By Isaac Rosenberg (@irosenb)
This document is a comprehensive plan to accelerate the development of much needed infrastructure. From Government processes to social dynamics, this is how we can get the infrastructure we need done faster, cheaper, and on time in 10 years that wasn't possible before.
This document covers all kinds of infrastructure projects like housing and transportation, and the regulations and policies that slow them down, like permitting and environmental review. With 68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, we need to reconsider how and what we build in our cities more than ever.
Before any of these ideas can come to fruition, we have to cut red tape in Federal, state, and local government. Fundamental to making any of these ideas happen is a smooth and predictable political process that can take ideas and turn them into reality.
Permits are fundamental to doing any kind of real-world work, from opening a restaurant to creating a building. Currently, permits can take years to be issued just to create a home, especially in places like San Francisco. The process is complex and time consuming. This is the process of obtaining a permit for a restaurant in San Francisco:
Simplifying this process and consolidating department permits will go a long ways towards saving time and money with the permitting process.
One success story is with Chicago. The city was able to cut the number of permits by 60%, saving millions of dollars for Chicago businesses.
In order to design great cities, we must tackle zoning. Zoning is what determines what kinds of buildings/places are allowed in a certain area. From height limits to minimum lot sizes, zoning determines not only what will be built in a certain area, but who can live there. It makes buildings more expensive and take up more land. In many expensive metro areas, large swaths of land are devoted to single family homes. In addition to taking up lots of land, they make it harder to get around without a car. If we don't resolve these issues around land use, then our transit systems won't live up to their full potential. To solve this, cities need to redesign their zoning codes to allow for taller buildings, smaller lot sizes, and less parking requirements. In addition, zoning codes should allow for a mix of uses. Traditional zoning divides up land according to use, meaning that places like retail and housing are often banned from being developed together, reducing the usefulness of walking as a means of getting around. Creating housing, retail, and office space together will make more lively and interesting places.
By-right is a process that streamlines housing projects, automatically allowing them to be built as long as it fits in with zoning and building codes. It's extremely valuable in that it saves a lot of time in the building process. Some cities like San Francisco have a discretionary review process, which means that anyone is allowed to object a housing project if they don't like it. This wastes valuable time and money. Housing projects should have a clear path to approval, being shielded from people that want to stop them.
Environmental review is a comprehensive look at how a project will impact the environment. Enacted in the 1970s, environmental review was meant to protect the environment by requiring a project to study the impacts of a project on the environment. There's no doubt that environmental review has been successful at stopping certain projects such as oil pipelines and offshore oil drilling. However, for projects that do benefit the environment, they will have to spend millions of dollars and write documents spanning thousands of pages just to get approval. Not that we shouldn't do environmental review, but it should be a quick and predictable process that focuses on the reduction of greenhouse gases instead of on other "environmental" factors like noise and wind loads.