How Does Urban Planning Continue in a Global Pandemic? Meet QK’s Virtual Counter

Qk Virtual Counter

How Does Urban Planning Continue in a Global Pandemic?




Meet QK's virtual counter

Few things are unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While people continue to see changes in their workplace, their schools, the way they purchase goods, and even the way they interact with others, it is clear that for Planning departments, the show must go on. But how? Planners oftentimes work collaboratively, and direct, often face-to-face communication with government officials and the public they serve is an integral part of the Planning profession. Beginning early Spring of 2020, this became a little challenging. And answering the call by the cities we serve to continue our work as closely as possible to a “business as usual” environment, while adhering to safety protocols, QK developed the capacity to assist planning departments with a program we like to call … Virtual Counter.

Virtual Counter is a program designed by QK Planners and IT professionals that uses Microsoft® Bookings and Teams technology to enable to the public to schedule appointments with Planning staff from the comfort of their homes and offices. Our Virtual Counter has access to Planning staff schedules and allows the public to choose and lock in private appointments. Appointments are blocked out in one-hour intervals and can take place via phone or video. QK has implemented a Virtual Counter for the City of Selma, California as part of our on-call Planning services and we are finding great success for both the City and its citizens.

At QK, we understand how important it is for Planning departments to continue to be accessible and available to the public. We also recognize how important it is to get creative and make sure every voice is heard and every concern addressed, while safely maintaining physical distance. Virtual Counter  meets those needs, and is also beneficial for people who previously found it difficult to physically come to the Planning department for face-to-face interaction.

And we don’t think Virtual Counter stops at the end of the pandemic. We foresee the success of Virtual Counter continuing even after the pandemic is over. We believe it to be potentially invaluable for cities and counties to offer a hybrid approach to working with Planning departments where members of the community and land developers will be able to schedule in-person, video, or phone meetings that fit their needs and schedules.

Is your city interested in customizing QK’s Virtual Counter for your Planning department?  Call Principal Planner Steve Brandt today at (559) 733-0440, and learn just how easy it is.

Growing Importance Of Urban Sustainability

3D Rendering of a Sustainable Design

Growing Importance of Urban Sustainability


By Jessica Bispels, Associate Planner

Urban Sustainability

Urban sustainability is the idea that a city can be organized and designed to reduce negative environmental and social impacts on future generations. This can include considerations for air quality, clean water, proper waste treatment, buildings that are built to last, and even social equity. Sustainable cities work hard to ensure their citizens, infrastructure, and environments have the chance to thrive for years to come.

Urban sustainability has become increasingly popular in the United States in the past couple of decades. Sustainability though, is not a new concept at all. Nineteenth century planners Ebenezer Howard, Le Corbusier, and Frank Lloyd Wright pioneered planning sustainable cities. Then in the 20th century, innovator Aldo Leopold wrote a piece entitled The Land Ethic, in which he began to encourage citizens to think more about the impact they were placing on the environment. Bill McKibben was thinking along the same lines as Leopold when he wrote, The End of Nature, which is considered the first book to discuss global warming written in an effort to gain public understanding.

In 1992, the United Nations hosted a summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil regarding environment and development, specifically sustainable development. The summit was considered a success because through it, many world leaders adopted the ideas of change in their home countries and have since implemented sustainable development practices in their cities. The success of the summit helped to create the widespread general consensus that the importance of sustainability cannot be denied, or else the future of our planet is in danger.

Since then, planners and scholars in the United States have been working hard to define the necessary components of sustainability and figure out how exactly they must be implemented in our modern democratic system. These ideas have been criticized though, with Agenda 21 being the particular target. As stated on, “Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts on the environment.”

Some people thought that these sustainable development practices gave the government too much power. Regardless, people like World Future Council Co-Founder Herbert Girardet, architect and urban designer/planner Peter Calthorpe, Princeton professor of climate change and systems ecology Stephen Pacala, and theoretical physicist and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Robert Socolow have been theorizing ways to gauge how much an area like a city is harming the environment, and how to combat that through urban planning.

Urban sustainability continues to be one of the most important issues of modern planning. Planners and builders have been working to create many different kinds of standards, like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure Envision Sustainability Professional (ENV SP) certifications, that offer certified professionals who can help people, companies, and government organizations plan and design for sustainability. Although many cities all over the United States are working toward being more sustainable, the future of comprehensive urban sustainability will require a complete ideological shift of most Americans.

The Cultural Backlash of The Industrial Revolution: what Three Architects Did To Change The Idea of The City

The Cultural Backlash of The Industrial Revolution


By Jessica Bispels, Associate Planner


what Three Architects did To Change THe Idea Of The City

(Some of the most influential architects of the post-industrial revolution world were Frank Lloyd Write, Le Corbusier, and Ebenezer Howard. The following is an analysis of the utopian cities they designed to try and make sense of what they felt cities were doing wrong, and what they should look like in the future.)

To both Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, the industrial city was not adequate for the needs of the people. To Wright, a big city like Chicago was “a monstrous aberration built by greed, destructive both to efficient production and to human values.” After Corbusier’s move to Paris, he noticed that “the cramped and noisy business center made efficiency impossible; antiquated building codes forbade modern methods of construction; housing was inadequate for all classes….” Wright and Corbusier sought to do more than change the layout of the city; they wanted to reinvent the way in which they’re designed. Both architects wanted to ensure individualism in the average urbanite’s life, while creating a comfortable aesthetic where the built environment is integrated into the vast expanse of nature. It is in their specific methods that the differences arise. Wright’s Broadacre City places responsibility on the individual to create his or her ideal life within his or her own plot of land. Corbusier’s idea of individualism is to create a community in which the mundane tasks of survival are taken care of, and the individual is free to do as he or she pleases. Both Wright and Corbusier’s utopian cities attempt to free the individual, but their contrasting ideas of what the individual wants create differing results.

In Wright’s plan for Broadacre City, he wanted to create an alternative society. His ideal city enabled him to show the workings of government, education, religion, the economy, and the home as integral parts of the total environment. As he witnessed the stock-market crash of 1929, he strengthened his theory that the United States needed a radical physical and economic change. Wright called for a decentralization of urban areas, as he felt that the heavily concentrated city was obsolete. Broadacre City was to be comprised of decentralized units strewn across the rural countryside. He wanted a “marriage of town and country.” By taking away the walking city, Wright relied on technological advancements in transportation to make his city work.

Sketches for the Broadacre City project by Frank Lloyd Wright

Photo By: Kjell Olsen – originally posted to Flickr as Wright Sketches for Broadacre City 2, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Wright also witnessed the development of the automobile, and like so many other Americans of his time, he was fascinated by the automobile, convinced of its potential to revolutionize modern life and blind to its limitations. The assumption that every American will own or have access to a car was essential to Broadacre City. Within the city, all families would have at least one acre of land, and have an absolute right to that area. Neither shape nor scale appear recognizably urban: one ‘city’ might sprawl over 100 square miles without any recognizable center. The automobile was needed for this to be effective. As the houses, the factories, the stores, the office buildings, and the cultural centers are all in the midst of farmland, the average American needed to travel by car.

One of Wright’s ideas in his city was to shrink the economic center to the home and use the family as the basic economic unit. This was to ensure that the proletarian could “never be unemployed or a slave to anyone.” He hoped that this would strengthen the family. As a base for production, education, and culture, the family would recapture the centrality which it had surrendered to urban institutions. Broadacre city would be agrarian based, as all individuals would be part-time farmers. This placed a large importance on the individual members of Broadacre city. Wright hoped this responsibility would secure the family’s strength, while ensuring that the individuality which Wright had been preaching would have its base in the very structure of the country.

It’s important to note that the individualism of Wright’s city lies in the individual’s right to run his or her own economic center. The individual can and must do with his or her land what he or she thinks is needed. The freedom comes in the ownership of property. Wright’s concept of freedom and individuality is not interpreted in the same way by all, as is seen in Le Corbusier’s Radiant City.

Great Depression

Le Corbusier was also a witness to the Great Depression. As the Great Depression strengthened Wright’s conviction, it changed Corbusier’s idea of administration in his utopian city. In his first city, The Contemporary City, there was no single power to regulate all the separate private corporations which accomplished the essential work of society. But Corbusier’s faith in the invisible hand of free competition was diminished after the Great Depression. He now held that organization must extend beyond the large corporations. Total administration would replace the marketplace in the Radiant City, and it would be up to experts to “match society’s needs to its productive capacities.” This differs from Wright’s belief that once the utopian city is designed, the individuals would be free to do as they please, in an organic order. Corbusier called for extensive planning and administration the entire way through, and this planned hierarchy of administration would replace the state. To Corbusier, the beauty of the organization was the product of the perfect cooperation of everyone in the hierarchy. It was the expression of human solidarity in creating a civilization in the midst of the hostile forces of nature. The natural hierarchy was one means of attaining the sublime.

Design of Brasilia – based upon the principles of The Radiant City

Photo By: Limongi – originally uploaded to :en at en:File:Monumental axis.jpg,
CC BY  3.0,

In contrast with Wright’s decentralized Broadacre City, the Radiant City contained centralized towers of residential space in its very core. These towers called “Unités, each contained a neighborhood with 2,700 residents. The apartments are assigned in accordance with the size of the worker’s family and their needs. The individualism of the worker can be expressed in his or her residential space. The citizen in Le Corbusier’s syndicalist society thus experiences both organization and freedom as part of his daily life. His workspace is heavily organized so that he can have freedom outside the workplace.

Corbusier places importance on the family unit as Wright does, but doesn’t give them economic responsibility. Wright hoped that the responsibility he places on the family unit would strengthen the family, but Corbusier wanted to free the family of any economic function. In the Radiant City, the family no longer has an economic function to perform. It exists as an end in itself. There is a strong distinction between work and play in The Radiant City, and the family belongs to the realm of play.

In Corbusier’s free society, men and women would work as full-time individuals. He assumed that there would be an end to the familial economic unit, and women would be free from domestic services like cooking, cleaning, and child raising. All of these tasks are provided by the society. This would therefore free the family to reassemble in the afternoon (after work and school), perhaps around the pool or at the gym, and when the family members return to their apartment they find it already cleaned, the laundry done and returned, the food ordered in the morning already and prepared for serving. This strong distinction of work and leisure is important in the Radiant City, as the individual now has the freedom to enjoy his leisure time as he pleases, instead of his work time like in Wright’s Broadacre City.


Howard's Garden City

If Ebenezer Howard was able to have a conversation with Wright and Corbusier about their design, he would notice that the basic principles of his “Garden City” comply with those of the other cities. Howard’s Garden city plan was a community “in which social order and individual initiative would be properly balanced.” He also wanted to give individual liberties to the inhabitants of his city. His ideas differed from Wright and Corbusier’s, which would cause him to critique their work.

Howard would not agree with Wright’s agrarian based society. As a failed farmer himself, he thought that not even a small community could successfully manage all its farms. He thought the community should be a balance of a privately and collectively owned enterprise. Wright’s economic system is too bold for Howard, as he would argue that Wright puts too much responsibility on the people. On the other hand, Corbusier’s system doesn’t give the individual enough responsibility, relative to Howard. Because the administrators would determine even the urbanite’s living space, Howard would see this as an attack on individual liberties.

Howard wouldn’t like the layout of either Wright or Corbusier’s cities. Like Wright, Howard wanted to marry town and country, but not in the same way that Wright proposed. Wright’s Broadacre city would be too decentralized for Howard, as Howard wanted to maintain a centric city model. Howard’s marriage of urban and rural is gradual, as each outward ring is a different type of space. Wright’s complete decentralization, Howard would argue, prevents any kind of community feeling. Corbusier’s model with the skyscraper neighborhoods would be too congested for Howard. Howard’s Garden City had a gradual flow between different spaces (residential, commercial), but Corbusier’s extremely centralized residential space would be taking it too far for Howard.

Garden City Concept by Ebenezer Howard

Photo By: Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Howard’s desire to revolutionize society through a city plan was not unlike Wright and Corbusier. They all saw what the industrial age did to the city and wanted to draw away from that as much as they saw fit. The Garden City, Broadacre City, and The Radiant City were all planned because of a cultural backlash from the industrial revolution. Howard, Wright, and Corbusier saw the problems that arose in their current cities, and all attempted to solve these problems in their revolutionary utopian societies.

(Much of the analysis of these architects’ city plans and differentials can be found in Robert Fishman’s “Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier.” I read it in college and believe it to be a great analysis of 20th-century architects trying to make sense of how to plan for cities.)


Client Focused and Business as Usual

Client Focused and Business As Usual


By Ron Wathen, PE


A message From president & CEO

March 24, 2020

External Message to Clients, Teaming Partners and Vendors

Last Thursday March 19, 2020, as Governor Newsom implemented a shelter in place policy, simultaneously QK was transitioning to a fully remote workforce (TELEWORK).  Given the implications of the COVID-19 public health crisis and the need for reducing the spread, QK has the ability to work effectively with YOU (our clients and Agency Partners) through Microsoft Teams and other collaboration software from a remote work environment.  Our remote workforce and use of collaboration technology allows QK to advance your projects and maintain a safe work environment during this unprecedented time.

QK remains focused on YOUR projects, deliverables and schedules.  Through utilizing a team approach with our clients and agency partners, I know we can continue through this difficult public health crisis together!  With that in mind, I want to share the following:

  • QK is open for business, our teams are working remotely and ready to continue serving you.
  • Our focus is on your project: The times have changed but our focus remains the same and that is getting your project completed and providing innovative solutions to your needs.
  • We continue to be one connected team with our clients and agency partners.  We are available to meet using Microsoft Teams, other video conferencing tools as needed to keep you connected.
  • QK can still be contacted via office phone, cell phones, email, or text at any time.  QK is committed to making this transition and collaboration easier for everyone.
  • Our field operations will CONTINUE for construction observation, biological monitoring and land surveying and YES, we are practicing appropriate social distancing practices for a safe work environment.

Whether it’s project specific or something we can do to support your overall organization, we are here for you.

Why Zoning Codes Have Height Limits and Building Setbacks

QK Equitable Building

Why zoning codes have height limits and building setbacks


By Steve Brandt, AICP, Principal Planner

Equitable building - manhattan


On a cold morning in 1912, the Equitable Building at 120 Broadway in New York City caught fire from a carelessly thrown match into a trash can.  Firefighters tried to save the building but -20oF temperatures turned the water from their firehoses into frosty icicles. The structure was lost.  The Equitable Building had been constructed in 1870 on a roughly one-acre block bounded by four streets. It was one of New York’s first skyscrapers, coming in at a whopping eight stories.  However, by 1912, the newer buildings surrounding it were over twice as tall. When the rubble was removed and the site cleared, something unexpected happened.

Workers in the lower floors of the surrounding buildings experienced sunlight shining into their windows for the first time ever. The air seemed cleaner. People were happier and felt healthier. They were so overjoyed with their changed urban environment that they petitioned City Hall to purchase the land and build a city park. Instead of selling, the property owner constructed a massive 36-story office building that dwarfed its neighbors, housed 15,000 workers, and ominously covered every inch of the site.   It was the largest building in the world. It cast a shadow roughly six times the size of its footprint, completely engulfing adjacent buildings in even more darkness.

At that time, real estate developers enjoyed unfettered private property rights supported by decades of court precedent. The property owner had full control, and technological innovations were allowing buildings to be taller and bulkier.  The sky really was the limit. But even though you could build anything you wanted, so could your neighbor. Because of the uproar over the new Equitable Building, people began to realize that the unconstrained power of the individual property owner was creating too much uncertainty and volatility in the real estate market and was hurting the collective health of the community.

A lawyer, subway planner, and activist named Edward Bassett had an idea. He theorized that the only government power that the courts might consider superior to private property rights was the police power to protect public health and safety.  He did experiments and prepared studies that scientifically documented how sunlight and clean air could not reach the street level around these massive skyscrapers.  He proposed government-regulated building height limits and building setbacks whereby the first few floors of a building could cover the entire site, but as the building got taller, successive floors had to be set back to lessen the bulk of the building as it rose to the sky. He divided the city into zones, each with different height limits and setbacks. After much politicking and coalition building, his codes were adopted in 1916. Some architects designed literally to the code’s limits, creating skyscrapers that looked like awkward stair steps. Others turned the limitations into inspiration, designing masterpieces like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.

Cities around the country adopted their own zoning ordinances. Having been denied a permit to construct industrial buildings in a residential zone by the Village of Euclid, Ohio, the Ambler Realty Company sued, taking their challenge all the way to the Supreme Court.  In 1920, the Supreme Court ruled six to three in favor of Euclid, confirming that zoning ordinances were Constitutional. The Court’s majority relied on Bassett’s argument that zoning limitations are a legitimate use of a city’s police power to protect the public health and safety of a community.

The court case is Euclid v. Ambler. A code that establishes zones with allowed uses, height limits, and building setbacks is now known as a Euclidean zoning code. And the (new) Equitable Building is now 105 years old and designated a National Historic Landmark. One of its many tenants is the New York City Department of City Planning.

A Decade Of Community Service

A decade of community service


By Mike Ratajski


Extreme Makeover: Home Addition


QK and its team members have been active participants in community service activities in the central valley for more than a decade. There are numerous reasons why we should volunteer. Studies show that volunteers are happier and healthier than non-volunteers. Volunteers establish strong relationship. Volunteering is good for your career and good for society.  Volunteering gives you a sense of purpose.  Many QK’ers have offered time and energy to make the communities they live in a better place for their neighbors and, in many instances, total strangers, some of whom they may never meet.   The following represents a decade of our volunteer activities.

In August 2019, several Clovis QK’ers braved the brutal summer heat and helped build a new home from the ground up for a deserving family in Clovis. A local fireman lost his wife during childbirth and was forced to raise his children, with the help of their grandmother, in the small space they live in. With the leadership and generosity of DeYoung Properties, a new home was built complete with in-ground swimming pool and playhouse for the kids.   Not many QK staff members know this, but a decade earlier, QK helped build a home in central Fresno for the remake of that same television show in 2009. Led again by our generous client, De Young Properties, QK was involved with assisting 5,000 volunteers who demolished a 1955 ranch home that was in serious need of repair and renovations. The homeowner, born without legs and only one fully developed arm, needed a wheelchair friendly home for her and her four children. This project began a decade long list of community involvement and public services that QK has been unselfishly engaged.

I spoke with members of the QK team who helped the television show achieve a better environment for the homeowner, and here is what they remember about that event. Jessica Louie: “It was a very cold day as we waited for the television crew to set up and film the episode. The QK volunteers arrived early in the morning and spent the entire winter day shivering while waiting for the big reveal…and I never met Ty Pennington”. She added, “I saw him, but never met him”. Scott Zaayer: “De Young Properties was the true hero here. They devoted an incredible amount of time and resources for the new home”. He added, “We had to jump through hoops just to get the house staked on the lot.” The home was completed in less than ten days from tear down to opening day. The new home was one of the earliest in Fresno that included a solar energy system cutting electricity use by 75 percent.



The ACE Mentor Program is an afterschool program that introduces students to careers in architecture, construction management, and engineering and oftentimes, other related disciplines. QK’s involvement with ACE mentorship began in 2011 and ended in 2014. I first became involved with ACE in 2012 teaching the students at Edison High School in southwest Fresno all about planning. Other mentors assisted with engineering, architecture, construction, estimating, and even biology. The Aquarius Aquarium Institute, a 501(c)(3) organization, establishes environmental teaching programs utilizing aquariums to help bring educational parity to central San Joaquin Valley students and citizens of all backgrounds and cultural groups in addition to being the organization behind the Fresno Aquarium project. A ten-acre site was donated at the intersection of the San Joaquin River and Highway 99 – a gateway entry site to the City of Fresno. In 2011, the Fresno Aquarium became the selected project to be studied by the Edison High students. The students developed 3-D models and presented their projects at a special event hosted by the Central California Builders Exchange. The previous project was the Dickey Park Youth Center near downtown Fresno. Following the aquarium project, students later chose to select their own projects for detailed studies. The selected project in 2013-14 was a Family Entertainment Center, an all-in-one arcade that included golf carts, video arcade, trampolines, batting cages, laser tag and more. Teaching high school students all about planning, architecture, engineering, and construction can be a rewarding experience.


Lowell Community Gardens

In 2012, QK worked with City of Fresno, Caltrans, PG&E and the Fresno Metro Ministry to develop a community garden for the Lowell neighborhood north of downtown Fresno. QK provided the preliminary site plan, topographic survey, grading plan, permitting, irrigation plans, construction staking, and even helped with construction of the facility. Designed with raised beds for the disabled and thirty garden plots, the community garden “brought people from different walks of life together” and “helped the community spirit bloom” said PG&E representatives. The gardens won a 2012 Green Dot Award in the Service category for designing a resource for green living and a 2012 San Joaquin Valley Blueprint Award of Excellence.

Caltrans State Roadway Clean-Up

In 2012, QK worked with City of Fresno, Caltrans, PG&E and the Fresno Metro Ministry to develop a community garden for the Lowell neighborhood north of downtown Fresno. QK provided the preliminary site plan, topographic survey, grading plan, permitting, irrigation plans, construction staking, and even helped with construction of the facility. Designed with raised beds for the disabled and thirty garden plots, the community garden “brought people from different walks of life together” and “helped the community spirit bloom” said PG&E representatives. The gardens won a 2012 Green Dot Award in the Service category for designing a resource for green living and a 2012 San Joaquin Valley Blueprint Award of Excellence.

Imagine U Children's Museum

The Imagine U Children’s Museum is located one block east of the transit center in the City of Visalia. The museum first opened its doors in October 2015 with a mission to inspire children through interactive educational experiences by providing multicultural, hands-on learning through the sciences, environmental conservation, and the arts. By empowering children and their families in a fun environment, they seek to transform lives and enhance the community. The 15,000-square-foot building was paid for by a $5.4 million Proposition 84 grant.  The facility, known for its indoor tree house and kid’s auto repair clinic, is in need to expand for additional interactive activities in its outdoor space.   The 18,000 square foot outdoor space represents a great opportunity for the facility to expand as its membership grows. Led by Ron Wathen, QK CEO, Dan Garber, Steve Brandt, and I assisted in the conceptual planning for the unique outdoor space. An additional 15,000 square feet east of this space represents another opportunity for future expansion. The QK Team prepared a plan in late 2018 that includes an outdoor amphitheater, barn, maze, themed play equipment, and unique bio-fuel exhibit so children can learn about energy alternatives at an early age. The project is currently seeking funding.

Much More

These five projects represent specific activities or events. We won’t overlook the many QK staff members who took the initiative to run a charity drive or fund-raising activity and the many employees who donated. In addition, every Christmas season, needy children and families have seen our QK Team fill the boxes in our lobbies with generous toys and gifts that have put smiles on local faces for many years. QK has truly been a leader in volunteerism and charity drives. Thanks to everyone who has been a part of the generous giving of time, money, clothing, food, and toys. Lets keep up the great work!