Can Retirement Plans Help Shape New Blocks?


Skinny Buildings

An issue we’re beginning to delve into with the Better Block is how can we begin creating places that support and incubate small local businesses, while increasing density so that a large enough population can help keep these places afloat, all while promoting a greater sense of place.

When you look at the above picture of a row of skinny buildings, you might not realize that much of what is shown that we built regularly in the past, is now illegal. One of the major initiatives of the Better Block project is to expose the policies and rules that restrict this type of development and to begin a plan to revise these in order to allow more optimal land use patterns that generate greater economics, and help provide a stronger revenue source for its surrounding infrastructure.

Multiple skinny buildings which were constructed by multiple individuals as opposed to the now typical “Master Developer” process

Two major hurdles we face are that block development of this type is now largely placed in the domain of single “master developers” who create large buildings that will fill the entire block. These developments are typically uniform, and reliant on massive outside capital investments to construct. Also, international fire codes restrict much of this development, preferring to create greater separation of the buildings which diminishes land use potential, increases construction price, and reduces walkability.

Thinner streets, which are more affordable to maintain and construct, alongside skinny buildings with high retail activation and affordable residential on top, creating a more sustainable and walkable neighborhood.

So how can we begin building anew in a form that we regularly created in the past? One area to look at is having large financial groups like pension funds diversify their investments and look at identifying multiple blocks in a community and constructing a single skinny building in these places. Also, work with existing businesses in community to change retirement plans from volatile market based investments, and look at investing in their own communities with additional skinny buildings. These investments, if done properly, could allow the same returns for employees, and also create a vested interest from the shareholders since the health of the buildings future is directly tied to the future retirement of the individual. Also, we’ve heard time and again that real estate is a good bet for long term investment strategies.

Residential tower development constructed with Firemen’s Pension fund. How many skinny buildings, sprinkled throughout neighborhoods could have been built for this same price?

We hope to look at more of these models in future Better Block initiatives and to even help craft our own retirement plan for future employees that does exactly this. Stay tuned!

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