Jane Jacobs: still an inspiration to this day

“Our cities contain people too poor to pay for the qualities of shelter that our public conscience (quite right, I think) tells us they should have. Furthermore, in many cities the sheer supply of dwellings is too small to accommodate the population without overcrowding, and the quantity of additional dwellings needed does not necessarily match up with the direct ability of the people concerned to pay for them. Because of these reasons, we need subsidies for at least some portion of city dwellings” (The Death and Life of Great American Cities p323).

Jane Jacobs, how true her words are, even these 50 or so years later. It is quite amazing how planning is still struggling with the same issues to this day. Fighting against sprawl, dead downtowns, highway loving bureaucrats, and the lack of housing affordability. As Jacobs said above, our cities don’t have enough housing, let alone the variety of types and prices needed for the wide spectrum of people/income/needs in our communities.

As in the case of the Bay Area, including Santa Cruz on the coast, there are many constraints contributing to the high prices (both for sale and rental). There are land constraints, supply constraints, market forces and just plain old low paying jobs to name a few issues when it comes to affording to live here. And as Jacobs so wisely said, subsidies are needed. Well, now that we have some subsidies what can be done as the crisis still persists?

If you take Santa Cruz for example there are affordable multi-family housing, rent restricted accessory dwelling units, single room occupancy units, loan assistance programs, Section 8 vouches, and more. Yet that is still not sufficient. I think if we look to the root of the issue we would find consumerism and the never ending pursuit of growth with disregard to its effects on society.

So what can the humble city planner do with the limited resources available? That’s a tricky question most likely needing a multi-pronged approach. One approach if I may suggest as a possibility is more relaxed and new zoning codes. Current zoning codes for housing could be relaxed to allow for smaller home sizes which would provide a variety of price points. New zoning codes could be implemented that would allow more housing options such as cohousing where financial resources are pooled together, yurts, modular homes, or even reuse of shipping containers.

Why are the only few options single family homes or multi-family housing? It seems that we have some options that need to be pursued as alternatives to what we have. More variety and price points could be beneficial to a community so why do we continue to box ourselves in with such monotonous, one size fits all options.

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