Over the past few months, as a member of a land-use committee, I have been reviewing new construction projects in the Mission. I have noticed two things: 1) the residential projects lack any parking but do include bike storage, which I like; and 2) there seems to be a disconnect between the buildings being proposed and the general idea of increasing affordable housing and decreasing displacement. And it is easy to understand why. In the architectural-engineering-construction (AEC) industry, we work project by project. However, housing, homelessness, crime, and other “phenomena” that affect us collectively, must be addressed in the same manner: collectively. In housing, for example, we gather the stakeholder requirements, agency regulations, design criteria, and so on and stay focused on our site, but these issues are not contained within lot lines or even city limits. They are part of a bigger picture.
The projects, which I have enjoyed reviewing, for example, talk about units being BMR (below market rate) and note the need for more affordable housing, even though these particular buildings cannot meet these goals. This is partly due to developers wishing to obtain a higher return on their investments and because there is a feeling that someone will be taking care of these needs somewhere down the line. In other words, no master plan or program outlines where and when additional affordable housing will be built. Therefore, investors buy an old house or building and then hire an architect to design a condo or apartment. But there is no plan delineating which blocks must have affordable housing on them. Therefore, the new residential projects get built, and no room is left in those particular neighborhoods for below-market rate housing.
Program management, which is not as common as project management among many professionals, is the best option to address the housing crisis. State agencies, politicians, and other entities have been creating a statewide framework to develop housing all over California, which is a big step forward. However, for those of us working in the AEC industry, we also need to design and build at the neighborhood level at the very least. Unfortunately, many of the projects I have reviewed focus on just the project site and the adjacent properties but do not include the impact on the block itself, let alone the community in general. Therefore, we receive submissions for residential projects that are out of scale with the surroundings; do not include enough bike storage, even though they have eliminated car parking; and design façades, which do not always mesh well with the neighborhood or adjacent buildings.
As project managers, we focus on our projects, which makes sense. However, we can integrate various artifacts of program management, which can benefit our projects and other current and future community projects. Also, as civil engineers, we forget that the Englishman John Smeaton (1724-1792,) the “father of civil engineering,” first coined the term “civil” in 1750 to distinguish our work from military construction. In other words, civil engineering is meant for the improvement of life for civilians, which make up our communities.