Regulating Place: Standards and the Shaping of Urban America

By Eran Ben-Joseph; Terry S. Szold | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1

On Standards

ERAN BEN-JOSEPH

Through the years, the design and layout of urban developments have become increasingly regulated. Professional and governmental bodies have developed standards for the built environment that dictate all aspects of the form and shape of urban American communities. Furthermore, the methodical administration of public works, the centralized supervision over land development, and the influential rise of the engineering and urban planning professions have established many of these design standards as absolutes. Although simple and familiar standards for subdividing land, grading, laying streets and utilities, and configuring right-of-way and street widths may seem innocuous, when they are copied and adopted from one place to another they have an enormous impact-good and bad-on the way our communities and neighborhoods look, feel, and work.

One reason development standards have often been automatically adopted and legitimized by local governments is to shield them from responsibility in decision making. Modifications have been discouraged; because higher governmental agencies have not allowed flexibility, lesser agencies have been reluctant to do so. Financial institutions and lenders have also been hesitant to support development proposals outside the mainstream, particularly when they do not conform to established design practices. With the crafting of exact rules and standards, regulatory bodies can more predictably shape development, even though the actual results may be less desirable than a more variable approach.

Standards not only shape and affect physical space, but are also an important aspect of planning practice. Planning professionals spend most of their

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