By Dom Nozzi
When I was a town and transportation planner in Florida, I sought to incorporate the following traditional neighborhood development principles into the long-range land use and urban design plans for my community. I was not allowed to do so, but I hope that planners elsewhere will be able to incorporate some or all of this in the plans of their communities…
Cities throughout the country face many of the same problems — increasing traffic problems, worsening air and noise pollution, the loss of outlying farms and open spaces to suburban sprawl, the growing need for costly road widenings and the provision of expensive urban services to such remote development, increasing visual blight, traffic injuries and deaths, wildlife habitat loss, the decline of downtowns, loss of independence for children and seniors who cannot drive, loss of civic pride, a growing household financial crisis, a loss of serendipity, and a loss of a sense of place and community.
City character becomes blurred until every place becomes like every other place — all adding up to no place.
Our streets become increasingly congested and our destinations further and further away. We increasingly spend our time as anonymous individuals waiting at the traffic light instead of socializing with friends at the corner store or playing with the kids at the park.
All the places where people could meet in public and experience a sense of community — the square, the corner pub, the main street — have been replaced by oceans of asphalt for the movement and storage of space-hungry cars.
There were neighborhood design principles that characterized development in the U.S. before WWII. The following principles exemplify these conventions:
* Neighborhoods are limited in size and oriented toward pedestrian activity.
In general, “limited in size” means that most every form of daily household need is within a five-minute walking radius (approximately one-quarter mile);
* Residences, shops, workplaces, and civic buildings are interwoven within the neighborhood and in close proximity, which creates a vibrant, livable neighborhood featuring transportation choice. This mixed use is primarily achieved by calling for compatibility of scale and intensity;
* Streets are interconnected and the blocks are small. This street pattern, in combination with other design features of the traditional neighborhood development, strikes a balance between the needs of the car, the bus rider, the pedestrian and the bicyclist;
* Civic buildings are given prominent, high-visibility locations that thereby act as landmarks, symbols and focal points for community identity. These buildings are therefore assigned the proper level of community priority and serve as places of assembly for the neighborhood;
* There is a distinct edge, or transition, between the developed area and outlying farmland and greenbelts;
* Public spaces create a pleasant, safe public realm and are formed and defined by the proper alignment of buildings;
* A full range of housing types is provided, which allows all age groups and income classes to be integrated.
A traditional neighborhood also features the following benefits:
* Gives people without access to a car, such as children, the elderly, and the disabled, more safety and independence in their world.
* Substantially reduces government and household costs — especially because of the enormous savings in the building and maintaining of road infrastructure, and the purchase and maintenance of cars.
* Features streets designed to slow traffic. It increases travel choices and reduces the length and number of vehicle trips. This, in addition to providing proximity by mixing land uses, allows the traditional neighborhood development to achieve a relatively high “trip capture rate,” which vastly reduces the significant transportation impacts the neighborhood displaces to the larger community.
* Contains structures built for permanence, instead of structures designed, as too many contemporary structures are, for a short-term “throw-away” life.
* Makes walking feel more enjoyable.
* Minimizes strip commercial visual blight.
* Increases citizen access to culture.
* Creates a good environment for smaller, locally-owned businesses to become established and to operate in.
* Creates a sense of place, a sense of community, a sense of belonging and restores civic pride and place-based loyalty.
* Increases transit viability, primarily through density, access, traffic calming, community-serving facilities, compactness, mixed use and pedestrian amenities.
For these reasons, City land development policies and land use categories should be revised to make such traditional, “timeless” development more feasible – particularly because such development is highly desirable for the reasons described above, yet there is little or no choice to live in such developments. Important ways to incentivize such traditional developments:
* Adopt a traditional neighborhood development (TND) ordinance.
* Revise land use categories to make TNDs allowed by right.
* Establish town center design guidelines that will transform centers into walkable, transit-oriented developments (TODs). See the Transportation Element for a description of TOD elements.
* Reduce fees, and the review and approval process, for TNDs and TODs.
The Ahwahnee Principles (adopted in the long-range plans of several communities around the U.S.)
Existing patterns of urban and suburban development seriously impair our quality of life. The symptoms are: more congestion and air pollution resulting from our increased dependence on cars, the loss of precious open space, the need for costly improvements to streets and public services, the inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community. By drawing upon the best from the past and present, we can, first, infill existing communities and, second, plan new communities that will more successfully serve the needs of those who live and work within them. Such planning should adhere to these fundamental principles:
- All planning should be in the form of complete and integrated communities containing housing, shops, work places, schools, parks and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents.
- Community size should be designed so that housing, jobs, daily needs and other activities are within easy walking distance of each other.
- As many activities as possible should be located within easy walking distance of each other.
- A community should contain a diversity of housing types to enable citizens from a wide range of economic levels and age groups to live within its boundaries.
- Businesses within the community should provide a range of job types for the community’s residents.
- The location and character of the community should be consistent with a larger transit network.
- The community should have a center focus that combines commercial, civic, cultural and recreational uses.
- The community should contain an ample supply of specialized open space in the form of squares, greens and parks whose frequent use is encouraged through placement and design.
- Public spaces should be designed to encourage the attention and presence of people at all hours of the day and night.
- Each community or cluster of communities should have a well-defined edge, such as agricultural greenbelts or wildlife corridors, permanently protected from development.
- Streets, pedestrian paths and bike paths should contribute to a system of fully-connected and interesting routes to all destinations. Their design should encourage pedestrian and bicycle use by being small and spatially defined by buildings, trees and lighting; and by discouraging high speed traffic.
- Wherever possible, the natural terrain, drainage, and vegetation of the community should be preserved with superior examples contained within parks or greenbelts.
- The community design should help conserve resources and minimize waste.
- Communities should provide for the efficient use of water through the use of natural drainage, drought-tolerant landscaping and recycling.
- The street orientation, the placement of buildings and the use of shading should contribute to the energy efficiency of the community.
- The regional land use planning structure should be integrated within a larger transportation network built around transit rather than highways.
- Regions should be bounded by and provide a continuous system of greenbelt/wildlife corridors to be determined by natural conditions.
- Regional institutions and services (government, stadiums, museums, etc.) should be located in the urban core.
- Materials and methods of construction should be specific to the region, exhibiting continuity of history and culture and compatibility with the climate to encourage the development of local character and community identity.
Approve proposed accessory dwelling units, such as “granny flats”, carriage houses, garage apartments, and add-ons to a detached single-family residence. When done properly, this allows the city to retrofit higher, more livable densities without harming neighborhoods. Encourage or require a mix of housing types.
* The City will promote a mix of land uses and activities that will maximize the potential for pedestrian mobility throughout the city.
* Buildings should be sited in ways to make their entries or intended uses clear to and convenient for pedestrians.
* The location and pattern of streets, buildings and open spaces must facilitate direct pedestrian access. Commercial buildings should provide direct access from street corners to improve access to bus stop facilities.
* Creating barriers which separate commercial developments from residential areas and transit should be avoided.
* Direct sidewalk access should be provided between cul-de-sacs and nearby transit facilities.
* Traffic calming should be further developed on city streets to enhance the safety of street crossings. Curb radii should be minimized to reduce the speed of right-turning vehicles and reduce the distance for the pedestrian to cross the street. Calming should be used to discourage speeding and cut-through traffic. Street widths should be as narrow as possible.
* The City will encourage the provision of pedestrian scale improvements that fit the context of the area. The color, materials, and form of pedestrian facilities and features should be appropriate to their surroundings, as well as the functional unity of the pedestrian network.
* The City will encourage housing development near major employment centers to foster travel to work by all forms of transportation.
* The City will encourage a variety of housing types and densities, including mixed use developments, that are well-served by public transportation and close to employment centers, services and amenities. In particular, the City will promote the siting of higher density housing near public transportation, shopping, and in designated neighborhoods and districts.
* The City will recognize accessory housing units as a viable form of additional — and possibly affordable — housing, and will develop special permit procedures, criteria, and restrictions governing their existence that are designed to facilitate their development while protecting existing residential neighborhood character.
* Neighborhood streets and sidewalks will form an interconnected network, including auto, bicycle, pedestrian, and transit routes within a neighborhood and between neighborhoods — knitting neighborhoods together and not forming barriers between them. Dead ends and cul-de-sacs should be avoided or minimized. Multiple streets and sidewalks will connect into and out of a neighborhood.
* To keep all parts of the community accessible by all citizens, gated street entryways into residential developments will not be allowed.
* On long neighborhood blocks, intermediate connections in the pedestrian network should be provided, with a maximum distance of about 500 to 700 feet between walking connections. In particular, direct walkway and bikeway routes to schools should be provided.
* All multiple-family buildings should be designed to reflect, to the extent possible, the characteristics and amenities typically associated with single-family detached houses. These characteristics and amenities include orientation of the front door to a neighborhood sidewalk and street, individual identity, private outdoor space, privacy and security.
* Home occupations should be allowed in all residential areas provided they do not generate excessive traffic and parking, or have signage that is inconsistent with the residential character of the neighborhood.
* To foster visual interest along a neighborhood street, the street frontage devoted to protruding garage doors and driveway curb crossings will be limited. Generally, garages should be recessed, or if feasible, tucked into side or rear yards, using variety and creativity to avoid a streetscape dominated by the repetition of garage doors.
* If possible, the view down a street should be designed to terminate in a visually interesting feature.
Converting Conventional Shopping Centers into Walkable Urban Villages
Conventional shopping centers containing only retail, office and service uses, tend to be designed only for the car. Asphalt parking lots tend to be enormous, and push buildings a tremendous distance from the street. This form of “auto architecture” significantly reduces transportation choice, makes access difficult for those without a car, create urban “heat islands” and stormwater problems, and eliminate the possibility of buildings defining a pleasant, human-scaled public realm. The atmosphere tends to be unpleasant. There is no sense of place, sense of community, unique character or sense of civic pride.
Increasingly, however, such shopping centers are being rebuilt to form a pleasant, walkable urban village. Shops, offices, and residences face each other in a compact atmosphere reminiscent of traditional main streets.
Because they promote transportation choice, they equitably allow access and enhance environmental conditions. And they provide a superior quality of life and ambiance that allows them to profitably compete with more conventional centers.
Clustering higher density housing near the walkable urban villages can substantially increase transit use.
Features of a Walkable Urban Village:
* A gridded street network lined with street-facing buildings, and interspersed with squares and plazas.
* A comprehensive sidewalk and street tree network.
* Compact, vertically and horizontally mixed land uses including residences, retail, office, service, and civic activities.
* A “Park Once” environment.
* A strong connection to transit service.
* Bounded by relatively high residential densities.
* A vibrant public realm created by healthy pedestrian volumes, street vendors and performers, a broad mix of uses, and 24-hour activity.
The City should adopt land development regulations that lead to the transformation of conventional shopping centers to walkable urban villages.
Causes of sprawl:
* Widening major roads with travel lanes and turn lanes;
* Free and abundant parking for cars;
* Lack of quality public facilities in core areas, such as schools, parks, and trails;
* Poor codes enforcement in core areas, which leads to excessive noise pollution, car parking problems, unsightly signage, and unkempt homes;
* Poor public schools in the city center, and construction of public schools and community-serving facilities in areas remote from the city center;
* Land development codes which excessively promote the convenience of the car instead of transportation choice;
* Water and sewer extension policies;
* Low-cost gasoline;
* Poor quality transit service;
* Low overall quality of life in the city;
* Flight from crime, poverty, and “auto architecture”;
* For non-residential uses, more convenient access for cars throughout the region due to abundant space for parking, lower costs for building construction, lower land values, and easier access to Interstate highways;
Negative effects of sprawl:
* Increased city costs for infrastructure and services;
* Increased per capita trips by car;
* Increased travel times;
* Increased household expenditures for transportation;
* Reduced transit cost-effectiveness and frequency;
* Increased social costs (increased air, water, noise pollution);
* Loss of farmland;
* Reduced farmland productivity and viability;
* Loss of sensitive natural areas and wildlife habitat, or fragmentation of such areas;
* Loss of regional, community-separating greenbelts and open spaces;
* Increased urban ugliness due to “auto architecture”;
* Weakened sense of community, sense of place, and sense of civic pride;
* Increased stress;
* Increased energy consumption;
* Reduced historic preservation;
* Segregation by income, age group, and race;
* Separates low-skill, high unemployment areas from new jobs;
* Increased fiscal stress for the city;
* Increased rate of inner city decline;
Returning to these design principles is a recipe for a more sustainable, affordable future rich in lifestyle and transportation choice, equity and quality of life.