In defense of tall and/or multi-unit buildings

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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Many Oak Parkers are talking about potential problems associated with ongoing and proposed development, and as urban planning professionals and Oak Park residents we share some of these concerns. The 2014 Envision Oak Park plan — developed as a map for Oak Park's future, with extensive public input — includes a variety of objectives for the village's future growth, including the promotion of infill, transit-oriented, and mixed-use development, and we believe that grounding future development in the principles of the Envision Oak Park plan will allow for diverse development that suits the needs of all residents.

Today, despite the future outlined in Envision Oak Park, the village lacks clear guideposts, which contributes to an overly "a la carte" development process. Updating village plans and codes should provide more certainty for developers and the community alike and help Oak Park grow sustainably, thoughtfully, and more affordably.

Oak Park can achieve growth using a variety of tools: re-thinking surface parking lots; relaxing restrictions on in-law units; encouraging 2- to 4-unit apartments (like many the village already has); and, of course, building upwards. As we plan, it's important to acknowledge the benefits of multi-unit construction, including tall buildings, as well as the potential problems that have received more attention.  

For example, the household energy use and carbon footprint for buildings like Albion is roughly 1/3 that of a typical single-family suburban home because of less space and less driving per household. Taller, multi-unit buildings also create less storm water run-off per household and help preserve open space by supplanting "greenfield" development that could happen otherwise.   

Locating apartments/condos, offices and shopping near transit is one of the best ways to limit driving and congestion regionally, which will ensure that the traffic impacts of local development will be small. 

Multi-unit development can also boost local economies. For example, people living in apartments and condos are more likely to shop locally, and the denser parts of cities tend to generate a net positive cash flow while lower density areas tend to be net negative.

Oak Park is an ideal location to leverage growth that is green, livable and equitable.  And new development — particularly multi-unit buildings — can help the village generate another type of green: cash. At the same time, changes are needed to manage this growth with better transparency and forethought and to ensure local housing remains affordable for all. 

https://books.google.ca/books?id=esA01PHdvxcC&pg=PA23&lpg=PA23&dq=calthorpe+comparing households&source=bl&ots=M69pNtXQiN&sig=jkJFLLveBh-cya4u4koWlF-5pRU&hl=en&ei=BynZTpyCFOPw0gGl_5mRCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result#v=onepage&q&f=true

https://www.citylab.com/equity/2011/12/missing-link-climate-change-single-family-suburban-homes/650/

https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/8/22/the-more-we-grow-the-poorer-we-become

Franny Ritchie

Urban planner

Brian Hungerford

Architect

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