Ron Molen: Apartments with parks imperative for mental, physical well-being

With single-family homes becoming unaffordable, a new way of living is necessary.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Construction at the former Granite Furniture in Sugar House continues at a quick pace as the new Sugarmont Apartments takes shape on Tuesday, May 22, 2018.

More than 70 years ago, two world famous architects promoted their concepts for housing in an ideal urban community. The solution proposed by the French architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, who worked under the name of Le Corbusier, was the multi-story apartment located in a generous park with many amenities for the inhabitant and connected to the city center by fast public transit. His solution influenced planning in many European new towns following the Second World War.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s plan was called Broadacre City, with the single-family house built on a one-acre lot. The acre lot was quickly abandoned for the single house on a quarter-acre lot, resulting in a sea of roofs in remote suburbs far from the city center. Instead of living in a park, the average citizen had a private yard often too small for children over the age of 5 to enjoy and requiring public parks often too far away.

Corbusier’s plan required community and cooperation, while Wright’s plan provided fenced-in isolation. The Frenchman’s plan was ideal for public transit, while Wright’s plan required the automobile, heavy road traffic and freeways often in gridlock.

More efficient, Corbusier’s housing produced less pollution from heating and cooling and currently provides more security from floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters resulting from climate change.

The single-family house is now financially out of reach for half the nation’s urban population, making remote public parks a requirement, but in Corbusier’s plan the immediate park is as important as the apartment itself.

Salt Lake City’s Sugar House neighborhood provides examples of apartments both good and bad. The new projects are often built right up to the sidewalk leaving no space for landscaping, locking too many into a cruel and inhumane environment for living. Half of the units have no view of even a pitiful tree struggling to survive the paved hardscape.

A good solution is the Forest Glen condominium south of the freeway, with apartments located in a lush park that could have five-story apartments instead of two stories, while the size of the park would remain the same.

A park area should be required by planning and zoning for all apartments, and its size should be determined by a formula based on the number of units allowed and the height of the building. The apartment in a park should be the required solution for all future urban housing.

Planning and zoning regulations establish the value of the site, and more enlightened regulations would keep developers from overloading the site. New apartment construction in Sugar House and the rest of the city provides examples of packing the site and ruining the housing environment. Fewer units per acre would still justify public transit, which reduces the need for two cars per family. Small, convenient, commercial developments would be pedestrian friendly, and neighborhoods would become pedestrian pockets with excellent public transit connections.

Every human should have daily contact with the flora and fauna of the natural habitat in which humans evolved. The apartment plus park is not just an option, it is an imperative for the individual’s physical and mental health.

In the current artificial, digital world that often consumes too much of a person’s time, a daily walk through many interconnected parks would help one reconnect with nature’s imprint on who and what we are.

Ron Molen

Ron Molen is a retired architect, current artist and novelist.