Change As Such Is Okay

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"Change As Such Is Okay"

I keep hearing that it’s a straw man to say that some people have the view that local regulation should give weight to the goal of preventing change per se, but then I see Lydia DePillis report on the latest missive from Alma Gates at the Committee in 100:

Neighborhood preservation is of great concern because many of the special exception requirements under the current code will become matter-of-right under the [zoning regulations rewrite]. It is reasonable to expect some changes to neighborhoods, but their character, that which makes them unique and defined, should not change. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee neighborhood character will survive under the new zoning code. Given the proposed changes, it’s reasonable to ask, “Why have zoning?” Allowed uses in zone districts will be expanded, required off street parking will be significantly diminished, setback and height measurements will change. It is reasonable to expect neighborhood character will also change.

But why? I think we can all accept that across certain margins, there’s a tradeoff between certain kinds of economic efficiency goals and certain kinds of aesthetic or communitarian goals. But why should we put weight on the brute desire to avoid change as such? Even if we grant that each neighborhood is a beautiful unique snowflake with a character all of its own, it doesn’t follow from that fact that each neighborhood’s character should be frozen in amber forever. Indeed, I think that if you look at the “character” of any urban neighborhood in 2011, you’ll see that the place was very different in 1961 or 1911. It’s natural for it to be different again in 2061 and 2111. Pierre L’Enfant didn’t lay the city out with a plan for subsidized automobile parking. Rather than whipping up paranoia about the very idea of change, it would make more sense to talk about what kind of changes might be desirable and by whom. How many people are we hoping the city will accommodate in 50 years? Where might they go? If the net population grows more slowly than the nationwide population, how can we improve living conditions without merely displacing existing residents?

Instead we get “A public education campaign on the scale of Time Warner’s publicity for ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.’ is needed to wake up residents to the fact their neighborhoods will soon be under attack by developers taking advantage of the increased density that the new code permits.”

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