A short thought for today. I read an article on the Chronicle that I found interesting, titled “Blending Elegance and Fast Food.” Here are the most relevant excerpts:
Fast-food restaurants in upscale planned communities such as First Colony, Cinco Ranch and The Woodlands shatter some basic assumptions about retailing. Fast-food chains are used to having it their way, but they are willing to make concessions. They will even do without their logos or tall electric signs if they want to be in a neighborhood badly enough…
…Among the guidelines for retailers in First Colony, in the southwest part of the Houston area, is that signs can’t be on poles. “As long as everybody has to do it, you’re on equal ground”…
…If everybody has to play by the same rules” with architectural guidelines, “then we’re not at a competitive disadvantage,” Todd said.
Debbie Adams, franchise owner of the all-brick McDonald’s across the street from Arby’s, said it didn’t cost more to build in First Colony…
…The Woodlands opened in 1974. Heineman recalled when several years later, a McDonald’s franchisee considered a spot in the Panther Creek Shopping Center in The Woodlands, but he was initially opposed to the guidelines.
For his existing McDonald’s locations, the franchisee had been able to build sites that are highly visible from the freeway, have big golden arches and no landscaping requirements.
However, his McDonald’s in The Woodlands could have no golden arches and would be mostly hidden from the street by trees.
Eventually, he agreed to The Woodlands’ guidelines, and his location became one of the highest-grossing McDonald’s in the Houston area, Heineman said.
Now, mull this over for a bit. Here’s the important take-away:
The design of every building tangibly impacts the values of properties around it. Certain design decisions are very positive for surrounding property owners (Post Midtown). Certain design decisions – especially those that inject ‘standardized’ suburban model buildings into the urban center of our city – are very negative for surrounding property owners.
If we can objectively determine what design features are most important – not minor things like the color of the siding, major things like block-length blank walls – we can create a simple, predictable, easy to comply with, building code. If we adopt it at the city level, and apply it consistently, it will not create a burden on property owners, nor a disincentive for business and development activity.
In fact, it would “level the playing field” so that the altruistic builder who builds a building that enhances the surrounding community does not see his efforts go to waste because of an apathetic property owner injecting a negative-impact building next-door. The net result of this, over time, would be a steady, positive change in the quality of our neighborhoods and business districts.
HOWEVER - THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WE MUST DO is simultaneously eliminate every convoluted, cumbersome regulatory impedance that is on the books today. Having a small number of simple, straightforward, easy-to-follow rules benefits everyone. Adding those on top of the sloppy spaghetti mess we’ve got in place already benefits no one.