Carrots and Sticks in Urban Design

Both incentives and disincentives have been widely used to shape cities and often form part of piece-by-piece urban design packages to structure city precincts in specific directions (see Chapter 9). The incentives involve financial subsidies in some form or other. The sticks involve measures that are financially punitive, directly or indirectly. Many urban design control packages have both punitive and incentive components operating simultaneously in order to get schemes built in accordance with a conceptual design's objectives. What is legal very much depends on the political system in which public actions take place. Control packages, however legal they may be, cannot operate against market forces; they have to operate with them.


Many of the carrots encouraging developers to do what they would otherwise be disinclined to do involve the use of zoning codes. Land-use plans and zoning codes have traditionally been employed to avoid the negative impacts of development. The questions then asked in situations like that in New York already mentioned were: 'Can these tools be used to shape cities to achieve desired ends?' and 'Can incentives be developed to encourage development to take a particular direction and provide particular facilities that are desirable and in the public interest but not as profitable for developers as building for other uses?'

A number of possible incentives are available for shaping and supporting urban design objectives. Government subsidies have already been mentioned. There are other types of carrots. Floor space incentives usually allow a developer to make a greater profit by building a taller or bulkier building than a zoning ordinance allows in return for including some non-profit making or not-so-profitable amenity in a proposed development. Such a design incentive involves a trade-off between having a desired facility and pedestrians (and vegetation) having less exposure to the sky at ground level.

The transfer of development rights from one site to another has been another tool that has been used to protect specific buildings and districts deemed worthy of maintaining in their present character yet being located where a property developer has the legal right to develop in a different manner. The incentive is to provide the developer with above legal rights in another location while buying out development rights in the original location at less than market value.

All incentives boil down to assisting property developers with financing in some form or another. Lowering taxes is one. Another used to meet urban design ends is through tax increment financing. It is not a legal technique in most countries. In the United States, however, it is available in a number of states. In California it was made possible by a 1962 amendment to the state's constitution. The amendment allows property developers working in a precinct of a municipality that has a plan supported by its citizens, to benefit directly from the increment in property taxes that accrue due to the improvements made by them within that area. This increase in tax revenue is ploughed back into further improving and/or maintaining the area well. The coordinating frame - the development plan and controls - for the continued development of the area can then be publicly funded (see the description of Glendale in Chapter 8).


There are a number of specific disincentives that urban designers can use for shaping development. Their use is often problematic unless supported by evidence that can persuade the courts and/or administrative tribunals that they are justified. One of the major disincentives to carrying out a project is the financial cost of doing so in comparison to the financial return to be received. Such sticks may take the form of increased taxes, slowing down the approval process for projects not regarded as complying with design guidelines, for instance, and the direct payments of fees.

Many city centres are crowded with drivers in automobiles. The standard response is to create wider roads, more one-way streets and more parking facilities and/or to improve mass transit systems. An alternative that involves no physical design, but rather requires the direct payment of fees is in place in Singapore and in London. It is to charge people for driving into the central business district. In the City of London, the traffic moved at 16 kilometres per hour (10 miles per hour). In early 2003, a road levy of £5.00 was imposed in an effort to persuade people to use the metropolitan area's bus services and antiquated underground system. The goal was to reduce journey times within the City by 20% to 30%. Reports are that it has been at least partially successful.

A different tactic was used in Bellevue near Seattle to encourage workers in the central area of the city to use the bus system (see Chapter 9). It was to make parking more difficult. The number of parking spaces required per 1000 square feet

of new development in the area was reduced thus raising parking costs. At the same time bus services were improved. The increase in ridership has been noticeable but some organizations have chosen not to locate in Bellevue because of parking costs. The trade-off has been thought to be worthwhile by both citizens and officials of the city.

Another example, often challenged in court, is the use of moratoria. Moratoria to halt development for a period can be used to:

1 create a pause while a coordinating plan is developed;

2 halt development when the consequences of development will be negative;

3 divert growth from one area to another (when there is a demand for growth).

The application of moratoria can have a direct impact on urban design, particularly in the development of a building programme and the implementation of projects. In Bethesda, Maryland a series of moratoria were used to shift potential development in outlying areas into its downtown core where a station on Washington's Metro system had been built. The MetroCenter project (see Figure 2.8), a large-scale transportation/building/urban design scheme, was helped considerably by two moratoria on building outside the city centre. The legal basis depended on the prediction that dispersed development would swamp the road system of the suburb with traffic beyond its capacity to cope. The moratoria encouraged further development in its downtown creating a strong downtown core associated with the Metro stop. The quality of the development was ensured by the use of design guidelines and the use of a strong design review process.

A moratorium needs hard data on a development's potential negative effects to validate it. Nassau County, New York successfully imposed a moratorium on growth until the problem of the increased salination of its groundwater supply could be solved. A moratorium on commercial development over 10,000 square feet in size in Walnut Creek, California until the traffic congestion problems could be remedied was, however, struck down in the courts because it was inconsistent with the master plan (Lesher Communications, Inc. versus City of Walnut Creek, Contra Costa Supreme Court, 1986). The use of moratoria in the United States received a boost in 2002 when the United States Supreme Court supported their use without having to compensate those whose development proposals were delayed (Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council, Inc. versus Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 23 April 2002) (Lucero and Soule, 2002).

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

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