Guide to Community Planning in Wisconsin by Brian W. Ohm

Chapter 5:  Community Design
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2. Traditional Neighborhood Design

Community design issues and concepts also apply on a larger scale than the appearance of one building or project. Communities around the state reflect a variety of different development patterns that reflect evolving design concepts at different points of time -- e.g., the grid street patterns of the older sections of some communities, the curvelinear street pattern of communities built in the 1950's and 1960's, and the cul de sacs of the 1970's and 1980's and the dispersed development patterns of the 1990's.

Increasingly people are returning to the concepts of traditional neighborhood design, also sometimes referred to as "new urbanism" or "neotraditional neighborhoods." The concepts focus on a number or planning and design principles from the early 1900's and earlier. These principles attempt to mirror the type of community found in the older parts of many

Wisconsin communities. These principles include a mixture of uses that integrate work places, commercial areas (such as grocery stores), civic spaces (such as parks and town squares) and housing (mixing housing types and sizes). The design concepts also follows street patterns based on grids or variations of grids.

Lots sizes in such developments tend to be smaller than in most conventional subdivisions so they consume less land for the same amount of dwelling units. They average five or more dwelling units per net acre instead of the one to three houses per net acre that is common in many developing areas.

Walking is encouraged with sidewalks, trees along the streets, narrow roads that slow down cars, and commercial, and parks that are located a short walk from most houses. Public transportation is also encouraged.

Four Common Attributes of Traditional Neighborhood Development

1. Neighborhood Size-traditional neighborhoods are generally limited in size to encourage pedestrian activity. The optimal size of a neighborhood is 1/4 to 1/3 of a mile from center to its edge, a distance equal to a five to 10 minute walk at an easy pace. Its limited area gathers the population within walking distance of many of its daily needs.

2. The Street Pattern- Streets in a traditional neighborhood district are designed to accommodate the needs of all modes of transportation. The neighborhood consists of a interconnected network, like grids, of small thoroughfares. An interconnected street pattern with smaller blocks provides multiple routes, diffusing automobile traffic and shortening walking distances. This pattern keeps local traffic off regional roads and through traffic off local streets. Neighborhood streets of varying types are designed to provide equitably for pedestrian comfort and automobile movement. Sidewalks are required.

3. Mix of Land Uses- A traditional neighborhood is structured to provide a balanced mix of residences, shops, workplaces, civic uses, and recreation within the neighborhood. The integration of multiple land uses allows residents to meet more of their daily needs through shorter trips.

4. Public Open Spaces- Formal and informal open space is located throughout a traditional neighborhood. The design of the neighborhood gives priority to open space. These spaces enhance community activity, identity, and civic pride. The neighborhood plan creates a hierarchy of useful open spaces: a formal square in the neighborhood center, parks and playgrounds throughout the neighborhood, and streets that promote walking and encourage informal meetings.

The existing zoning ordinances, subdivision regulations and other land use regulations of many communities are designed for development patterns of the 1960's or 1970's. The requirements of these regulations often prohibit the construction of traditional neighborhoods. Often existing zoning ordinances disallow the densities that are necessary for traditional neighborhoods. The ordinances also generally preclude the introduction of different uses in neighborhoods.

A "planned unit development" (PUD), discussed in Chapter 6, is one tool available to communities which is intended to provide more flexible land use controls to allow traditional neighborhood design. Other tools, such as subdivision regulations and design review, can be used to shape new development in such a way as to promote the traditional neighborhood design.