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Old Posted Oct 27, 2017, 10:52 PM
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M II A II R II K M II A II R II K is offline
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The Problem With Setbacks

The Problem With Setbacks


OCTOBER 25, 2017

Read More: https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/...-with-setbacks


Places are the stuff that is "there" (such as parks, the inside of buildings, streets made for loitering), while non-places are the stuff that is dedicated to "getting there" and other fillers (roads, parking lots, setbacks, greenspace). We should care about this stuff because, as Strong Towns' principles state, land is the base resource from which community prosperity is built and sustained. It must not be squandered. Modern cities tend to dedicate a large percentage of their land to non-places.

- Modern zoning codes often require buildings to be setback from the property boundaries, and this is harmful to our cities because it rewards land consolidation and encourages the creation of non-places to fill the setback with. The smaller your lots are, the greater the percentage of land that must be reserved for the setback. --- We can see that setbacks result in smaller lots having less usable buildable space. Small lots — the main ingredient of fine-grained urbanism — are just silly when 5⁄6 of the land has to sit empty. When land values go up, land is more valuable, so we want to waste less of it. Thus, setbacks motivate us to consolidate land into fewer lots. Pretty quickly we will be incentivized to cover entire blocks in single buildings.

- Setbacks are bad economically, but we can also touch on aesthetics. I love the sense of coziness and enclosure that comes from a continuous streetscape without gaps, especially when the streets are slightly crooked with the odd terminating vista to capture the imagination, and perhaps a few street trees to provide a canopy to soften the sunlight. It is the same sense of enclosure and human-scale-ness that you get when you are strolling through a park, following a trail beneath a lush canopy that winds around the trees, wondering if you are going to stumble upon a small surprise such as a waterfall or a stone bridge crossing over a creek.

- Setbacks are not a substitute for building real parks or making our cities environmental sustainable. Setbacks do not make a place safer (modern building codes require fire proof party walls) nor do they do anything for public health (modern sanitation like indoor plumbing and flush toilets have eliminated most historically urban diseases.) Instead, setbacks are bad economically as they force us to consume more land than needed and encourage land consolidation, they break the sense of enclosure on urban streets, and space our built environment out —making us travel farther to get places.

A fine-grained development pattern diversifies land and property ownership, which:

• Fights economic polarization (the growing gap between the haves and have-nots),

• Forces good bones (a new property boundary every 40 feet means a door every 40 feet; this makes it much harder to build long blank walls),

• Fills a streetscape with many destinations (actually having things within walking distance encourages people to walk),

• Makes a place feel more intimate and human-scale,

• Is easier to redevelop for the second generation of owners (it is simpler to bulldoze or rehab a small lot than an entire block),

• Is less risky (an abandoned or ugly building only ruins a single lot and not the entire block)...


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Old Posted Oct 27, 2017, 11:11 PM
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Pedestrian Pedestrian is offline
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There are setbacks and setbacks. This guy is apparently talking about setbacks from the ground up but in my town they don't speak that lingo. "Setbacks" generally refer to upper stories and are put in the planning code to maintain existing streetwalls made up of smaller, older buildings while permitting newer, taller ones:

Example from San Francisco's Van Ness Plan

Continue the street wall heights as defined by existing significant buildings and promote an adequate enclosure of the Avenue.

New construction on Van Ness Avenue can occur in two basic situations. In some cases, the development will take place between or adjacent to architecturally significant buildings. In this instance, continuity of design and scale between the old and the new is of major importance. In other cases, new development will take place in a more isolated design context; for example, between two existing two-story, non-descript commercial structures. In this instance, the overall continuity of scale along the Avenue is of greater importance than the design character of adjacent buildings. Setbacks of up to 20 feet in depth should be considered for all new development above 40 feet in height and should be required whenever necessary to continue existing significant street wall heights and to define an adequate enclosure of the Avenue. Setbacks can also serve to buffer the upper-level residential units from street-level noise.

Preserve existing view corridors.

In addition to the setback along the Van Ness Avenue frontage, a setback approximately fifteen feet deep should be provided at an appropriate height along California, Pine, Sacramento, Clay and Washington Streets when necessary to preserve view corridors. The recommended setbacks on the east-west streets could be varied on a case-by-case basis, through the Conditional Use review process, as individual buildings undertake massing studies to determine an appropriate building form and setback which would preserve these significant view corridors.
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Old Posted Nov 4, 2017, 2:17 PM
mrnyc mrnyc is offline
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^ yeah i immediately thought this was going to be hopefully something interesting about the upper ends of tall buildings, but it turns out they are just talking about the property lots. meh.
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