Zoning Game Lets Players Develop a 2,000-Square-Foot Lot

"What is FAR?" challenges players to master the floor area ratio.

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With real estate development battles raging from Los Angeles to Boston, a new interactive game aims to help players understand one lesser-known aspect of zoning that’s shaping many neighborhoods.

The tool comes from the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) — the same nonprofit that urged designers working in cities to consider social impact and “not be a Dick.” CUP also broke down the “big picture” of NYC welfare, and created a game to help Harlem residents understand zoning and their rights.

This latest effort, “What is FAR?,” builds on the organization’s zoning toolkit and helps the public understand FAR, or floor area ratio: the total floor area divided by the lot area. The calculation is used by builders to determine the height and bulk of buildings, and most local governments set a maximum FAR (pronounced “F-A-R,” not “far”) for each parcel to limit the size of a building in relation to the size of the lot it’s on. It often goes hand-in-hand with things like height limits. (For more on how FAR connects to policy and how buildings are designed, see Next City’s “Do Taller Buildings Have to Mean Darker Streets?”)

After getting a briefing on FAR basics, users can move blocks across a 2,000-square-foot lot to set up buildings with different FARs, starting with a 1-story building that fills the entire lot and then experimenting with any number of building-block combinations that fit within various sets of regulations.

For users who want to dive deeper into this wonky world, the tool also visualizes how zoning and re-zoning shapes whole neighborhoods, from lot coverage to height limits to rear yard stipulations.

Players still itching to flex their virtual planning powers once they’ve mastered FAR can follow up with the Brand New Subway game, which allows players to tinker with the NYC subway; the Urban Institute and National Housing Conference’s affordable housing tool that puts players in the shoes of a developer; and Inside the Rent, which shows what it takes to develop a new apartment building in NYC.

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Kelsey E. Thomas is a writer and editor based in the most upper-left corner of the country. She writes about urban policy, equitable development and the outdoors (but also about nearly everything else) with a focus on solutions-oriented journalism. She is a former associate editor and current contributing editor at Next City.

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Tags: real estateinclusionary zoning

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