Using innovative development design to shape affordable communities

In the first iteration of the Groundwork FutureIsNow speaker series, Victor Dover, a nationally recognized change maker in city and street design, discussed the role of innovative design practices when developing a sustainable community.

In the first iteration of the Groundwork FutureIsNow speaker series, Victor Dover, nationally recognized change maker in city and street design, presented best practices for innovative designs that push developers to retrofit suburbia, and to look for ways to use existing properties instead of expansive searches for “new” land. Dover also explained that zoning laws can limit innovative housing practices, restricting use of space and the types of housing that can be built in certain areas.

His approach requires swaying public opinion on growth and density by pursuing a gentle density that maintains the architectural integrity and natural beauty of an area. “When you sell isolation, each addition takes away from what you are selling,” said Dover. “You can combat this by selling community.”

He relates this to how commercial zoning is a significant factor affecting land shortages within Northwest Arkansas. Main thoroughfares such as 71b and 412 are exclusively zoned for commercial use, preventing the expansion of housing options. “Dead malls and shopping centers are plentiful,” said Dover. “Approximately 22.2% of land [in Northwest Arkansas] is zoned for commercial use, where 4 to 10% is optimal.”

According to Dover, per unit land costs can only be decreased through expanding land productivity through innovative developments. Dover presented examples of these developments including live-work units in Atlanta and Wheeler, Oklahoma, and historical garden apartments, all of which were his designs. These developments increase land productivity while maintaining the local aesthetic and accommodating for community growth.

In an era of rapidly rising rent, 21 million Americans are cost burdened because of housing. In Rogers, an estimated 53% of a family’s household budget is spent on housing. Victor presented one way to combat this burden, by reforming current zoning codes and focusing on a design-first approach to development that promotes innovative community growth within the lands we are already familiar with.

Dover is currently serving as the National chair for the Congress of New Urbanism. He also co-authored “Street Design,” and is currently working on a second novel discussing contemporary land use practices.

The disparity of workforce housing is a complex issue, requiring a holistic approach. Groundwork gathered a diverse group of experts on topics ranging from innovative city planning to financial literacy for the FutureIsNow speaker series. The speakers shared inventive solutions to the workforce housing issues facing Northwest Arkansas and aimed to educate community members on the importance of attainable housing within an inclusive community.

Written by: Payton Willhite