Incremental Development and Mass Construction

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Zeren was fascinated by zoning, which felt like the “greatest board game ever invented” and shapes what happens in cities. He dove into the details and the nuances in his work where he administered the zoning ordinance for the city. He mostly worked on approvals for renovations in a suburban town with massive home value appreciation, a neighborhood that reminded him of where he grew up in California. 

But something didn’t feel right. He had encountered Jane Jacobs and The Death and Life of American Cities during his education and he began to investigate and question the underlying fiscal structure of the neighborhoods he worked in. 

“You buy a house in Newton because you don’t want things to change,” Zeren tells host Joe Kelly on a recent Mass Construction podcast episode. “You want them to stay the same. Your retirement plan is your home appreciation.” 

But few people can afford to live there, which was frustrating for Zeren. He wanted to take action to make places stronger, more resilient, and less car-centric, but found it was an incredible challenge to the status quo. People getting involved in city planning “aren’t coming out to speak in favor of a corner store, they’re coming out to speak against an apartment building,” Zeren says. 

When it was time to become a parent, his family bought a triple-decker in Providence, Rhode Island, because prices were out of control in the Boston area. 

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