Density is a Seven-Letter Word
based on a story by Dan Coleman
She walked into my office without an appointment one dark and stormy day. She said she had something important to show me. My headache was still pounding like a jackhammer from last night’s public meeting. Let’s just say I wasn’t in the mood for another developer on a fishing expedition. She made the fatal mistake of thinking I was a sucker for her pitch to bring us a quality project. I took one look at her sketches and knew she was only after one thing: density. That’s right, as much density as you could pack into the little worthless parcel of land she called “the site.” The kind of density where you can reach out and adjust your neighbour's TV from your kitchen window. I wasn’t buying, not today.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she had about a snowball’s chance in hell of her dream coming true in a Planning Authority area like this. Everybody in the county except her and her estate agent broker knew there was good reason nobody had ever developed that infill property. The site was a developer’s nightmare: no infrastructure, flooding problems, and hazardous waste. To top it off, some insect on the site was just listed as an endangered species. No wonder that parcel had been passed over by every developer looking to build some houses and make a quick profit.
She looked at me with a hopeful stare waiting for my reply. What could I say? That her project stunk? That it had about as much appeal as yesterday’s canteen coffee? This was the worst part of the job. I can deal with the politics, the press hounds, even the engineers, but I hate telling people their dream is dead. In the end I did what any self-respecting planner would do, I told her to start over. Wipe the slate clean and get some new ideas. Hire a real architect. Her eyes met mine and she asked if there wasn’t some way to make her project work.
I couldn’t refuse her plea for help. Suddenly I became a man possessed. Whipping out my biggest red permanent marker, I began frantically making notes on her drawings. Huge ‘X’s obliterating the worst parts, and pointed arrows leading to cryptic suggestions for those parts I deemed salvageable. When I was done it looked like her plans had played a victim in Friday the Thirteenth Part XX.
She rolled up her plans, thanked me, and walked out of my office. I wondered if I would ever see her again. Did she have what it takes to fight, deal with the the Planning Department, the manager, even the councillors, and hang in there despite the odds? Something inside me knew that I hadn’t seen the last of her.
If Planners had to work like computer programmers...
Dear Mr. Planning Consultant
Please plan and build me a house. I'm not quite sure of what I need, so you should use your discretion.
My house should have between two and forty-five bedrooms. Just make sure the plans are such that the bedrooms can be easily added or deleted. When you bring the plans to me, I will make the final decision of what I want. Also, bring me the cost breakdown for each proposal so that I can arbitrarily pick one at a later time.
Keep in mind that the house I ultimately choose must cost less than the one I am currently living in. Make sure, however, that you correct all the deficiencies that exist in my current house (the door into my kitchen vibrates when I close it, and the walls don't have nearly enough insulation or windows in them, and the view from the main bedroom is entirely unsatisfactory).
As you prepare the plan, also keep in mind that I want to keep yearly maintenance costs as low as possible. This should mean the incorporation of extra-cost tasteful features like aluminium, vinyl, or composite cladding. (If you choose not to specify aluminium, be prepared to explain your decision in detail.)
Please take care that modern design practices and the latest materials are used in construction of the house, as I want it to be a showplace for the most up-to-date ideas and methods. Be alerted, however, that kitchen should be designed to accommodate (among other things) my 1951 Kelvenator refrigerator.
To assure that you are building the correct house for our entire family, you will need to contact each of my children, and also our in-laws. My mother-in-law will have very strong feelings about how the house should be designed, since she visits us at least once a year. Make sure that you weigh all of theses options carefully and come to the right decision. I, however, retain the right to overrule any decisions that you make.
Please don't bother me with small details right now. Your job is to develop the overall plans for the site and the house and get the permission. At this time, for example, it is not appropriate to be choosing the colour of the woodwork. However, keep in mind that my wife likes blue.
Also, do not worry at this time about acquiring the resources to build the house itself. Your first priority is to develop detailed plans and specifications. Once I approve these plans, however, I would expect the permission within 48 hours, and for you to arrange the start of building operations immediately afterwards.
While you are designing this house specifically for me, keep in mind that sooner or later I will have to sell it to someone else. It therefore should have appeal to a wide variety of potential buyers. Please make sure before you finalise the plans that there is a consensus of the potential homebuyers in my area that they like the features this house has. This should avoid messing about with any planning appeal.
I advise you to run up and look at the house my neighbour build last year, as we like it a great deal. It has many things that we feel we also need in our new home, particularly the 50-metre swimming pool. With careful engineering, I believe that you can plan this into our new house without impacting the construction cost.
Please prepare a complete set of plans. It is not necessary at this time to do architect type design, since they will be used only for construction bids. Be advised, however, that you will be held accountable for any increase of construction costs as a result of later design changes.
You must be thrilled to be working on as an interesting project as this! To be able to use the latest techniques and materials and to be given such freedom in your designs is something that can't happen very often. Contact me as soon as possible with your ideas and completed plans.
PS: My wife has just told me that she disagrees with many of the instructions I've given you in this letter. As a Planner, it is your responsibility to resolve these differences. I have tried in the past and have been unable to accomplish this. If you can't handle this responsibility, I will have to find another planner.
PPS: Perhaps what I need is not a house at all, but a large caravan. Please advise me as soon a possible if this is the case.
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