Overcoming Zoning Problems:

Gann's CKCs and Reverse Zoning

Summary.  Gann's notions of reverse zoning applied to produce "Close Knit Communities" (CKCs) overcome many zoning problems by keeping existing zoning regulations in place and simply turning them on their head wherever local authorities wish.  The usual minimums are turned into maximums which keep things compact.  Thus big zoning  problems become a lot smaller, because no existing apple carts are upset.

Details.  John Gann asks one simple but penetrating question about building innovative residential developments:  "Why hasn't new urbanism taken over?"

Think about it:  If new urbanism has such enlightened ideas (it does), and it's been around for about two decades (it has), why doesn't most new housing use new urbanist design?  Gann (in press) has the answer and a solution to this penetrating question.

Gann (2003c) argues persuasively that new urbanism design (a) imposes strict architectural restrictions mandating traditional architectural details so it (b) generally runs afoul of existing zoning regulations so much that new urbanist developments are pricey and rare.  Gann's solutions involve (a) ingenious "reverse zoning" to allow innovative and properly clustered housing with relatively modest alterations in current zoning and (b) "Close Knit communities" or CKCs.  Let's consider these innovations one by one.

(a)  Gann's reverse zoning emphasizes scale rather than style.  Reverse zoning keeps existing zoning wherever desired.  In areas slated for change, it keeps virtually all the wording and specifics of existing zoning regulations intact and simply replaces minimums with maximums.  For example, new maximums can be set for lot area, lot width, yard dimensions, building setbacks, street pavement and right-of-way widths, number of off-street parking spaces, and amount of on-site open space.  One can even increase compactness in neighborhoods by setting new minimums for building height, number dwelling units per acre, floor area ratio, and lot coverage.  In practice he has customized reverse zoning to differ between, say, adjoining streets and neighborhoods.  If all this sounds a lot like the old urbanism before sprawl,  Gann says that is precisely the point--the old urbanism worked and still does.

(b)  Gann applies his reverse zoning to physically create "Close Knit communities" or CKCs:

CKC simply downsizes development, trimming fat from lot sizes, setbacks, street widths, and parking lots.  It emulates historic urban neighborhoods in an overall pattern without trying to duplicate their architectural appearance.  As simply a tighter weave in the urban fabric, CKC is distinguished from New Urbanism by being more concerned with scale than with style.  (Gann, 2003b, p. 16; for more information cf. Gann, 2003c)

His own CKC integrates smoothly with existing zoning and neighborhoods.

Reverse zoning and the CKCs it produces thus pave the way for new, more clustered housing while handily leaving most existing zoning regulations intact.  His solutions can likely allow introduction of Hometown neighborhoods (and new urbanism designs for that matter) without more trouble than any other type of housing.

Can Gann's CKC and reverse zoning concepts be applied to a Hometown design?  Yes.  Would they help?  Usually.  CKC easily combines with Hometown, and both approaches make the plannerís job easier, especially when combined.  The Zoning Commission can breathe a big sigh of relief.

Last and by no means least, , Gannís (2003b) work also reflects the emergence of Hometown as a viable option to sprawl and new urbanism, with which it can sometimes be combined.  In his article "Walkable Neighborhoods:  A key to longer life?" in the Planning and Zoning News, he listed three main categories of walkable neighborhoods:  New urbanism, CKC or the old urbanism, and Hometown design.


Gann, J.  (2002)  Close-Knit Community planning:  Reconciling the new urbanism with the old.  Planning and Zoning News, July, p. 4.

Gann, J.  (2003a)  Marketing and medical research may support Close-Knit Communities.  Planning and Zoning News, January, p. 22.

Gann, J.  (2003b)  Walkable Neighborhoods:  A key to longer life?  Planning and Zoning News, 21(8), 14-16.  [reproduced here with the kind permission of the Planning and Zoning Center, 715 N. Cedar Street, Lansing, MI 48906; 517-886-0555]

Gann, J.  (2003c, September)  Fighting sprawl with close-knit community planning.    Presented at the meeting of the Pennsylvania Planning Association, Pittsburgh, PA.

Gann, J.  (in press)  Fighting sprawl with close-knit community planning.  Presentation at the meeting of the Pennsylvania Planning Association, Pittsburgh, PA, September 2003).  (Available from John Gann, 135 Hancock, Street, No. 201, Madison, WI 53703; 1-800-762-GANN, 1-800-762-4266)





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