On Friday the 30th, the new Zoning Subcommittee for Our Salem will convene to receive what looks to be mainly an introduction to the concepts for analysis and debate.
|Six zoning concepts for GHG pollution reductions|
The agenda is pretty minimal, and, again, what appears to be the case is that popularity and palatability rather than effectiveness is going to frame and drive the discussion. The new subpage for the committee is also very thin and lacks any information about the six options. You have to know to go back to the full Our Salem page for that. Even so, the presentation to Council on March 8th in which they were first made public doesn't give any analysis for why they were selected and how much additional carbon pollution they would eliminate.
There is no more now. Maybe the analysis and discussion will get a different frame, but in the absence of any kind of Staff Report or other preparatory memo is a little worrisome.
Just generally, it remains strange that there is not more of a deductive shape to the project:
- Our initial goal is for a 50% reduction by 2035
- Here are the strategies that will be most effective in reaching that goal
- Therefore, here are more specific policies/tactics to instantiate those strategies.
But that is not at all how the project has gone. Instead it's more like spitballing: Here are a couple hundred ideas, which ones do you like best?
And now it looks like: Here are six ideas, a subset, which do you like?
Without more context for why these six in particular, and just taking them absolutely without reference to any other context, in general they appear to be an effort to protect exclusionary single detached housing in existing neighborhoods.
Changes to building heights, costly parking mandates, and minimum density are contemplated mainly for areas near the transit core network.
On the one item for large subdivisions, it's not clear we have thought enough about the penumbra of density and upzoning necessary to make neighborhood hubs successful. Simply dropping a hub into an existing sprawled out neighborhood is no guarantee for success and likely to result in unleased commercial space. Mandating a hub in a new, single detached subdivision does not seem like a recipe for success either.
So as I read it, there remains a NIMBY subtext or residue to many of the concepts: On busy streets we will concentrate change with warehoused multifamily housing and density, but we will work to protect swaths of existing single detached housing from too much change.
It is reasonable, of course, to want to leverage transit's existing core network. But continuing to insulate existing neighborhoods from change, and replicating those 20th century patterns in brand new neighborhoods, is not fully effective and not fully fair.
Because in an aggregate sense change will be distributed randomly and unevenly, at least over shorter durations, we should cast the net as widely as possible in order to capture as many favorable changes as possible. When we restrict change to only along the transit core network, we will miss opportunities and likely create a suboptimal amount of change.
But in general, if we are serious about meeting our climate goals, the structure here is a little ad hoc and pays insufficient attention to effectiveness and to a full suite of policy actions.
|Fairview hasn't met a lot of its lofty ideals (2004)|
Probably we should also have more of a review and analysis of the Fairview project. It should have been something of a template and model for what we are trying now to do. Why has it not developed in as sustainable a mode as was originally planned? Why hasn't more middle housing been built there? The same kinds of zoning mandates or guidelines that did not seem to work there may also not work more generally in Salem. It's not exactly a failure, but we are not using that project as enough of a laboratory and case study (To a lesser extent, the project on the North Campus of OSH was also supposed to be more forward-looking, and it reverted to 20th century types with single detached homes and three story walkup apartment blocks set on a parking lot. Our Salem and our Climate Action Plan should be more explicitly self-aware about lessons from these projects.)
With the subcommittee being half from the Planning Commission, those who
work in development may also suss out unintended consequences or
inefficiencies, and it's probably a good thing to subject the concepts to critique from this angle. But we can't lose sight of the fact that we have a real goal to reduce actual pollution by 50% in 2035, not merely to write nice words that will signal our lofty intent, and that will require real change.