Hidden City ran a nice piece (thanks, Mr. Popkin!) looking at how the process for creating TOD Overlays will work using the new zoning code and working through the ongoing district planning process. We hope you read it and enjoyed it.
These guys enjoyed it enough to link to it, which we also appreciate, but their choice of introductory statements
was unfortunate hit a chord: “The City Planning Commission awakens to the fact that we have this great tool for urban revitalization lying around called SEPTA.” Way harsh, Tai.
Harsh, perhaps, but fair from an outside-of-government perspective. Why isn’t the Planning Commission constantly considering TOD-related bills and recommending approval? Why haven’t we adopted fancy TOD design guidelines? Why, in short, don’t we see more of this?
Here’s an insider tidbit from the front lines of zoning code reform: there was a time during the process when it looked like we were going to be able to include mapped TOD areas directly into the new code, as in, without any subsequent mapping bills and extra ordinances! To that end, a team on our staff spent many many hours analyzing how to codify varying intensities of TOD style development at different locations. At one point, we had a four-tiered system and over 20 locations pre-selected with draft maps in place, ready to go into the code.
We assume many of our readers are wishing it had turned out that way, and we won’t disagree, but reality got in the way. Zoning changes are not insignificant, and they are difficult to communicate, understand, and accept for people from all sides of the many-sided coin. This is not a statement of blame; it is simply a reminder that City Council members, community organizations, developers, designers, and lots of other people weren’t all on the same page with the idea that, upon adoption, the city would magically have several dozen areas with a host of new rules and regulations never before seen in the city.
Some people really liked the inclusion of TOD areas in the code itself. Others felt that there wasn’t enough opportunity to hash out details. Still others felt uncomfortable with such recommendations coming from this staff, in a city that has not recently been used to land use-related bills starting from within the planning agency. Rather, most zoning amendments originate in Council. We offer no opinion on this; we are just stating something that is currently true.
Some community members were looking forward to seeing incentives for pedestrian-friendly, higher-density development (or park and rides) near them. Others spoke out at zoning code commission hearings in strong opposition.
What we’re getting at here is that at the end of the day, it made political sense to do it the way it’s now being done: there is an adopted TOD overlay, with many positive attributes, ready for use in the code that can be applied to to-be-determined areas as necessary when all the participants in the process agree that this should be so. Which brings us back to the Hidden City article: we see this as a major topic to explore through District Plans because District Plans are an opportunity for many stakeholders to come to the same table and agree on a physical development vision for an area. The hope is that by establishing a standard process, applied equally to every district in the city, we are building a culture of proactive planning and creating an environment in which we are better able to collaborate with council on introducing zoning bills, both to correct current inaccuracies, as well as to advance the plan. In many cases, TOD Overlays would fall under the latter category.
So what can we all do to advance TOD in the city? From where we sit, we hope that District Plan stakeholders support our inclusion of TOD recommendations – where they make sense – in plans. Then – and this is very important – these same stakeholders need to let their councilperson know that they are eager to advance this plan recommendation. Knowing that there is constituent support for a bill, and that the bill would implement a recommendation from a piece of adopted city land use policy, are both factors that can influence a Council decision.
In the Philadelphia of our dreams, such things are not this complicated. In the Philadelphia of today, this post is an incredible over-simplification. So by all means, get on board, and help us implement the smart land use policies we all want to see come alive.