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Livable Communities
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

So important is housing to the American Institute of Architects, that they have established?The Center for Livable Communities and a separate interest group on housing, according to Ronald Skaggs, F.A.I.A., chairman and CEO of HKS Inc., and retired president of the national association of the American Institute of Architects.

?Livable is not a one size fits all solution,? Skaggs said. ?We shouldn?t try to go throughout the United States and try to plot the same type of community or neighborhood in each area. But there are certainly good principles of community planning design that should fit each individual region.? Local examples of healthy community development are found in the public neighborhood shopping areas scattered in close access to the residential communities, from the intersections of Preston Road and Forest Lane to Highland Park Village, for instance.

?Good communities don?t just happen,? Skaggs said. ?They?re planned. That?s where architects come in. That?s what their art is?planning. And by using the design process, which is a process of progressive decisions and actions, architects can aid in leading communities to make decisions that the individual and community both can benefit. They have the education, the experience, and the ability to foster a coordinated development process. And their designs usually address what I call the community context, an appropriate fit in the neighborhood and compatibility. Understanding how the house should relate to the site is a strong consideration that often, when builders just go in, it?s not addressed. Architects are quite adept dealing with site, use of economy of space, as well as other types of cost saving, such as energy conservation, designing for sustainability.?

?Sustainability carries beyond energy conservation,? Skaggs said. ?That is designing our environments in a way that we are not totally annihilating our nature and our environment by the types of materials we use. It?s a combination of using materials in a wise way, maybe even using?reuse?of certain materials so we don?t deplete our natural resources. It?s selecting materials that don?t require shipping from far off that requires a lot of gasoline to get it there, or materials that don?t put off gas toxins. But its also conserving energy?how you design your lighting and your mechanical systems or designing a house to where, through the use of natural light, you don?t have to use as much electricity and gas. All of that together is related to sustainability. It?s primarily sustaining our natural resources as much as we can.?

?The builder comes into it as well,? Skaggs goes on. ?How do you deal with wastes? How do you eliminate wastes by selecting materials you don?t have to throw away a large portion of it? And constructing it in such a way, those materials are conserved, which actually helps the costs?initial costs as well?helps keep costs down. Yes, not only down in initial construction costs, but the costs within our whole cycle of the economy of producing materials.?

?There seems to be a fundamental shift in the attitude related to the community,? Skaggs said. ?People are beginning to recognize that communities, where you already are and what you need to work towards is improving the environment you?re already in. And I think that?s what?s happened in the Park Cities.?

?The bigger house, in my mind needs a bigger lot,? Skaggs said. ?Unless you?re going to multi-family, it?s an issue of density. And what seems to be happening, not just in your area, but in other areas (too)?homes that are somewhat oversized for the lot being built. The lots are expensive. The desire is, I guess, location?back to some of the real estate factors. Location is a major consideration?the economic basis of the community?the education that?s available, convenient recreation. That?s why people want to live there, and they want to use large homes. But, the land is not available. So, there is a bit of massiveness that I think ideally could be controlled better. I almost feel that that?s going to happen. People ought to buy two lots for a large house. Either that or go back to the Not So Big House, by Sarah Suzaanka.?

?Many of the newer neighborhoods have these covenants to try to establish to control development in the area?to not allow inappropriate development,? Skaggs said. ?The problem is where does the individual have their freedom, and where does the community have their say. I believe, there needs to be a balance. Covenants are important to establish a certain level of quality and maybe even style in some cases. But, on the other hand, there needs to be enough flexibility to where individual tastes can be applied as well.?

?Of course, this gets back to capitalist individualists, which is what our nation has grown from,? Skaggs said. ?There needs to be a balance between individual liberties and the common good. There needs to be certain individual liberties. I think the key is to convince those who don?t want their economic freedoms threatened to recognize that the greater freedom is availed by accommodating the overall communities? needs.?

?Yet, within the community, it doesn?t have to have all one style,? Skaggs said. ?On the other hand, the architect is good at designing the right fit between that style and another style with the use of forms. And sometimes contrast is good. It?s not a one size fits all associated with it. I think it?s good to have some adaptive reuse of older facilities, individual tearing down an older home. Another option is to refurbish that home?add some modern techniques, but keep the essence intact.?

?Concerning style, a lot of architects are identified modern,? said Skaggs. ?I think that may be a misnomer. If you look, a lot of the homes in the Park Cities are not modern; but, they were designed by architects. I think that the issue is?you develop a style that relates to the type of family you?re designing for. You know, modern has gone through a number of phases?prairie houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright?International Style, which is the real slick clean look. Now there?s a new modern, which has gone through such wonderful uses of space and material.?

?I think the Dallas area has been behind other cities somewhat in multiple housing/family housing, particularly in the urban setting,? Skaggs said. ?There?s been more of an emphasis towards the single family homes. It?s the younger people and it?s also the older people that maybe retired?but go-go retirees. They still have the ability to get around and enjoy it. And they like to be where the activities, where the culture and activities are. So, they?re beginning to live away from those lawns.?

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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