This concerns the citizens of Cedar Falls, but Waterloo citizens should be aware of it too, because it may leak over into their town.
Since July this year, the City Council has been reviewing a zoning concept called “form-based zoning,” and I understand four of them are enamored with it. If you can, go to City Hall and ask for a copy of a brochure dated July 11. At first it seems relatively harmless, but on page 7 you finally realize the thrust of it.
If form-based zoning gets into our already complicated and voluminous zoning ordinances, tracts of land will be so designated. Within those tracts of land all buildings or houses must look alike and be joined to one another. If you absorbed the enormity of that your gut reaction probably was, “That’s stupid.” Those are the exact words I’ve heard coming from about 50 people I’ve talked to before writing this to inform the rest of the people.
By the information extant, the first rezoning will occur downtown. It isn’t clear on which lots. Who thought of this? Well, it probably originated in a textbook on urban planning, and I can tell you my own textbooks on the subject weren’t worth spit five years after I absorbed their contents.
There also may be someone else in the woodwork — developers. And why not? They can build on a tract of land with one architectural rendering, saving a lot of bucks, and they can get hefty discounts buying materials in larger-than-normal quantities. You see, somebody’s bottom line is lurking in the background.
As usual, the authors of this concept have overlooked history. Some of you older ones must remember Levittown, N.Y., and other towns out East which, after World War II, built thousands of cookie-cutter houses. We amused ourselves by occasionally reading about some drunk mistaking someone else’s house for his/her own. Most of those neighborhoods have disappeared, replaced by far more identifiable housing more suitable to the human psyche. The crowning achievement in sameness was achieved by Chicago’s Cabrini Green, a fantastic expanse of high-rise towers on the South Side started in 1942 and completed in 1962. These were 3,600 units with 15,000 occupants who, for some reason, started to feel like livestock instead of human beings and they proceeded to major acts of vandalism. In 1995, Chicago started tearing them down and the last one bit the mud in 2011.
The major problem with form-based zoning is it doesn’t take into consideration a basic fact of the human mind. Our minds like variety except in rare cases of damage from accidents at birth or somewhere along the lifespan of the individual afflicted with “sameness.”
If the four council members are so enamored with look-alike joiner buildings, visit the penitentiary at Fort Madison and soak in the ambience. Then take another tour of all the look-alike cells and check the walls. Every convict has decorated his little space to suit himself. That’s called individualism, and we all have it.
The zoning concept goes against the urge for variety in our personal lives and is foreign to the human spirit. That’s why the military spends weeks trying to inculcate blind obedience to authority. They don’t always succeed. In every war, Americans have had an advantage of individuals capable of thinking for themselves, and Cedar Falls citizens certainly exhibit that attribute.
We don’t need to regiment Cedar Falls. Quite the opposite. Our town largely is composed of well-educated citizens who value individualism, exploration and creativity. The proposed zoning is not progress. It runs counter to these attributes. It is regimentation, and if it is installed I have news. Planning and Zoning and the City Council will be bombarded with requests for variances. Think, before you bring that upon yourselves.