterling apartment complex on Fifth Street will forever change an already overworked intersection at Fifth and Pole Line, and its constant stream of student bicycles crossing town from one end to the other at all hours will affect everybody and everything.”
“Development and density, if handled logically, aren’t the problems — incrementalism and precedent are,” they write. “Five- and six-story buildings help us how? Adding to existing congestion helps the town in what way?”
Further: “It’s not a question of whether we need development; it’s where we need it. The proposed projects are in the wrong places. Were their locations based on need, or on real estate prices? Opportunity for profit, by itself, isn’t wrong, but disregard for its consequences are.”
Finally, “We don’t have to stop them; we just need to consider the most appropriate location according to how they will fit in with the existing neighborhood. After all, it’s the residents that define the nature of the town, its life and its reputation — not its buildings.”
While these are interesting thoughts, there are problems here, that go back to the conversation last week.
First, I think it is important to address this issue: “Were their locations based on need, or on real estate prices?” There is a third option, that these locations were based on the availability of the land for new purposes.
Let us explore four locations quickly. Nishi – vacant parcel that is only modestly conducive to farming due to size and shape. It is next to the university and in walking distance from downtown. The downside is that Richards Blvd. is already heavily congested. This parcel makes a lot of sense – hence the reason it has been eyed in all major planning documents and studies – but it has serious challenges.
Trackside – under-utilized parcel that even the neighbors argue should be re-purposed. They just don’t support six stories there or even four.
Sterling – when FamiliesFirst imploded, there was, according to many, a search for comparable uses of the existing structure. But, finding none, the need for student housing has clearly pushed this available parcel into a different direction.
Lincoln40 – this would fall into the category of a largely under-utilized parcel, close to campus.
While the author makes interesting points about location, he seems to overlook several drivers here. First, there is a clear need for some sorts of housing – particularly student housing. Second, availability of the location is a major overlooked driver of the location. If the land is not available for redevelopment, there can be none.
Third is cost. The demise of RDA (redevelopment agencies) is a serious limitation for the city. The private money needed to finance major efforts in the core or elsewhere is not sufficient to overcome huge costs.
A final note here before moving on concerns the author’s points, “Development and density, if handled logically, aren’t the problems” and “Density isn’t the issue. It’s where it is placed that determines whether it is a positive addition to the health of a community or an incremental lessening of its quality of life.”
His point is: “Already well-used roads have experienced more traffic because of development along their roads. The Cannery has changed driving on Covell and it’s only partially completed.”
But he never resolves to offer an answer as to how to avoid these problems of new development. Nor does he address perhaps the biggest problem here – we have old infrastructure – old roads that were designed during a time when we had far fewer people in this town.
Is there any location where new development isn’t going to come in conflict with old roadway design?
There is another problem, in that we have used the problem of location as justification to do very little for the last two decades. Inaction is leading to problems as well – more students are jamming into neighborhoods and mini-dorms.
The increase in students has led to a lower vacancy rate, fewer available single-family homes, more congestion, noise and parking. While we can certainly blame the university for increasing students without housing, we also have to blame ourselves for failing to heed the warning of these conditions before they became serious problems.
I agree with the conclusions in the op-ed: “We must remember that what we do in one part of town affects the entire town. We can’t afford to forget that ‘we all live downstream.’ The water is getting warmer and we are not paying attention.”
What I think we need to consider is whether there is any place where we can grow without impacts, and also what the impacts are of no more growth.
—David M. Greenwald reporting