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NYC's War Over Blocked Light; Homelessness Real and Virtual

Welcome to Curbed's weekly roundup of architecture, real estate, and urban planning-related feature stories. Please be in touch if you have a story to recommend.

1. When a subdivision in Covington, Georgia, stalled out in 2007 (with 79 of a planned 249 houses finished), the city planning director decided the city should buy up the unused property and use it for affordable housing, parks, and other initiatives. The Atlantic takes a look at the results.

Vinson's plan for Walker's Bend was unusual—he wanted the city of Covington to spend $1 million to buy up the empty lots there. They'd create more green space and parks, and work with developers to put in some affordable housing, a senior center, and perhaps a business incubator. Rather than allow landlords who don't screen tenants, or who fail to evict bad tenants, to run the development, the city figured it could control who owned property in a time of rampant speculation. 2. Some New Yorkers are enraged by the view-blocking tendencies of new supertall skyscrapers. The Guardian points out that, regardless of whether the current rage wave is overblown, the city has a long history of zoning codes intended to keep light on the street. Maybe we should blame Mies for the change:

But in 1961 the city revised the zoning laws again, making the wedding-cake towers period pieces. Instead, entranced by Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building on Park Avenue, a masterpiece of bronze metal set back in a handsome plaza, officials switched to a zoning code that encourages standalone towers. In exchange for ceding open space to the public, developers could build straight up (the permissible height was governed by a calculation called "floor area ratio", or FAR). The problem: not every architect is as good as Mies, or every client as generous as Seagram. The city was overtaken by banal, sheer towers set in plazas that offered very little to the public and, given the height of the new buildings, were often in shadow. 3. Homelessness is a problem even in the virtual world of SimCity, and Motherboard looks at the ways SimCity players have suggested addressing the problem.

For Bittanti, it's impossible not to see the connections between the homeless problem in the Bay Area and the way it's portrayed in SimCity. "That is, can we fix homelessness in SimCity, or because we haven't fixed homelessness as a problem in real life, therefore we are bound to lose?" Bittanti asked. "Is SimCity a reflection of what's happening in reality, and therefore is very realistic, or is it a programming issue?" 4. And Buzzfeed asks whether tiny houses, typically the darlings of lifestyle blogs, could address homelessness in the real world:

Grubic is right that Dignity has set a precedent. There were few examples of sanctioned homeless villages before Dignity — Dome Village, a cluster of geodesic domes, existed in Downtown L.A. from 1993 to 2006. But since Dignity transformed in the mid-2000s, with city and community support, from a tent community to one with wooden structures heated with small propane tanks, the idea of a village for homeless people made up of a cluster of "tiny homes" with larger structures for shared baths, kitchen, and lounging has taken hold. (Dignity even has the odd distinction of seemingly having been replicated in the video game Grand Theft Auto V.) · Recommended Reading archive [Curbed]