UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Development standardization : its origins, implementation and effect on the residential environment Rosenau, W. Paul


The built environment has evolved through a layering process of both human needs and aspirations. We as a society 'Worship' the remnants of these richly varied and complex environments. In the previous 100 years, however, our environment has become a battleground for survival on many levels: environmental health, societal boundaries and quality of life. The so-called haphazard mode of environmental development was proceeding so quickly that 'MAN', through organization and control, sought to harness rampant growth by providing a mechanism to, in essence, protect us from ourselves. This mechanism was development standardization. Zoning and subdivision standards initially had a very positive effect on residential districts. They achieved the desired objective of improving the health, safety and welfare of local citizens. To remain a successful regulatory mechanism, however, requires frequent review. (Generally government regulations are continually reviewed because of a need to respond to current reality - a typical example is tax reform laws). This is especially true for development regulation, which necessarily must respond to the rapidly changing and dynamic evolution of the North American city and its peoples. In the case of residential development standards, however, there has been a lack of policy review resulting in a back-water of no change to the standard. Development standards, that were a direct response to mass housing development in the early nineteen hundreds, in many instances are still in place in municipalities in the Greater Vancouver area and likely throughout many other North American cities as well. It is apparent that the very standards that were invoked to ensure residential quality are now preventing development from creating that quality. At the core of the issue of planning and design standards is the lack of understanding of these two disciplines - by each other and by the public. As a result, in many instances both planners and the public equate design with a simple problem solving process according to explicit rules - the standards. Herein lies the core of the problem. This misrepresentation of design and what it stands for in terms of environmental quality. This misunderstanding has greatly influenced the world we live in and this influence as of late is not of the positive nature. The thrust of this thesis is an exploration of the issue of design in the context of residential development standards. What are the standards which influence/impact residential development? What were the objectives for which these standards were originally implemented? How do the standards currently support the implementation of recognized design principles which lead to high quality environments? What kind of residential world is created by adherence to the standards and what opportunities are lost? It is evident from this study that while the mechanism and often the mathematical formula of development standardization have remained relatively constant during the past half century, the city and the city dweller have not. Most new neighbourhoods in today's North American city lack identity, character and quality environment due to a set of zoning and subdivision standards that are antiquated and often based on arbitrary numbers. The case study examples of Village Homes in California and Ashcroft subdivision in Richmond, illustrate that conventional development standards prevent adherence to established residential design principles and that the nature of development standards is such that they are unable to contend with important and often basic design issues that are not amenable to simple arithmetic formula and measurement. It is also clear that standards not only adversely effect the physical condition of the residential environment, but also the people involved in the process of designing, constructing and regulating residential development. The designer is disillusioned, the developer confused, and the planner misfocused. The result is poor design, poor development, and poor planning. The failure to adopt and implement consistent and up-to-date policies and objectives for residential development standards has lead to the creation of stale, un-inviting, un-interesting and characterless living environments. The lesson to be learned here is that planners must first become more in tune with the issues and principles of design and second they must not be afraid to question established planning mechanisms. We therefore must ensure that a) the best mechanism is being employed and b) that it is based on appropriate and current policies and objectives that are leading to a better residential environment.

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