Thursday, June 04, 2009

New Blog Location

To all my valued readers, The Built Environment has a new home. I am switching to a Wordpress based format with its own URL. This will allow me to better market the blog, as well as link to some of my other websites. I have moved all of the posts and comments from this blog, so all the content is still there. However, I am still tweaking the overall format of the blog, and I keep testing different themes to find one that I want to use as a base, and tweak it from there. I had one that I really liked how it looked, but it didn't have any flexibility, so I started over. The one I am currently using is working OK at the moment. However, it doesn't matter how much I tweak the format, the content will remain, and that is the important part, isn't it?

Please check it out and bookmark the new location. You can find me at Hope to see you there!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sad Day in Homebuilding

It was first reported yesterday in the Boulder Daily Camera That Mcstain Enterprises has filed for bankruptcy protection. This is on the heals of Village Homes filing for bankruptcy last fall. These are two highly respected Colorado home builders, which both made the top 350 list of giant home builders that I noted in my previous post.

While it is not a surprise, it is truly sad to see Mcstain go under. They were one of the pioneers of green building, particularly on a production scale. The company was operated with a huge dosing of respect and integrity, something that is sorely lacking in many companies these days. The reasons they stated for filing is the poor housing market, and more importantly the gridlocked lending we find ourselves in. In my opinion, the gridlocked lending is making a bad situation worse. Without lending, nothing new is getting built or developed, which is now causing massive layoffs in the architecture and engineering fields. The entire industry has been brought to its knees.

Lets just hope that we can work our way out of this sooner than later, before we are all living under a bridge.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Shrinking Builders

Professional Builder recently issued there 2009 Housing Giants list. Typically they have listed the top 400 builders in the country based on revenue. This list would typically include the large national builders such as DR Horton, Centex, KBhome, Standard Pacific Homes, as well as larger regional builders. With a few exceptions, small volume local builders would not be on the list.

With the residential crash, this years list is the top 350, not the top 400! The smallest builder on the list, only built 50 homes last year. In the not too distant past, a 50 home builder would have been considered a small volume local builder. My how things have changed.

Interesting Historical Dilemma

Historic Preservation has existed for several decades now nationally, and for a couple of decades locally. The original intent of historic preservation was to help protect and preserve those pristine homes and structures, and in some cases districts of our past architecture that made our communities unique, and/or that had a direction connection to important historical people. Nationally, the guidelines are that any structure (or landscape for that matter) that is at least 50 years old is eligible for designation, assuming it meets other criteria as well, such as being more or less intact, and not substantially altered. This has served us well.

However, now we have an interesting time coming up, and one that will receive much debate. In the past, prior to the 1950's, for the most part, homes and buildings were pretty unique. If builders built more than one of a particular floor plan, there usually wern't more than a dozen or so, and usually far fewer. Now though, the tract homes of the 50's are technically eligble for historical designation. Locally, this hasn't been an issue, because our collection of 50's homes is not huge, and has been consentrated in a few areas, with most of the floor plans fairly unique.

Now though, over the next decade the tract homes of the 1960's will be coming up for eligibility, then the 70's and so on. Now we will have homes eligible that not only do we have hundreds of them locally, but there are thousands nationally as builders built pretty much the exact same floor plan in communities across the country. For example, the brick ranch home pictured here, was built in Fort Collins in a neighborhood called South College Heights where there are dozens of similar homes. The same home was built in Greeley, in Panorama in Grand Junction, and hundreds in the Denver area.

Which brings me to the question of now what? Do we really want to designate and preserve entire tracts of identical homes? Not only locally, but nationally. Do we find a few examples in each community to protect? And if so, how do we figure this out? I don't have the answers as of now, nor have I formed a strong opinion on this yet. However, the Fort Collins Landmark Preservation Commission is starting a project to document the various kinds of home architecture prevalent in Fort Collins, so I volunteered to research and document homes from the 1960's to current. This will be some interesting research, and will share it with my readers.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Web 2.0 arrggghhh!

Sheese, with the explosion of social media, I feel like we all have to be specialists in full time marketing! And marketing never has been one of my strong points. Now we have LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter (and those are just the ones I am on), plus Youtube, blogs, websites, you name it. To heck with big brother, we are doing it to ourselves!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Midori Approval

Tonight we obtained Planning Commission approval for the Midori project I have been working on for awhile. The next step is County Commissioners. This project still continues to generate solid interest in the lots and homes, and stands a good chance of being sold out by ground breaking! Here is the current site plan. For more information on this sustainable project, visit

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Built Environment is moving.

I have started working on moving this blog over to a Wordpress format with its own domain. However, there is the rub. Both the domains for The Built Environment, and just Built Environment are taken. So I am trying to figure out a good domain name. Any ideas?

Car Free Society?

Recently, there was an article in the New York Times about a suburb in Vauban, Germany where cars are basically outlawed. Street parking, driveways, and home garages are forbidden within the community. If you do have a car, you have the option of purchasing a garage space on the outskirts of the community to park it a mighty premium. From what I gather, this community is wildly popular among the eco-friendly and executives alike. This community works where it is, because it happens to be located along a tram line with a direct link to downtown Frieberg, and connections to the commuter rail. Compared to the United States, it is widely known that Germany and the rest of Europe have a very comprehensive and successful public transportation system, that makes living car free for entire communities possible.

Can it work here? In my opinion, it can in limited locations across the country. Indeed, you can find people almost anywhere that don't have cars, either because they can't afford one, or choose not to have one, and they get along fairly well. But for an entire community? I say, this won't happen on a large scale in this country until we start thinking about the common good, with a look at the long term, and start putting some real emphasis on creating a viable public transportation system, that actually goes somewhere. I am not talking about just Fort Collins, but the country as a whole. People have to be mobile, and to go without cars, there needs to be a way to get from point A to point B in a relatively short period of time. We are starting to see signs of life on this front, but we have a long way to go. Of course, this will also require more compact development patterns. Indeed, in Vauban, single family homes are not generally permitted. Basically the community is a TOD project, but taken one step further.

To further this goal and concept, I think we also need to get away from the idea that homes must face paved public streets. Why does a street have to have 30-50 feet of asphalt to function as a public street? Why can't homes face "green streets"? Instead of asphalt, why not landscaped courtyards? This would also serve as a place to play for kids that is close to home...and allow for smaller lots and denser developments. I have been pushing this concept for years with some success. A current project that I am working on is attempting to do this. I have blogged about Midori before, with more coming soon. The battles I face in trying to do "green streets" is how do we address the homes without a paved street, how to get utilities to them without a front door, and the real issue of fire access. Of course, people also have to get away from the idea that they have to have a garage attached to the home. There are some communities that have been successful at this, including co-housing communities, and many of the communities built by The Cottage Company Interestingly though, many other builders who try to build off the concept of The Cottage Company include attached garages now.

I would love to find an infill piece of ground to create a car free community in Fort Collins. Anybody want to join me on this?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Computer Frustrations Part 2

Those of you that know me, know that I am a huge mac fan. I love my MacBook, and will tell anyone that listens that even though Mac's are more expensive upfront, you spend far less time keeping them running, as you do with Windows on PC's. Mac's just work. However, some of the software I use for work, specifically AutoCAD only works on windows. So I am also forced to run windows on my mac as a virtual machine. I won't go into all the details, but for the most part it has worked well. I do use XP, and have stayed away from Vista.

A couple of weeks ago I started having all kinds of issues with XP running extremely slow. I even did the standard Windows thing, and did the equivalent of reformatting the hard drive and reinstalling everything. That has helped somewhat, but there is still a bug in it somewhere.

However, at the same time I learned about Windows newest operating system, Windows 7. Usually I am very suspicious of anything new from Microsoft, but I took the leap and downloaded the free evaluation version of the operating system. One advantage of running thinks virtually, is that I can easily set up more than one operating system. Anyway, long story short, I am very impressed with Windows 7.0. Even though it is still in pre release form, it has worked for me without any issues, and is far faster than XP. So far, it far outshines Vista, and seems to be better than XP. One downfall for windows though, is I hear they will have several versions of the it coming out, as they have done in the past, only to add to the confusion.

Don't get confused, Mac is till the superior operating system, and the fact there is only one version of it is a big plus to boost. But if I have to run Windows too, then, at least for now, Windows 7.0 looks very promising.