Moderator William H. Kreager, FAIA, a principal of Seattle-based Mithun, set the stage for the September 16 breakfast session by urging architects to engage in the urban planning process. "We are the best people to lead our communities," he said. "We see all the pieces and parts." Discussing projects that engaged land trusts to help create dense, green, affordable housing developments, Kreager challenged those present to ask themselves, "What can I do to become a citizen architect in my community?"
Joseph W. Tovar, planning director for the city of Shoreline, Wash., pinpointed urban planning as an essential instrument in responding to climate change. In short, he said, with more density and more transit, there's less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. To illustrate, he described a multi-year project to rebuild a typical suburban commercial strip into a pedestrian-friendly environment. He endorsed "form-based" codes, which regulate building type and scale but not usage, and called for architects to involve themselves in public charrettes and other forums that address planning issues in their own communities.
Michael Pyatok, FAIA, principal of Oakland, Calif.,-based Pyatok Architects 2002 Top Firm Leadership Award winner), presented the case study of an affordable housing project that engaged his efforts as both architect and advocate in "overcoming the biases of a market-driven economy." Originally opposed by Oakland's city government and some 10 years in planning, approval, and construction, the project stands as an example not only of what affordable housing can be, but also of what market-rate housing should be. Living comfortably at twice the density of their market-rate neighbors, Pyatok says, its residents "are showing a model of how we should be living in our cities."
The University of Texas at Austin professor of architecture and planning Steven A. Moore, Ph.D., spoke about the Alley Flat Initiative in Austin, Texas. An example of what Moore calls "civil society" planning, the project developed a model for building auxiliary housing units—with solar energy production and water collection built in—to increase density in an environmentally and socially sustainable way. According to Moore, 3,000 such units would obviate the need for one new water plant and one new electrical power plant.
Reflecting on his experience in New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, 2009 Hall of Fame Leadership Award winner and Reinvention keynote speaker Andrés Duany, FAIA, of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., noted the ways in which well-intentioned regulation has worked against residents' efforts to rebuild their homes. "Government, by raising the standards, doubled the cost," he said. In response, Duany proposed the New Orleans Homebuilt Housing Act, which provides contract zoning that would exempt residents from many permit requirements and inspections. "You opt out of the system, and you take responsibility," he explained. Such a shift might seem radical, he said, but current circumstances may favor such ideas. "Because it's a crisis, this thing becomes credible. You have to try things that were unthinkable before. It's almost a wartime situation."