(this is a continuation of a reasonable discussion going on at streets.mn on this post
, mostly replying in a better format to David than the other site allows (and, it's really long).
David, I'd like to lay out why I have a hard time treating your takes in earnest/why I flat out disagree with them:
1a) On one hand, you say larger buildings are bad, unwelcoming.
1b) OTOH, you say we should build 20-story towers along Hennepin Avenue (or, presumably any major corridor in the city). Apparently it's okay for people to be holed up in gated communities unreachable by a porch hand-wave if they're along noisy, polluted, unsafe corridors. I can only assume this logic also assumes it's okay for a big building like this to shade or loom over another multi-family housing building next door, but people in single family homes (with 4 exterior walls with windows, a yard of their own, etc) don't deserve that as a neighbor.
2) Apparently if someone doesn't have a front porch you can't interact with them... At a park; On a playground; On the bus/train; On the sidewalk; On a trail while walking/running/biking; At a coffee shop or bar; At the grocery store; At church At neighborhood-sponsored events; At the Y; At a community garden; At a parade; From a 3rd story balcony
of a monolithic building. I could go on. Point being, there are so many ways for neighbors, even ones in "monolithic buildings" to contribute to the community and interact with you beyond the way you might prefer. Maybe it's not about *you*. Maybe people want a controlled entrance to their building for security reasons, and they like the ability to get out to see their neighbors how they want, not how you want them to. Heck, look at Loring Park, which is a thriving community with tons of events and places for people to gather in both public and private spaces but the vast majority of buildings, even ones not on the major streets, have very few entrances per resident. If we're being honest, single fam homes with tons of square footage (for their second TV or treadmill or expensive big coffee maker on the counter or space for a home office) and a yard tend to let people privatize the activities they might otherwise do outside the home quite a bit, too.
You're trying to make a case for the public benefit of limiting development to small buildings (at least near SFHs) and it's really weak - from an importance standpoint but also how much impact it'd even have. Even the monolithic buildings you dislike contribute more eyes to the street, people on the sidewalk, people playing at the park, etc (not to mention tax base, our and climate) and are a net benefit to the community/city.
3) I feel like you're purposely ignoring the things people who have spent the time looking at academic research around development and displacement or integration are telling you (upzoning helps both). Or the technical/regulatory/financial barriers to getting what you say is your ideal development in a neighborhood like yours. Circling back to 1a/b, putting forward a "hyper density" -friendly face of 20 story towers along arterials is obtuse, or deliberately misleading, because there is no political reality where that's happening. Even I know that. But even in that world, it's also true that allowing 6+ story monolithic buildings doesn't mean that's all we'll get! Plenty of homes zoned R6 could be turned into triplexes, or torn down for 3-4 story buildings rather than the maximum allowed by-right. The market allows for Hummers and Walmarts but we get a lot of Kias, Trader Joes, and c-stores!
Continually putting qualifiers on all your comments to me or anyone else advocating for changes "it's complicated" or "predictions are hard" isn't really helpful - we know it is, believe me! Understanding how we can make buildings that: meet modern energy and health/safety codes, comply with AD/fair housing, thread a needle between achievable rents vs site constraint costs vs zoning limitations vs amenities the market desires, dealing with the cost steps you see when switching from one typology to another, all meeting desired yields for developers & finance partners. And then layering on the type of policies we'd like to see around affordability & displacement, all while being enough to scale to meet the number of people looking to live in our region, in the places that give people access to schools or jobs or whatever else they might want (and sometimes, this does mean letting people stay where they want to stay!). It's tough work! It's hard finding a bunch of research to understand the history of how/why people have stopped that stuff from happening, and why/how it works in other places across the country/world. What's not tough is staring at a project or our set of policies and saying golly things are complicated, but also if we just fixed some design issues in the code and listened to neighbors more we'd really be good.
4) I also find it frustrating that you believe that if we just sit down with developers and neighbors and craft a code to give us the most beautiful 3-4 story brick buildings with stoops and windows and cornices and hidden parking 'round back that people would accept it. Developers built buildings in the 20s people now profess to love, and neighbors/planners outlawed them. Everything we could conceive to make infill more amenable to the people with power will not satisfy them. And make no mistake, council members are absolutely conservative around re-zonings, variances, comp plan strategies because of the loudest, most privileged homeowners in their wards -- look at the timid entry into ADUs 2 years ago, or the weak Intentional Communities proposal by CMs Gordon/Goodman (explicitly stated to avoid ruffling the feathers of homeowners), or (looking across the country) how the HALA recommendations in Seattle were severely watered down when neighborhood orgs and individuals cried out against allowing *triplexes everywhere*. Here are
the things 90% of city-dwellers think of "density".
The goal post will be moved, as they always has. Sometimes, the best path is to let peoples' voices be the primary driver of policy. Other times, the best *outcome* is not giving a voice to some people or some opinions at a certain level of government. Sure, we might get a few ugly buildings or parking gets tougher or someone's garden will get shadowed (this will be true whether that 4-story building is one lot wide or 6 lots wide, btw). And maybe the answer is to craft policy with a social justice angle (displacement, rent stabilization) in mind first but be incredibly loose when it comes to the first-world quality of life things that have been the primary driver of zoning for 100 years.