close
close

ADVICE: Grow Anchorage’s most beautiful neighborhoods

By means of Miles Garrod

Updated: 1 hour ago Published: 1 hour ago

Zoning codes emerged in the early 20th century as a tool to mitigate the effects of heavy industry and skyscrapers on the clean air and daylight of residents of America’s largest cities. Over the next few decades, the instrument expanded into a practice of extensively categorizing real estate into fine gradations of use in nearly every community across the country. With the advent of the car, we could afford to have everything further apart, and the idea of ​​sorting functions (and as a result, people) into assigned neighborhoods felt like a clean, modern approach. Residentially, this meant that people could participate in the commerce of cities like Anchorage while driving home to more space and a quieter rural feel than had ever been practical before.

Founded in 1914, Anchorage has been shaped almost entirely by these 20th century practices, and until recently we didn’t have much reason to question them. We had enough land to send successive waves of population onto former farms south of the city, determined that the existing neighborhoods would never grow. But as we approach the end of our auspicious country, Assembly members are right to reconsider that promise in their current HOME initiative.

Opponents of the initiative point out that the latest zoning revision designated other areas for higher densities, saying more development in established neighborhoods is not necessary. They want to focus new developments on impoverished (poorer) neighborhoods that deserve a boost. Yet the idea that we can simply direct development to areas with less appeal feels less plausible as our local economy cools. New development in devastated areas only really comes about through government subsidies or during an economic boom (such as gentrification). The current destination vision was created during a historic boom, when we thought we could direct our abundant development flow in the right direction to ‘level up’ to Anchorage 2.0. The current market is unable to realize this vision, and we should expect that it will not until another boom arrives – as another boom is coming.

If not, we can’t be so picky. Redevelopment of the most attractive neighborhoods, aimed at wealthier buyers, can succeed with much lower overall market pressure. In the 2010s, market-rate multifamily development continued in South Addition and Bootleggers Cove after ceasing in the less affluent neighborhoods. At the time, I participated in developments that genuinely strove to offer starter homes, but inevitably gravitated towards higher-end buyers to make the development viable. Those types of buyers prefer to buy in already desirable neighborhoods, and we could probably get more homes overall by allowing more homes in neighborhoods with the highest market demand. Increasing supply there eases purchasing pressure elsewhere, easing the escalation of rents and prices to keep starter homes in third- and fourth-tier neighborhoods viable.

Greater than the fear that the character of the neighborhood will be damaged by density, we must fear the prospect that fewer people will bother to settle in Anchorage. If we remain committed to tightening supply as technologies like online vacation rentals drive demand, fundamental economics means the cost of buying in Anchorage will rise even as the population stagnates and properties fall into disrepair.

Fellow single-family home owners, look beyond your desire for predictability. We use zoning to extend our influence far beyond our own property boundaries and even beyond our own lifespan.

Republicans, you should object to the continuation of this technocratic control and red tape – a restriction on the freedom of landowners and an impediment to our ability to meet our housing needs through private action. Democrats should recognize the obvious ways in which “haves” use the municipal zoning code as a giant homeowners association to secure investments at the expense of the “have-nots” and the public interest.

Whatever your political leanings, it’s foolish to preserve the character of the chic, bright suburbs in the middle of this emerging city. Anchorage will likely be around for centuries to come, and there’s no point in letting the first movers dictate the options forever, especially in the most convenient and central neighborhoods. Let’s use the Assembly’s HOME initiative to help identify the best ways to bring density to the neighborhoods we love.

Assembly members are absolutely right to take a more direct role in zoning and seek new paths for our city’s evolution. Our new mayor should similarly embrace zoning as a current issue, and not rely on the wisdom of the status quo, which remains laden with the ambitions of 2008. While people will come out of the woodwork to predict doom, we might as well live with a Title 21 half as long and a new fourplex on every other corner.

Anchorage is an adolescent city. If, like me, you want to give it more room to mature, let the Assembly know at [email protected]. Additionally, consider making your views known at the public hearings on May 21 or June 25. Telephone testimony can be arranged by registering online 24 hours before the meeting. Thank you for your time.

Miles Garrod is an architect and lifelong resident of Anchorage.

The views expressed here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a wide range of views. To submit a piece for consideration, please email comment(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to [email protected] or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and comments here.