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Our governor has essentially eliminated redevelopment, which really wasn’t a beloved institution anyway. San Diego will have to find a new development model to generate tax revenues that keep the lights on, potholes filled and pension plans funded. Rather than relying on local government’s tax-increment financing and developer impact fees to incentivize large-scale projects that always seem to threaten a community’s character, our city must change its archaic, 20th-century zoning ordinance to purposely code for community character neighborhood-by-neighborhood.

The world has changed dramatically in the past couple of years as our economy has been outsourced to China, world oil reserves have peaked, and the religion of sustainability, in response to global warming, is practiced by everyone under the age of 30. And yet despite Einstein’s definition of insanity, our city continues to use the same suburban zoning ordinance and development regulations, that built Rancho del Ranchos, over and over again, expecting a different, more sustainable, outcome.

Our city needs to reconfigure our development regulations to legalize real places, such as neighborhood centers, edges, and natural canyon lands, in order to incentivize local land owners, small-scale development, and nonprofit organizations to carefully build at a more walkable neighborhood scale.

The current zoning ordinance segregates our daily lives by land uses, living in a housing tower, working in an office park, and playing in a recreational facility. My idea is that our city must use place-based coding tools to purposely create more predictable building regulations that developers, neighbors and city staff can understand, visualize and administer. The cities of Denver, Miami, Taos, and Kona have all recently replaced their zoning ordinances with this tool.

Community character is the built expression of real, complex, beloved and human-scaled places. Somewhat like pornography, while difficult to describe you certainly know it when you see it. A community’s character is found in the relationships between a neighborhood’s urban patterns (streets, parks and blocks) and architectural patterns (public and private buildings) in concert with local residents’ past memory and future expectations.

This focus on coding for character allows us to appropriately build our Main Streets, our neighborhoods, and preserve our natural edges at a local, grass-roots scale. This place- based model should allow us to build our “city of villages” from the bottom up.

Howard Blackson lives in South Park.

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