By Larry Guenther
“Perfection is the enemy of the good.” We often hear this said, and often what I believe people are saying is, “You’re being too picky,” or, “You’re being unrealistic,” or, “It’s good enough.” But when it comes to Davis, I want to be picky and I don’t believe I am being unrealistic. My experience is that “good enough” is settling for something that is mediocre. It is a hesitancy or unwillingness to do the extra work or take the extra time to make a project extraordinary.
As a remodel contractor, I take pride in my work and am personally accountable for all I do. It is distressing to me that some are willing to settle for what I think of as ‘good enough.’ Do we want Davis to be ‘good enough,’ or do we want Davis to be extraordinary?
There may be times where ‘good enough’ is appropriate. For instance, projects that are easily changed, or where an elegant solution has yet to be found, but can be implemented at a later date: lane striping, bike-share station locations, public restroom locations, etc. Sometimes it’s better to learn as you go. But land-use decisions are not like this. Land-use decisions, generally, and buildings, specifically, are not short-term decisions. Nor should they be. Buildings should be designed for the 100-year time scale. And for structures meant to last one hundred years and more, we should not be satisfied with ‘good enough.’ We need to strive for outstanding.
For a long time, Davis was known for the extraordinary. We thought outside-the-box and solved problems in elegant ways. When Village Homes was built, the designers chose to deal with storm-water runoff in an unconventional way. Instead of building a conventional underground storm-water system, they built a system using the shape of the land and natural plantings that funneled runoff into natural basins, adding to the park-like quality of the development. Not only did this system have more capacity for storm water than a conventional system, but it was cheaper to build. Cheaper, more efficient, better. Creating green, open space while dealing with storm-water runoff and saving money: that is an elegant solution. This is just one example of design changing something from mediocre to extraordinary. We should be looking for ways to make elegant design solutions standard policy in Davis.
Our solutions for development need to be elegant as well. Projects need to be extremely well designed so that they address housing, transit, economic development, and environmental impact all at the same time. We need to use a systems approach. To make residential developments fiscally sustainable for the city and to ensure that they serve more groups in our community, they should have an owner-occupied component. Owner-occupied residences turn over more frequently, thereby triggering more frequent property value re-assessment and increasing property tax revenue for the city. Smaller, better-designed units that are comfortable to live in, and inherently cheaper to build and rent or own, will serve a section of the population not currently being provided for. Incorporating commercial/retail space also adds sales tax revenue to city coffers, along with property tax revenue. Built-in commercial/retail space reduces the need for driving, thereby reducing the costs for infrastructure and decreasing carbon footprint. Automobile infrastructure, which takes a lot of room and is relatively expensive for the city to maintain, should be de-emphasized. Pedestrian, bike, and public transit infrastructure must be central to a development’s design to make alternate modes of transportation more viable, reduce our carbon footprint, and reduce future maintenance costs to the city. Simply putting a transit stop in the center of a development instead of at its edge makes transit easier to use, and costs no extra money. Cheaper, greener, more efficient: it’s all about design.
Where we are now is a consequence of all the decisions made in the past. And where we will be in the future is determined by the decisions we make going forward. We cannot change the decisions of the past, but we can change where we end up in the coming decades — by making the best decisions going forward. This is not about perfection, it is about making the most of our opportunities and moving in a robust and meaningful way toward our community’s goals.
I don’t want to live in a city that is ‘good enough.’ I want Davis to be extraordinary. Extraordinary is harder: it takes more work up front. But extraordinary planning and design will reduce long-term costs, reduce impacts, increase environmental and fiscal sustainability, and resiliency.
And Davis is worth it.