Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Makes an Empty Lot "Empty"?

Language affects how we think about things. So, an empty lot is empty. Right?

In the US, an empty lot is one without buildings on it.  Despite the fact this piece of land has lots of flowers and grasses. It was woods once, of course, and not that long ago.  This vegetation has reclaimed it after someone bulldozed all the trees down.   It's home to birds and bugs.  And it filters rain water, keeping it from simply flowing into the sewers and out into the inlet.

We are human beings.  We need places to live.  We need common buildings for trade and other activities.  But we need a sensibility that sees that an empty lot isn't empty.  It's full of life and full of natural infrastructure that keeps our air and water clean, and provides habitat for small animals, insects, and the birds that feed on them.  And if we look closely, we see universes within universes.

Soon, riding around town, you'll hardly ever be able to see the mountains.  As fields get replaced by view blocking buildings.

I only intended to play with the idea of an empty lot, but it seems logical to take it a step further and raise Title 21.   You're going to be hearing more and more about Title 21 in the next couple of months.  After years of public process in which a new code was hashed out among all interest groups, Mayor Sullivan has asked attorney and former assemblyman Dan Coffey to go through and make title 21 more development friendly.  Developers had had years to get their issues raised and much of the ordinance was changed to accommodate their concerns.  Then the ordinance was provisionally passed by the Assembly.  The provisions were simply to make it consistent and clean up the language.

But Sullivan  seems to have hijacked this process and from what I'm told, Coffey has worked with the Building Association to change it even more to their liking.  Again, as I said, after all these negotiations and tradeoffs were made in public.  Now, they've gotten to work with Coffey out of the public light to make the code developer friendly and help keep Anchorage in the urban design dim ages.  It's not a done deal, but if people don't let their assembly members and the planning and zoning board know how they feel, it will be.

Cheryl Richardson has a compass piece on this you might want to check that outlines what has happened.  She's been a community activist for years, fighting for public transportation options and good urban planning.  She does it because she thinks it's important and doesn't get paid to do this.

Coffey claims the charges are baseless.   He's had $40,000 or so contracts from the city to revise the code to the Mayor's liking.  He's an attorney who favors the positions his clients want.  That's what attorneys do, so that's fine.  But as you read the two pieces, consider which account is more likely to be closer to the way things have actually happened.


  1. I see natural wealth, and then Sarah Palin and her Alaska thugs would deride us for being all kumbaya or something like that. As if that's a bad thing.

    I think a bad thing is going around with surveyor's marks in your world-view.

  2. I never know what to say about your mayor, Steve. I expect that he will be making a state office run after this and everything that he does is to appeal to his voter base. There is no such thing as bad publicity.


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