Wednesday, July 20, 2011

1923 Zoning Code, Rogers Park, and Courtyard Apartments

Rogers Park, 1923 Zoning Ordinance
This is my colorized version of the Volume District map for Rogers Park, adopted as a part of the 1923 Zoning Code. There were five volume districts created throughout the city, but only districts 1, 2, and 3 were mapped in Rogers Park. 

I find zoning maps interesting, especially when they represent the first attempt of a city to get a handle on it's own development.  Does it reflect the neighborhood character or aspirations for the future?  Generally it's an interweaving of the two.

You can see that the greatest volume was assigned to the area adjacent to the lakefront.  This was a typical pattern for the 1923 code.   With a maximum permitted height of 195' the blue zone would have allowed 20 story buildings throughout the area.  It's hard to imagine what Rogers Park would be like if that had happened.  Even the least dense district 1 (yellow) would allow buildings around 6 stories. As the legendary Homer Hoyt once observed, if Chicago had been built-out to the extent permitted in the 1923 Zoning Ordinance it would have housed the entire population of the United States.

7062-7078 N. Wolcott, 1931
So what's really going on here?  One  answer is that the map represents the ideal distribution of land uses and densities over time. But ideal for who? 

The creation of these maps followed a survey and planning process where existing development was cataloged and future needs were anticipated.  The ordinance itself was shaped by volunteer commissioners, city planners (still a new profession), and members of the Chicago Real Estate Board.  As others have observed, city planning makes for an odd combination of entrenched financial interests and idealistic social scientists with an unshakeable belief in the power of rational land-use.  There are always disconnects between the two.  As developers know, there's some value in pointing to an official city document and assuring potential investors that they can build their 20-story apartment on the site.

This is my colorized Use District map for Rogers Park showing the locations zoned for industrial, commercial and residential development.  Rogers Park's major commercial thoroughfares were (and are) Clark, Devon, Morse, and Howard. If you're familiar with the neighborhood you'll notice several additional commercial areas.  Many of these never developed the way the zoning map envisioned, or at least not to the extent shown. 

A criticism of the 1923 code was that it didn't allot enough area as residential districts.  But by 1923 there were fewer single family homes being built in Rogers Park.  In fact, every major metropolitan area saw a surge in the construction of multi-family buildings.  But even if the entire neighborhood had been zoned to encourage the least dense development it would have still permitted the construction of 6-story apartment buildings side-by-side with single-family homes.  The 1923 code was not a tool intended to limit development, but rather to make it more predictable and consistent.

This is my attempt to geocode a list of courtyard apartments.  For the purposes of this study these are generally 3-stories in height with a raised basement built roughly between 1915 and 1930. Special thanks to BatchGeo.  Most of these buildings were built after the 1923 code, so it's interesting to see the wide distribution.  Based on the 1923 code there were no districts which would have prohibited their construction.  Although there are a few clusters, but they don't seem to directly relate to the zoning maps.  I suspect the most significant factors governing their location were economic.  But the distribution map provides a spatial sense of how these building types relate (or don't) to the formal zoning goals of the city. 

1638-1646 W. Farwell, 1929
I can't end this post without referencing Joseph Schweiterman's and Dana Caspall's book, "The Politics of Place:  A History of Zoning in Chicago."  They provide a coherent framework for understanding Chicago's zoning system, and much of the background information above was stolen from them.  Definitely worth reading.

Next week is vacation!  So the next post may be even slower than usual...