Weekly Links

Here’s Why All New Apartment Buildings Look the Same

Weekly Links: brief commentary on local, state, and national stories from (roughly) the past week

Urban Planning/Housing

Here’s Why All New Apartment Buildings Looks the Same

From Bloomberg. Several weeks ago Atlanta Planning Commissioner Tim Keane boldly exclaimed that he was cracking down on the plethora of poorly-designed apartment buildings going up around town. No matter what part of the city your in, all the new apartments essentially look the same: they’re a few stories high and segmented by blocks of various colors and patterns. That naturally leads to the question of why they look this way and why every new apartment building is seemingly applying this exact same style.

These buildings are sometimes referred to as “stumpies” or, in more developer-friendly language, “five-over-one” (five stories of apartments over one story of retail). While they trace their origins back to the original wood-based high-rises of 1830’s Chicago, it wasn’t until Los Angeles Architect Tim Smith developed a plan in the 1970’s that could accommodate new fire-sensitive building codes with wood-based construction that these structures really spread across the West Coast and rest of the United States.

Texas mid-rises. Photographer: Laura Buckman for Bloomberg Businessweek

Today’s explosion of these types of buildings really boils down to this: housing is increasingly built to satisfy the needs of large investment firms, those firms needs large projects for their portfolios, those projects needs large blocks of space, and developers need some aesthetic feature to break up the monotonous look of large housing projects. That results in new apartment buildings with design features that attempt to make long stretches of wall look like several different buildings. Combine that with the proliferation of cheaper wood-based buildings and you get lots of new housing with the same general look.

The Bloomberg article is a great longer-read on the history of building codes, the development of wood-based high-rises, battles over zoning codes, and Texas Doughnuts among many other things.


Environment

The US Senate Just Went on a Land-Protection Spree

From The Washington Post. With the recent proposals by certain executive branch departments to increase mining on public lands, sell public lands, and reduce environmental protection you would think Americans care very little about their natural environment. But you’d be wrong to draw this conclusion. Polls consistently show that Americans, often by overwhelming majorities, favor protecting public land and the environment.

Therefore it shouldn’t be surprising that when the US Senate is left to its own devices it goes off and does something that everyone wants, which is what it just did. In what is the largest expansion of federal land protection this past decade, the US Senate passed a sweeping bill that increases the size of several national parks, adds three new national parks, and adds 1.3 million acres of wilderness.

The bill passed 92-8 and actually saves taxpayers $9 million. In addition to the new parks and protected space, the bill reauthorizes the Every Kid Outdoors Act, a program that allows 4th graders and their families to visit national parks for free (seems to be missing a lot of kids, though), and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Act. The bill also protects numerous rivers across the country from damming and withdraws over 300,000 acres of federal land from mining.


Atlanta/Environment

A Landfill in South Fulton Has Been Burning for 5 Months

From The AJC. Despite the owner being jailed twice, a landfill in South Fulton has been burning since September 20th. Apparently the Georgia Environmental Protection Division has been negotiating with this owner for the past five years to stop collecting and storing trash at the site.

As with all problems, this one dates back to a denied rezoning permit. Ten years ago the county denied the owner’s request to turn his land into a landfill. After a second denial he decided to just start collecting trash sans a permit. After years of negotiating with the EPD to stop collecting trash, to collect less trash, and now to put out a fire, the state is finally tapping funds to extinguish the fire itself. Apparently, the owner was delayed in putting out the fire because of rain. Rain.


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