Durable Growth

Preserving the Shot Tower and English code enforcement

Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, England

Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, England

I promised that this post, weather permitting, would be the first report on my holiday search for great streets in the North Bay.  Weather didn’t permit.  There were a few breaks in the continuing storminess, but those breaks coincided with other obligations, so the great streets report on Petaluma and Cotati will wait until the next post.  The upcoming weather report promises a few more respites from the rain.

I may have been disappointed by the precipitation, but not greatly so because it gave me the opportunity to enjoy another episode of “The Planners”.

Some say, notwithstanding I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke, and The Dick Van Dyke Show, that we’re currently in the golden age of television.  Those folks generally point to the production values and engrossing story arcs of shows like The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Fargo.  I concur with the argument.  And, at least to me, The Planners, with its BBC standards and its compelling stories, is also a small element of that pantheon of television greatness.  Or maybe I’m just a planning groupie.

In the fourth episode of season one, we watch the planners and planning councillors (the folks we’d call planning commissioners in the U.S.) face one of the fundamental issues of urbanism, preserving history while allowing new development.

The Lead Works in Chester were in use for nearly two hundred years, making lead shot to defeat Napoleon and later to expand and protect the British Empire.  But the world has moved on and the factory now stands unused and mouldering.  Of particular interest to preservationists is the 180-foot tall “shot tower”, down which molten lead was dropped to form shot when it hit water below.

A developer is willing to preserve the tower as part of a 53-unit housing project on the remainder of the abandoned site.  But the local historic preservationists dislike the design of the housing, which is contemporary and clad in lead-grey panels to reflect the heritage of the site.

Part of the problem is that the architect is a twit who argues that the primary role of architecture is to be controversial.  I have no problem with architecture being controversial and even believe that it sometimes must be so.  But the primary role of architecture should be facilitating well-lived lives and thriving communities, not controversy.

Elsewhere, a self-taught builder in the Scottish borderlands wants to build a large Balinese-themed home in his small village, thinking that the scale and architecture will give focus to the village.  The villager protector, whose only credential seems to be that his great-uncle was a renowned Scottish folksinger, is appalled.

Also, a former DJ, now heir to an English manor house, wants to add a large wedding venue to the estate, arguing that the income is necessary to avoid dismantling the land holdings which have been in his family for 750 years.  The neighbors fear that he only wants a stage for loud parties that will disturb their sleep.

(In a surprisingly mean-spirited production decision, one of the planning councillors weighing the wedding venue proposal comes across as inept, noting that she fell behind in her review of the project because she “had a weekend-long date with her couch and telly” and is “too fat” to retrieve the planning document from under the car seat.)

Rounding out the episode was a couple of code enforcement issues.

In the first, a small group of pub-goers, after years of debating the merit of Britain versus Sweden with the Swedish member of their group, waited until the Swede was out of town and repainted his house into the Cross of St. George.  They did a fine job, with a sharply-delineated red cross on a white background reaching the full width of the row house and from sidewalk to second story eaves.

The problem was that the home was in a historic neighborhood where the paint job violated the historic standards, so code enforcement became involved.  It’s interesting that what is considered a code enforcement issue in England would be considered vandalism in the U.S.

The other code enforcement issue was more mundane, where a simmering dispute between philosophically incompatible neighbors reached a boiling point over closed circuit cameras.

Enjoy the stories.  And absorb the lessons necessary to become an effective land-use advocate for urbanism.

Next time, I’ll truly get to great streets assessment of Petaluma and Cotati, no matter how much rain may fall.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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