Conventional development codes use acres and feet as the measurement for all performance standards. However, urban development is required to be measured at a much smaller increment. Urban development requires a finer grain approach where every little inch counts.
Contemporary development and lending practices for commercial development requires a wide berth. New buildings require acres (plural) and they often require space between the building. Conventional codes also require space and distance from any adjacent uses, because in the suburbs, the gas station cannot be located near the auto parts store. By design and thus regulated through zoning codes, suburban development is required to measure these distances and separations in larger quantities.
One of my favorite architectural writers, Leon Battista Alberti, is famously quoted in his treatise on architecture that the city is like a great house, and the house in its turn a small city. As an architect, I like this metaphor because it demonstrates the complexity and attention to detail needed in the planning of cities. The architecture of the house, or any building at that matter, requires attention to detail at the smallest scale. The location of an outlet, the placement of a light, or the corona of a molding, must be located within the smallest of tolerances. The alignment of streets and placement of buildings in the city, is as complex as the molding choice and window placement on a wall within the house.
These tolerances have been forgotten in conventional planning and development. The end result are vast spaces where no one wants to be, and prevent use from easily traveling between two points.
Urban development requires the use of every little inch. At this scale, the most unique opportunities are able to thrive. The above picture demonstrates how the narrowest of spaces can come to life. This tiny store front is approximately 15 feet wide, and rests between two larger buildings. This small space not only fills in a missing hole on the block, it is home to a productive business.
These small buildings fill a need and provide diversity in our cities. Nothing is wasted. Simply by changing the increment of measurement provides the opportunity for what would normally be a buffer to become a delightful building in your city. Great urbanism requires us to return to smaller increments of measurement, where every little inch counts.