Building blocked : neighborhood politics and administrative efficiency in Philadelphia's zoning relief process
Author(s)Karp, Ross A
Neighborhood politics and administrative efficiency in Philadelphia's zoning relief process
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Urban Studies and Planning.
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In response to a widespread dissatisfaction with an inefficient and highly political system of development permitting and land use decision making, Philadelphia instituted a large-scale reform of its zoning code and planning documents in 2007. These reforms attempted to reconcile a reduction in the need for zoning relief with the necessity to maintain some form of community input in development as effective as that which had been made possible by the stream of zoning variances in the past. Municipal planning was emphasized as a means to create more development-friendly zoning procedures. Community review of variance requests was formalized using a system of Registered Community Organizations (RCOs). This thesis proposes that reformers did not sufficiently recognize the ways in which internal neighborhood divisions undermine the smooth operation of a zoning and planning regime. Formalizing community input in zoning relief lends credence to forces of ideological conflict which take legitimacy away from the plan and politicize the administration of zoning. Findings suggest that the compromises necessary in creating a new plan and zoning regime insured that developers will continue to push against planning restrictions, while communities continue to see the zoning relief process as their only avenue to debate cultural and ideological battles around development. This increases the scrutiny on individual projects without allowing more holistic discussions about future growth. RCOs may not be willing or able to run meetings that serve as impartial neighborhood forums, but are asked to do so to be taken seriously by the zoning and planning powers. The impact of RCO's input on developers and on the decisions made by the Zoning Board of Adjustment is uncertain at best. Finally, a number of suggestions are given to improve the system, including a new zoning mechanism designed for mutual gains between neighborhood groups, developers, and the city.
Thesis: M.C.P., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, 2015.This electronic version was submitted by the student author. The certified thesis is available in the Institute Archives and Special Collections.Cataloged from student-submitted PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (pages 147-152).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Urban Studies and Planning.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Urban Studies and Planning.