A new tool teaches NYC developer lingo by making you an all-powerful urban planner


A new tool teaches NYC developer lingo by making you an all-powerful urban planner

A new tool lets you be a city planning god to learn developer lingo that shapes New York. (Courtesy CUP)

In New York, as supertalls shoot up and the outer boroughs yield to relentless waves of glazing, there’s growing public interest in the unsexy urban planning jargon that shapes the city behind the scenes.

Enter the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP). The New York–based nonprofit that taught architects how not to be dicks has debuted an interactive tool to explain one of the most confusing concepts in planning and development.

Building on the What is Zoning? toolkit, CUP’s What is FAR? helps users get savvy with developer lingo—particularly the concept Floor Area Ratio (as readers may know, FAR determines the height and bulk of buildings). Language is power, and CUP, along with eight community partners, reasoned that it’s helpful for ordinary folks to speak the language of bureaucrats and capitalists when discussing changes in their neighborhoods.

FAR of 1 (Courtesy CUP)

To learn about FAR, players move blocks across a 2,000-square-foot lot. At first, the tool asks for a building with a FAR of 1—a one-story building that fills the entire 20-by-100-foot parcel.

Using the same number of blocks, players can re-mass the structure to create a new building—also with a FAR of 1.

Luxurious compound with two outbuildings. FAR? Still 1. (Courtesy CUP)

For those who want to play Jane Jacobs (or Robert Moses), What is FAR? has an area to visualize how zoning (and re-zoning) shapes whole neighborhoods. The tool—with lot coverage, height limits, and rear yard stipulations—gets really granular, producing familiar city blocks or whatever the hell you want:

FAR of 4 with only 40 percent lot coverage with 80-foot street walls because I am a city planning god. (Courtesy CUP)

It almost goes without saying that those who lost hours to SimCity will probably enjoy this exercise. For those wanting more, What Is Zoning? and What Is FAR? are part of CUP’s Envisioning Development Toolkits, teaching tools that spur discussion around development and land use.

(Courtesy CUP)